Finding the right law school is a challenge. Be prepared to put as much time and energy and resourcefulness into your research as possible, so that you can find the school or schools that is the best match for you. There are many different criteria by which you can assess a law school, not the least of which is whether it is likely to accept you as a student. Your LSAT score and your grade-point average will influence your admissibility to a large degree, along with the criteria discussed in Chapter 4. However, you should begin by assembling a list of schools that interest you, based on some of the factors discussed in this chapter. You may wish to refer to The ABA-LSAC Official Guide to ABA-Approved Law Schools, published annually by LSAC and the American Bar Association as a book, CD-ROM, or on the web. Then you can examine these schools more carefully in terms of your own admission possibilities. In Chapter 7, we discuss how you can use the admission profile grids contained in the Official Guide to assess your chances of admission to a particular school. You may have to revise your list of law school choices on the basis of your further exploration. This process will help you match your credentials to schools that appeal to you. You should not apply to any school that you do not want to attend, and do not plan to attend.
However, your evaluation of a law school is only as good as the information that you collect. Statistics, as well as specific programs for particular schools, may vary from year to year, and some information may be more or less subjective, depending on the source. Getting the facts requires patience and determination. You are likely to hear conflicting reports about the same school; you may get pressure from family and friends about which school to attend; your financial situation may lead you to believe that you cannot apply to the school that appeals to you. Chapter 8 discusses financial aid in more detail.
In this chapter, we first survey and evaluate the various sources from which you may gather information about law schools. Next, we discuss the elements you may want to consider when taking a school's measure for your own best fit. You should be as careful selecting a law school as you were in evaluating your decision to investigate law as a career.
The ABA-LSAC Official Guide to ABA-Approved Law Schools
This comprehensive guide, compiled and produced by Law School Admission Council and the American Bar Association, provides summary profiles of all ABA-approved law schools in both narrative and tabular format, arranged both alphabetically and geographically by state. All statistics are updated annually by the law schools themselves, and most schools provide statistical grids that show admission patterns for the previous year based on GPA and LSAT scores. The Official Guide provides information on enrollment and student body, faculty, library and physical facilities, admission, expenses, and a range of other items, including a chart titled "Key Facts for Minority Law School Applicants." Each entry also tells you where to write or call for further information about individual schools. (If you are interested in applying to Canadian schools, consult the LSAT Registration and Information Book—Canadian Edition, which contains similar information.) The Official Guide is available from LSAC, from the ABA, and in many bookstores. For more information, phone 215.968.1001 or go to www.LSAC.org on the web.
A variety of law school directories may be available in bookstores and libraries; you will have to use your own judgment as to the quality and reliability of the various publications you find. You are well advised to exercise skepticism about publications that attempt to rank schools. Some criteria for personalized assessment are simply unquantifiable; and much information changes from year to year, and over time. There is also a certain amount of debate over what criteria should be used to assess schools. It is best to contact law schools directly for up-to-date information, and evaluate with your own personal profile in mind.
Your Undergraduate College: The Prelaw Advisor
If you attended or are presently enrolled in a college that employs a prelaw advisor, you have an important resource at your fingertips. Those of you who entered college with law on your mind probably know this, but those of you just beginning to consider law may not be aware of who and what a prelaw advisor is.
Prelaw advisors can guide you throughout the law school admission process, and they can be helpful in providing information about particular law schools. They can identify law schools that have accepted alumni from your college or university with academic profiles similar to your own (though you should certainly not narrow your focus only to those schools). They also are likely to be quite knowledgeable about law schools in your region. You should not expect a prelaw advisor to be informed about every program at every law school. It is also not a prelaw advisor's job to tell you where you should go to law school, but rather to offer suggestions based on your self-assessment. As we discussed in Chapter 4, the prelaw advisor may be adept at getting you started with your self-assessment if you haven't already begun the process. Nevertheless, the real research work about particular law schools is still up to you.
Prelaw advisors may also be able to advise you about special events in your area where you may have an opportunity to speak with law school representatives and lawyers themselves.
If you are already an alumnus of your school and beginning to consider a career change, don't be shy about contacting the prelaw advisor at your alma mater. If you no longer live in close proximity to your undergraduate college, you may wish to contact the prelaw advisor at any college or university in your area. Although their first obligation is to the students at their institution, many prelaw advisors say they welcome phone calls from any person seriously considering law school, and will be happy to offer their services if time permits.
