Spring?

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Yesterday was the first day that I actually felt like we were headed somewhere, seasonally speaking. Granted, we've had a few warmish days here and there, and yesterday wasn't scorching, by any means. But there was something about the feel of it that just gave the impression that things were turned around.

Of course, the forecast for today is for some rain and/or snow, so it looks like that feeling will be pretty short-lived. Easy come, easy go.

In other news, the new law school rankings are out (they'll apparently be on the web in the next week or so). I don't know how my school did, nor do I particularly care. With all due respect to those who go to Yale, Harvard and the rest on down, I think the graduations on quality of legal education are usually so fine that it's irrelevant. And the methodology of the rankings is a joke.

So what do I think should be important in choosing a law school? Here are a few factors, in no particular order:

  • Region: For those of us who don't go to those high-priced top-ranked schools, it makes a lot of sense to attend a school in the geographical area in which one intends to practice. Local schools usually have pretty good local reputations. Plus it makes the job hunt easier.
  • Cost: Legal education can be expensive, but what's the substantive difference in the quality? Yale's tuition this year is over 36k. My tuition this year didn't even hit the 6k mark, as mentioned here. My contracts casebook is the same one they use at Harvard. Big deal. You get what you put into it, and I doubt my grasp of the subjects so far (which seems to be pretty solid) would get any better if the professor were one of the Anointed.
  • Curriculum: Does the school you're considering have the program you want? If what you want is nothing special, then you'll be pretty free to pick any school that strikes your fancy. If your interests are more esoteric, perhaps you'd like to become a scholar in one faced of Constitutional law, you'll need to find a school that has the faculty to adequately train you in that area. The thing is, in many cases this will be dependent on the Faculty, not the school. Rank is irrelevant. In many cases, however, what you want to do will be pretty standard in any school. I'd like to prosecute, and CrimLaw is standard, so just about any school would have been fine for me.
  • Clinical Opportunities: This is one of the few areas where I suggest a hard and fast rule: Pick a school with clinical opportunities. Period. It's a not-so-well-hidden secret that law school doesn't really teach you how to be a lawyer, until you start doing it. You may not want to do any of the clinics, but to rob yourself of the opportunity right away is starting out your career with one strike against you.
  • Culture: This is the most important for actual happiness while in school, I believe. Do your classmates tend to be cutthroat? Do they want to 'win' law school? Are important cases sliced out of the reporters in the Library (this can happen)? For anyone who wants a great, comfortable atmosphere, academic yet not competitive per se, my school is fabulous. You can walk through the library, or even in the classrooms, and find that we trust each other enough to leave all our personal stuff unattended while we do whatever. We all work hard, but I don't get the feeling that anyone is really all about grades or rank. And let's face it, while employers may look at that stuff for your first job or two, it doesn't really matter in the long term. Anyone know of the top of their head what school Johnny Cochran attended? Do you know his rank and GPA? Is he a highly successful attorney?

None of this is to suggest that if rank is really that important you shouldn't base your decision on that in part, but if that's the sole factor, rather than finding a school that's a good fit, chances are greater that you'll have a miserable three years. Life is too short to be miserable. Another upshot is that if you're interested in PI and go to a less-costly school, there's less motivation to sell your soul to BigLaw to make up the cost. And if you think BigLaw is for you, you can still make it, you just have to be top in your class.

For anyone looking to select a law school, it's probably too late by the time you read this. But if it isn't, try to have fun with the process.

For the record, I applied to precisely one school.

3 Comments

Jenn said:

Firstly, great advice! Every single factor is very important to everyone choosing law schools. I know I certainly considered all of them.

When I read that your tuition didn't hit the $6k mark and mine is up there with Harvard's even though we're not anywhere near as prestigious, it does get you thinking.

Arguably, I think you can choose on rank, but choose wisely. I don't profess to know the inner workings of the US News and World Report that EVERYONE hates. I do know that the location, # of programs, and value of those has something to do with it.

For people that don't know exactly what they want to do, I think choosing a school with lots of options is a good thing. Maybe higher ranked schools have more options academically and regionally? Plus, you get the added benefit of little things like having Justices Scalia and Breyer visit and have a debate on the role of International Law in SCOTUS decisions and refer casually to Bowers and Lawrence. (which was fabulous!)

Conversely, I applied to exactly 24 law schools:)!

So, at the end of the email from our dean congratulating the students on the increased ranking he stated, "we will always remain true to the educational and philsophical values upon which this school was founded by two pioneering women in 1896." (the school was founded by two feminists). So, I think it's a balance. Get your money's worth, have options if that's what you want if you're like me who doesn't know what you want, but for god's sake, be realistic about the environment, your options and your life for the next 3 years and so on! Pick a place that is stimulating on many different levels, one of which can be the ranking.

Well, perhaps the biggest reason no one cares where Johnnie Cochran went to law school is that he is dead.

If you know where you want to live and work for the rest of your life your law school does not matter. Pick by region.

If you expect to roam around, going national can be a good investment.

I picked my law school twenty-five years ago and I am happy with my choice, although I hated, hated, hated the place when I was there.

Mackenzie said:

The process is survey driven, with the surveys going to law school deans, some faculty, and a small number of practitioners in each state (something on the order of ten, though I'm not sure). But how can anyone intelligently know anything about a school with which one has no experience? Jenn, I know nothing about your school. Should I rate it lowest? Look at the past rank and figure others must have known what they were doing? When someone from your school looks at the University of Wyoming, I doubt they know much, but they probably figure, "It's Wyoming, how good could it be?" Or maybe, "Isn't that where that gay kid got killed?" Even the job data rate isn't all that accurate; at most schools, the rate is calculated by looking at all the surveys returned. If you don't respond, you're not counted one way or another.

I do feel like the rankings accurately reflect prestige, mainly because of the methodological problems, I just don't think you're going to find that much of a variance in the quality of education. So to the extent that the prestige of the school is helpful to one's goals (and let's face it, that is true to a certain extent for all of us), it can be useful. From my perspective, though, life is too short to spend three years being miserable.

It is weird that I wrote that so close to Cochran's death. I'm not entirely sure who Prof. Torts I will hire now.

About this Entry

This page contains a single entry by Mackenzie published on March 29, 2005 6:13 AM.

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