But what does that actually mean in terms of what law school you should go to? The easy answer is that it depends on what you want from law school, and what you want to do afterwards. But we can dive a little deeper into the question and some potential ways that you can/should think about it.
Before going any further I want to call out the difference between what schools you apply to and the school that you end up going to. We often talk to students who don’t apply to schools because they think they are ‘too hard to get into’ or ‘too expensive.’ However, for each of these students there are students who reach out to tell us at LSD that they were accepted to a T-14 school because they saw a LSD user with similar stats that had gotten in.
So we encourage you to set realistic expectations, and we acknowledge that applying to law school is not cheap. However, the opportunities at different law schools vary wildly so you shouldn’t self eliminate from a dream school simply because you think ‘Oh there is no way I will get in.”
Alright, the question of what law school you should go to (after you have applied to a bunch and been accepted at a bunch, or a few, or one).
First, you can think about the easiest to find piece of information which is the school rank. Usually, when people think about school rankings they are talking about USNews rankings which have been the main source of law school rankings since ~1990. These one-size fits all rankings are a great place to start to get a general idea of where different schools fall, but it is not the end all of choices.
So what else matters? The answers to this question are pretty much infinite, but we can look at some important things to help you compare schools. To keep it simple we will think about 3 things:
Different schools will posture you differently for different roles. For example, if you want to go into Big Law, then you should do whatever you can to get into a T-14 school because getting a Big Law job afterwards is relatively guaranteed. However, if you don’t want to do Big Law and you don’t care about being on the US Supreme court one day (in which case you pretty much have to go to Harvard or Yale), then choosing the ‘right’ school isn’t quite as clear. For argument’s sake, let’s consider someone who knows they want to live in Florida, and is interested in doing something like becoming a US Attorney or a Florida supreme court justice one day.
So let’s look at what law schools the three US Attorneys and seven FL justices went to in order to see if you really NEED to go to a T-14 school to be successful. (Information is based on the written date of May 2022.) Why Florida? I lived there once, literally no other reason.
Florida US Attorneys
1x Harvard #4
1x University of Miami #73
1x Washburn University #105
Florida Supreme Court
2x Florida State University #47
2x Yale #1
1x Harvard #4
1x University of Florida #21
1x University of Mississippi #111
So what does this information tell us about choosing a law school? Well a few things. First, it doesn’t hurt to go to Harvard or Yale (duh). But it also shows that when you are looking at local, state, or federal (but regionally aligned) positions, ranking starts to matter less, and location matters more.
So our recommendation: if you get into a top law school (~T-14) it will keep more opportunities open. But if you don’t then choosing based on region/state can matter more for your future. So if you want to work in Florida, then it probably makes sense to go to a T-14, but if you don’t get in, then go to a school in Florida or at least the South East.
Things like enrollment size, available activities, stated (or unstated) ideology, class diversity, and others might play into your decision of what is the best law school for you.
Enrollment size: Some people really like the idea of going to a smaller school where you know everyone, and some people hate this idea; neither is inherently better, but you should think about it when choosing a school. If 20% of a student body identifies as X in a class of 100 then there are 20 people there with that identity. If 20% of a student body identifies as X in a class of 500 then there are 100 people there with that identity. This math might be obvious but the point is often missed when comparing schools. There are going to be more people of every identity at bigger schools.
Available activities: Different schools have different journals and clubs. When looking at schools, you should make sure that the programs and activities they offer are ones that you want to take part in.
Ideology: Some law schools lean conservative and some liberal. You might want to go to a school where people believe the same things as you, or one where you will butt heads with others. Either makes sense, but you should make that decision deliberately.
Diversity of classmates: Law schools run the gamut when it comes to class diversity. Some report proudly their class demographics while others bury that information deep in their website. USNews has the information available for all schools if you are willing to pay them.
This one might be obvious from the outside, but it is easy to forget about once you actually get in. When you are considering what school to go to it is important to plan for the long run. We recommend planning out all the way to at least 10-years past law school. We say 10 years because that is how long most loans take to pay off if you make the expected payments each month.
T-14 (really like T-45) schools are more expensive than others, but the median earnings after you graduate are also much higher. If you only looked at cost, then you might think a lower ranked school is cheaper, but those schools often have very low employment rates and low earnings (even in the private sector). So when you are comparing the cost of different law schools, you should think about how much money you will have 10-years after law school when you are done paying off your loans. To do this, we recommend using the median earnings from the schools, and assume you will make a reasonable raise every year, say 5% . If you need help making the spreadsheet to plan this out, just shoot us an email (firstname.lastname@example.org) and we are happy to discuss it with you.
I am the half of LSD that didn't take the LSAT, or go to law school (Sorry about that). But I did go to MIT business school while surrounded by law students and lawyers, so I am somewhat qualified to talk about the intricacies of law school apps and finances.
Windsor (the dog) didn't write this but he WAS a Resident Tutor and career advisor at Harvard College with me, so deserves some credit.