July 25, 2003

Where should I go to Law School?

Sua Sponte offers some heartfelt advice about going to the best school where you are accepted.

So, in contrast, I'd like to offer the my friend, C's, story...

C is a California native, a Cal grad (that's Berkeley for those of you who are confused), who recently got her JD from the Univeristy of Michigan. She applied everywhere and went there because it was the best school where she was accepted. She packed up her stuff, moved several thousand miles and spent the her 1L year suffering through the socratic method in addition to MAJOR depression due to the environment (good food? culture? what?), the weather (snow? ice? no sun? what?), and distance from her support network. Her mental and physical health suffered severely, her grades most likely did as well (although she still did quite well... type A that she is), her marriage took a serious beating due to the commute from her husband's job, and her relationships with friends and family, most of whom she was unable to see in person, were not as able to help her through this difficult period as she would have liked. She ended up as a visiting student at a MUCH lower ranked school for a year out of her law school journey to be able to make it through the experience with her sanity. Her advice to me was to consider ALL of the quality of life factors, both those during school, as well as those afterwards, when deciding where to go to school because she felt that she was living proof that the "go to the best school where you are accepted" adage can be horribly wrong. It can also saddle you with a very large chunk of debt if the "best" school is out of state or private.

As for myself, if my experience (albeit short) has shown me anything, contacts I made in business prior to deciding on going to law school will most likely affect my future legal career much more than the school that I choose to attend. Over the course of my summer, I've had the priviledge of working with over 40 attorneys from 4 differnent firms. Each one of them is their own story. Some of the most brilliant and successful attended schools of which I've never heard. I've met senior partners from all walks of the law school ranking system.

So, yes, everyone has heard the saying, "you go to the best school where you are accepted," and most people will assume that you followed it. Know this when you are deciding where you will go. But, I would say that it's really just a question of whether you define best to be the rankings applied by USN&WR or, rather, whether you have your own criteria. It is important to note that if you change your criteria, you could be stuck in a school that is no longer the best by your ranking, or USN&WR's. Obviously, there's no disagreeing with the fact that more doors are open for you at the top of the rankings. But, you may determine that the emotional, economic, and/or physical cost of attending a school with a higher ranking is not worth the majority of those open doors, particularly since you can only go into one door at any time. I've had the pleasure of meeting many successful attorneys, both in BIGLAW and in boutiques, who have found (or perhaps forced) plenty of open doors. I would argue for the self-determined definition of "best". But, perhaps that's because it's the option I took, and I don't want to believe that I made the wrong choice.

That's just the 2 cents that my naive self has to offer on the subject.

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