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Choosing the Right Law School for You

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To use this method, you'll have to decide in advance which qualities and programs are important to you. You have your own particular educational goals, and you'll have to decide for yourself what kinds of places you will feel comfortable living in. Though I'll list a number of variables you should consider, I can't tell you what you should consider important; you are a unique individual and you'll have to set your own priorities.
 
Choosing the Right Law School for You

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One student had spent most of his life studying an unusual form of martial arts and had come to depend on his daily practice sessions for relaxation and unwinding, as well as for exercise. When he chose a law school, it was of primary importance to him to live in a city where he could continue to study this particular sport. This isn't something of concern to most people, but it was vital to him.

For some people, the cultural tone of the community-its offerings of music and other performing arts-is of vital importance; for other people it is not. Some candidates are concerned about schools for their children. Handicapped students must be concerned about accessibility. Some people want to be near their families, while others need to stay far away.

Take a yellow pad and make a list of the things that are important to you. Don't feel embarrassed if your list seems unusual. For one thing, it probably isn't. You aren't the first person who needs to live close to your significant other who is attending medical school, or who can't live happily without being near a body of water, or without being able to see mountains in the distance. You are certainly not alone in having allergies or ailments that keep you from living in certain parts of the country.

Besides, no one will see the list but you.

Now, in no particular order, here are some variables that everyone should consider.

Location

How you will live while you are a law student will largely be determined by where your law school is located. The law school's location will also play a role in determining where you will practice law. So you should give some thought to what part of the country you want to live in.

Place-bound Applicants

A place-bound applicant is one who can't leave some particular city or state. Most are non-traditionals who have family obligations that can't be put on hold. I knew a woman who was going through a protracted divorce and who was under court order not to move her children out of the state. I've met other applicants who could afford to go to law school only at night and didn't dare give up day jobs where they had understanding employers. If you have a handicap that requires access to a large medical center, you will have to live in one of the few large cities that has such facilities. If you have allergies, or if you absolutely can't stand cold weather, you will be restricted in where you are able to live.

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If you're truly place-bound, the selection of a law school will be very simple: you'll have to go to one in the place you can't leave. If that place is Chicago, you'll have a choice of six or seven law schools. If it's out on the great plains somewhere, your choice will be much more limited. This limitation will make it quite difficult to find the law school that's best for you. You'll have to choose from a few schools, instead of from 176.

For this reason, I encourage students to keep an open mind. There are good reasons for staying put. You may have a personal reason, such as needing to take care of a sick parent. Or you may need to take advantage of the substantial tuition discount your state university offers in-state residents. (The Illinois state schools, for example, charge roughly a third of the tuition cost of equivalent private schools.)

But many applicants who say they're place-bound are merely avoiding inconveniences. They don't want to be too far away from parents who do laundry, or they don't want the hassle of making new friends, learning the geography of a new place, or mastering unfamiliar regional customs. Many of these candidates are limiting themselves unnecessarily. Some, I suspect, are simply overawed by the prospect of choosing law schools from a list of 176, so they bring the task within manageable proportions by arbitrarily limiting them-selves to the few schools in a small, familiar region.

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If you think you are place-bound, sit down and list your reasons for wanting to remain in one place. If you are truly immobile, one controlling reason will make itself clear. If you hem and haw and find that you are merely listing one marginal advantage of your home region after another, you probably aren't truly place-bound. It's to your advantage to try to transcend your limitations by considering many law schools, not just the ones close to home.

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