How to Decide Whether to Attend a Lower-Ranked Law School

Welcome to the latest installment of Law Admissions Q&A, a feature that provides law school admissions advice to readers who send in inquiries. If you have a question about law school admissions, email us for a chance to be featured in a future post.

Hello. I recently graduated from university and applied to law schools during my senior year. The only schools I got accepted into and received scholarships from were ranked outside the top 100. I hear a lot of dissuading comments to be wary of attending a not-so-well-ranked law school, as it may negatively impact my job outlook after graduation. Am I doomed to not find a job I like and barely make enough for a living unless I attend a well-ranked law school? Your insight and advice is much appreciated. Thank you. — DT

This is a perennial question. Many students get overly fixated on minor fluctuations in law school rankings with minimal statistical significance.

It is far from true that all graduates of lower-ranked law schools are doomed to scratch out a living. Earning a law degree from any reputable program is an impressive achievement. A glance at the bios for any major law firm will reveal many successful lawyers who attended low-ranked schools.

Admittedly, it is harder for graduates of lower-ranked schools to compete on the job market. It is much easier for graduates of top-ranked law schools to get legal internships, clerkships and job interviews even if their grades were nothing to write home about.

[Read: How to Pick the Right Law School]

In contrast, graduates of low-ranked law schools generally need to perform near the top of their class to get their foot in the door. And in some fields, like legal academia, graduating from a low-ranked law school can carry significant stigma.

Because of this career anxiety, students may find lower-ranked law schools surprisingly cutthroat. However, if you are willing to put in the effort to excel in law school, accepting a scholarship at a lower-ranked school can be a wise decision. Consider these factors:

— How much will the school cost?

— Are there any reasons to be wary of the school?

— Does the school give you access to a legal market?

— Does the school have strong programs that interest you?

How Much Will the School Cost?

You mentioned that some of the lower-ranked schools you were accepted to offered you scholarships. But don’t assume that all law schools have similar tuition.

Law school tuition depends on several factors, including the location of the school, the costs of room and board, and whether it is public or private. Even public law schools vary in their rules about eligibility for in-state tuition. Plus, some schools offer special programs or paid work opportunities that lower the cost of attendance.

[Read: Why Law School Location Matters.]

Some lower-ranked law schools are cheaper than others, even after accounting for scholarships. So be sure to weigh the costs and benefits of each law school before settling on a final choice.

Are There Any Reasons to Be Wary of the School?

Before accepting admission at a law school, do your homework and research the law school online. Search news sources for any signs of trouble like financial distress, legal disputes or a leadership vacuum.

If a school has declining admissions standards, your degree could carry less weight on the job market by the time you graduate. Be sure to look into recent trends in the school’s rankings and admissions statistics.

Be particularly careful if the law school is not accredited by the American Bar Association. Most states allow only graduates of accredited law schools to take the bar exam. Even in states that do allow graduates of unaccredited schools to take the bar exam, like California, graduates of such schools tend to have low bar exam passage rates.

Does the School Give You Access to a Legal Market?

Top legal markets like New York, Los Angeles and Boston have an excess of law schools, which can make it hard for graduates of lower-ranked law schools to compete for jobs. Instead, consider an overlooked legal market dominated by lower-ranked schools.

[Read: Policy Careers an Option for Law School Graduates.]

For example, New Mexico has only one ABA-accredited law school, the University of New Mexico School of Law, which is tied at No. 102 in the 2022 U.S. News Best Law Schools rankings. Likewise, Vermont Law School, which U.S. News currently places in its bottom quartile range, is the only law school in the Green Mountain State. The 2022 U.S. News rankings measure 193 ABA-accredited law schools.

Does the School Have Strong Programs That Interest You?

Not only do some lower-ranked law schools serve overlooked legal markets, but many have top-ranked specialized programs.

Consider the two examples mentioned earlier. The University of New Mexico School of Law has one of the nation’s strongest programs in Native American law while Vermont Law School has an outstanding program in environmental law.

So, before dismissing a lower-ranked law school out of hand, carefully weigh its strengths and weaknesses. There are certainly worse places to build a legal career than a scenic state like New Mexico or Vermont.

More from U.S. News

27 Law Jobs for Law School Graduates

7 Considerations for Pursuing an Environmental Law Career

40 Law Schools With the Highest Full-Time Employment Rates

How to Decide Whether to Attend a Lower-Ranked Law School originally appeared on usnews.com

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