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Law Schools (p.2)
Aside from the competition of law school admissions, law school today is also very expensive. It is estimated that most students spend about $150,000 on tuition and expenses. Because law is a competitive profession, it is therefore important that you attend the best school possible in order to maximize your investment.
(It should be also be noted that the LSAT is the key factor in law school scholarship determinations. A good score can earn you a full ride at many schools.)
Law School Expense
Law School Reputation
Where you study law can have major implications for your future career. Law is a prestige-oriented profession, and top firms primarily hire from top national and regional programs. Most other firms also prefer to hire graduates of more-respected programs. It is therefore generally advised that prospective attorneys attend the best school possible.
Most schools will have their strongest reputations in their local area, and some schools, though not very well-ranked, will be respected locally. However, most strong regional schools are very competitive in terms of admission, and top national schools are extremely competitive. (A "national" program is one with a strong reputation throughout the country, and can usually place you wherever you want to work. For these reasons, these schools are the most sought-after by students.)
There are several rankings which attempt to measure the relative quality and reputation of different schools. The most well-known is put out by U.S. News and World Report. While it serves as a rough measure of relative quality, is is also imperfect. For one thing, it does a poor job of evaluating more regional schools, which may be unknown outside their area, but respected within it. Also, because most schools do have better reputations in their local area, it is probably most helpful as a relative tool for comparing schools from the same region. (A higher-ranked distant school won't always place as well as a lower-ranked local school.)
Most schools, as noted, are fairly regional in reputation and placement. However, there are a handful of schools which are truly national, and can usually place graduates all around the country. The top six schools over the last few decades, in terms of national reputation and placement, are Harvard, Yale, Stanford, Chicago, Columbia, and Michigan. These schools were listed as the top six in 1977's "One L" (a book about law school), and have been listed in the top six in every lawyer/judge and academic reputation survey taken by U.S. News since 1987. They are also the top six schools for elite supreme court clerkships, academic placement and (according to at least one survey), national elite-firm placement.
Outside of these programs, NYU, Virginia and Boalt are also top-notch national schools, with NYU today often considered as good or better than some of the traditional top six.
Outside of those schools, Penn is usually thought to round out the "Top 10" in the eyes of most lawyers, judges, and academics.
The next group includes Cornell, Northwestern, Duke, and Georgetown. These 14 schools collectively are the most national in the country, and students are generally advised to attend them if possible, as this will usually make it much easier to get good jobs almost anywhere. (An exception might be a full-ride at a strong regional program, if one were sure they wanted to stay in the area.)
There are other excellent schools with strong national reputations, particularly Texas, UCLA, and Vanderbilt. There are also many fine schools with excellent local reputations and placement, including U.S.C. and Fordham. However, outside the top 15 or so schools, students will generally be best served by attending the school with the strongest reputation in their desired market. (in other words, by focusing more on regional perceptions.) Not only do most schools have their strongest reputations locally, but that's also where most alumni are, and this is crucial for employment.
On the following page are several rankings and surveys of law schools. Keep in mind that personal fit, as well as regional considerations, are also very important. Usually, when two schools are ranked somewhat close together, there is little difference in reputation and placement, and you should probably rely more on other factors, like cost and personal comfort level. How you perform academically will also matter, of course, so it's best to study somewhere that feels right.
Law School Rankings