Cornell University

Choosing a Law School

With 200 accredited law schools in the United States, how do you decide where to apply and ultimately which school to attend? It will be important to balance factors that address your personal preferences with those that affect your chances of admission. Do not let the search for "long shots, good chances, and sure things" govern your selection process. Begin by assembling a list of law schools based on criteria that are important to you, then revise your choices according to your chances of admission. This systematic approach should help limit frustration and confusion during the process of applying to law school. Selecting schools carefully will help reduce the time and expense of applying to an excessive number of schools.

Criteria for Selection

Consider the following factors and determine which are important to you:

National/Regional Schools: Does the school attract applicants from across the country and abroad, or are most students from the region in which the school is located? Do most students want to work throughout the country or in the school's region following graduation?

Faculty: What are the academic and experiential backgrounds of faculty? How accessible are they? What is the faculty-student ratio, the number of full-time vs. adjunct faculty, and the number of female and minority faculty?

Facilities and Resources: Is the school affiliated with a university? Do students have access to courses from a range of academic disciplines to supplement their legal curriculum? Is the library large enough to accommodate holdings and permit students to conduct research and study? How helpful is the library staff? How accessible are electronic databases such as Lexis and Westlaw? In general, do the facilities provide a comfortable learning environment?

Student Body: What is the size of the entering class? What does the admissions profile tell you about the quality of the student body? Where did students study as undergraduates and what are their geographic backgrounds? Is there diversity in interests and personal/cultural backgrounds? What is the overall atmosphere–are students friendly or overly competitive? Is there much interaction with fellow students outside the classroom?

Special Programs: What courses are available in specialized areas? What joint degree programs of interest to you are available? What opportunities exist for practical experience, including clinics, internships, etc.? What specialized institutes, journals, or organizations exist in your areas of interest? Does the school demonstrate a commitment to women and minorities through special programs?

Career Services: What advising and resources are available to help you find a job? Is career counseling available? How many employers recruit at the law school and who are they? What percentage of the class has positions at graduation? In which types of positions and geographic areas are they employed? What is the percentage of graduates holding judicial clerkships? What assistance is given to students not interested in working in law firms? What is the bar passage rate for recent graduates?

Student Life: Is housing provided for first-year students? If not, does the school offer assistance in locating off-campus housing? Is the school located in a safe area? What is the cost of living? What types of cultural opportunities are there? Does the school provide recreational facilities?

Costs: What are tuition, housing, and transportation costs? Is financial aid exclusively need based, or are merit scholarships available?

Reputation

The issue most often discussed by prospective law students, yet the most difficult to define, is reputation. A number of factors contribute to a school’s reputation, including faculty, facilities, career services, reputation of the parent university, etc. Though a number of law school rankings are available, most factors evaluated are not quantifiable, and therefore you should not perceive the rankings as accurate or definitive. Selectivity at law schools, however, is one factor which can be quantified; you can gauge a school's relative selectivity by comparing the number of applicants accepted to the overall number of applications. The Official Guide to ABA-Approved Law Schools contains charts and tables of recent admissions cycles at most schools that reflect selectivity.

Schools can be divided roughly into three groups:

  • Schools with national reputations that tend to appear in various "top ten" lists. They draw students from a national pool and offer geographic mobility to graduates.
  • Schools with good regional reputations that are attended primarily by students from the region, who may want to remain in the area following graduation, but who may also seek positions throughout the country.
  • Local schools that draw students primarily from the immediate area who want to practice there following graduation.

For a more detailed discussion of law school reputation and the process for evaluating schools, refer to the Official Guide to ABA-Approved Law Schools.

Non-Traditional Alternatives

You should be aware that some law schools offer alternatives to fall admission in a full-time law program. Evening divisions and part-time programs make it possible for students to work and study law simultaneously, earning a J.D. in four years. A few schools on the quarter system allow students to enter mid-year. Summer entry and/or summer courses can accelerate the degree program from three to two-and-a-half calendar years. And finally, some law schools have created summer trial programs, which allow borderline applicants to prove themselves capable of legal study in time for fall entrance.

Publications and Online Resources

There are a number of resources designed to help you research and evaluate law schools.

Resources listed below are available at the Cornell Career Services Library in 103 Barnes Hall; a more complete listing of the Library’s prelaw holdings is appended to this guide.

  • The Official Guide to ABA-Approved Law Schools 2011 provides information on the 200 American Bar Association-approved law schools, including faculty, library resources, enrollment, bar passage, placement, and 25th-75th percentile LSAT scores and GPAs. The Guide is accessible free of charge through the LSAC website.
  • NALP—The Association for Legal Career Professionals offers an online directory of law schools.
  • Catalogs and bulletins published and distributed by law schools are available through their websites, or by contacting the schools by phone. Copies are maintained as a reference in the Cornell Career Services Library.
  • The NAPLA/SAPLA Book of Law School Lists 2010-11 Edition provides information about joint degrees, areas of strength as identified by law schools, treatment of multiple LSAT scores by individual schools, schools that grant one-year deferrals, bar passage rates at a number of schools, schools that award non-need-based scholarships, etc. The Book of Lists is available online on the Pre-Professional Advising page.
  • A wide range of information, including legal careers, the application process, financial aid resources, and home pages of many law schools, is accessible through the Cornell Career Services.
  • The Boston College Online Law School Locator helps applicants identify schools where their LSAT score and grades are most competitive for admission.

Cornell Resources

  • Law School Day, held each fall, is attended by representatives of approximately 90 law schools who speak with students about their schools and admissions policies, and distribute bulletins and application materials. Visiting law school admissions officers participate in a panel discussion on the application process the afternoon prior to Law School Day.
  • The Action Report summarizes GPAs, LSAT scores, and admissions decisions for Cornellians who applied to law school the previous year. Information from the summary report is appended to this publication; you can obtain more detailed information by scheduling an appointment with a prelaw advisor.
  • Survey responses of Cornellians studying at law schools across the country provide information about their experiences and offer advice to current applicants. Responses include contact information for further discussion and are available in the Career Services Library in 103 Barnes Hall.

Determine what is most important to you as you evaluate law schools and decide on a list of potential schools. Make sure your research is thorough and includes discussions with current students at law schools in which you are interested. After you complete your research and compile a list of schools, meet with a prelaw advisor to discuss schools of interest to you.