Where Should You Apply To Law School?

The bestSome 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.

Read On:

Still wondering if you should even apply to law school? Check out our Should I Apply? Mini-Guide to help you decide.

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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  1. I think these are a lot of great points. One thing to consider as well though is if you think you are going to like the law school itself. Law schools have very different cultures. Some have mostly commuter students – so if you want a law school community that is not the school for you. Some schools have highly competitive cultures – and if you don’t like that – pick another school. Some schools have almost no interaction with professors while at others you might find yourself holding class at a professor’s home (yes this actually happened in one of my seminar classes). So as much as rankings are key and worth considering, being happy and finding a place where you think you will fit in and enjoy the experience is also very important.

    • Absolutely! Also, people think about “location” in a geographic sense, but it’s much broader than that. Rural, urban, suburban? The actual environment has a huge impact on happiness (and everyone likes different things), so there’s a lot to consider.

  2. This is a good quick support piece. I like how you break the decision down into small groups that work best for the person. I applied to schools based on a mixture of school location and rank. I ended up applying to 4 schools all within three hours of the home I share with my fiance. I’ve been accepting into two of them so far and now comes the tough decision of which to actually attend. I just wanted to say that your site and guides have really helped me through the process of applying and now my decision. I will continue to turn to your site for help as I continue through law school.


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