How to Choose a Law School If You Can’t Tour Campus Due to Coronavirus

Aspiring attorneys who have been accepted into multiple law schools and who intend to start a J.D. program this fall face a difficult predicament because of the coronavirus health crisis, which has caused law schools to close their campuses. Unlike in years past, someone accepted into various law schools cannot visit those campuses to determine where he or she feels most comfortable.

The spread of COVID-19, the disease caused by the new coronavirus, prevents in-person meetings with current law students, faculty, alumni and others who might be able to share insights about a particular J.D. program. Social distancing guidelines issued by public heath officials and government authorities discourage in-person interactions.

[Read: The Impact of the Coronavirus on Legal Education.]

That means admitted law students must seek information about the schools that accepted them in ways other than on-campus experience or in-person interaction. J.D. admissions experts note many methods for researching law schools remotely.

Andrew Strauss, dean of the University of Dayton School of Law in Ohio, suggests asking to observe virtual classes at potential law schools before the semester is over. Law school applicants should also participate in whatever virtual admitted student events their potential schools offer, including virtual campus tours, Strauss says.

Prospective law students may also want to investigate the quality of a law school’s remote learning options to ensure that, if the coronavirus crisis lasts for an extended time, they can still receive a good legal education, Strauss adds.

[Read: How to Weigh Competing Law School Acceptances.]

Some law school admissions experts advise admitted J.D. students to schedule video conference calls with current law students and recent grads. Victoria Turner Turco, founder and president of the Turner Educational Advising admissions consulting firm, says it is ideal for prospective law students to identify alumni of their undergraduate institutions who attended a law school they are considering.

When prospective law students reach out to people with whom they have a college connection, she says, those people are likely to reply and be open and honest about their law school experience.

Todd A. Spodek, managing partner with the Spodek Law Group in New York City, suggests searching on LinkedIn and other social media sites for alumni of the law schools they are considering who are currently working for the type of employer they want to work for. Because these alumni are likely to have more free time at the moment, it’s a good time to ask if they would be willing to discuss their law school experience, Spodek says.

It’s also prudent to speak with individuals currently affiliated with the school, and the admissions office can help arrange these conversations, experts suggest.

Barbara Ayars, associate dean for admissions at Widener University–Delaware, notes that the most important aspects of a law school are the people and the culture. So it’s worthwhile to have conversations with the people associated with a particular school even if those conversations can’t happen in person, Ayars emphasizes.

“Connecting with students and faculty through phone, email, or virtual events, still gives prospective students a window into the community they will be joining, what classes are like, and what resources, experiences, and support are available to them,” Ayars wrote in an email.

Employment statistics and other data can also clarify which law school is the best fit. Turco suggests that future law students look at the Standard 509 Disclosure forms that their potential law schools submitted to the American Bar Association, since these forms include valuable information such as where grads typically work and what kind of salary they usually earn.

[Read: Understand the Cost, Payoff of Law School Before Getting a J.D.]

However, Austen Parrish, dean of the Indiana University–Bloomington Maurer School of Law, cautions against making a choice about a law school solely on the basis of minuscule differences between employment numbers.

Assuming the placement statistics at schools look similar, prospective students should focus on assessing which law school provides the best preparation for the kind of legal career they are hoping for, whether it is a career as an intellectual property lawyer or as another type of lawyer, Parrish suggests. Future J.D. students who have an interest in a specific area of law should find out whether a particular law school has a solid curriculum within that field, he says.

Cost of attendance should also be a significant consideration, Parrish says, because if it’s feasible to get a legal education at a much lower price at one academic institution vs. another, then earning a J.D. degree at the more affordable institution might be the right choice if it offers a quality education.

John Miller, vice president of enrollment management, marketing and communications at Vermont Law School, says prospective law students should not be shy about reaching out to J.D. admissions offices if they have questions that aren’t easily answered via online research, because admissions offices are typically willing to answer such questions.

Future law students should think hard about what kind of learning community would suit them best and look for a law school that aligns with their personal goals, Miller says. “Students should ultimately be thinking about schools holistically,” he says, adding that a J.D. program requires a big investment of time, effort and money.

Miller and Turco recommend asking how easy or hard it is to get placed into law school clinics and how competitive they tend to be, since clinics allow law students to acquire marketable skills.

Turco urges admitted law students to carefully assess which law school offers the best deal.

“At the end of the day, this is a value proposition, and you’re giving them a lot of money, and you’re going to be giving them your time and your tears and your talent,” she says. “And on the return end, they’re going to be giving you a professional degree and (will) train you to go out into the world.”

Searching for a law school? Get our complete rankings of Best Law Schools.

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