Choosing Law Schools

Penn Law HallChoosing which law schools to apply to can be difficult.

There are so many great choices. How do you even begin narrowing it all down?

In this post, I hope to shed some light on how to choose law schools that will be a good match for you.


HOW MANY SCHOOLS SHOULD I APPLY TO?

I recommend applying to 6-8 law schools. You could apply to fewer or more, but if you’re applying to more than ten schools, you should take a close look at whether you are serious about attending every one of your schools or if you’re just applying for the sake of applying. Don’t be a karmic thief. Only apply to the schools that you would actually, seriously, attend.


FOUR MAJOR FACTORS

There are four major factors that I recommend you think about and analyze when choosing your law schools.

1. RANKING
There are about 200 ABA-approved law schools in the U.S. So many of these schools are really good, even great. If you don’t know where to start, looking at the ranking of law schools can be a good way to get an idea of what’s out there. But remember, it’s only the tip of the iceberg. Considering the ranking of your schools should just be the beginning of your research, not the end-all-be-all.

2. LOCATION
City, state, region–where do you want to be for three years of legal studies and where do you want to be when you graduate? If you attend a Top 14 law school, you could practice anywhere in the United States. Most firms and organizations are going to know and value a legal degree from Harvard, Yale, Stanford, Columbia, NYU, etc. But if you’re not attending a T14 school (and most people do not), you should spend a good amount of time figuring out where you most want to study the law and where you most want to be employed after you graduate.

3. CAREER SERVICES
You’re going to law school so you can eventually get a good job, right? You’re doing this to launch your career or to change careers, right? It’s a lot easier to get a job when you have good help. Spend time researching the career services office at the law schools that you’re considering. Make sure they are well staffed. Make sure that they have designated staff who are consistently communicating with alumni and updating their alumni database. Getting help from a great career services office can make all the difference to your future career.

4. ENVIRONMENT & WEATHER
Are you most comfortable in a city, suburb or rural environment? Do you like a happening city that never sleeps or one that’s more laid back and quiet? Do you like cold weather? Hot weather? Sunny weather? Rainy weather? Humid? Dry? Are you okay being one of the only minority students at your school or do you want a school with at least 20-30% students of color? Do you want a strong GLBTQ community in the area? The environment of the law school and the city, as well as the weather, can add or detract immensely from your quality of life. Spend time researching this crucial set of personal preferences.

IT’S ALL ABOUT PREFERENCES

Can you study and work in a city without decent Asian food? I know I can’t.

Do you like hot and humid weather? I know I don’t.

Can you stand more than 200 days of rain? As a Southern Californian transplant who lives in Seattle–yes, I can!

Why am I telling you all this?

To show you that we all have our preferences. There’s nothing wrong with that. In fact, you should have preferences. It shows how much you know yourself. Figure out your preferences. Write them down. Use them.

The more you know yourself, the better you’re going to be at choosing the right law schools for you.


DIVERSIFY, DIVERSIFY, DIVERSIFY

Diversification is not just for putting together a good stock portfolio. It is also highly recommended for choosing law schools. Apply to a diverse set of schools to ensure your success in admissions. When I say “diverse,” I mean diversity in terms of the school’s entering class GPA and LSAT.

Here’s the breakdown that I recommend.

  • 10% SAFETY SCHOOLS: your LSAT/GPA are at, or a little higher, than the schools’ 75th percentile
  • 50% SOLID SCHOOLS: your LSAT/GPA are at, or very near, the schools’ median
  • 40% STRETCH SCHOOLS: your LSAT/GPA are at the schools’ 25th percentile

So, if you apply to eight schools, you’d choose one safety school, four solid schools, and three stretch schools.

To see a school’s stats for GPA and LSAT, go to each school’s website and/or visit the ABA Statistics on Legal Education and Admissions to the Bar. Under Enrollment, click on “1L Enrollment” for the most recent year.


WHAT IF MY NUMBERS DON’T MATCH UP?

What if you have a high GPA and low LSAT? Or a high LSAT and low GPA?

You’re what they call a “splitter.” It’s not an exact science, but if you’re in this situation, I recommend giving slightly more weight to the LSAT and choosing schools based on your LSAT score. It’s hard to know how each school will assess your numbers; thus, I recommend applying to 10-15 schools. Also, choose two safety schools, rather than just one.


DO YOUR RESEARCH

Researching law schools is one form of procrastination that I actually support. Revise your list of schools as you learn more about them (and yourself) during the application process. Good luck, take your time, and have fun with it!

Have questions about choosing law schools? I’d love to hear from you! I’m here to help. Post your questions below and I’ll respond.

Penn Law photo by Marcus Donner.

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  1. Pingback: Top Ten Mistakes That Law School Applicants Make: #9 | Prelaw Guru Blog

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