Some people argue that you should only go to law school if you get into a “top” school. The definition of “top” varies, but could include the top three schools (Yale, Harvard, Stanford), the top 14 schools, the top school in a given geographic area, or some combination thereof.
Like it or not, there’s something to this argument.
Law is an elitist profession, and hierarchy is important.
However, it’s also a very geographically-based profession (each state has its own bar exam, for example), and employers tend to hire from local schools when they can.
Outside of a handful of “national” schools, whose graduates are highly sought after throughout the country, it’s going to be a lot easier to get a job in a city where you have connections and an alumni network.
The Ideal Scenario
In an ideal world, you would attend a supportive, highly ranked school located where you’d like to practice (preferably on a full scholarship), but this might not be feasible.
- Maybe your academic record isn’t strong enough to get into the highest ranked local school. Can another school in the area provide the opportunities you want?
- Perhaps the area you’d like to end up in doesn’t have a prestigious law school nearby. Are you better off applying to more distant, but more prestigious, schools?
- What if the most prestigious local school is private and very expensive, but there’s a much cheaper option nearby?
The “National” Schools
At a minimum, it’s worth considering whether you want to apply to any of the top schools in the U.S. News rankings, often referred to as the T14. (The composition of this group didn’t change from 1990 to 2010, resulting in the seemingly arbitrary break at number fourteen. This year, the University of Texas-Austin tied for #14, so technically it’s the top fifteen schools as of 2011.)
All of these schools claim to be national, and suggest that their graduates are highly recruited around the country.
This is almost certainly true at the very top of the rankings, but becomes less true as you move down.
Once you’re outside of the very top schools, it might be more accurate to think of these schools as regional bigshots. That’s not to say you can’t get a job in random Location X if you graduate from Georgetown or UT-Austin, but it’s probably going to be easier if you graduate from Yale or Harvard.
In any case, the T14 schools remain the surest route to BigLaw and can potentially provide you with career options that you might not have at a less highly ranked school.
The Real Question: Which School’s Best for YOU
That being said, you may not need to attend a prestigious national school to get the job you want, and you may have compelling reasons not to even apply to these schools, which tend to focus on the hiring needs of large law firms.
It all depends on what exactly you’re looking for.
There is no one “best” law school — the question should be which school is most likely to help you achieve your goals.
Still wondering if you should even apply to law school? Check out our Should I Apply? Mini-Guide to help you decide.
- Should You Go to Law School? A Slightly Weird Technique to Help You Decide
- Should You Go to Law School? Well, What Do You Like to Do?
- Should You Go to Law School? What’s Your Motivation?
While you’re at it, be sure to read Law School Myths, Debunked so you don’t find yourself saying “I really wish I’d known that before I applied to law school” a few years down the line.
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Wondering what school is best for you? Leave questions in the comments!