Harry Campell, New York Times
Eliana is a student at New York University School of Law. She holds a B.A. with high honors in Sociology from Wesleyan University, and is a member of Phi Beta Kappa. Before law school, Eliana worked for several years at a national women’s rights impact litigation organization. She recently co-authored a chapter in the 6th edition of The Lawyer’s Manual on Domestic Violence, published by the Supreme Court of the State of New York, Appellate Division, First Department.
1. Employment outcomes
Though the legal market has mostly stabilized since the 2007 downturn, some schools have recovered better than others. Different schools offer very different employment opportunities. Landing a “Big Law” job at many top schools is the norm, while many regional or local schools send students to much smaller practices straight out of school. You need to understand what type of practice you’ll be in and what your salary will look like so you can make sure you can pay off any loans you borrow, and end up on the career path you want.
If you’re interested in a public interest career, you should speak to someone from the school’s public interest office and ask about career advising, the process for finding public interest jobs, and how graduates fare in the sector and location in which you’re interested in (for example, a school might have great placement in government in D.C., but few alumni at impact litigation organizations in New York). You should also check out how graduates fare with the big fellowship programs, like Skadden and Equal Justice Works.
The American Bar Association collects and publishes employment information on all accredited law schools: http://employmentsummary.abaquestionnaire.org/. Some schools publish more information related to salary on their websites. The National Association for Law Placement also publishes information: http://www.nalp.org/erssinfo. Read both, and ask about on-campus recruiting, career advising, and employment outcomes when you visit schools.
2. Your classmates, your network
Your law school classmates will form the core of your professional network, so it’s important to choose a school where you feel comfortable and will make friends. Law school can also be challenging, and having a supportive network can help your academic success. Visit schools and talk to as many current students and alumni as possible to get a sense of the school’s culture. Check in with affinity groups on campus as well (Law Women, Black Allied Law Students Association, OutLaw, etc.), which often provide excellent networks as well.
3. Location, location
Attending law school in the city where you’d like to practice, especially if you are looking outside the “T14” can give you a big leg up. You’ll have opportunities to network and intern throughout the year, alumni will likely practice in the area, and your professors will likely be plugged in to the local community. If you’re looking at so-called “national” schools, you should focus both on the opportunities you’ll have during law school and where in the country alumni practice. If you’re up in the air about where you’d like to practice, attending a school that has strong alumni communities in several cities may be particularly importnat.
4. What do graduates do?
Looking up alumni is an excellent way to check out your future potential network and to see what types of careers the school best prepares its students. Linkedin is an excellent tool for this (you can go into your settings and to browse privately if you’d prefer)--you can search by school. Most law firm sites allow you to search by school, so you can see whether graduates of a particular school end up at that firm. Many public interest organization websites include staff bios that list law schools as well. Alumni magazines, which many schools send to admitted students, can provide a great snapshot of what graduates are doing, and where they’re living, 5, 10, and 20 years out.
Think long-term when thinking about financing your legal education. While you generally want to minimize the amount you have to borrow, it may be worth paying more for a school that will offer you much-higher paying jobs. Cost-of-living is also an important factor. Living with your parents or living in a more affordable city can save you tens of thousands of dollars. If you’re going the public interest route, look closely at the school’s Loan Repayment Assistance Program (LRAP) program. Figure out how much of your payment the school covers, whether it’s possible to exit and re-enter public service, and whether getting married and filing jointly might pose a problem. Also know that you can often leverage your financial aid offers. If you get a big scholarship at school X, but really want to go to school Y--school X’s competitor--let school X know, and they may increase your scholarship.
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