Researching US Law Schools

When applying to law school in the US, you have to do a lot of research to decide which programmes interest you.

You are likely to become overwhelmed by your options as you research all 190+ American Bar Association-approved law schools. You shouldn’t just aimlessly browse for schools. Instead use your original goals—Why do you want to be a lawyer? Why do you want to go to law school? —as your guides to tap into the following sources of information.

Official Guide to US Law Schools

The Official Guide to US Law Schools should be one of your first reading assignments if you haven't already consulted it. The guide is produced annually by the Law School Admission Council (the producers of the LSAT®). Each year, all ABA-approved law schools submit a wealth of statistical and factual information about their programmes, their rate of admission, their application pools, their yield, and the statistical profile of successful candidates. You'll also find the phone numbers and addresses of schools, along with useful information about preparation for the LSAT, the application process, minority applicant opportunities, organisations, and a geographic guide to US law schools.

Review of Legal Education in the United States

The Review of Legal Education in the United States contains statistical information about every ABA-accredited law school. Topics include the size of the student body, the percentage of minorities enrolled, the number of men and women, the number and gender of faculty and administrators, the cost of tuition, the size of the library collection, and the availability of graduate and part-time programmes.

Evaluating Law Schools and Programmes

For each school to which you choose to apply, you may have to select from varying law programmes — different specialisations and joint programmes. As a result, you could be faced with hundreds of options to choose from.

When you sit back and imagine your ideal programme, what issues come into play? Decide what is important to you.  You will need to consider a number of factors when assessing which law programmes fit your wants and needs. Although specific factors in choosing the right school will vary from person to person, there are some common ones that will ease the process considerably. You should consider each of the following in terms of its importance to you:

Geography

Where do you want to practice law? Statistically speaking, most lawyers practice in quite close proximity to their school. As you mull over the numerous issues connected with geographic location, don't forget to consider your personal preferences.

Part-Time vs. Full-Time

If possible it is generally agreed that you should attend law school full-time. It immerses you fully in your legal training. However, the sense of balance that can accompany a part-time schedule often has its advantages.

School Reputation

Beyond referencing the various annual rankings of law schools, perhaps the best way to research the reputation of a school is to ask law students or lawyers. Another method is to look through law school catalogues to see which schools the professors attended. You should also decide whether a national, local or international reputation is most important to you.

School Size

The more intimate and potentially smaller classes and the intimate environment of a smaller school is often balanced by the advantage that a larger school usually has in the greater size and diversity of both its faculty and students.

Financial Aid

Financing law school is a very different process than financing a US undergraduate college education, mainly due to your access to loans and potential earning power after graduation.

Joint-Degree Programmes

Joint-degree programmes are often offered by bigger universities with a good variation of professional and graduate programmes and usually allow you to earn two degrees in a shorter time than it would take to earn each degree separately.

Placement

Spend some time familiarising yourself with each school's placement rates, placement location, on-campus recruitment programme, and law school personnel devoted to helping you get the right job.

Class Size

One faculty member to 30 full-time students is considered the outside limit of acceptability. Beyond this basic ratio, you might want to assess the following characteristics of a school's faculty: educational background, professional experience beyond the classroom, reputation, accessibility, continued professional activity, and ethnic, gender, academic, and racial diversity.

Student Body

In a fundamental way, your classmates will establish the level of intellectual challenge you'll face.

Student Services

Administrative offices, such as financial aid and registration, can have a dramatic impact on your school experience. Talk to current students, read the literature, and call the offices yourself to judge how responsive you think the staff will be to your situation.

Student Organisations

Your law school experience will be greatly enhanced by your involvement in a number of extracurricular activities. Schools will usually provide you with a list of student organisations on request or even in their brochures. You can tell a great deal about a school by the nature of its student organisations.

Academic Rigour

Most law school applicants will aspire to the most academically competitive schools within their range of possibility based on LSAT scores and GPA. While this makes a lot of sense in a number of ways, it is not the best strategy for all people. You should think carefully about how you would react to the possibility of ranking at the bottom of your class.

Library and Facilities

Spend some time assessing the research facilities and resources available at each of the schools you're considering.

Clinical Programmes

Clinics allow law students to try out their legal skills representing clients in a variety of settings. However, not all clinical programmes are of the same standard. Find out whether the clinical experience is a simulated or a real-world experience and decide which would be better for you. Also, make sure the kinds of topics the clinics deal with interest to you.