Choosing a Law School
Students are encourages to visit the Law School Admission Counsel's website. Students can find there significant information on the LSAT and the various law school programs (including their websites). Students are also advised to take advantage of one of the free LSAC forums offered throughout the country. These forums offer helpful workshops and the opportunity to meet with representatives from over 100 law schools.
Since all law schools charge a non-refundable application fee, typically $50.00, most students will limit the number of applications. However, following the below-stated guidelines should minimize expenses while ensuring almost certain admittance to a law school program. You should also be aware that LSAC offers a fee-waiver program for students who cannot afford to pay the LSAT or LSDAS fee. Additionally, many law schools offer an application fee waiver for students who are granted a waiver through LSAC.
The decision about which law schools you should apply to is a very personal one and, thus, will vary considerably from applicant to applicant. Formulating the individual list, however, usually involves the consideration of three factors: economic, personal, and academic.
The Economic Factor
The economic factor entails not only the actual dollar costs of law school tuition, books, room and board, etc., but also a consideration of what one gets for the money. The annual tuition can vary considerably. Of course, living expenses, particularly housing costs, vary as well; it is much more expensive to live in San Francisco, New York, or Washington, D.C., as compared to Austin, Texas or Madison, Wisconsin. Availability and cost of transportation is also a consideration. The cost of books and supplies will everywhere be considerably more than that paid as an undergraduate. You should inquire about the availability of financial aid at each institution. Finally, you should also reflect on the type of legal work you would like to do upon graduation and the remuneration that such work typically offers. It can be difficult to pursue certain careers in law when you are burdened with debt incurred while in law school.
The Personal Factor
You will also want to consider the acceptability of the school's location regarding climate, urban versus rural setting, distance from home, recreational and cultural facilities available, etc. In addition, you should think about where you might wish to practice upon completion of law school. For the select few who can gain entrance to the most prestigious law schools, obtaining a position after law school will not present much of a problem. For most students, however, the opportunity to make contacts and begin part-time or summer employment in law firms while still in law school will be an important aid in obtaining a satisfactory position after graduation. Thus, those who wish to work in Los Angeles, New York, or Washington, D.C. would logically look closely at law schools within or very near to those cities. You should also think about the type of learning environment you prefer; law schools vary in terms of their competitiveness and "supportiveness."
The Academic Factor
The most significant factor in your law school choice is the academic one. It is often not where the applicant would like to go to school that dictates his or her choice, but where admission can be obtained. After you receive your LSAT scores, appraise yourself realistically. Consider law school admission rates and LSAT percentiles when applying.
Submit applications to three categories of law schools, as follows:
- "Long Shots" - These are schools which have "numbers" (median GPA's and LSAT scores) notably higher than yours. Applications should be made to one or more desired schools in this category, in the hope of somehow standing out from the other applicants and gaining admission.
- "Reasonable Chance" - These are schools that have numbers approximating yours. Applicants should be made to as many schools in this category as you are willing to attend. If the schools in this category are properly identified, about a fifty percent acceptance rate should result.
- "Sure Things" - These are schools that have numbers clearly below yours, but that you would attend if denials are received from all schools in the other two categories. Applications should be made to one or more schools in this category as a hedge against the worst possible situation.
U.S. News: The most recognized and cited -- but by no means definitive -- law school rankings are those issued by U.S. News and World Report. Schools are organized into the top 100, then placed unranked into the categories of third and fourth tier. Schools are ranked by a composite score of four weighted areas:quality assessment (40%), selectivity (25%), placement success (20%), and faculty resources (15%). With few exceptions, the same fourteen schools have ranked highest since the first publication in 1987. These schools are often referred to as the top 14, or T14. Because U.S. News relies heavily on opinionsurveys (40% for quality assessment), this consistency is criticized as resulting in a feedback loop that perpetuates the T14.
Hylton: The Hylton rankings eliminate "clutter" from the data used to form the U.S. News rankings. The composite score incorporates only LSAT medians and peer assessment from the U.S. News' survey of law professors. Although differently ordered, the top 14 schools as measured by Hylton and U.S. News are the same. J. Gordon Hylton is a professor at Marquette University's Law School.
Leiter's Educational Quality Rankings: Rather than awarding composite scores, Leiter presents various and focused comparisons based on both statistics and surveys. The ranking system identifies three factors central to a good legal education: quality of faculty, quality of student body, and quality of teaching. These are useful supplements to overall rankings. Brian Leiter is a law professor at the University of Chicago School of Law.
Internet Legal Research Group: The ILRG compiles raw data from 185 U.S. law schools, which can be sorted by factors such as GPA, LSAT, student to faculty ratio, bar passage rate, and percent of students employed at time of graduation. Also on the ILRG's website is a re-ranking of the U.S. News' top 50 schools after cost-benefit analysis. The ILRG maintains PublicLegal, a categorized index of web-published information on law and the legal profession.
Top Law Schools: TLS consolidates the latest law school rankings into one chart, allowing for comparison among ranking systems and years. Top-Law-Schools.com is an online resource and forum for law school applicants.