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How Does Your Law School Impact Your Legal Career?

( 22 votes, average: 4.6 out of 5)
What do you think about this article? Rate it using the stars above and let us know what you think in the comments below.
Dear Lawcrossing,

I am contemplating law school and have been accepted, thus far, to the Massachusetts School of Law. Economically and schedulewise it makes sense. My question is, as far as future employment is concerned, does it matter what law school you went to?

KJ, Massachusetts


Of course, KJ, it never hurts to go to Harvard. The extent to which it hurts not to go to Harvard? That depends-but LawCrossing assures you that ultimately, whatever your dream job is, you can get it regardless of where you decide to go to law school. And why is that? As Teresa DeAndrado, former Career Services Director at Washington University School of
Law, says, "People hire people, not law schools."

Having said that, does it make a difference where you go to school? Well, yes, at least in the short term-in the sense that your school can make it easier to break into your dream job. There's no question that if you attend one of the law schools that are considered distinguished-and let's face it, KJ, you either know them, or you know where to find them, since they include Harvard, Yale, Michigan, and NYU (and a handful of others whose feathers LawCrossing has just ruffled by not mentioning them in the same breath)-and you don't sit on your brains for three years, your quest for your very first job (and only your first job) is going to be easier simply because potential employers will be impressed with the name on your diploma (and here I refer to the name of your school, not your own name, KJ). Future jobs are a different story, but for that first one, yes, a Yale diploma will certainly grease the wheels to get you in the door. But there is so much more to this story, KJ!

The sources with whom LawCrossing conferred on your question-and for obvious reasons of professional security, they chose to remain nameless-agreed that outside of those distinguished schools, school "rankings," regardless of the source, are not very meaningful. Instead, there are three factors to consider: where you want to live, what you want to do, and how well you do in law school (which of course is a great big question mark for you right now).

First, location. While the prospect of "seeing another part of the country" lures many an unsuspecting law stu-dent to school thousands of miles from where they intend to settle, that's not the best career move. You're far better off being near where you want to settle down, since your opportunities to take part in local activities, to see and be seen in either paid or volunteer positions, will smooth your transition into practicing law. Furthermore, employers tend to view students from local law schools more kindly than a school that is technically "better" but further away, simply by dint of familiarity. What if you don't know where you want to live? Well, LawCrossing hears you, and responds with the obvious insight that if that's the case, then location isn't a factor you can use in your favor.

Second, you've got to consider what it is that you want to do. It may well be that you want to open your own practice, or you just want a law degree as a kind of bonus credential for present or future employers, since they don't respond so favorably to a set of ginsu knives. If that's the case, it doesn't much matter where you go to school; the important thing for you to do is to get your diploma. For instance, LawCrossing knows of some detectives who went to law school at night while they kept their day jobs, and as soon as they graduated, they hung out a shingle doing criminal defense work. With that kind of background, who's going to care where they went to school, right?

But the way you phrased your letter, KJ, suggests that's not you-you want to know who's going to hire you. If you have a well-defined specialty you want to pursue, it's worth checking with lawyers who practice that specialty to see if there's a particular school, among your choices, that makes more sense to attend. For instance, in New England, Franklin Pierce in Concord, New Hampshire, is very well known for its Intellectual Property program. And on the West Coast, the University of Oregon births many an environmental lawyer from its highly-regarded Environmental Law program. If you want a particular specialty and go to a school known for that specialty, finding that first job will clearly be easier for you.

With employability being a significant concern for you, LawCrossing would recommend calling the career services director at any law school you're considering, and ask specific questions about employment. What do most people from the school wind up doing? What's the route most of them use to find their first job? Does the school have a mentoring program, or otherwise helpful alumni? You will think of many other questions as well, but LawCrossing cautions you that placement rates are not terribly helpful, because they look at employment six months after graduation. A number of factors can delay law school graduates from finding a first job-like, oh, say, flunking the bar-but within a year after graduation, virtually everybody is employed. And that's why numbers aren't helpful.

