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Choosing the Right Law School Location

LSAT Blog Choosing the Right Law School Location
The below excerpt on choosing the right law school location is from Jenny L. Maxey's Barrister on a Budget: Investing in Law School…without Breaking the Bank Second Edition.
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As the saying goes in real estate, the three most important factors in a property are “location, location, and location!”

Treat yourself like a piece of property. Where would you get the most value for yourself? Where would you be most profitable?

Choosing a location (and not simply letting a location choose you) is important for several reasons. First, the choice of where you go to law school could be the choice of where you are located for the next decade. Maybe more. Yes, most law students assume they can go to school anywhere and then move to another location once their three years are over, but in the current economic climate, this no longer holds true. While there are always exceptions to the rule, the only valid exception exists if you already have an established network where you wish to relocate or you already have a job lined up. Otherwise, changing locations can set you back in your career, or derail a career before it even starts.

Why are you more likely to be rooted to the same location as your law school? First, job recruitment begins in law school. Employers recruiting for summer associate positions are largely local firms. Once you get into a summer associate position, you are increasing your likelihood of a job offer by your third year of law school (See Chapter 6). Second, you begin to establish a professional network through professors, local bar associations, and other organizations you pursue (See Chapter 7). If you decide to move, you will lose much of the benefit from the time, effort, and networks that took years to establish.

Further, most law schools offer state-law-specific courses to help students prepare for the bar exam. You are more likely to pass the bar in the location for which you have learned the law and with which you are already comfortable. Finally, once you have passed a bar exam, you often cannot establish reciprocity in another state depending upon restrictions of that jurisdiction, which often have waiting periods of 5-7 years. When a state provides reciprocity, it means that you remain licensed in the state where you passed the bar and the new state acknowledges your licensure and your experience as a practicing attorney so that you may forgo taking the bar again. Unless you want to take more than one bar exam, you will work in that state until you have practiced long enough to meet the requirements of a second jurisdiction.

Other than the normal physical aspects most of us think about when considering a location—scenic views, cultural activity, nightlife, housing affordability, crime rates, and blue ribbon schools—there are more specific factors you should also consider. For instance, you should look into the job market for attorneys in that location. Searches on CraigsList, Google, and Monster.com will show how many openings there are and what the market might be like three years hence. At least, it will show how that location is relative to other locations.

Law schools offer links on their websites for job postings. Local and state bar associations might have job postings on their websites, which might be available to you without yet becoming a member. Alternatively, you could determine how many firms are in the location. An oversaturated location can mean that there is enough work to sustain firms, but that new associates hiring is minimal or even declining. Think about the tools from Chapter 1 and look at law firm demographics. Are there more large firms than small firms? Is there an unusual number of solo practitioners? Are there economic engines, such as new industries or major employers that are propelling that area forward? Is the area stagnant? Under long-term economic duress? Use those tools to determine whether this area is likely to have job growth by the time you graduate from law school.

How many law schools are in your desired location? How many in the state? Multiple law schools in a single location can be a good or a bad sign. It could be good because it means the area is able to support a large number of attorneys; however, with a slow economy and numerous new and experienced attorneys looking for jobs, added competition through multiple graduating classes can make it even more difficult to find employment.

Consider cost. Research your state’s law schools to determine the in-state tuition. Use this as a benchmark to compare with other law schools, both public and private. Are the differences worth the difference in cost? The answer is often “No.” Search also for scholarship opportunities—and don’t forget your own state! Many states provide financial assistance to their residents, and some local and state bar associations also reward resident applicants, especially if they meet specific requirements. Consider too the differences between private and public schools in the same location.

Private law schools are, as a rule, pricier than their public-school counterparts. The same question should be answered: is the difference in quality and career advantage (to the extent there is any) worth the difference in cost? Avoid the trap of assuming that a private school necessarily has more “pull” than a state school. This can be true, but is not always true. As a rule, only elite schools (many of which are private) offer genuine career leverage. An elite state law school (usually associated with a flagship state university such as in California, Michigan, Virginia, and Texas) will almost certainly have more career weight than a lesser-ranked private law school. Even out-of-state tuition at one of these law schools will likely be a better “buy” than tuition at a lesser-ranked private school. Of course, scholarships should be a part of your decision.

Also, don’t simply stop at “state” or “private”: consider the specific criteria for in-state tuition. If, for example, you would love to attend a certain state school but are not a resident of that state, what does it take to become one? With the answer to that question, perhaps you can move to that state, taking a job in that state, and thus meet the requirements for in-state tuition. Importantly, residents usually enjoy slightly better admissions probabilities to a public school. Be sure you know the implications, risks, and benefits up front.

There’s one more thing to check: the character-and-fitness requirements to apply for the state’s bar exam. Do not forget that you must pass the bar to practice law, and if you cannot meet the state’s requirements (including their character-and-fitness requirements), you could be wasting time and money by locating there.

If, for example, you have a criminal background or have filed for bankruptcy, it is imperative that you look into the bar requirements or contact the location’s bar admission office. While law schools might admit someone with that background, the state might not. Remember, the end goal is to get a job as a lawyer, not merely to attend law school.

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Check out Barrister on a Budget:  Investing in Law School…without Breaking the Bank Second Edition for more tips from Jenny L. Maxey.




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