This is the time of year when future lawyers have to make a crucial choice that will follow them for the rest of the legal careers: where to go to law school. The choice of law school is critical, maybe unfairly so. When you look at medical schools, the hard part is getting into a medical school. But in the legal profession, your choice of law school will be a huge factor in what professional opportunities you can take advantage of with your J.D.
Perhaps in past years, this choice was really easy for 0Ls: they could just go to the highest-ranked school they got into, and then hope for the best. But given the realities of the legal economy, 0Ls need to look at a number of factors beyond the U.S. News law school rankings: how much the school costs, what job markets the law school feed into, and so on.
Over the past few weeks, we’ve received a number of inquires from 0Ls asking for advice about which law school to attend. We’ve pulled out two of the best questions, and now we want to open it up to the Above the Law readers to give these students — and all 0Ls — the combined wisdom of the ATL community.
These are really tough choices, and we know reasonable people will disagree. Hopefully you guys can help these 0Ls feel comfortable with their decisions, whichever way they go….
Our first case study gets right to the heart of the problem in today’s environment. With high tuition and uncertain job prospects, how far down the U.S. News list should students go in order to save some money? Our first 0L has a very common problem:
I am a current 0L getting ready to make my law school decision and have narrowed my choices down to two schools. The first is the University of Illinois (Champaign-Urbana), which is offering me a guaranteed full ride for all three years of law school and has an extremely low cost of living. The other is Vanderbilt University, which has offered me a little more than half-tuition and has a fairly high cost of living. When all of Vanderbilt’s expenses add up, I will likely graduate with $100,000 worth of debt.
I have attended both school’s Accepted Student Weekends and find that either would be a good fit for me as far as law school environment goes. I would prefer to live somewhere in the South upon graduation, but I have no idea what type of law I would like to get into. So, should I take on the prestige and the debt, or should I go to school for free?
In past years, this would be an easy choice: Vandy is in the South, where the 0L wants to be; it’s ranked higher than Illinois; and Vandy isn’t even charging the student full freight. Game, set, match, to Vanderbilt.
But Illinois is ranked #23, according to U.S. News — only a few spots lower than Vandy (#16), so we’re talking about a very good state school. And the 0L can go there for free — not just cheaply, but free! In terms of high-paying jobs, Illinois is all up in Chicago’s business. And while Chicago might be pretty far away from the South, if the 0L ends up getting six figures without any debts to repay, I’m sure there are good airfares available for an American South vacation.
What do you guys think? Vanderbilt for half price, or Illinois for free?
This 0L should go to?
- Illinois (71%, 1,760 Votes)
- Vanderbilt (29%, 717 Votes)
Total Voters: 2,474
Our next case study looks not just at the cost of legal education, but also at the ability to succeed in law school….