By an IvyWise Law School Admissions Counselor
There are nearly 200 American Bar Association-approved law schools in the United States. With so many options, it can be difficult to determine which law schools you should apply to. When you research potential law schools, look at their admitted student profile, such as the average GPA and LSAT score, to better understand what schools will be likelies, targets, and reaches on your list. Once you’re admitted, you will want to weigh the financial aid packages to help you make your decision. But what else should you consider as you tour law schools and build your law school list?
Many will tell you that the location of your law school is critical. Why? Because during law school, you will build your professional network and take part in many experiential learning opportunities, such as internships. Although you could conceivably intern anywhere, regardless of where you attend law school, it is more convenient to intern where you already live. Plus, law schools tend to have a lot of local connections, so you may find most of the internships advertised with the career center are in the surrounding community.
It is not uncommon for recent graduates to settle down in the area where they attended law school, so you should think about the type of law you want to practice. Certain regions of the country and certain cities lend themselves to more opportunities in different practice areas of law. For example, New York is home to a large financial district and is a fantastic city to live in if you are interested in finance, tax, or corporate law. Conversely, Washington, D.C., is the perfect place to study if you want exposure to policy work. Boston and the San Francisco Bay Area are home to large tech and biotech industries where opportunities to practice intellectual property and tech law abound.
As you start to explore and tour law schools, assess the surrounding area. Can you see yourself living in this city for three or more years? Are there opportunities for the type of law you want to practice? Also, what is the average starting salary in the area for those types of roles? Make sure the law school is somewhere you would feel comfortable calling home.
Program Timeline and Modalities
Traditionally, a JD program will take three full years to complete on a full-time basis. You will take your core curriculum during your first year (what folks call their “1L”) and specialize during your second (2L) and third (3L) years. Students will generally pursue an internship or clerkship in the summers between their 1L and 2L and between 2L and 3L.
Following graduation—typically in May—they will study for the July bar exam. By following this traditional academic plan, law students can dedicate themselves fully to their demanding curriculum and get as much exposure to the legal profession as possible.
That said, a full-time legal program might not suit everyone, especially those who wish to continue working full-time while studying. In those instances, students may want to explore part-time JD programs. The American Bar Association has been reluctant to accredit fully online JD programs, but in this new post-pandemic reality, we are seeing more hybrid programs being offered.
Academic Programs and Curriculum
Although a JD degree is broad, most students will end up specializing in an area of law based on the elective coursework they take. Students can choose among several practice areas, including but not limited to:
- Corporate law
- Criminal law
- Environmental law
- Family law
- Health law
- International law
- Intellectual property law
- Immigration law
- Privacy law
- Public interest law
- Tax law
- Technology law
- Trusts and estates law
As you begin to research law schools, think about what type of law you wish to practice. Not all law schools are created equal. Many law schools develop a reputation for being particularly good at a certain type of legal training. Additionally, all law schools have different course offerings, so it is important to make sure there are ample elective courses that suit your professional and personal goals. You would not want to end up at a school that only has one or two electives in your desired area of practice.
Many law schools also offer another way to specialize with dual-degree programs that allow students to earn a master’s degree along with their JD degree. Examples of such dual-degree programs include JD-MBA, JD-MS in Criminal Justice, JD-MPP (Public Policy), and a JD-MPH (Public Health).
These dual-degree programs allow students to delve even deeper into the area of law they want to practice, and they certainly can look impressive on your resume. However, by participating in these programs, students generally incur more tuition costs and take longer to complete their degrees. If you are interested in pursuing a dual degree, make sure you check the admissions requirements, timeline, and procedures to apply, as it can differ from applying to the JD program alone.
Experiential learning in law school comes in the form of internships, clerkships, clinical coursework, and other practical hands-on learning experiences, like moot court competitions. All these opportunities help you build your resume, develop legal skills, and expand your professional network.
