How to Choose a Law School?
This often-asked question misses the
mark. What you really want to know is what law schools are most likely to be
best for you. If you're interested in rankings of American law schools, take
a look at Appendix A. This ranking is compiled from a variety of sources
like U.S. News & World Report and Barron's. Rankings of the "best" law
schools are based on more-or-less objective criteria such as the size and
quality of a school's faculty, the number of holdings in its library, and
the quality of its physical facilities. While they will never admit it, law
schools, especially those ranked among the "best", consider the rankings to
But what do rankings tell you? That Harvard, Yale or Michigan are among
the top law schools in the country? Do you really need someone else to tell
you that? These rankings tell you nothing about your chances of getting into
any particular law school. Nor do they tell you about a school's classroom
or clinical offerings, or the demographics of its student body, or the
financial assistance available at the school. If you want that information,
and chances are you do, then you'll have to do some homework.
Is there an advantage in attending one of the "best" law schools? Sure.
Going to a top law school may give you access to teachers and
extracurricular activities not available at other schools. For example, the
best law schools tend to have more clinical programs and law journals, which
help to build an impressive resume. The prestige of a top law school will
also open doors to more career opportunities. Big money law firms are
anxious to court graduates of the best schools, and choice judicial
clerkships are reserved for the best of the best.
A bit later, we'll talk about how to choose the law schools that are best
for you. For now, here's the bottom line on law schools. Most law schools in
this country are approved by the American Bar Association (ABA), which means
that they meet ABA standards concerning faculty, facilities, and curriculum.
Though law schools are reluctant to admit it, ABA approval has resulted in a
high degree of uniformity and standardization among law schools, especially
in terms of curricula. No matter where you go to law school, in your first
year you will take courses in legal research and writing, torts, contracts,
property, and perhaps constitutional law, criminal law, or civil procedure.
You will learn the same tort law principles at the University of Missouri as
you will at Harvard University.
You certainly want to get into the best law school that you can. If your
undergraduate GPA is between 3.7 and 4.0, you're in the top 15 percent on
the LSAT, you have strong recommendations, and you've got some other factors
going for you, then go ahead and apply to one or two of the top law schools.
But don't put all your eggs in that basket. Some of the best schools get ten
applications for every spot in the entering class, and most of those
applicants have credentials as good as yours. Be safe rather than sorry, and
apply to some schools where your chances of admission are greater.
Remember, the important thing is that you get into law school. Most
states require that you graduate from an ABA approved law school to sit for
their bar exams. But you don't get extra points on a bar exam for having
graduated from a "top ten" law school, and the prestige of such a law school
won't make the bar exam seem any easier. If you get preoccupied with getting
into the "best" law school, you may lose sight of your real goal.
Next: Law School Admission