Law School Discussion

Large body v. Small student body

Large body v. Small student body
« on: October 15, 2010, 03:00:29 PM »
So in an interview today, the attorney who was interviewing me said something that made me curious.  He stated schools with a smaller student body tend to be a placed where a better education can be had (excluding the Top 5 schools was his condition).  With a small student body, there is always something you can do (mot court, journal) to stand out.  At a large school, you may be left in the dust of others.

So moving up the rankings, let's use Cornell v. Georgetown.  In his view, them being 13 (Cornell) and 14 (Georgetown) in ranking, he would choose Cornell with its 200 person class size over Georgetown. I see that making sense for Cornell is ranked higher.

Now take Cornell v. Michigan (ranked 9).  Michigan has 375 students per class.  Cornell has 200.  WIth his logic, Cornell is a better choice for its small student body.


Re: Large body v. Small student body
« Reply #1 on: October 15, 2010, 04:27:34 PM »
I generally agree with the proposition that small class sizes make for a better education, and also that small class sizes make it easier for students to participate in something - and I agree that this makes small class size something worth seeking.  Of course, I spent my entire educational career in small-class environments, so I don't really have a full data set.

But I certainly wouldn't apply this criterion to the exclusion of all others when choosing schools.  Georgetown, for instance, offers excellent access to DC power centers (whereas Cornell offers access to tall bridges), and for the future DC wonk this could tip the scales in favor of Georgetown.  Michigan is significantly less expensive than Cornell, particularly if you happen to have some Native American blood, and has much better sports programs than Cornell.

If I were to choose Cornell over Michigan, it would be for Ivy League cachet, not for the smaller class size.  The ranking gap is too big.  But then, I don't really think the main goal of law school selection is to seek the best education.  Or secondary goal, or tertiary.  Maybe septenary.

Re: Large body v. Small student body
« Reply #2 on: October 15, 2010, 05:05:35 PM »
So you find the gap between 13 and 9 to be large?  From my research, it seems to be a T-6 stands above, and then the rest of the T14.  Am I incorrect in this holdingg?

And I am curious to what your primary goals should be Morten.  I'm assuming best location for employment prospects?

Re: Large body v. Small student body
« Reply #3 on: October 15, 2010, 07:20:35 PM »
Actually, I misread the rankings in your post to put Michigan at 6, not 9.  The smaller gap would lessen the importance of ranking, of course.

Indeed I would view "employment" as the primary purpose of a law school education (for most people, anyway), with "earnings potential" as a related concern.  This is why I feel strongly about school ranking/status and geography, but that primary motivation also would lead me to consider (albeit to a far lesser degree) apparently oddball things like the quality of the school sports. 

Lawyers and executives are still primarily men, and any group of men will eventually get around to talking about sports.  This allows for easy bonding for those who attended well-known sports schools (like Michigan) while excluding those who attended other schools (like the entire Ivy League). 

In fact, by this reasoning one should lean towards a larger school over a smaller school.  In any gathering of lawyers and executives there are likely to be a couple of Georgetown and Michigan grads, which instantly gives them something to catch up about, while the single Cornell grad in the group is stuck talking to the guy from the small liberal arts college (probably discussing how small schools are superior to large schools).

You are only in law school for three years.  You will be a law school graduate for much, much longer.  You should choose the law school that is best for life after law school, not for life during law school.

Re: Large body v. Small student body
« Reply #4 on: October 15, 2010, 08:26:03 PM »
I agree with everything you just said.  Hence why my head is spinning.  How does one differentiate between Georgetown, Michigan, Duke, Cornell, Virginia?

Placing the top 6, arbitrary I know, schools aside, what truly differentiates Michigan from Virginia?  Georgetown from UPenn?  Cornell from Duke? Vanderbilt from George Washington?  All seem to have a national reach, or close to it.  Most importantly, all place well in the northeast down the atlantic (from Boston to NYC to DC to Atlanta and everything from top to bottom).  They all have alums peppered across the area.

Small schools give you more chance to shine.  But large schools have more alumni and thus more networking opportunities.

Sorry for this rant, but the alpha male that needs to be in control of all situations is confused by the vast array of possibilites with no "right" answer it seems.  I believe that research can solve all questions.  Here all it seems to do is create more paths to wander through.  I dislike the inexorable conclusion that what is right may not be found through research alone (unless I get into Yale)

Again, sorry for my rant

Re: Large body v. Small student body
« Reply #5 on: October 16, 2010, 08:19:30 AM »
I'm dubious how much extra curriculars matter re getting a job after law school.  Assuming that they do matter, its not obvious that a smaller school will give you more opportunities, rather I'd think the relevant metric would be the ratio of EC spots to students.  Some huge schools also have a huge amount of EC stuff going on. For example, HLS has so many journals, student groups etc that every single student can be (and probably is) on a journal or some equivalent EC  (and most are involved in multiple  ECs).
I'm not sure you'll be able to show that one school is objectively better for everyone than another (for similarly ranked schools), but they do have different flavors and obviously are located in different parts of the world.  Pick the one that suits you. Within a few ranking spots the brand name on the diploma isn't going to really matter, but your grades and interviewing skills will.  Both will probably be best at the school at which you are most at home, comfortable and fulfilled.

Mich v. VA?  = different weather, different student bodies, different school culture and very different architecture (knock-off gothic vs knock-off Jeffersonian;).

IMHO the biggest factor in large vs small is the faculty.  Small schools often don't have the breadth of faculty of larger schools, so with smaller schools its particularly important to see that the faculty available suit your interests and preferences.