…if you’re looking for a future life that includes more than law.
This is the first in a three part series:
#2 School Specifics
#3 Finances and Career
I know that when it comes to choosing a law school a lot of people will do this:
Look at their LSAT score, look at their GPA, and then consult the U.S. News rankings. They then apply to the highest ranked schools that seem to fit their scores, sometimes adjusting themselves up or down a few slots based on their writing skills, life experience, and other incidentals.
To me, this seems like very little research for something that potentially impacts the rest of your life.
So, just for you dear readers, here is Ana's advice on choosing a law school. After writing for hours I realized the post was pretty long so I'm breaking it up into three parts: Location, School Specifics, and Finances/Career Opportunities.
Picking a location - what are you looking for? Law school may be a mere three years, but I knew I wanted to live in an ‘urban center’ for the duration. From there I chose about six cities that fit my criteria of large population, strong cultural arts, and diversity of industry. Figure out what you want in a city and go from there.
Diversity of industry is important. Don't live in a city whose economy lives and dies according to one industry. For example, Austin, TX is a great town with a lot to offer, BUT it only has two main industries: state government and technology. If you want to live in Austin, you basically need to be willing to take a lower salary in government OR have some type of hard science undergrad that will allow you to get hired in tech-related law. And techies are pretty hard-nosed about that background. They think a liberal arts grad just won’t get it – and who knows, they may be right. Plus, the tech economy is grossly cyclical. Take it from someone who lived in Austin through the tech boom/bust/boom and watched highly-educated engineers get laid off and rehired on a regular basis.
Look for a city where you would be willing to live after you graduate OR conversely, a school whose major job recruiters are from a city where you would be comfortable. Here’s the deal, unless you go to a top 15 school, your diploma is probably going to carry much more weight within a 500 mile radius of where you went to school. The closer you stay to your school, the better your prospect of finding a job. Sure, you can go to another state just to try it out and gain a new experience, but you'll have two things going against you when you come back. You'll have a much harder time trying to find a job in State 1 with a State 2 diploma, and you'll miss out on job networking during your three years of being away. If you go to school near the city where you want to live, you can make professional contacts as well as get to know fellow students, the bulk of whom will remain near the law school throughout their careers.
Ranking doesn't guarantee employment everywhere. During the application process I visited a school in a different state. The school was about twenty slots above Big City U and offered me a decent-sized scholarship. On my trip I met a student there who had wanted to go to Big City U, hadn't gotten accepted, and now was trying to find a job in Big City. He was doing the job-searching all on his own and kept running into employers who questioned his motives in going away. He had ties in my state, but not in Big City and couldn't get an interview there. He found a job (a BigLaw one, actually) - just not in Big City (where he wanted to be). Be careful of schools that fall in slots 15-50. They're great degrees to have in some areas and marginal in others.
Big City v. Small City. Don't limit your job hunt to fall recruiting. There are a lot of nice things about living in a quaint college town. However, one of the reasons that I chose Big City was because of the potential to find a paid part-time job during the school year. Thus, even if I didn’t make it into the Top X% of my class during my first year, I would still be able to gain experience and make some money if I missed out on the big fall recruiting season. Also, when you live ten minutes from where you want to work, it's no big deal to schedule an interview at any time of year - even if it's last minute and during exams. Some people at my school have been super resourceful and were able to work in a variety of environments - court, private-large-transactional, private-small-litigation. Others have found their full-time jobs through working at the same place for two years.
Cost of Living. I was somewhat of a non-traditional student when I came back to school, and I was used to a certain lifestyle. I knew I’d have to cut back, and I knew that despite that, I’d still have to take out loans. I looked for a city that would allow for the least painful transition. I played with salary and cost of living calculators online and checked out rental prices for different cities on Craigslist. Where I live now has a lower cost of living than any other city where I've previously lived. For the same price of the one bedroom apartments I had in my former cities, I am now living closer to the downtown-area in a free-standing house. It rocks – and greatly contributes to my quality of life.
Scope out your competition. LA and NYC are big cities with lots of job potential. However, if you go to NYC you'll be competing with grads from Columbia, NYU, Cornell, Harvard, and Penn for employment. In LA you've got UCLA, USC, Berkeley, and Stanford. That’s a lot of people who could have a leg-up on you before you even get through the door for an interview if you don't attend one of those schools. Keep in mind what types of law schools are nearby and how they may impact your future employment.
Ok, so there's some things to think about - tomorrow - school specifics.
Thanks for the shout out from:
Law School Expert