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What you’ll wish you had known before starting law school – Choosing a School

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The ABA has graciously invited me to write for its law school audience. I couldn’t think of anything more topical to write about for a law school audience than the information my peers and I wish we had known before embarking on our law school journey.  My social network unanimously chose these three things as the most critical to one’s legal career.

I can’t stress enough how pivotal these factors can be for one’s law school experience. With that being said, everybody who comes to law school possesses a different mindset, background, and network. What works for one person may not necessarily work for another. Legal studies are a lot like golf. You can’t worry about what everybody else is doing. For the best results, you have to focus on your own game and what works for you.

Without further ado, here is the first thing we wish we had known before starting law school:

  1. Your Law School Matters

Once you begin your career, your diploma is just a piece of paper. It is your work product, networking ability, and professionalism that will set you apart throughout your career. Unfortunately, many opportunities in the legal profession may be denied to a student purely based on the law school he or she attends. The Economist recently posted an article discussing how to join the 1% in the Holy Trinity of white-collar careers – management consultants, investment banks and big law firms. There is a lot of truth to this article. It states that the most important quality recruiters are looking for is “fit.” But you may never reach the “fit” filter, if you attended the wrong law school.

When it comes to school selection, you should consider one thing above all else: how well does the law school place its graduates?

The AM Law 100 recruits specfically from certain law schools. The AM Law 50 is even more selective. The AM A-List only recruits students from the cream of the crop, their so-called target schools. If you plan on working in Biglaw, you better learn how recruiting works. Even if you plan on working in the public sector or for a mid-size to smaller law firm, prestige still matters. The law school you go to won’t necessarily be dispositive to a successful career, but it can be quite determinative to the quantity and quality of your post-graduate options. When you are looking at a law school, make sure to review its On Campus Interviewing (OCI) list and see what firms recruit from the school. If the list is slim, you may want to reconsider your school of choice.

Just because you go to a good law school doesn’t mean you will be guaranteed a job. However, it increases your chance of quality employment ten-fold. When it comes to school selection, you should consider one thing above all else: how well does the law school place its graduates? The rest of the propaganda is the same hype in a different wrapper. If you don’t get into a top 14 or 25 law school, you should make sure to attend a law school where you plan to practice. Law degrees are not as portable as one would seem to believe. I know many people who went to a top 100 law school, only to find that their diploma was valuable or competitive in the local region.

Law firms want a compelling reason why you are choosing their office location, where you decided to attend law school provides a good narrative. Again, there are exceptions to every rule. But for the most part, the law school is the first filter recruiters use when they look at your resume. If you didn’t go to a target school, a recruiter may not even give you a chance. In this hypothetical, my colleagues David Lat and Ellie Mystal debate which law school an applicant should attend based on her scholarship offers and employment goals. For the record, I side with Lat on this one. If you review the OCI list of these three schools, I believe it becomes an easy decision. After reading this, which school would you pick?

Stay tuned for parts 2 and 3. This article originally appeared on Ms. JD.

Renwei Chung Renwei Chung is the Diversity Columnist at Above the Law. You can contact Renwei by email at renwei@footnote4.com, follow him on Twitter, or connect with him on LinkedIn.

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