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Life of a Law Student, University of Houston Law Center

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How to Choose a Law School

By: Luke Gilman | Other Posts by
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Anastasia is slinging law school choosin’ advice on think like a woman. act like a man.Tips on Choosing a Law School #1: Location and Tips on Choosing a Law School #2: School.

I concur. I’m amazed at how little people know when they make their decision or what they choose to focus on. Rankings, well, they are numerical, I’ll give them that. They’re not bad as a starting point, particularly when you’re trying to figure out what your options might be with your LSAT and GPA. The differences between similarly ranked schools can be significant, however.

Consider, my dear prospective law student, School A an School B. (This is a hypothetical or “hypo” – get used to it) School A is ranked 20 spots above school B in the USNWR rankings. That might seem to be a big deal to you right now. Keep in mind that schools have jumped more than 20 spots in a single year. Taking a closer look you notice that School B is in a major metropolitan city while School A is in a much smaller city. School B’s city has several large and well-regarded firms and untold mid-sized firms as well as state trial and appellate courts and federal trial courts. School A’s city has a few state courts, for a federal gig you would have to go a few hours away to another big city with three other law schools. School B has 400 students in an entering class. School A has 100 students in an entering class. It doesn’t take a math wizard to figure out that there are 30 more students in School’s B’s top 10% than are in the top 10% at School A. That might be somewhat important if you’re dead set on a career in BigLaw and you’re the the eleventh smartest person at either school. Of course, there are numerous other factors to consider as well, and many of them pertain specifically to you and your situation. Certain schools are nice to go to if you’re interested in certain types of practice. Others are geographically pertinent. Texas isn’t a bad state to go to school in if you have a burning desire to do Oil & Gas. If you’re interested in maritime law for some god-awful reason, might I suggest a coast.

Console yourself with this – it probably doesn’t matter which you choose. That’s a little heretical to say, I know, but don’t confuse where you go to law school with who you are or how good a lawyer you’ll be. Lots of good lawyers went to schools you’ve never even thought about. The best advice I can give you – get out there and talk to as many people as you can – law students and especially lawyers. Find the people who do what you want to do and find out what it took to get there.

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Category: advice to law students, law school, law school rankings

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6 Responses

  1. Meagan says:

    Both Ana’s advice and yours are really helpful. BUT take it from someone who has seen the recruiting process from the inside and heard/read the partner comments. If your heart is set on BigLaw, know that the rankings count a lot as does your rank. No ifs, ands or buts – even as a lateral candidate with several years experience, they consider your school’s tier and your class rank. Only rarely will they dip in ranking and even then it’s usually only by 3-5%.

  2. lukegilman says:

    Meagan, I don’t doubt what you’re saying for a second, however, I wouldn’t generalize the standards of the-firm-whose-name-must-not-be-mentioned to all firms. When I say BigLaw I don’t just mean the top two or three firms, I mean the whole cadre of summer-associate-hiring firms which spans a fairly wide gamut.

  3. Meagan says:

    You could definitely be right. Still, I think the Big guys do pay attention to ranking and that the difference in firms is just how low they go percentage-wise. At least that’s what I’m hearing from people at South Texas in the top half of their class who could barely get interviews at even the smallest firm. It’s scary stuff. ;) And the-firm-whose-name-must-not-be-mentioned is not the only firm I’ve worked at. I’ve done these for quite a few years at several firms and am also friends with secretaries from other firms. The consensus seems to be that most of the larger firms consider applications using the rankings/grades as a dividing line.

  4. If such is the case as Meagan espouses it to be then someone who has for whatever reason gone to a school that is not say top 10, should probably rethink their stance on wanting to go into BigLaw. Why would anyone want to be in a place where even if they hired you, they wouldn’t consider your work as a barometer of your worth but where you went to school. My advice, though grossly unsolicited, is that any firm that doesn’t take a totality of your candidacy as a new-hire into consideration is doing themselves and mostly you the potential hire a terrible disservice. It’s not like BigLaw is the only firm that pays well.

  5. lukegilman says:

    To Meagan’s point, I agree with you completely. I don’t think there’s a question that rankings and grades are exactly what BigLaw looks at.

    See The American Lawyer’s article Is This Any Way to Recruit Associates? for an interesting discussion of how useful (or not) this approach actually is.

    My only point is that other firms in the BigLaw pantheon look down the rankings ladder according to good old fashioned supply and demand, so the opportunities are there for people willing to put in the work. Now whether or not anyone would want to work there if they knew what was in store for them is a matter for another post.

  6. Thanks so much for joining the ranks of those who point out the flaws of ranking law schools. This information is so valuable to my clients (I’m a law school admission consultant and former director of admissions at 2 ABA law schools). The more of us that speak up, the better. I have several postings on this topic at http://lawschoolexpert.blogspot.com that I welcome you to explore.

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