How to Choose a Law School Where Faculty Are Great Teachers

American law schools present themselves as stately and storied institutions, but they compete in a tenuous market for funding, faculty, students and their tuition. Unsustainable schools shut down, and new schools open.

This competition has led to innovations like online programs, along with incentives to cut corners. Sadly, the quality of instruction can be overshadowed in the drive for prestige, publicity and market power.

Thus, law school applicants seeking a first-class educational experience will have to research carefully as they decide which schools to target.

[How to Decide Where to Apply for Law School]

Here are five ways to find a law school that values and rewards professors who are good teachers.

— See how the Socratic method is used.

— Evaluate practical and experiential education.

— Check out a school’s bar passage rate.

— Look for clues to a school’s campus culture.

— Research professors’ biographies.

See How the Socratic Method Is Used

In the crucial first year of law school, students typically take a standard set of core classes like criminal law and property law taught by professors using the Socratic method.

Professors using the Socratic method cold call on individual students from a large lecture class and interrogate them about the facts and findings of assigned cases. Like the Greek philosopher Socrates, a skilled professor will cleverly push a student using thought-provoking questions that reveal nuances and hidden assumptions to seemingly straightforward claims.

Many attorneys consider this shared experience foundational to learning to “think like a lawyer.” However, in unskilled hands, the technique can be bullying, confusing or ineffective.

By visiting a class in person or talking to current students or recent alumni, applicants can learn whether professors in a law school use the Socratic method effectively to sharpen students’ minds or to browbeat them.

[READ: What Applicants Should Ask Law Students and Alumni]

Evaluate Practical and Experiential Education

Law school is a professional school, and graduates should gain critical legal skills they need to serve their future employers and clients, like legal research and writing.

To achieve this mission, may law schools require small hands-on classes in legal practice along with experiential opportunities like legal clinics, moot court and externships.

Make sure these classes are being taught by qualified and experienced attorneys. Don’t be afraid to ask admissions officers about how their school ensures that graduates are fully prepared for legal practice.

Check Out a School’s Bar Passage Rate

If a school doesn’t train its students to pass the bar exam, it is unlikely to be a community that values teaching. Every law school must publicly disclose its bar passage rate in its annual disclosures, and applicants can use this information to find schools that are worth the cost.

On the other hand, there is more to being a lawyer than passing the bar exam. Talk to current and former students to make sure that professors help students untangle complex legal issues beyond the basics of “black letter law.”

[READ: 7 Deciding Factors in Law School Admissions]

Look for Clues to a School’s Campus Culture

Law schools differ from one another in their teaching style. Some schools foster mentorship between professors and students. Some schools have a more collaborative or competitive student culture. Some have fixed grading curves while others don’t even use an A-F grading system.

These cultural factors can create a learning environment in which some students will thrive while others may feel disengaged or even pressured to drop out.

When picking a law school, think about how you will fit into the environment, and make sure it is one in which you feel comfortable and supported.

Research Professors’ Biographies

Law school websites are a gold mine of information for applicants. Peruse the course catalogue and faculty directory to find professors with the background and expertise to serve as a potential mentor. Reading professors’ resumes and exploring their scholarship can reveal clues about how they approach teaching.

For example, adjunct faculty may bring direct experience and fresh perspectives to the classroom. But if you have a specific legal interest, it can be risky to attend a law school that doesn’t have a full-time professor in the field.

While all this research is important, remember that teaching can be highly subjective. When I was in law school, I heard adamant recommendations that I should take courses taught by certain professors whom I didn’t connect with, while I found some less-popular classes fascinating.

While others’ opinions of professors can be valuable, take them with a grain of salt.

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