Choosing a Law School
The conventional wisdom is that you should attend the “best” — i.e., the most selective and prestigious law school that accepts you. However, what’s “best” in terms of a law school’s reputation may not necessarily be best for you. “Best” also has to mean which law school is the best “fit” for you. Thus you should take into account the following in making your final decision:
Graduates of “top ten” or “top twenty” law schools usually have more geographical mobility upon graduation that graduates of regional law schools. Depending on the overall job market, a graduate from Harvard, Chicago, Duke, Michigan or Stanford should, because of the prestige of those law schools, have access to jobs throughout the U.S. In contrast, graduates of less prestigious law schools are likely to get job offers from the geographical region (e.g., southeast, Pacific northwest) where those law schools are located. Employers outside the geographical location of regionally-known law schools aren’t familiar with them and their graduates. A good rule of thumb is to pick the “best” law school that admits you in the geographical part of the U.S. where you think you want to practice after you graduate from law school. Another consideration: attend a law school in a region of the U.S. where employment opportunities for young attorneys are growing rather than stagnating or contracting.
In law school, many of my classmates hailed from such institutions as Harvard, Yale, and Princeton. At first this was somewhat intimidating, but I soon realized that with my Alma education I was well-equipped to tackle the rigors of a top-ten legal education-Eric Reed ’98; Michigan ’01
Other geographical issues involve quality of life, broadly defined, while you’re in law school. You probably don’t want to attend a law school in a location where you feel endangered, uncomfortable, or devoid of opportunities important to you. Thus you need to take into account proximity to friends and family, affordability of housing, employment opportunities for yourself and spouse while you’re in law school, crime rates, weather, recreational and cultural opportunities, and quality of schools for your children.
Although the market value of pursuing a joint degree program (e.g., J.D./MBA) is disputed, whether a law school participates in joint degree programs is a big issue for some Alma students. Thus if you are accepted at the University of Michigan but the joint degree program you truly want is available only through a less prestigious law school, you may decide to attend the institution with the desired joint degree program. However, there may be another option. One of our recent graduates got accepted at Michigan, which then deferred her matriculation for two years so that she could complete an M.A. at another university before starting law school at Michigan.
This is critical, especially for newly minted J.D. graduates in a tight job market. Get data from law schools and from various websites on law schools’ placement rates upon graduation and nine months after graduation and also on bar passage rates. Investigate carefully the placement and bar passage rates of the law schools in which you’re interested and also where the schools’ most recent graduates got hired. For example, if you know you want to begin work in a large firm in a big city, you should think twice before enrolling in a law school that has a pattern of placing 90 percent of its graduates in small firms in small towns.
Placement rates and types of first jobs after graduation are affected by several factors. One is the reputation/prestige of the law school. Others involve how well you used your three years in law school. Your chances for quality employment after graduation are influenced by your rank-in-class (based on GPA), whether you participated in “prestige activities,” such as law review and moot court, and what impressions you made on your employer during your second summer at law school.