Other than going straight to the source and talking with career services at your potential law schools, you can look through a directory of lawyers in the city where you want to practice (any law library will have such a directory), and check to see where they went to law school. As a rule of thumb, lawyers will view graduates of their alma mater with favor. (One career services director told LawCrossing about the partner at a prestigious law firm who always made job offers to any law student who attended the partner's school and could sing the school's fight song. And since the song featured some hearty "oom-pah-pah's," the humiliation factor was significant.)

Finally, the ease with which you'll nail that first job depends on your law school grades. Notice that LawCrossing said ease, not ability-because she must con-stantly reiterate that your grades in law school do not define your career! But the fact is, if you do extremely well in law school, especially in your first year, virtually any employer will welcome you regardless of which law school you attend (assuming, as LawCrossing does, that you do not have the personality of a garden slug). Unfortunately, grades as a career determinant are overemphasized by virtually everyone, and LawCrossing cautions you against listening to much of the well-meaning but misguided advice you will receive from others, who will tell you there's no point in attending law school if you're not in the top 10% of your class. How, LawCrossing wonders, is it possible to know that before you go? Sigh. If you are not at the top of your class, KJ, you will simply speed up the necessity of learning and employing the job search skills that will serve you well for the rest of your life. That's all.

Did you notice a theme running through this column, KJ? LawCrossing's emphasis on your law school's impact on your first job? Her reason for that is that she knows something you will soon discover-it really ultimately doesn't matter where you go to school.

Within a couple of years of graduation, you aren't your school, or your grades. You're you, and whatever you make of your career. So ultimately, from a whole life perspective, does your choice of school impact your future employment?
In a word-no. Isn't that reassuring?

About Harrison Barnes
Harrison Barnes is the founder of LawCrossing and an internationally recognized expert in attorney search and placement. Harrison is extremely committed to and passionate about the profession of legal placement. Harrison’s writings about attorney careers and placement attract millions of reads each year. LawCrossing has been ranked on the Inc. 500 twice. For more information, please visit Harrison Barnes’ bio.

About LawCrossing
LawCrossing has received tens of thousands of attorneys jobs and has been the leading legal job board in the United States for almost two decades. LawCrossing helps attorneys dramatically improve their careers by locating every legal job opening in the market. Unlike other job sites, LawCrossing consolidates every job in the legal market and posts jobs regardless of whether or not an employer is paying. LawCrossing takes your legal career seriously and understands the legal profession. For more information, please visit www.LawCrossing.com.

Massachusetts School of Law


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Harrison Barnes does a weekly free webinar with live Q&A for attorneys and law students each Wednesday at 10:00 am PST. You can attend anonymously and ask questions about your career, this article, or any other legal career-related topics. You can sign up for the weekly webinar here: Register on Zoom

Harrison also does a weekly free webinar with live Q&A for law firms, companies, and others who hire attorneys each Wednesday at 10:00 am PST. You can sign up for the weekly webinar here: Register on Zoom

You can browse a list of past webinars here: Webinar Replays

You can also listen to Harrison Barnes Podcasts here: Attorney Career Advice Podcasts

You can also read Harrison Barnes' articles and books here: Harrison's Perspectives

Harrison Barnes is the legal profession's mentor and may be the only person in your legal career who will tell you why you are not reaching your full potential and what you really need to do to grow as an attorney--regardless of how much it hurts. If you prefer truth to stagnation, growth to comfort, and actionable ideas instead of fluffy concepts, you and Harrison will get along just fine. If, however, you want to stay where you are, talk about your past successes, and feel comfortable, Harrison is not for you.

Truly great mentors are like parents, doctors, therapists, spiritual figures, and others because in order to help you they need to expose you to pain and expose your weaknesses. But suppose you act on the advice and pain created by a mentor. In that case, you will become better: a better attorney, better employees, a better boss, know where you are going, and appreciate where you have been--you will hopefully also become a happier and better person. As you learn from Harrison, he hopes he will become your mentor.

To read more career and life advice articles visit Harrison's personal blog.

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About Harrison Barnes

Harrison is the founder of BCG Attorney Search and several companies in the legal employment space that collectively gets thousands of attorneys jobs each year. Harrison is widely considered the most successful recruiter in the United States and personally places multiple attorneys most weeks. His articles on legal search and placement are read by attorneys, law students and others millions of times per year.

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