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by Vault Law Editors | March 10, 2009

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Which law school should you attend? In some ways, this question seems simplistic: you want to go to the best law school that will admit you. But what defines a good law school? There are many books about law schools and surveys that rank them, notably the annual issue published by U.S. News & World Report, and it is a good idea to review these publications. Even to the uninitiated, some names pop up immediately: Harvard, Yale, Stanford, Columbia. By reputation and stringent academic requirements, schools like these claim to take only the cream of the crop. And a prestigious law school, with its higher profile, might lead to better employment opportunities after graduation than a less well-known school. But there are considerations other than reputation.

Law school is not just for litigators, and no matter where you go your first year will include classes designed to introduce students to the basic principles and subjects of law. In your second and third years, you will be able to specialize in subjects that interest you and courses that teach litigation tactics and skills. If your goal is to become a trial litigator, then you should look at schools with good clinical programs and internship opportunities. If your goal is a more generalized approach to law, select a school that believes in a more traditional and philosophical curriculum.

Admittedly, it's hard to wade through the volumes of press materials each law school will send you. Review the course catalogs, certainly, but also look for statistics about the percentage of graduates who go on to litigation and the kinds of practices they join to get an idea of the kind of training the school focuses on. It's also a good idea to visit the school in person and, if possible, sit in on some classes. "I think it's important to meet with the students at the school," says one recent graduate, "because you get the real facts about what the school is like. Go to whatever mixers they set up for their applicants, if you can."

Another element you should consider is location. Not all of the best law schools are in big cities, but being in an urban setting has a number of advantages. You will have direct contact with many law firms, city agencies and government offices with the resources to hire interns and law students. "Going to a law school in a big city meant that I could have a variety of internships and summer jobs without worrying about housing or moving," says one junior corporate litigator. Many firms also prefer to hire summer associates from local schools. If you have your eye on practicing in New York, for example, it's often a good idea to go to a New York school. You'll be in closer proximity to interview at local firms and some classes (such as criminal law or professional responsibility) may focus on New York state law.

And then there are more practical considerations. Will the school provide housing? If you live off campus, what will your daily commute be like? Are you ready to pick and move alone or to take your family to a new city or state? Can you afford the tuition? Do you share the school's philosophy and emphasis? Is there a particular professor with whom you want to work?

Ultimately, the decision of which law school to go to is as personal as it is practical. Even if it's important to know school statistics and rankings, your choice needs to be a school that will teach the skills you want to learn, in a location where you can live comfortably. This is especially true if you are embarking on a second career and hesitate to uproot your whole life.

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Filed Under: Law

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