By Radhika Singh-Miller, Equal Justice Works
Choosing the right law school can be a daunting task, especially since there is no “one-size fits all” approach to determining which law school will meet your needs. Anyone deciding where to enroll in law school must weigh the costs and benefits of earning a J.D. and determine what will make your law school experience fulfilling. This is particularly true for those interested in pursuing practical skills training in specialized areas as part of their law school experience. To make the most of your law school experience, examine three important areas when making your final selection: experience and training opportunities; professional guidance and support; financial assistance, tuition and fees.
Evaluate specialty, experience and training opportunities
Specialized courses, clinics and professional skills training opportunities tailored to your interests can provide valuable knowledge and lay the foundation for your legal career. Learn about which schools provide valuable hands-on experience, allowing you to work with clients and practicing attorneys. Remember when choosing a law school that it is important to develop additional techniques and skills not taught in the classroom but essential for jumpstarting a successful career. Pro bono programs and requirements often provide opportunities for students to learn outside of the lecture hall.
Look at the specific courses, clinics and internship opportunities available at law schools and use this information to make a more informed decision. These training opportunities, especially in the field in which you hope to work, are ideal for discovering your passion, honing your skills, and making connections with future employers. Think about where and in what field you will want to practice after graduation and allow that to impact your decision on which law school to attend.
Professional guidance and support
If you are the type of person who prefers a lot of career guidance, look at schools’ specialized departments. For example, if you are interested in pursuing public interest law, many schools have a public interest law department; some even dedicate a public interest advisor to counsel students on courses and career opportunities. Smaller schools may not have the same resources, but they can still offer tremendous support. Look at a school’s available resources that you will be able to utilize throughout your experience, including the number and type of student groups as well as career services such as career fairs and alumni networks.
When thinking about future employment, be sure to look at the school’s employment statistics for graduates to see what type of work they tend to pursue as well as the number and type of employers that participate in any campus career fairs.
Remember to consider everything in context. A small school may not have the resources for a full-time dedicated counselor but if it has strong ties to the community in your chosen geographic area; has a valuable network of graduates in the sector of law you hope to pursue; or a curriculum focused on areas that interest you, you will still get the support you need.
Evaluate financial assistance options side-by-side with tuition and fees
When evaluating law school, cost should be a top priority. Law school is not cheap and often requires you to take out large amounts in student loans. Be realistic! Assess your financial situation and determine the availability of aid as well as repayment options after graduation.
Look for information on tuition and financial assistance programs that will allow you to determine which law school is affordable for you. Not only examine the costs of attending a school, such as tuition and fees, but also look at a school’s financial aid offerings, available grants and scholarships as well as loan repayment assistance programs (LRAPs) that will help you repay loans after graduation. In addition to academic scholarships, many schools offer public interest grants, scholarships and opportunities for funding that can help with living costs and costs of attendance.
Finding the perfect law school can be a long and tedious journey, but there are tools available to help you make more informed choices. In addition to examining an individual school’s website and traditional ranking systems, utilize other tools when making your decision. You can start with the Equal Justice Works Guide to Law Schools, which allows you to examine a school’s available curricula, financial aid options, and staff and faculty engagement. While designed especially for students interested in public interest law, learn how this interactive, free online tool provides extensive data on the availability of specialized courses, clinics and externships; financial aid and loan repayment assistance programs; the allocation of faculty and administrative resources; and other information valuable to helping students determine which schools best fit their interests, financial parameters, and future career goals. The Guide allows students to search schools by geography, tuition, and more, and create side-by-side comparisons of schools to learn more. I wish you luck on your journey and hope you’ll utilize the information provided in The Guide to navigate to the perfect school for you.
Radhika Singh Miller serves as program manager of educational debt relief and outreach at Equal Justice Works. In 2008, she served on the student loans team in the negotiated rulemaking for the College Cost Reduction and Access Act (CCRAA) and has extensive knowledge of this landmark legislation. She conducts educational webinars and presentations, advises schools and organizations, and advocates for legislation and policy. Prior to joining Equal Justice Works, Miller was a staff attorney at the Partnership for Civil Justice in Washington. She received her J.D. from Loyola Law School Los Angeles.