For the most part, law schools don’t specialize in specific types of law. There are a few cases where schools offer special programming for specific types of law such as Notre Dame’s Program of Study in Real Estate Law. However, even these are usually just a selection of courses and not a specific specialization or any kind of degree in addition to a JD.
That means that if you want to practice a specific type of law that you can attend any law school. The "quality" of the law school is significantly more important than any specialization that they may offer. Quality is in quotes because it is very hard to judge. For the most part people use the USNWR rankings, but so much more goes into the quality of a law school for you. You can find our take on USNWR rankings here.
So. Overall, there are not really specializations, but there are a few exceptions (two big ones) to the statement ‘Law schools don’t have specializations.’ First, school location and associated proximity to industries. Second, joint degree programs offered by the law school or university.
In short it has to do with the schools proximity to specific industries. For example, if you really want to work for a big oil company, then going to law school in Texas or Oklahoma might be a great option. Most likely, your chances of getting the job you want are still better if you go to a T-14 that is nowhere near oil. However, if you don’t get into a T-14, or don’t want to go to one, then you might be better off going to a lower ranked university that is in close proximity to the jobs you want, than you are going to a mid-tier school in, say, Massachusetts.
Why does location matter to what you want to do after law school? Primarily networking. This networking comes in a couple forms.
First, lawyers tend to stay and practice in the state where they went to school. This means that when you look to connect with lawyers in industries in the area, that they are pretty likely to be from your school. It is pretty much always helpful to have a common link when you reach out to someone. If your law school is that common link, even better. In my experience, this link is even stronger at lower-ranked schools. Graduates who were successful out of a school, want others from their law school to be successful, especially if it is a more challenging path. Therefore, alums are more likely to answer a cold email, or review a resume from their local school.
Another way that networking plays into law school specialization is simply the ease of getting speakers who are in the local area. If you are at George Washington University, for example, then the likelihood that your speakers and available mentors will be in government is very high. As it is a pretty low lift for people working in DC to come speak and most people with JDs in DC work in government. Therefore, as a student, your chances of interacting with successful people in government is higher at GW than other schools, and as a result your likelihood of having a successful transition into government is higher.
A dual degree, also known as a joint or combined degree, is when a student is working towards two university degrees simultaneously. The two degrees are often in complementary subjects and the dual degree allows the student to complete both degrees in less time than if they were earned separately.
For law school students this means getting a JD and another degree simultaneously. Outside of a PhD, the common practice is to get a 2-year master’s degree at the same time as a JD. These joint programs usually take 4 years to complete. So you are essentially saving 1 year of time by doing the degrees at the same time. Typically, you will not enroll in classes for both programs simultaneously. Instead you will do your 1L year, then do a full year of the other program (a Master’s in Public Policy, MPP, for example) then do another full year of law school. After that you will split the final year doing one semester of law school and one of your Master’s.
The exact breakdown and scheduling depends on the school and programs, but the general idea is pretty consistent. The exceptions are schools where you can do two degrees in 3 years. Meaning you can get a JD and a Master’s in the same time it takes to do just a JD. Some examples of this are Duke’s and UPenn’s JD/MBA which are both 3 year programs.
One point of caution with joint degrees is that it is hard to become immersed in the culture/community of either school fully since you are partly in both. These programs are still amazing, but make sure you talk to STUDENTS who are currently enrolled in them, and more importantly towards the end of them, so that you can get a sense of the pros and cons as they are actually experienced. In short, we recommend not listening to administrators or parents/guardians who just tell you to do it because it is two degrees, as you might walk away with two degrees but no idea what you want to do.
While dual degrees are inherently not the law school specializing, they are a good way to position yourself to enter a specific field. A JD is a great tool to go into government, but a JD and MPP might be even better. A JD will allow you to do corporate law, but a JD and MBA will show law firms and clients that you can speak the language of business. Getting a joint degree can be a great way to set yourself apart from your peers if you want to enter a specific industry or specialization.
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.