I can remember how important law school rankings were to me when I was applying to law school, and I know pre law students still focus on the issue of law school ratings.
Conversations with pre law students invariably lead to discussions about the T-20 law schools; otherwise known as the 20 top law schools in the United States.
Generally the top 20 law schools are the following (the list varies year to year, but generally the schools listed below are included):
New York University
University of Michigan-Ann Arbor
University of Pennsylvania
University of Virginia
University of Texas-Austin
University Southern California
George Washington University
University of Minnesota-Twin Cities
Why is that? Because the law school rankings you read from U.S. News and World Reports (among other rating organizations) do not take into account what would make YOU a successful lawyer.
Let me explain…
Your approach to law school rankings should be the following questions in order of importance:
Let’s examine each major factor more specifically…
1) Geography -- The first and one of the most important considerations in creating your own law school rating system is geography and this can be a major negative for attending a T-20 law school. You have to have some idea as to where in the country you want to practice law.
Generally, when choosing a law school you should choose a school in or near the state(s) you intend to practice law. The reason for this is because alumni relations are strongest in the geographic area where the school resides, and the classes will be slightly leaning towards the law of that jurisdiction.
If you want to practice law in Florida it is probably best to go to a school in Florida or one of the surrounding states. Though it would not bar you from being licensed in Florida, attending a law school in Wisconsin may make things harder for you in obtaining employment in Florida.
In fact, I have heard from several graduates of T-20 schools (outside of New York City), that when applying for their first job out of law school at a New York City firm they were passed over solely because of their law school’s distance from NYC. The candidates were forced to work at a less prestigious firm for a few years in the NYC geographic area before they made the jump to a top NYC law firm).
2) Cost -- The cost of attending law school can be very high. If your parents or another benefactor agrees to pay for your education that is super! Go to the most highly rated school (T-20 if possible) nearest to the state where you want to practice law. However, if you will primarily be relying on financial aid to obtain your law degree, consider the following:
The cost of a legal education can be up to $150,000 and if you require significant financial aid you should take a few steps to minimize the size of your debt. Many of my law school colleagues graduated with substantial debt, and significant debt makes life so much more difficult, especially if you cannot find a high paying job right out of law school.
Thus, you need to reduce the cost of your legal education from the get go. It is advisable to consider a state law school. If you will require significant financial aid, first determine what state (or geographic location) in the country you want to work, then investigate those state law schools.
One of the major negatives of attending a T-20 school is the price. The T-20 schools tend to be the most expensive with total tuition costs around $150,000 for three years of attendance (not including any costs for room, board, books, and food). If money is a major concern for you, attending a T-20 school means you will graduate with a lot of debt.
Tuition is MUCH cheaper at state law schools. (Especially for in-state students, which means you will most likely have to move to that state and reside there for 6 months to meet eligibility for residency requirements, but this can be worth it in the long run.) Further, the education will still be comparable (at most schools). Also, if possible living at home with your parents is probably a good idea if you want to practice in your home state.
3) Specialty fields -- If you have a specialty field in mind, and you are sure that field is the sector of law where you want to focus your career, you should review the top rated law schools for that specialty. For example, if you want to specialize in “Health Law” then you should forget about the T-20 schools and consider Seton Hall University (the #1 rated health law program).
4) Lifestyle – The least important consideration when creating your own law school rankings is lifestyle. I would label this the standard undergraduate university concerns of where the school is, if the school feels right for you, the type of students that go there, how “cut-throat” the students are and how they treat each other. Visit the school and talk to the law students if possible.
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