Look Past The Next 3 Years In Making Your Law School Decision

Law School Expert Blog

Photo by Jeffrey Smith, CC-BY
Photo by Jeffrey Smith, CC-BY

Attending law school is, most likely, not your end goal. This can be a hard fact to remember when you’re buried in the admissions process, but it’s also important to remind yourself of this fact. Getting into, choosing, and then succeeding in the right law school isn’t just about the school. It is, instead, a path to the end goal of having a career which may be a legal career, or it may be a career where a J.D. is particularly helpful.

I’ve written extensively before on the factors that make for a good law school match, but here’s a quick checklist to keep in mind when you’re making your decision:

1 – Cost of Attendance

This is more than just the tuition cost of school. The American Bar Association requires all accredited law schools to post their full estimated cost of attendance, which includes everything from the cost of housing to books, fees, and even transportation. Use this cost of attendance, as well as your own budget, and compare it to the scholarships you are being offered. Balance these costs with a realistic view of what you might be able to pay off in student loans, depending on your employment. Which means keeping in mind…

2- Real Employment Data

This is more than what raw percentage of graduates of a law school are employed 9 months after graduation. Dig more deeply into the statistics from a school — the American Bar Association disclosures and Law School Transparency reports are both good places to start. You should also call the Career Services office of the schools you are considering. Ask to be connected with alumni who work in the kind of career you want to have. If a school has a great employment rate in insurance defense, but you want to work in BigLaw, then their base percentage employment statistics may not indicate your future chances at the career you want. This includes not only type of law, but what area of the country you hope to live in and the networking opportunities available there.

3- Your Personality and Learning Style

Law school is intense, stressful, and will leave you a changed person- hopefully, in a good way. So you want to attend a school that will not be at direct odds with the way you learn. Most law schools use the same basic method of Socratic learning. However, some foster a more collegial atmosphere through the grading policies and law review try-outs versus “grading on”. Consider what kind of an environment will work best for your style, and weigh more heavily towards the environment you think you’ll thrive in.

14 Responses

  1. Hello Ann Lewis,

    I am truly a student that needs a hand, tremendously! My GPA (2.57) and my LSAT (140). I feel so defeated right now because I look at others’ stories and their history behind finding law school or going to attend. I am a senior in college and law school has been my dream since I was a little girl. Therefore, I really am dedicated to be an attorney because it lives within me and I want to help others around the world succeed and come out like I hope to do. However, right now I feel like a failure and a lost cause because it seems like I am not ‘intelligent’ enough to attend law school, but I know I am. I wish a school would just give me a chance to prove how confident and motivated of a student I am… is there any hope for me, really?

    1. Collegirl,
      A lot of my blog readers feel the same way you do. If you have the opportunity to retake the LSAT, I highly encourage that you do so, and that you invest in help with that process. It’s the #1 way you can demonstrate to the law schools that you are capable of making it through and passing the bar. I wish you all the best.

  2. Hello!

    I’m having difficulty deciding which law school to attend for various reasons. I’m deciding between two law schools, one a tier-one and the other tier-two. At the tier one, I have a full tuition scholarship but it’s an area I don’t like (I’m a city person and this is a small town). The school is highly respected in the area and state (and nationally… though not as much as others). The tier-two has given me an almost full-scholarship and a fellowship for child/family law, which is what I want to do. The school is not as great as the first and I would be competing with nationally respected schools in the Chicago area for internships and jobs… but I’m happier in the city and I would be living with my friends (who are also in graduate school and would not be a distraction).

    I’m just having a problem deciding where to go and would love any insight!

    1. Hi Molly – this is a great position to be in. It sounds like school #2 with the great scholarship, good program in your area, and the city where you want to live is perfect for you!

  3. Dear Anne,

    Great article as always. I am the proud owner of your book, The Law School Decision Game, and I have frequently referred to your advice when making my law school related decisions.

    I have a question regarding the waitlist. I have been held at Northwestern and have completed their optional hold essays. I would like to submit these essays to several other law schools, where I have been waitlisted, as they substantially complement my application and reveal more in-depth information about my goals and character. Do you think this is a good idea, because I don’t want these other law schools to think I’m simply being lazy by sending an already written essay, as they can easily determine that the essay’s prompt comes from Northwestern?

    Thank you in advance for your advice!

