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.