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The Rewards of Attending a Top Law School

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Once upon a time, a high school diploma was a sufficient credential to get a good executive job. Then, as more and more people went to college, a high school diploma was no longer enough to land an executive position. A college degree sufficed for a time, but as more and more people got MBAs and JDs, even a college degree was no longer sufficient to get most high-powered jobs. That was the case in the 1970s. Since then, the number of people getting such degrees has increased to the point that simply having such a degree is insufficient to get plum jobs; the quality of the law program has become determinative.

The Rewards of Attending a Top Law School



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The Value of Going to a Top Law School

As the number of JD holders in the world increases, so does the importance of getting a top-quality JD rather than just any law degree.

Career Choice

Some parts of the legal profession are virtually off-limits to graduates of lesser law schools. These include the major corporate law firms and high-profile government jobs as well as public interest organizations. The most desirable employers to work for, such as the major corporate firms, would no more think of recruiting at "Acme" Law School than they would of giving this year's profits to the Flat Earth Society. These firms look to hire the best and the brightest and they know that the best and the brightest are to be found at the world's leading law schools. The same is true in other legal fields, too. For instance, in a profession that is notorious for snobbery (regarding which law schools people attended), arguably the snobbiest employers of all are the public interest organizations.

Status

This category nearly speaks for itself. Whether for personal or business reasons, being a graduate of Yale conjures up entirely different impressions and reactions among people you encounter than does being a graduate of Acme Law. Status is partially related to the other items listed here, such as salary, but it also reflects the fact that Yale admits only people who are highly regarded to begin with.

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Career Flexibility

The top law schools offer substantial geographic mobility to their graduates. Whereas lesser schools place few of their graduates outside their city or region, the top schools invariably send many of their graduates to firms across the country (and the world).

Learn the 10 Factors That Matter to Big Firms More Than Where You Went to Law School

The benefits of going to a top school are not limited to your initial job upon graduation. If you decide to change employers, or even to change fields, the quality of your education will be one of the determining factors in your ability to make the switch successfully, and it will also determine how other people rate your chances (and whether they will risk hiring you). The alumni network and your own personal network from law school will also be important determinants of your ability to switch. With a strong network willing to help you, your chances are automatically better.

Intangibles

Many of the benefits of attending a top law school are intangible. For example, you will be spending three years of your life interacting with faculty and fellow students; you might well value having the smartest, most motivated group of faculty and fellow students you can. Indeed, given that many of the friendships and professional relationships you form at law school will continue for many years after school, you will derive pleasure from attending a top school long after graduation. By the same token, you will have the opportunity to work with and compare yourself to some of the finest minds in the country.

Is a law degree worth this large sum? Although not everyone will be financially better off from getting a JD, those attending the top programs are highly likely to be. The payoff to attending a top school is partly a matter of increased earnings. It is also a matter of increased career options, increased confidence that one can do a given job extremely well, increased security (no matter what happens there are jobs available for people from top schools), and increased status. It is therefore probably a mistake to view the decision to get a JD on a purely financial basis, despite the sums involved.

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