Ms. JD’s Pre-Law Prep Guide: Choosing a Law School That Works Best For You

Decisions, decisions, decisions.  At this point, it is probably safe to assume that you’ve taken our advice and have been accepted to several great law schools. Congratulations! Now comes the fun part--choosing which one to attend!

As we’ve discussed before, law school is a BIG decision. Students often hear the following advice when it comes to choosing a law school:

1        Follow the money: Students are being told that given the legal market and the increased expenses of attending law school (i.e. tuition, fees, housing, living expenses) it would be financially irresponsible to attend a law school that isn’t providing some sort of financial package or scholarship.

2        Climb the ladder to the top: The highest ranked schools open the most doors, so why attend a lower ranked school that will potentially leave you eating Ramen Noodles for the rest of your life? Those with this type of mentality tend to eat, sleep, and breath the law school ranking systems, the most popular being US News & World Report.

3        “Hometown Hero”: If you know that you want to practice in State X, your family is from State X, then you should go to law school in State X to build your network there.

            While relevant, these should not be the only factors you consider.  Take a hard look at what each school you’ve been admitted to has to offer. To help, this post provides a list of questions you might consider when making your acceptance decision. 

Things to Consider:

●        Experiential Learning Opportunities:

○        Does the law school have a formal judicial clerkship program?  What is it’s success rate?

○        How advanced is the law school’s clinical program? What types of opportunities or experiences can a student gain from participating in the clinics that are different than at other schools? (Note: You may want to look at each state’s specific rules of civil procedure. Sometimes there are rules in place that bind or restrict what a law student can or cannot do before sitting for the bar exam.)

○        How successful is the career services office at placing students in externships or helping them gain summer experience?  If you are from out of state, how will they support you with finding externships/internships in your home state?

○        What kinds of firms/companies/organizations recruit from the law school? (Take notes and then look those places up.  Do they appeal to you?)  

●        Professional training: Unlike undergrad, law school is a professional school where you should get professional training.

○        Look at the curriculum and the courses that are offered compared to your specific interests.

●        If you are interested in being a litigator, will you learn trial advocacy?

●        Interested in corporate work? Do they have any classes that will give you practical experience?

●        Look at the school’s moot court program and other experiential learning opportunities available to you.

●        Public Interest Loan Repayment Assistance Programs (LRAP): If you know that you ultimately want to work in public interest, it would be helpful to research whether your law school has a LRAP program in place and their eligibility requirements.

○        While each law school’s program will differ (some require a minimum loan amount and max salary), most LRAP programs provide either loan assistance or loan forgiveness.

●        Financial aid: Financial aid is at the forefront of many students minds, as it should be. Keep in mind that most law schools will reconsider your initial scholarship offer or will reconsider you for aid if you received no scholarship offer.

○        Note: This is the time to start practicing being a lawyer! Use those negotiation skills to try to get a higher scholarship or convert loan money to grants. It never hurts to try!

●        Post-Graduation: Students often don’t ask these questions until graduation.

○        How will they support you after graduation?  (Ask career services to tell you about a recent alumni they’ve supported … if they can’t tell you about one, that’s a good indication of how much alumni actually use the office.)

○        What benefits would you gain as an alumni? (Would you still have access to their career services office? Library? General resources?)

○        In what regions do a majority of the school’s alumni practice?  (That tells you about where your alumni network will be located and where the school draws firms from.)

The Next Step:

●        Visit each law school you are interested in attending: (Try to at least visit your top two choices once you’ve narrowed them down!) 

○        Tour the building and learn about the resources available to you at the law school.  Ask: Is printing free? Is there a page quota? (This can get expensive and may mean you’ll want your own printer if you prefer to work in paper.)  How many research librarians are there? Do you get access to Westlaw and/or Lexis Nexis?

○        Not from the area? Be sure to explore and learn about the city. Get a feel for whether you would be comfortable there or not.

○        Find out where most students live and see if you can tour a few housing options. Also find out if where students live varies by class year!

○        What is public transportation like? Do you have a car? Will you need one?

●        Start the Conversation: When you have questions that need answers, don’t be afraid to be proactive! Here are just a few ways to get started.

○        Talk to current students: contact the school and ask to speak to a student.  If you’re interested in a particular area of law or organization, most schools will post contact information on their websites so you can reach out.  Ask them: What’s the environment like there? Is it competitive?  Is there a lot of academic support available?  What is a day in the life of a student like? What activities are you involved in?

○        Talk to faculty: If you are interested in a specific school because of a specialized program, speak to faculty in that program to learn more about it. You’re going to law school to learn to be a lawyer, so it is essential to get an idea of who you will be learning from.  Ask them: What is the student/faculty ratio? What are the faculty/student relationships like? How involved is the faculty?  Do professors have an open door policy?  If you want to be a part of a specific clinic or program, don’t assume that admission to the law school = admission to the program!  Ask what it takes to get in!

○        Talk to alumni: Ask for names and contact information from the admissions office. Ask about their experience finding a job where you’d like to live and practicing the type of law you’re interested in practicing.  Ask how the school assisted them get to where they are.  Ask if they’re still in touch with people they attended school with and what their classmates are up to today. 

It’s important to consider everything we listed above and more. Once you have visited all the law schools you are interested in, sit down with all the information you gathered about each law school and weigh the positives and negatives. While so many students focus on rankings and prestige (and those are important), it is really important that you choose a law school where you feel comfortable and know you will succeed. High rankings won’t matter if you are so unhappy with the environment that you won’t succeed academically.

At the end of the day, we know this is not an easy decision. At the risk of sounding cheesy, you will just know what law school feels right. You will get a sense when visiting what school will be the best fit for you, what law school will be home.  

Bridget Sheehan and Courtney Gabbara are both Assistant Directors of Admission at Michigan State University College of Law and recent graduates of the Law College. Having met in law school through Moot Court, both women have found a long lasting friendship based on their future career interests, laughter, and love of nachos. Bridget graduated from Saint Xavier University with a Bachelor of Arts in Criminal Justice and has actively pursued her interests in family and criminal law. She is originally from Chicago, Illinois and enjoys college football, specifically Notre Dame (Go Irish!), reading, and country music.  Courtney earned her Bachelor of Science in Psychology from Michigan State University and has been a Ms. JD Board Member since April of 2011.  Her hobbies include scrapbooking, running Warrior Dash, and cooking.

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