The Law Schools
Naturally, for detailed information about a specific school, there is no better source than the law school itself. At your request, the admission office will mail you law school catalogs as well as brochures about any special opportunities and programs. Most law school admission staff are happy to answer your questions about admission requirements or faculty and student-body profiles. A school may even be willing to give you an idea of your chances of admission based on a summary of your credentials, although some may be reluctant to speculate about such matters over the phone. In addition to catalogs and brochures, a number of schools make available videocassettes that show you as well as tell you about the law school program. Many law schools maintain websites on the Internet; you can link to most of them through LSAC's website at www.LSAC.org.
Site visits. You should definitely try to visit a law school, especially if a school is one of several that are at the top of your list. A site visit gives you the feel of the campus, and can help you determine if you will be comfortable there. You can inspect the educational, professional, and recreational resources of both the school and the surrounding community. Additionally, being on campus gives you opportunities to talk personally with law school representatives, students, faculty, and members of various student associations.
"Many schools have open-house weekends, or special programs, or at least they will arrange a... tour for the visitor," says Robert Gibson, prelaw advisor at the State University of New York, Albany. "[You might] start with a formal program, [but then] you end up drinking coffee wherever law students drink coffee. ... Be sure you talk to a couple of people who are first-year students, and you absolutely must contrast that by talking to students who are [in their] second or third year."
Gibson offers a suggestion for the student who cannot make such a visit. "If it's impossible to visit," he says, "there are other ways that the student can get that personal feeling about a law school. If it's a school that has a number of students from your own undergraduate school, call the [law school] admission office, get a name or two of current students who went to your school, contact them by phone." Gibson contends that in sharing an alma mater, "you have an entry"; in addition, "you have a basis for comparison in discussing that student's experience in light of his or her undergraduate experience."
Finally, Gibson reminds students that law schools often are willing to put interested students in touch with alumni in their area.
Law Forums, Law Fairs, and Other Special Events
The Law School Forums, organized by the Law School Admission Council, offer students the opportunity to meet and talk with law school representatives from around the United States in a central, urban location, usually a hotel meeting room. In 2001,
175 LSAC-member law schools participated in one or more forums. At the forums, you can meet admission personnel, obtain admission materials, catalogs, and financial aid information; talk to LSAC representatives; learn about the mechanics of the application process; and view video programs that discuss issues related to attending law school; attend information sessions about the law school application process and the financial aid process; or attend a panel discussion led by practicing attorneys who discuss their law school experiences and their lives as practicing attorneys. Each forum also holds information sessions for minority prospective students on application policies and procedures, law student life, and legal practice from a minority perspective. Forums are held in Atlanta, Boston, Chicago, Los Angeles, New York City, Houston or Dallas, Oakland (San Francisco Bay area), and Washington, DC. Since few prospective applicants have the resources to visit all the schools that interest them, the Law School Forums offer an excellent alternative for information gathering and for making school contacts. Admission to the forums is free and open to anyone interested in learning about law school: high school students, college freshman, sophomores, juniors, seniors, and those who have already graduated from college. In Canada, a similar program called Law Fair is held most years. Information is available from any of the Canadian law schools.
Graduate/professional school days. Some colleges and universities, and sometimes consortia of colleges and universities, sponsor on-campus visits by law school representatives as part of their graduate/professional school days. Whether you are just beginning college or you are an alumnus, you should check with universities in your area to see if they sponsor such local events.
For Applicants with Disabilities
If you are a student with a disability, you need not permit your disability to govern choices of where to further your education.
You should decide which schools you are interested in attending, based on your interests and qualifications, regardless of disability.
Often law schools give weight to the fact that an applicant has successfully overcome obstacles to build a solid record of academic and professional performance. By law, schools are not permitted to ask about an applicant's disability status; thus, whether or not you disclose on your application that you have a disability is entirely up to you.
HEATH Resource Center
The George Washington University operates the HEATH Resource Center, the national clearinghouse on postsecondary education for individuals with disabilities. HEATH provides information about disability-related accommodations, physical and programmatic access available at institutions of higher education, and issues related to choosing and applying to the most appropriate programs. A reprint of "Students with Disabilities and Law School" from the HEATH newsletter is available at no charge.
For more information:
HEATH Resource Center 2121 K Street, NW Suite 220
Washington, DC 20037
Phone (Voice/TTY): 800.544.3284 and 202.973.0903 URL: www.heath.gwu.edu
Other Sources of Information
Take advantage as well of library materials and any career resource centers or events in your community. Talk freely with any law school alumni that you know, but bear in mind that information about law schools can become outdated fairly quickly; talk to a recent graduate or one who is active in alumni affairs. Also keep in mind that your decision about which law school to choose should be based on your individual needs, not on someone else's opinion about what is best for you, or what was best for them. Always consider the source, and be sure to verify the accuracy of their statements.
See the following articles for more information:
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