    1. Hi Anthony, I’m glad The Law School Decision Game was helpful to you! (Definitely need some more reviews of that one on Amazon if you’re so inclined!)
      I wouldn’t send the NW essays to other schools in the same form – it’s too obvious what they are. But if there is information in them that would add more depth to your application profile, do write it up and send it as additional information/updates in a way that doesn’t look like a response to a NW hold essay.

      1. Hi Ann,

        Thank you for your response. I have submitted a review for The Law School Decision Game!

        I want to maximize my chances of admission from the waitlists of a t-5 and t-16 school and from NW’s “Held” list. To do this, I planned on emailing these schools, notifying them that I would give up a significant scholarship at a t-20 school just to attend their school. My gpa is above the 75th percentile at all these schools, but below the 25th percentile for their LSAT scores.

        My 3 questions should be useful to other applicants and are as follows:

        1) Do you believe such an email will help my chances of admission?

        2) Is it worth it, knowing that I’m risking receiving any scholarship money if I’m admitted at these waitlisted & held schools?

        3) Do you have any other suggestions for maximizing my chances of admission from the waitlist (I’ve already sent LOCI’s, and supplemental essays)?

        Thank you!

  4. I read both of your books last week and it gave me some great information, but I am still not sure about 2 law schools I am interested in. I am looking at the 16th and 30th ranked law schools. The 30th ranked is close to my home and it would be convenient for me to attend and will likely get a better scholarship. The 16th everyone says is the place to go. Where I live now I live practically for free and being a student this would help. I would love to have graduated from the 16th ranked school and would consider it a source of pride. I get the cal vet fee waiver and tuition is free for me to go to any public school in California. Just wondering what the difference will be for me in the long run in going to either school. Will likely finish higher in my class at the 30th ranked school and the class sizes are smaller there. Appreciate your thoughts.

    1. Hi David. I’m glad the books are helpful. I would go for free at a well ranked school if it were me! But it’s a very personal decision. It sounds like you want to choose #30 and are feeling pressure from others to chose 16, but it’s your life and you’re the one who has to live with managing your life versus impressing others…. hope this helps.

  5. Also, just wondering how the schools will look at me considering my undergraduate and graduate degrees. I have an undergraduate degree in Finance, Real Estate, and Law from Cal Poly Pomona. An MBA from Azusa Pacific University. 1/2 a MA in Communications from Cal State San Bernardino. I am working on a M-ARCH (masters in architecture) from Cal Poly Pomona. I am going to put a year into preparing for LSAT to see how close to a perfect score I can get (plan on taking Manhattan Prep. and doing all the prep tests atleast once). Want to insure I get in to good school and that I maximize scholarships.

  6. Hi Ann!!!

    I really need your advice and soon if possible! I am having the most difficult time deciding between two schools right now. South Texas vs Oklahoma City. They are both ranked 149 but one is clearly more established and well known than the other. ST I know all about and for a while has been my dream school, but they are only accepting me as a part time student. I can go to full time after the 1st year, but I will have to take summer classes every summer to graduate in 3 years and will have to go to class at night with people way older than I am. I have asked multiple times for them to reconsider, but they are over capacity this year so they are not budging. OKCU is giving me a 30k scholarship which will pay for 1 year and books and I absolutely adore the campus and the deans and the students are very friendly. however, I do not like the city and I want to work and live in Texas when I graduate which would be more difficult going to school in OK. O also both appear to have a high hire rates.
    It comes down to going to a well regarded school as a half student, no colleagues, and no summers vs a school that continually expresses their interest in me, offered me scholarship. and I can be a full student.
    Any thoughts?

    1. Hi Laurel,
      I’m sorry I can’t help you make this decision because I don’t know you well enough. I think you need to go with your gut – if you feel later you made the wrong call, you could try to transfer after your first year.

  7. Hello!

    Sorry to ask you another one of these opinion questions but I guess I find myself in the same position as many others. I am currently stuck between a tier 1 school (ranked 30th) and a tier 2 school (ranked 62nd). Both are within two hours from my home. The tier one school is offering a $75,000 scholarship but since Im out of state that will only cover half. The tier two school is offering a full ride and then some. Normally I’d go where the money is but 30 places seems like a large gap. They both have good employment rates and bas passage rates. The tier one has much higher starting salaries though, at least for private sector (90k average compared to 50k).

    Any input or suggestions is appreciated.


    1. Hi Jeff, I love these kinds of problems. Look beyond the ranking and see where you have the best chance of pursuing the career you hope to have after law school.

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