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Why There’s No Such Thing as a “Go To” Law School Ranking

A recent article from ranks the Top 50 “Go-To” Law Schools. Check it out. The #1 go-to law school is Columbia, with Harvard down the list at #8, Stanford at #11 and Yale at #18.

For those law school applicants who worship at the altar of the U.S. News & World Report law school rankings, this Top 50 list is downright sacrilegious. So what was the methodology for the rankings of the Top 50 Go-To Law Schools? It’s based strictly on the percentage of 2018 law school grads from each school who found associate jobs at the 100 largest U.S. law firms. So how much should these rankings matter to you? It depends on how much you want to work at one those 100 largest firms.

The deeper you dig in your research of law schools, the more you’ll uncover an array of rankings and opinions on each law school. You’re also virtually guaranteed to receive conflicting advice on the “best schools” and the way that you should choose the right school for you. So rather than taking a tour of the various ranking systems for law schools or debating the merits of the ever-notorious USNWR ranking system, let’s talk about why you want to go to law school in the first place.

Getting a Job

Most broadly, you want to go to law school to get a legal job or another job where a law degree would benefit you. The above ranking of law schools based on their association with the largest law firms will be great for some applicants who see themselves taking a Big Law path. For those pursuing a career in academia, the list of top law school is going to look somewhat different. Other students are going to be interested in special law school programs in public interest or criminal justice, or joint degree programs like the JD-MBA, or some other area of law that some schools are especially known for. If you’re a law school applicant with particular career interests, you can look into how well each law school places students into the kind of jobs that interest you, or if you’re concern is just about getting a job after graduation, you can research the kind of support you would receive from a law school’s career services.

Passing the Bar

Law school may seem like the one big hurdle standing between you and a future law degree, but you don’t want to underestimate the role that bar passage plays in the process. If you make it through law school, but you have not passed the bar, you’re not a lawyer yet and you cannot practice law. That’s why rankings of law schools by their bar passage rate should be an important metric to every applicant. If you are thinking about attending a law school where most students do not pass the bar on their first try, you need to think very carefully about the impact this could have on your life and career plans.

Building a Network

Law school is where you’ll build lifelong connections that will matter in your legal career, so it’s fair to consider law schools based on the kind of legal network you expect to find there. If your dream is to work for the ACLU, take a look at their website for their staff information and find out where those lawyers attended law school. If your dream is to work in environmental law in Seattle, you can look up the top environmental law firms in the region and find the most popular law schools among that group of lawyers. At law schools with a more regional reputation, your network of alums will be a lot more helpful to your career within that same region.

Finding Your Community

No matter where you choose to attend law school, you have to live your life in that town, on that campus, and in that library for three years of your life, so you have to be able to feel that you can mesh with the greater law school community. Visiting a school is one of the more obvious ways to see how good of a fit a school would be for you, but there’s more to learn than a couple days at a law school campus can tell you. As much as you can, talk to current students and recent grads to get the most well-rounded perspective on the law school community. If specific student organizations resonate with you, seek them out and get to know members of the group during a visit, or even by getting in touch long-distance. The more contacts you can make at a school you are serious about researching, the better. Not all law school grads have the exact same experience from a given school, but a few different perspectives will allow you to feel confident with your decision when the time comes.

After months of LSAT and application work, reaching the point of choosing a law school is cause for celebration. But now that you’ve put the work in to prove yourself in this application process, it’s time to think about how law school fits into your own life plans. When you think about the reasons why you wanted to go to law school in the first place, the only law school rankings that will matter are the ones that match up with your own goals.