For far too many prospective law students, the only criterion is “where I can get in”. While that’s certainly a major consideration, there are a number of other key factors to consider. You’re about to make a major investment in your future – in both time and money. You need to make sure that you get the right return on your investment.
Also, researching schools will help you set your LSAT target. Don’t just take the LSAT and then be complacent about finding a school that will take you – instead, choose your target schools and then plan your LSAT strategy to achieve the score that will guarantee you a spot (and, if possible, save you a heap of money on your tuition).
So, without further ado, here are some of the key factors to consider:
1) Career Advancement. What’s your ultimate goal after law school: Wall Street? Oil & Gas in Houston? Public defender in Buffalo? Environmental protection with the Sierra Club? Academia? A law degree is incredibly versatile and you need to choose the school that will get you to your finish line. There are great schools all over, but not all of them will further your particular goals.
This factor also encompasses job placement rates – something that every judicious future lawyer considers.
2) Cost. We live in the real world, with real bills to pay. Financial assistance is available to almost all law students, but often at a very high post-law school cost (especially with the current job market). The highest ranked law schools also tend to be the priciest – and the most competitive for scholarships and bursaries. Is that tier 1 diploma and $150k in debt really worth more to you than a tier 2 diploma and a full ride?
3) Location, location, location. Cited by real estate moguls as the 3 most important factors in choosing the site of your home or business, there’s no doubt that location is important for law school as well. In part, location ties into your career goals (after all, if you want to work at a mid-sized Seattle firm, there’s no doubt that Washington schools will have the best Seattle alumni networks). Further, not everyone has the same degree of mobility – especially students with spouses and children. While your partner and kids may be willing to move to make your dreams come true, they probably have something to say about where they want to live.
Even if you’re unencumbered, remember that you’re committing the next 3 years of your life to law school; being happy with where you are is certainly going to make you a less ornery – and therefore better – law student. Two of the reasons that I chose the University of British Columbia were mountains and ocean; I can honestly say that I had a fantastic time in law school, in part because I really enjoyed Vancouver.
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You may have noticed – and be surprised – that law school rankings isn’t one of my big 3 factors to consider. Rankings are a great way to get a general feel for what schools are out there are where they stand in the law school pantheon; however, many future students put too much weight on where schools appear in the rankings and don’t consider why schools get their rankings. When you review rankings (and this is the time of year that many are released), drill down through the categories to get the full scoop.
What factors do you consider the most important?