Deciding on the law schools to which you will apply is not always easy. There are many factors that come into play- location, cost, ranking, and programs of interest are just some of them. This section addresses some of the common considerations and gives guidance about how to find out more information.
How do I learn more about law schools?
The best information about law schools is often found on their own websites. Of course, you need to know what law schools are out there before you can look up their websites. Simple lists of all ABA law schools (click here to find out more about what this means) can be found here and here . These lists contain links to all of the schools’ websites.
In the Los Angeles area, the ABA approved law schools are University of California, Los Angeles, University of Southern California, Loyola Law School, Pepperdine Law School, Southwestern University, Chapman University, Western State University, Whittier University (probation), University of La Verne.
You may also want to consider law schools outside of California. Generally speaking, law schools on the east and west coasts tend to be the most competitive for admissions while those in between offer more opportunities for admission while still providing a high quality of education. Before deciding on where to go, however, ask yourself whether you would be okay living in that location for the duration of your career. You never know what will come up while you are in law school and you may find that there are good reasons for you to stay. The career and alumni networks of most law schools are focused within the region of the law school and you may find it easier to get a job there. It is best to think about this possibility before moving rather than after.
In addition to doing research on the internet, you should try to attend the Law School Forum held in Los Angeles every year. This is an opportunity to meet with law school representatives from hundreds of law schools as well as attend information panels about admissions, financial aid, and other topics of interest. You can register for the Law School Forum through LSAC.org.
Is it okay to contact law schools I am interested in?
Yes, absolutely. The admissions officers at law schools are always willing to help answer your questions (within reason, of course). In addition to contacting admissions officers, you should try to go on a campus tour of the schools that you are interested in. That will give you a better sense of how well you fit with the school.
How important are law school rankings?
This is a tricky question. In one sense, they are a highly artificial construct that has little bearing on the quality of legal education that you will receive. In another sense, they can be quite influential in how the prestige of a particular university is perceived. The ABA says the following about law school rankings:
“No rating of law schools beyond the simple statement of their accreditation status is attempted or advocated by the official organizations in legal education. Qualities that make one kind of school good for one student may not be as important to another. The American Bar Association and its Section of Legal Education and Admissions to the Bar have issued disclaimers of any law school rating system. Prospective law students should consider a variety of factors in making their choice among schools.” The LSAC adds some further thoughts to that: “Since there is no official ranking authority, you should be cautious in using such rankings. The factors that make up a law school’s reputation—strength of curriculum, faculty, career services, ability of students, quality of library facilities, and the like—don’t lend themselves to quantification. Even if the rankings were more or less accurate, the school’s reputation is only one factor among many for you to consider.”
It is probably best to think of the rankings in broad tiers rather than specific numbers. A third tier school is probably qualitatively different from a second tier school, although where the cutoff is between the two tiers is highly contested. Even so, the quality of education at a third tier school may be every bit as good (even better on practical matters possibly) as a second tier school. The biggest difference will be felt in getting the first job out of law school. Graduates from top tier law schools, not surprisingly, have an easier time getting jobs than graduates from lower ranked law schools. The influence of where you get your degree from decreases once you accumulate work experience as an attorney. There are many highly successful lawyers and judges who attended low-ranked and non-ABA law schools. Each school is different and the school alone will not determine your success in your career.
What is the difference between American Bar Association (ABA) law schools and California Bar Association (Calbar) accredited law schools?
Students who graduate from ABA law schools can sit for bar exams in any state. Students who graduate from Calbar law schools must practice in California for three to five years, after which they are eligible to sit for bar exams in about one-third of the states. As with law school rankings, the lower status of Calbar schools makes it more challenging to get a first job out of law school, although a number of successful attorneys and judges have graduated from these institutions. The dropout rates tend to be higher at Calbar schools, largely because of lower admissions standards. When students do drop out, they likely lose a fair amount of money from wasted tuition as well the time that they could have been putting into an alternate career.
The California Bar Association maintains a list of all accredited and unaccredited law schools in the state of California here.
How do I pay for law school?
Law school, as with most professional schools, is quite expensive. This is true even at public law schools, although they are still less expensive than private law schools. So how do you afford it? This is definitely something that you want to consider before beginning law school, as it will help you to make the best choices throughout your time as a student.
Financial aid offices at law schools that you are interested in are the best resource for information. They can provide you with specific information and have a wealth of experience. Scholarships and financial aid are available, but they are not always easy to get. The most common way of financing law school is through loans. It is not unusual for students to graduate law school with $100,000 in debt. Keep in mind, however, that the amount of debt that you take on during law school will influence the career choices that you have after law school. You have to pay that debt back somehow.
For those interested in careers in public interest law (such as those providing free or low cost legal services to those who could not otherwise afford representation), most law schools will offer some amount of loan forgiveness if you practice in that field for a set number of years. Speak to a financial aid officer for more information.
LSAC also has a whole section on their website here dedicated to understanding financial aid that you should definitely review. They go through the typical process and talk about many of the options available.