Factors to Consider
First, consider geography. What region(s) of the country are you considering? Do you prefer schools in cities or college towns? Are you including schools in the region where you intend to practice law? (70% of attorneys get a job in the state in which they graduate law school.) These considerations may seem trivial, but they can have a significant impact on your law school experience and even your employment prospects. [Note that geography is not as significant a factor if you are considering law schools ranked in the Top 14 because these schools have strong national reputations.]
After identifying certain state(s) or region(s), you should narrow the list of schools in those areas by considering the schools’ admissions criteria. When applying to law school, the most important two pieces of your application are your GPA and LSAT. So you should find out the following for each school you are interested in: (1) median GPA/LSAT, (2) 75th percentile GPA/LSAT, and (3) 25th percentile GPA/LSAT. Consider choosing a range of schools to apply to, including 2-3 “target” schools (where your GPA/LSAT = median GPA/LSAT), 2-3 “reach” schools (where your GPA/LSAT < 25th percentile GPA/LSAT), and 2-3 “safety” schools (where your GPA/LSAT > 75th percentile GPA/LSAT). It can also be helpful to use the website LawSchoolNumbers to search for your schools and click on the graphs tab to get a sense of past admission trends to check your perception of whether this is a target, a reach, or a safety school.
Other important information to consider includes the employment statistics for recent graduates of each school that you are considering. The American Bar Association collects and publishes this information at http://employmentsummary.abaquestionnaire.org/. You can also see this information presented in a more graphic format by consulting the LST Reports from LawSchoolTransparency. Of particular importance are the percentage of recent graduates who are employed as full-time practicing lawyers within 9 months of graduation and, at the other end of the spectrum, the percentage of unemployed graduates who are still seeking employment 9 months after graduation.
Cost of Attendance
Given the current legal employment market, it is important to carefully consider the amount of debt that you take on during law school. Paying full sticker price to attend law school can run you up to $250,000, a staggering amount of debt to carry for the next 30 years. So think long and hard before paying full sticker price for law school.
When comparing scholarship offers from multiple schools, be sure to look at the bottom line cost of attendance – don’t just compare scholarship amounts offered by each school in an apples-to-apples manner. For example, attending Wisconsin Law School as a Wisconsin resident with no financial aid offer (~$25,000/yr) is less expensive than attending a school that offered you a $15,000/yr scholarship toward a tuition of $45,000/yr. The $15,000 scholarship might seem tempting, but the bottom line cost is the more relevant factor. By applying to a range of schools, including target and safety schools, you are more likely to receive an award of merit-based financial aid from one or more schools.
Similarly, be sure to factor in the cost of living for each school.
For more information, see our Financing Law School page
Make every effort to visit a school and to attend Admitted Students Day/Weekend if current health recommendations allow for it. If you are unable to attend, try to request a stipend to visit on another date. When you visit, speak with as many current or admitted students as you can. You would be spending three years with these potential peers. So gather as much information as possible while visiting, then listen to your gut when comparing schools. Since some law schools have only offered virtual tours at some points due to the pandemic, make sure you are taking advantage of every opportunity to connect with the law schools at virtual law fairs, admissions events, and so forth. You can also ask the admissions office for the contact information to connect with current law students if you cannot visit, or you can reach out to student organizations on campus. Connecting with identity based student orgs such as a local chapter of the Black Law Students Association or a chapter of QLaw (the Queer Law Student Association), for example, can be a good way to find out more about what it’s like for other law students on campus with whom you identify.
School-By-School ABA Information Reports: The American Bar Association collects data from accredited law schools concerning factors including their admitted students, financial aid, curriculum, faculty, and tuition. It publishes that information in the form of “Standard 509 Information Reports.” Review the reports for relevant admissions information including, for example, median/25th percentile/75th percentile GPA, median/25th percentile/75th percentile LSAT scores, and financial aid statistics.
School-By-School Employment Statistics: The American Bar Association collects data from accredited law schools concerning the employment statistics for their graduates. It publishes that information in the form of “Employment Summary Reports.” Review the reports for relevant employment statistics including, for example, the number of graduates employed as full-time practicing lawyers within 9 months of graduation, the number of graduates still unemployed 9 months after graduation, and the breakdown of graduates’ jobs by category and location.
Law School Transparency School Reports: Law School Transparency is a private organization that collects and publishes information concerning accredited law schools’ admissions profiles, costs, graduates’ jobs, graduates’ salaries, and job trends. Their LST reports also allow you to compare law schools side by side.
Interviews with Law School Admissions Deans: Admissionsdean.com has interviewed numerous law school admissions deans. The transcripts from those interviews are available here.
For more analysis of the factors to consider in school selection, check out this article by Law School Transparency.