It’s a funny thing – law schools are pretty much all the same, but they think of themselves so differently. All 1L students (pretty much) take the same courses: contracts, torts, civil procedure, constitutional law, property, and criminal law. Almost all law school students graduate with debt. All law schools produce a similar variety of lawyers – lawyers at firms, in-house counsels, prosecutors, defense attorneys, and a smattering of other positions.
But law schools, importantly, see themselves quite differently. If you go to Stanford Law’s homepage, it is all about intellectual property, technology law, and copyright. If you go to Yale’s, it is more about appellate litigation, clerkships, the judiciary, and academia. Georgetown has a humanities track for 1Ls. Berkeley and NYU have a history of activist lawyering and work in criminal justice. UVA was very involved with school desegregation. UCLA and USC emphasize their well-established ties with the entertainment industry.
So, while there are pronounced differences, they are ultimately more similar than different. That said, when writing your essays for each school, you need to emphasize that you understand these differences. Law schools like to think they are all very different, and the more you can tap into that self-conception, the better. Furthermore, they like to see that you’ve done your homework. All things equal, whom do they want? The applicant who really seems to want to go, as evidenced by their tremendous research into the school’s offerings, or the applicant who didn’t care as much?
This research process is even more important once you have offers in hand. Then you really want to know what each school has to offer. Doing this work on the front end can help make fielding offers much easier on the backend.
When researching law schools, here are some things you want to consider. I suggest keeping a careful spreadsheet with all of this information – it can be easy to forget when you don’t keep track, and you don’t have to have to repeat work.
Some things to think about on round two include:
Like I mentioned above, how does this school present itself? What they emphasize online can be a good indication of the school’s vibe and priorities.
Student faculty ratio
The smaller the better
What faculty really seem to be doing work that matters to you? Any research projects that you might want to assist on?
What looks unique and how do these offering match your interests? Some more niche legal areas include
- Art law
- Technology and the law
- Healthcare law
- Intellectual property
- Maritime law
- Private international law
- Regulatory law
Student journals and law reviews
Any that particularly appeal to you?
Moot court and mock trial opportunities
How well does this school do with the jobs you are most interested in, including,
- Big law
- Academic job placement
- Federal or local government placement
Who inspires you? Who has followed a career trajectory you would be excited to pursue?
Special tracks or programs
For example, UCLA has a special public service track, and Georgetown has a night-law and part-time option.
Do most students live on campus? Local shared houses?
Scavenger hunts? Campus runs? Finals traditions?
Regional versus national reputation
Some law schools are more regional, training all sorts of lawyers for one geographic area. Some are more national, producing lawyers that spread out all over the country. The general rule is that the T20ish schools are more national; lower ranked schools tend to be more local. This isn’t always the case though (especially for schools in California) so it is an important research area depending on your goals.
What kind of aid do they offer?
Harvard, Yale, and Stanford only offer need based financial aid. Other law schools have a host of merit scholarships, some that can even reach the full ride level. Careful research about what kind of scholarship opportunities, and when you have to apply for them.
Reputation from your network
Talk to people who graduated from the school! This can often be the best source of information. But remember to take everything with a grain of salt, especially extreme opinions.
At this stage, there’s no such thing as too much research. When you are thinking about your essay, pick 2-3 of the things that stuck out the most to you when researching, and talk about why the matter to you, excite you, and attract you that school. When weighing your eventual options, look more collectively at all the data you’ve gathered to determine the best fit.
Read part 1 of Jimmy's series here.
Whether you’re just beginning on this race, or whether you just need a final push to get you over the finish line, your tutor will design a customized road map that will take you through every aspect of the application process, covering LSAT preparation, recommendations, the personal statement, addenda, and anything else that you need. Applicants who follow our structured approach find that they are less stressed out and more successful.
Applying to law school in 2019-20? Check out some other helpful blog posts from Jimmy below!