Choosing a Law School

Decide whether ranking, location, or affordability matters most to you.


Are you blocking out all of the talk about a law degree not being worth the investment? Or are you among those who are so engrossed in the law school discussion forums and blogosphere commentary that you can't sleep at night? Law school applicants tend to gravitate to one of those camps, but I wish more were in a more reasonable middle ground between the two. I want you to do your research about job prospects, hiring trends, and actual salaries made by real lawyers. Then, instead of letting it discourage you from entering a profession you're passionate about, how about letting it guide you to make smart choices?

A client sent me a link to this open letter written by an anonymous student at Boston College Law School. He chose to attend the (private) law school and is now ruing his decision because he has a family to support and loans that will come due, but has yet to receive a job offer. Of course, the most disturbing part about his story is that we all know and acknowledge that he is not alone. This is a position many recent law school graduates are in, and which many more will find themselves this year and next.

But you're applying to law school now. What decisions can you make about your future today that will ensure you're not writing a similar blog post three years from now? You can choose your schools wisely.

[See how law school demand and tuition are on the rise.]

Yes, the U.S.News & World Report Best Law School rankings are viewed by many to be the bible on law schools, but most of us don't follow the actual bible word for word, so why follow this one literally? It's a guide. It's a point of discussion. It's a tool. We apply the parts we like and roll our eyes at the rest. My guess is that the Boston College letter writer, or at least quite a few of his classmates, chose the school because of its ranking. Let's pretend they followed my advice from my book and thought about location first and foremost, but then chose the most highly ranked school in the Boston area that accepted them.

[Is law school worth the investment?]

With a mid-160s LSAT score and decent GPA (as I would expect most Boston College admitted students to have), Northeastern University and Suffolk University would have offered full scholarships. Why? To increase their numbers and their standing in the U.S. News rankings. If even 50 students chose this path instead of going to debt at Boston College, then the students would have been in control of the rankings instead of the law school. And right now Mr. Letter Writer would have no loans to worry about. While he might choose to return to his previous profession as a teacher for a couple years, he would have an absolutely free law degree to use whenever he might desire in the future.

[Learn about income based loan repayment.]

I'm not telling you not to apply to highly ranked schools. I'm just advising that you also include schools on your list where your LSAT and GPA are at or above the 75th percentiles, which would bolster your chances of getting a law degree at a steep discount. Keep your options open so that in the spring/summer, you'll have the wonderful choice to make about whether to attend a highly ranked law school or whether to accept a full scholarship at a law school in a region that suits you and happens to offer a perfectly fine legal education.

What I think most adults have learned during the past few years is that we are all responsible for our choices. We could have saved more. We could have bought less expensive homes. We could have spent less on consumer goods. You have a choice—a big choice—to make. Either choice is fine, but don't decide blindly. Do your research. Review all 79 comments (as of this writing) to the letter. Read the Wall Street Journal. Do the math. But most of all, if you choose to go into debt to go to law school, accept responsibility for that decision. No law school is going to give you your money back, nor should they. You will be paying (or not paying) for the education. What you do with it is up to you.

law school
college admissions
Boston College