Law School Discussion

Great writeup on choosing a school


Great writeup on choosing a school
« on: February 28, 2005, 04:53:43 PM »
I ran across this on one my favorite blogs It's actually two related posts by David Bernstien and Orin Kerr. The former is a Prof at George Mason, and the latter at George Washington U.
Picking A Law School: David's recent pitch to prospective law students encouraging them to turn down invitations to enroll where I teach and accept invitations to enroll where he teaches reminds me of this pretty good essay on the complex relationship between law school rank and career success. VC readers who are in the happy position of choosing among various acceptances to law school should take a look.

  My own take is that going to a higher-ranked, more established, and more prestigious school tends to open some types of career doors more easily; the higher up the ladder your school, the less a student has to achieve once enrolled to benefit from those open doors. This does not mean that students necessarily should go to the "best" school that admits them. Law school is a three-year commitment, and considations such as location, cost, "feel", and specific career interests and priorities need to factor into the decision. Any or all of these can outweigh prestige and rank. Also, some perceived distinctions in prestige are too small to make any real difference; students should not get hung up on the details of the latest US News ranking. At the same time, I think most lawyers would say that the presumption should be in favor of going to the "best" school that admits them assuming that there are substantial differences in the rank/prestige of schools they are considering. Of course, as David notes, actual mileage may vary.

Choosing a Lower-ranked Law School Over a Higher-ranked One:

I agree with Orin that, as a general rule, it's wise to pick a much higher-ranked law school over a lower one. Depending on the extent of the difference in rank, however, other factors can tip the balance:

(1) Geographic preference: If one wishes to work in Cincinnati when he graduates, it's likely better to go to U.C. than to, say, B.C. Especially if you are single, you might strongly prefer to spend three years at, say, George Mason in Arlington than three years at W&L in rural Lexington (and, indeed, urban law schools in desireable cities tend to get better students than do well-thought-of schools in Midwestern university towns; compare George Mason's LSATs to University of Illinois' or University of Iowa's). On a narrower geographic note, some of the Mason students I know who turned down Georgetown or G.W. did so because they are older evening students with families and live and work in Virginia, and can't spare the extra time and energy to get in and out of the city (especially because local employers know that Mason night students have entering scores rather similar to the other Georges' night students). On the other hand, the highest-ranked schools tend to have brand names that carry nationwide, an important factor if you want to be geographically flexible. (And if you want to be a law professor, you MUST try to go to a top 15, and preferably top 5, law school.)

(2) Special programs: I don't know how common such things are, but George Mason has an excellent patent program, and students in that program generally have few problems getting lucrative jobs. Thus, things can come down to factors such as cost.

(3) Cost: Attending a higher-cost, higher-ranked law school can pay big dividends, if you are young and planning (hoping) to work at a big firm. If you're planning to go into a family firm, work for the government or as a solo practitioner, and/or are over forty, capitalizing the extra costs of a private school becomes more of a problem.

(4) Special intellectual focus of a law school: Mason, for example, has a faculty with a strong interest in law and economics. Students interested in economics are likely to thrive at Mason both because they have some background knowledge, and because they are likely to be especially engaged. Better to do very well at school ranked X than to be a mediocre student at a school ranked X+10.

(5) Law school employment connections: For example, A.U. has lots of connections in the D.C. "public interest" law community. Cross-river rival Mason has lots of connections on the Hill, especially among Republicans.

(6) Intellectual interest: Believe it or not, one occasionally meets law students, especially older ones, who are going to law school primarily because they want to learn about the legal system, not to practice. Such students should choose the school that bests meets their intellectual needs, regardless of rank.

(7) Joint degrees: Some schools have relatively unique joint-degree programs. Mason, for example, has joint degree programs with the Economics Departments, which is unusual only in that the Econ department is itself so different from most. If a student is getting a law degree primarily to supplement a primary interest in something else, such as economics, the name brand of the law school becomes less important.

And then there are the intangibles Orin talked about; it's three years of one's life, after all.

Re: Great writeup on choosing a school
« Reply #1 on: February 28, 2005, 04:59:46 PM »
Nice article. Props. Respek.