As mentioned, most students will intern or hold a clerkship at least twice—once in the summer between 1L and 2L, and again in the summer between 2L and 3L. When touring law schools, make sure you learn about internship placement and what kind of career center, if any, the law school offers to its students. More on that later!
Clinical courses are opportunities to get hands-on legal experience working for a real-life client under the supervision of an attorney—usually a professor. Generally, students earn academic credit for clinical courses. Each clinic will have a theme that gives students the opportunity to continue specializing in their JD degree. Examples of themed clinics include immigration clinics, prisoners’ rights clinics, or even election law clinics.
When researching law schools, look up the various clinic themes to see if any align with your professional interests. Additionally, ask questions about how many clinics are offered per semester and what the process is for taking a clinic, as sometimes enrollment is by application or lottery. Some schools will have more robust clinical offerings than others.
Finally, ask questions about the moot court and other experiential learning opportunities the law school has to offer. Although these are usually extracurricular, sometimes you can earn credit for participating. And, no matter what, they are excellent ways to distinguish yourself on your resume.
Student Support Services
As an undergraduate student, you may have become accustomed to utilizing your academic advisor, tutoring center, career advisor, and other support systems on campus. These support services are invaluable to the law school experience, too. As you tour law schools, find out what type of orientation, academic advising services, and peer mentoring programs are offered to incoming students. Additionally, ask questions about the class registration process and logistics, such as:
- Will you have support while making important course enrollment decisions?
- What type of academic support services (tutoring and study skills workshops) are available for students who are struggling with the rigors of law school coursework?
Another critical support system is the career services office. The staff there is dedicated to helping you reach your professional goals and can support you while you are in school searching for internships and clerkships. They will also support you after graduation as you look for your first full-time legal position. While touring law schools, ask what percentage of graduates are gainfully employed after graduation and where alumni work. The ABA requires law schools to publish general employment statistics on their websites. You can find this on any law school website under the “ABA Disclosures” section.
Bar exam preparation is incredibly important and something you should not attempt on your own. As you explore different law schools, find out what type of bar preparation support they offer. Many schools offer a bar prep course and have one or more dedicated staff members to help you formulate a study plan. Find out what support, if any, a law school offers before enrolling.
Bar Passage Rates
The bar exam is the licensing exam every JD graduate must pass to practice law. The exam—offered twice a year—is notoriously rigorous and expensive. As a future law student, you obviously want to pass on the first attempt! Law schools are required by the American Bar Association (ABA) to disclose their bar passage rates. Before placing a deposit anywhere, check out the “ABA Disclosures” section on the law school website for its bar passage rates.
Reputation and Rankings
Rankings and law school reputation should not be the driving factor as you make your decision to attend a given school, but they should be a consideration. For example, the rank of a school often has some correlation with starting salaries. Rankings and reputation can also be important within the legal community, especially depending on the area of law you want to practice.
For instance, if you want a Biglaw job, rankings can be much more important than if you wanted to work as a public defender. You should also look beyond the typical U.S. News & World Report general law school rankings and investigate how a law school is ranked for your area of interest, like health law or corporate law. You may find that the top law school in the country does not have as strong of a reputation and rankings for your interests compared to a lesser-ranked law school. The rankings and reputation of a law school are something you can independently research, but you can also ask your network for their opinions, too.
The culture of a law school can be difficult to ascertain without visiting the campus and talking to the students and faculty. That’s why it is so important to attend tours and open house events. Law schools can be pressure cookers and foster competitive environments, so it is important to learn more about the vibe among the student body. How do the students define the culture? And most importantly, does the law school feel like a place you fit in?
Student organizations and opportunities to make friends and build your network are also vital to your success as a law student. While researching schools, look at the different student organizations to help you find like-minded people who will make your law school experience memorable.
Ultimately, you need to determine what is most important to you in a law school. Together with an IvyWise Law School Admissions Counselor, you can devise a list of law schools that meet all your professional and personal needs. Contact us today to learn more about how we can work with you on a strategy for law school admission.