How to choose a law school
Of course, many things will contribute to your decision on where to apply to law school. One of the most important can be - is the law school ABA approved? ABA stands for the American Bar Association. Most law schools are ABA approved and in most states, you must have attended an ABA-approved law school in order to take the bar exam to practice law. If you go to an ABA-accredited law school, you will be able to take the bar exam in any jurisdiction in the United States. Unaccredited schools do not have to meet the standards of the ABA, are usually less selective and cheaper than accredited schools, have higher dropout rates and lower bar pass rates. If you know you want to stay in a particular region and are considering a non-accredited school, do your research to make sure that the state will allow you to sit for the bar exam. Check to see if their graduates are passing the bar and getting jobs. Be aware that if you change your mind about where you want to live, it may be difficult to go to a different state and practice there if you went to an unaccredited law school.
How many schools should I apply to? You are limited mainly by the amount of time and money you want to spend. In general, it is a good idea to apply to a couple of schools you would love to go to but have a lower chance of acceptance, a couple of schools where you are pretty certain you will be accepted even if they aren't your top choices, and the bulk of schools in the middle range - schools you would like to go to and have a reasonable chance of acceptance. Pay attention to the average LSAT scores and GPAs of each school - see the links under "Information about the LSAT".
Classes, extracurriculars, and rankings Look at information from the school about placement rates for graduates and the types of jobs they are getting. Look at the various classes offered - are there classes that interest you? See what kinds of externships, practicums, field placements, etc. are offered. What is the law school's rank? One of the main rankings is by US News and World Reports - law school rankings for 2023. LSAC has a "Choosing a law school" page. This has links to all law schools that require LSAC services, including non-ABA approved ones, but if a school doesn't use LSAC, it won't be listed here.
Location If you go to one of the top law schools (approximately ranked 1-25), location won't necessarily be a big issue. The name recognition of the school often will outweigh the benefits of location. Otherwise, the location of the school may be important. If you know that you want to live in a particular area, it might be a good idea to go to law school in that general area. Many law schools have legal clinics and practical experiences in the community. In addition to these connections, you also will get to know professors and other students who may stay in the area, which could lead to good networks and even job possibilities. Also, many of the organizations recruiting at law schools are from the local area.
Atmosphere Do you prefer a smaller school with fewer students per professor? Lots of competition between students? Urban, rural or suburban area? How diverse is the student body? The faculty? These may not be what makes your final decision but they can be important. Visit the school, if you can. Websites and brochures can tell you a lot about a law school, but you can learn so much more if you actually visit the school. Contact the admissions office before visiting; possibly they could arrange to have a current student show you around or for you to sit in on a class or two. Talk to students about their experiences at the school, what they love and don't love. Check out housing, on and off-campus.
Externships, practicums, specialized programs What does the law school offer? Getting actual experience could be very valuable. Do they offer clinics, journals and/or externships that seem interesting? What does their career center offer? If you know that you have a particular interest in an area of law, you might want to look for a school that has specialties in that area. Look carefully at the descriptions of law schools and at the types of classes, externships, specialized training etc. that they offer. Keep in mind that you do not need to have a particular area of interest before going to law school and that, even if you do, interests may change once you get more experience with the law.
Finances Try to get an idea of what your school and living expenses will be for each school. Rent varies a great deal across the country, for example. What kind of financial packages, if any, are offered? Do you have any scholarships? Will you have debt from undergraduate days carrying over? Get as realistic an idea of what you will need to pay once you graduate from law school. For many law school graduates, the payments are high. This can impact the kind of job you might be willing to take, whether you can buy a house or a car, travel, have a family, etc. The reality is that average starting salaries for lawyers have a very wide range. Most students will not be starting out at a huge law firm with extremely high salaries. The best way to get information about financial aid is through the financial aid office of the law school in which you are interested. Read all the information about admissions, applications and financial aid provided by the law school in which you are interested. The LSAC website has a lot of information about finances - LSAC information about financing law school. This link is to the overview - there are more links on the left of the page. Students may be able to get grants or scholarships from a law school. These usually are based on GPA and LSAT scores. There aren't a lot of other scholarship opportunities but do check the internet. For example, the American Bar Association has a scholarship to encourage racial and ethnic minority students to apply to law school. Most students take out loans. Contact the financial aid office as soon as possible to discuss your options. Get an idea of what your eventual loan payment will be and compare it to starting salaries in the area you want to practice. Be realistic.