The process of choosing which law schools to apply to can be difficult. When my journey began, I based my choices on the most popular ranking system U.S. News Law School Rankings. Why? Because everyone always talked about how prestigious Harvard is, and how smart Yale students are. What I failed to realize however, was in MY order of importance prestige was at the bottom.
This is the general spread of law school rankings based on U.S world news:
T-5: Top 5 ex. Harvard
T-14: Top 14 ex. NYU
Tier 1: 1-50 ex. Boston college
Tier 2: 51-104 ex. Loyola University Chicago
Tier 3: 105-139 ex. Drexel University
Tier 4: The rest ex. St. Thomas University
So, what does that mean? Are law school rankings a complete waste? No, but they do have errors that you need to think about.
1. What do they look for when calculating rankings?
This is important. When choosing a law school what are you looking for? I focused on Bar passage, job placement, & average starting salaries. These things were important to me, but are they important to U.S News? Included in their ranking criteria are things like, library resources, undergrad GPA’s, peer/lawyer assessments, & student scholarships. (Read more here) Does the number of books in the library make Vanderbilt a better school than Duke?
2. Regional Connections
I often hear from people who say they chose their law school because they knew numerous attorneys in the area. The legal market is not at it’s best, in most locations there are more lawyers than jobs. It wouldn’t be a stupid idea to attend a law school where your job prospects are higher because of connections/networking. Sometimes this means choosing a law school that is ranked lower but it might be a better choice for YOU.
3. FT/LT : Full Time-Long Term
When reading rankings, legal employment is displayed as a percentage. For example, the University of Iowa has 71.1% of its students employed at graduation according to U.S News. But where are they employed? Are these students employed part-time? Full-time,Temporarily, Big-Law, public interest or clerkships? These are important factors that the ranking system just doesn’t breakdown. The National Association of Law Placement (NALP), does! When I graduate from law school I want a full-time, long-term position at a mid-sized law firm. With NALP reports, I can look up schools individually & read the number of students that are placed in those jobs every year.
4. School Specific Programs
If you know what type of law you want to practice, go to a school that places an emphasis on that type of law! Every law school has something different to offer to its students. I have a friend who wants to study health care law, so she’s interested in going to the University of Maryland. It’s ranked #47 out of all law schools, but ranked #2 in Health Care Law programs. Take this into consideration if you are 100% sure what you want to practice.
Law school is expensive. It’s not a hidden fact, the sh*t costs a lot! Let me tell you something; with prestige comes a price tag! The most expensive law school in America is…Columbia Law School at a whopping $263,694 total cost! Can you guess what it’s ranked? NUMBER 4! Of course its expensive, half of that cost is the education you receive and half of it is the name of the school on your degree. My parents aren’t millionaires, so I can’t afford to pay almost $300,000 for a law degree. Ask yourself, is a law school ranking really worth eating boxed ramen noodles on your bedroom floor 3 years from now? NOPE. (Yes, this is dramatic)
I’m not completely against law school rankings, I just think your decision should be based on more. Rankings can help to get a general idea of a law schools’ performance. After noticing the errors in U.S News rankings, I decided to abandon them for Above The Law. ATL’s methodology focuses on more important things like, employment data, large firm placement, Federal clerkships and Tuition/Cost. When looking at law schools, It is necessary to take time and research each one individually and focus on what’s important to you.
I hope this helped! Let me know what’s important to you when choosing a law school.