With my first year of law school in the books, I look back and realize HOW much I’ve learned. Not only within the legal field, but most importantly with the survival tactics of law school in general. Your 1L year is one that is INTENSE. Being a person who has always been good at school, I never expected to be tested the way I was this past year. Sure, sure, sure — you hear all of the traditional warnings about how difficult law school is, but truthfully, I wasn’t too scared. I had always been good at difficult school tests and difficult school environments, just like all of us in this community. That’s how we ended up in law school in the first place, right? Throughout the negativity, there was one thing (aside from the support of my friends and family), that had gotten me through. I was so so so thankful for the law school community and campus I was a part of, and their support and motivation is truly what got me through to the other side. In saying that — it is essential we highlight the importance of selecting a law school. It’ll probably become your primary place of existence, as most of us undoubtedly spend more time there than in our homes with our families. Here are the five questions you should ask yourself when selecting a law school, or struggling to select between law schools, to ensure you end up precisely where you were meant to be these next three years.
1. What kind of job do you see in your future?
And the answer to this question may very well be — no answer at all. It’s totally fine to not know what direction in the legal field you want to head into. Real estate? Corporate? Criminal law? Litigation?
The answer to this question is most important if there is an answer. If you’ve known you want to stand in front of a court room and litigate since you were in the 6th grade, or if you have your heart DEAD set on big law — you want to take this consideration when choosing a school. For example, if you’re looking to get into big law, you may truly want to to consider attending your highest ranked school. If you truly have your heart set on litigation, you may want consider a litigation-heavy school, like Baylor Law, for example. If you want to practice real estate law in your current hometown, then you may want to consider selecting the school that provided you with the largest scholarship, because precisely where you attended law school may be less relevant in this situation.
2. How much debt do you currently have, and how much debt are you willing to take on?
It’s no secret that getting your law degree is EXPENSIVE. There is no question, there. I find that a lot of new law students really tend to struggle whether or not to consider a school that is unranked, but where they received a full ride. Based on the other answers to this group of questions, you should seriously consider sitting down and deciding how much debt you’re willing to take on these next three or four years. If you went to undergrad debt free, that’s a great start. If you’ll be commuting to law school instead of taking out loans for housing, that’s another great start. Consider the cost of college mainly coupled with the following two questions in this series.
- What kind of job do you see yourself doing in the future?
- AKA – do you need extra money to open up that small town law firm we were discussing earlier? Or are you dead set on big law, where you could potentially pay your debt off in the first five years of employment?
- What are your goals the next few years?
- Do you want to own a home? Do you want to have a wedding? Do you want to have kids? All of these things cost money, and if any of these goals are important to you, you may want to very carefully consider the implications of taking on $100,000 in law school debt prior to doing so.
3. What are your goals for the coming years?
This is important, sis! Are you in a serious relationship? (with a wedding in the future?) Are you going back to law school later in life (perhaps in your thirties), and children are a big possibility for you while completing your JD? Do you want to own that new car? Or finally move out of your parent’s basement? Seriously sit down and consider what goals you have for yourself these next three or four years. If the answer is simply: “obtain my juris doctor,” then you have a lot more flexibility with your decision about where to go to law school, versus if your goal list is A BIT lengthier.
4. What does your professional resume look like so far?
Unfortunately I’m not talking about that one internship you did for a semester in undergrad. This question is important to consider if you’re already working full time somewhere with a company that is supporting the completion of your legal degree, or if you worked somewhere full time for several years prior to obtaining a law degree (a “first career”). Lastly, this question is important if you intend to work consistently with a legal firm throughout the completion of your legal education.
The answers to these questions are very important to your law school decision in terms of whether or not you’d have a job waiting for you on the other side, or how inclined a firm would be to hire you urgently based on the fact that you already have 5 years of legal experience (for my paralegals out there). If this is the case for you, this would be another instance where you may want to seriously consider attending the school with the highest scholarship, and pay less attention to the exact rank of the schools you’re comparing.
5. How do the schools you’re choosing between compare to each other? Biggest benefit from each?
This one is so important, too! Don’t let this one go off on the back burner. Seriously consider making a pro and con list for all of the schools you’re considering attending. Cost, scholarship offered, specialty (if applicable), location and rank. If you find that the list of schools you’re comparing are literally identical, aside from the cost — your answer should be pretty clear. Quite honestly, attending a school ranked 122 instead of 139 makes little to NO difference, at all. My point here is, don’t overpay for an unranked school, just because it’s “well known” in that state, or the facility is ten times prettier than the other schools. Consider the above categories seriously, and keep the aesthetic of the school out of it. STAY FOCUSED on what’s most important!
To conclude, it’s important to repeat that you’re going to be spending a TON of time at this new school and it should be a place you enjoy, and a place that feels like home. Ultimately, choose a school that makes you feel happy, but definitely at least walk yourself through the most important big questions you’ve been avoiding prior to making a decision. You want to start your first year of law school confident in your decision, eager to get to work, proud of where you’re attending, and ready to work, day in and day out, toward that list of goals you have set for yourself over these next three years.