By Donna Gerson • March 02, 2015•Law School, Pre-Law
Law school admissions decisions are rolling in and the choices you make today will impact your career. What factors should you consider when choosing a law school? While law school rank can be an important factor in terms of prestige and hiring opportunities, there are other, more nuanced, factors that can also influence your decision such as:
Financial considerations. Student loan debt can have far-reaching ramifications that can impact your career choices. Your goal should be to graduate with as little student loan debt as possible. In today’s competitive admissions environment, students are in the driver’s seat when requesting scholarships and other non-loan aid. Don’t be shy about negotiating the best financial deal possible for yourself. For more financial planning information, I recommend www.askheatherjarvis.com. Heather Jarvis is a lawyer and student loan expert who offers thoughtful advice on debt issues.
Experiential learning opportunities. Make sure the law school you choose offers ample experiential learning options (clinics, co-ops, pro bono, and internships). Your classes are critical, but you will further distinguish yourself in the job market by gaining practical experience to build your résumé and succeed in legal practice from the start. Hiring attorneys stress the importance of practice-ready lawyers who are able to hit the ground running from the beginning of one’s career. You can become practice-ready by counseling clients in a law school clinic, taking part in co-op or internship opportunities, or working in paid or unpaid positions. Try the district attorney’s office or the public defender. Consider different practice areas. Don’t worry about being pigeonholed during law school. Employers fully expect you to test-drive a variety of practice areas so you can make wise employment choices when you graduate.
Find the right law school fit for you. Don’t rely solely on rankings to make your decision. Follow your heart when it comes to finding the right law school for you. The term “fit” refers to that elusive set of factors that spells the difference between feeling at home and feeling like an alien. It helps to visit the law schools under consideration to attend admitted students events or visit on your own for a private tour. Walk the building, observe the students, and see how it feels to you. You may decide to overlook a not-so-fabulous building in favor of a vibrant community of learners who are excited to be there. Some questions to ask yourself:
- How large is the first year class? Will you be lost in the mix of several hundred students or an integral part of a smaller 1L class?
- How strong is the alumni network? Are there opportunities during the first year to network with graduates and find a mentor?
- What leadership opportunities are available to you during first year and beyond?
- Are you focused on a particular practice area? Certain law schools offer greater depth in their courses and co-curricular offerings and that may sway your decision.
- How collegial are the students? Do students socialize or is it “The Hunger Games: Law School Edition”?
- How accessible are the faculty? Having a world-class expert teaching your Contracts class can be a tremendous thrill but if can’t find your professor during office hours, will this be a problem for you? Think about the kind of faculty relationships that can be important to your professional development.
The quality of the career services office. You are going to law school to find a job after you graduate, plain and simple. Whether that position is a traditional lawyer job or a nontraditional JD-Advantage role, you are here to find full-time employment. Thus, the quality of the career services office should be an essential focus in your decision-making process.
As a veteran career services professional, I cannot stress enough how important this office can be to your future success. You may have never crossed the threshold of your college career services office, but I promise that your law school career services office can be a game-changer, so choose wisely. Law students who frequent the career services office and make themselves known are typically more successful than the students who bypass the office and disappear. With that in mind, make a commitment – no matter what law school you choose – to frequent the career services office and ask for help at every juncture. That’s what we are here to do.
What should you look for in a career services office? Here are some tips:
- Examine the school’s ABA employment data. This data is posted on every law school’s web site so find it and see the breakdown of who’s employed and where.
- Review the law school’s bar passage rates. Bar passage has a direct impact on hiring, so if you see a low bar passage rate, then proceed cautiously.
- See where the career services office is located and how the office feels. Is the office centrally located and part of the law school hub? My advice is to seek an office that offers low barriers to entry, an open-door policy, and exudes warmth and encouragement to all students regardless of GPA. Here at Drexel, we offer free coffee, tea and hot cocoa year-round. The free beverage service helps create a welcoming environment where we can see students and ask after them, and the students, in turn, can pop in for quick questions. It makes a world of difference.
- Ask students about their experience with the career services office. There’s nothing like feedback from current students to gauge the quality of the career services office. You can hear a great lecture from the career services dean during Admitted Students Day, but the feedback from students may matter more.
If you are wait-listed from the law school of your dreams, then be your own advocate (after all, you’re going to be an advocate for someone else in a few short years). Contact the admissions office to express your sincere interest. Send an email reiterating why you would be a great addition to the law school community.
You are about to invest an enormous amount of time, money, and energy to earn a law degree. Make sure you choose wisely and find a school that fits your vision of the kind of lawyer you wish to become.
Donna Gerson is the Associate Dean of the Career Services Office at Drexel University Thomas R. Kline School of Law in Philadelphia, PA. She is the co-author of The Modern Rules of Business Etiquette (ABA Publishing, 2nd ed., 2014). Follow her on Twitter @DrexelLawCSO.