Law school rankings are notorious for being difficult to navigate and for bringing with them a sense of prestige about certain law schools. Some students may even exclusively apply to schools based on their national ranking.
However, this prestige may not be all it's cracked up to be, which is why we're here to help you understand the origins of the law school ranking and what exactly is important about it.
In this article, we will be discussing how law schools are ranked and what exactly is included in their ranking. We'll also be talking about when you should take law school rankings into consideration and what factors matter in a law school besides ranking.
What Are Law School Rankings?
Law school rankings are given by the U.S. News and World Report, a news and reporting outlet that specializes in comparing and ranking everything from law schools to traditional universities and corporations.
The U.S. News and World Report uses approximately 12 different factors to rank law schools, some of which are the school's acceptance rate, job placement rate, bar passage rate, expenditures per student, the student to faculty ratio, and median LSAT scores and GPAs of those that are accepted.
Why Are Law School Rankings Important?
Law school rankings can be important to look at when beginning the application process as they can help you decide whether or not the school is worth applying to and whether you have the right application statistics to be a competitive candidate.
In general, the higher-ranking schools on the list spend more money on students, have the highest LSAT and GPA median scores for accepted students, and some of the most exclusive acceptance rates. As an example of top-ranking schools, Harvard, Yale, and Stanford law schools are traditionally within the top 3 of this list.
Due to this fact, higher-ranking law schools on the U.S. News and World Report are regarded as having more prestige, especially among those who may not be familiar with law schools. There is a good reason behind this prestige in most cases, as a law school doesn't end up on the top of the rankings list for no good reason, but you should keep in mind that prestige isn't everything. We will be discussing this in more detail later.
Do T14 Schools Matter?
When you begin applying to law schools, you will likely see a lot of talk about the “T14 schools.” T14 schools are those that have historically always taken up the top 14 spots on the U.S. News and World Report list. It includes schools like Harvard, Yale, Northwestern, Duke, Georgetown, Cornell, and Columbia University, which are some of the most recognizable law schools in the world.
Many students wish to apply to a T14 school because of the prestige the name carries with it for those both knowledgable of and outside of the law school culture, and because of the high employment outlooks and salary prospects.
However, these schools are harder to get into thanks to their lower acceptance rates and higher required scores (most students will need more than a 160 LSAT score and higher than a 3.5 GPA to get in), which is where the student culture of intense studying and retaking the LSATs comes into play.
Whether or not attending a T14 school matters depends on your personal outlook. You may be one of the students that values the well-earned prestige of these schools and wants the experience of attending them. On the other hand, you may be perfectly happy attending a school outside the T14 as long as it offers you the right scholarship money.
Applying to law school is a highly personal experience, and that is why it is hard to give a solid answer to whether or not T14 schools, or law school rankings in general, matter. For some students they may matter a lot, but for others the prestige is overrated and they are not interested in looking at rankings when they apply to law schools.
That being said, if you have your sights set on a highly competitive practice area (like corporate or transactional law) or a highly competitive city for employment (like New York City or Chicago), then attending a higher ranked school is more likely to secure your employment in one of these firms, as many legal firms in competitive cities exclusively hire graduates of the T14 schools.
When Do Law School Rankings Not Matter?
The ranking of your law school matters less in certain scenarios, the most common of which are wanting to practice law locally or wanting to pursue a specific but not competitive practice area (like family law or public interest).
Many students will find that they want to stay local and practice something like family law after graduating school. In cases like these, it is more important to attend a law school that is well-known in the region that you want to practice in, as this is what will help you find suitable employment rather than a school that is well-known nationwide.
Of course, you can still attend a higher-ranking school and then return back to your local area to practice law, but you may find that you are overqualified degree-wise or that you are too much in debt to take a lower-intensity, lower-paying job, as is commonly found in less competitive legal markets.
Important Law School Factors Besides Ranking
If you are in the process of choosing which law schools to apply to, you may be wondering which other factors are important to look at besides ranking. We've gathered some of the most important factors you need to consider before applying to a law school below.
The location of your intended law school is important for more than one reason. First of all, you should try and find a law school where you will enjoy the climate and environment. This means that if you are not a fan of cold winters, for example, you should be looking for schools away from the north of the country.
The second reason that law school location is important is because the location of the school you attend will most likely be where you end up practicing as a lawyer. You should pick a city or area that you can see yourself having a career in. Attending law school in the same area that you wish to work is a great way to start making connections and seamlessly transition into a career after graduation.
When considering which law school to apply to, it is a good idea to look at the job prospects you will have upon graduation. Even though just attending law school is a dream for some, the end goal is to obtain a successful and fulfilling legal career. Look closely at a law school's placement in different sectors of the law and what their overall bar passage and employment rate after graduation are.
Scholarships and Financial Aid
Another highly important factor in choosing a law school is how much scholarship and financial aid money you can expect to receive. This is something that you may not find out about until after you have been accepted into a law school, but as you make your choice between schools it is necessary to consider.
It is possible that you are accepted into a law school that ranks highly but doesn't offer you as much money as a lower-ranking school does. This is a common dilemma for students as they are forced to choose between the name prestige that comes with a highly ranked school and how much debt they are willing to take on for their degree. In the end, this is a choice that is very personal, and the correct answer can only be made after evaluating your financial circumstances and what you value in a law school.
Practice Area Interests
Some law schools are better than others when it comes to different practice areas of the law. For example, Georgetown Law Center is recognized as one of the best schools for getting involved in public interest and government legal work upon graduation, while Fordham University specializes in private sector work.
It is important to search the industries that graduates of your intended law school end up in and examine the class offerings of a law school, as this can help give you an idea if their curriculum is a good match for your interests and intended legal practice areas.
Student Culture and Experience
The student experience in law school is everything and one of the most overarching elements that you can consider before applying to a school. Everything from student class size, events that the campus holds, and extracurricular opportunities can make a difference in your enjoyment of the school and what you get out of it.
You should try to visit the campuses of your intended law school before applying to get an idea of the student culture; talk to students of all class levels while you're there and try to sit in on a class. This will let you experience what life as a student will be like and test it out to see if you are a good fit for it.
Another good idea is to talk to an admissions counselor about which opportunities may be available to you once you've enrolled in the school. Clinics, journals, internships, externships, and clerkships are all essential parts of law school, so make sure that the school is offering a selection of activities that you can see yourself enthusiastically participating in.
Your Networking Skills
Your personal skills in networking and building connections, in most cases, are far more important than the law school you go to or the ranking of that particular school. It is true that even if you attend the number one school on the U.S. News Report list, you may not be able to receive the same return on investment unless you work at making the connections and networking with your peers, upperclassmen, and professors.
Having a solid ability to communicate with people and network is one of the most essential skills for a law student. No matter which school you attend, you should be able to make the most out of it and find your way to a rewarding career with these skills.
Do Law School Rankings Matter?
Law school rankings are difficult to navigate because they can be so subjective. For some, they may matter greatly, but to others rankings are hardly given a second thought. It is important to evaluate any law school you are considering not just for their rank, but for the tangible benefits that they can offer you as a student.
You should keep in mind what exactly is essential for your personal law school experience and take what you may read about law school rankings with a grain of salt because what is true for someone else may not be the best fit for you. Make sure to keep in mind what you personally want to get out of law school when making your application decisions, and you'll be sure to find your dream law school and eventual career success.