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Should you (really) go to the best law school you can?

How to choose a law schoolIt’s conventional wisdom that you should plan to  go to the best law school you can, but new data calls that wisdom into question.

The National Association of Legal Professionals (NALP) recently released the following advice (Hat tip: The Careerist blog):

You should borrow as little as possible to get your law degree, and you should think about going to the school where you can be most highly ranked rather than to the school that is most highly ranked.

The reasoning is as follows:

  1. With a bad legal economy, it makes sense to get through law school with as little debt as possible.
  2. If you can get into a top school, you can also get generous scholarship offers from mid-tier schools.
  3. Students who rank near the top of their class at mid-ranked law schools will often have the same job prospects as students who rank near the bottom of their class at a top-rated school.
  4. Therefore, you should plan to go a lower-ranked school and do really, really well.

Of course, this argument turns on you actually doing really, really well in law school. James Leipold, the executive director of NALP, makes the case that you can predict your ability to succeed in law school with GPA/LSAT — if your hard numbers rank well above average compared with the rest of your class, you have the intellectual capacity to rank very high.

It’s a very compelling argument  The very best place an applicant can be is comparing an offer from a top school against a big scholarship from a mid-tier school in a location they would like to practice. The new study might not help make the decision, but it should at least convince applicants that it’s not Harvard or bust.

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