The below excerpt on law school scholarship money (merit aid and need-based financial aid) is from Jenny L. Maxey's Barrister on a Budget: Investing in Law School…without Breaking the Bank.
Scholarships should be a key category in your research [for choosing a law school]. While never a guarantee, of course, knowing what scholarships are available is half the battle. It’s easy to assume that “everyone” knows how important scholarships are – but not everyone acts like it.
It is not possible to overstate the importance of scholarships. It’s free money! To even start this discussion, remember that salaries of recent graduates are lower than expected – sometimes much lower. Thus, any tuition subsidy is important: a lower debt will result in lighter loan repayments, make your cost of living after graduation a little more manageable, and open up career opportunities that might not be practical otherwise.
There are many types that will automatically consider some applicants for scholarships based on academic performance (i.e. LSAT scores and GPA). If you are an “under-represented minority” chances there are scholarships: law schools will have significant scholarships available to you that are not available to others. Most law schools offer some “need based” scholarships, or special scholarships for those embarking on a career in public service. But be careful: not all law schools are alike. Only a few law schools have the financial resources to be truly generous, and many of these are, of course, elite law schools. Need based scholarships might be different for public schools, and might be available differently to in-state students. Be sure to check.
Moreover, not all scholarships are equally valuable. Many “merit” scholarships, such as for high LSAT scores, require that you maintain a certain GPA in law school. Do not assume that this is a given. It is anything but. There are many top LSAT-takers who end up in the bottom half of their class, losing their precious scholarships in the process. You do not want to realize before your second year that you’re suddenly on the hook for a massive expense that you assumed would be covered by a three-year scholarship that’s now good for only one year. Be absolutely clear with the law school what the terms are for a merit scholarship; try to negotiate for an irrevocable scholarship – or go elsewhere. (After all, if they really want you because of your stellar LSAT score, chances are others do, too.) No one will look out for your interest. You need to do that.
When researching law schools to which you will apply, take note of what the admissions committee will be looking for in awarding scholarships, and make sure you convey that you possess these qualities when you submit your application.
If the law school you are interested in does not provide information about scholarships during the admission process, inquire about scholarships available after the first year. Law schools offer all sorts of scholarships, such as for students who excel during their first year by ranking in the top five, ten or fifteen percent of their class. (In part this is to reduce the chances of these students transferring elsewhere.) Other scholarships might be offered to top students in each course, and still others for students who perform research in a certain practice area or who dedicate their summers to public-service work. Find out!
Examine the percentages of students who receive scholarship funding. Most law schools post these percentages on their websites. If few scholarships are offered or those available are difficult to attain, find out why. Not all law schools have the same resources, and you don’t want to fight for a tiny sliver of a shrinking pie.
Research your local and state bar associations to see what scholarships they offer. There might also be numerous non-legal or quasi-legal organizations that have scholarship aid through family connections (children of…), specific factors (such as membership in a union), writing contests, and so on.
Check out Barrister on a Budget: Investing in Law School…without Breaking the Bank for more tips from Jenny L. Maxey.