a campus visit.
You wouldn't buy a $15,000 car without seeing it -- how could you even think of spending $150,000 on a legal education without visiting the law school?
Once you have decided what you want from a law school, then you can begin to narrow your search. Application fees range from $50 to $90. Being selective saves you time and money. (Please note, though, that fee waivers are often available for applications.) However, don’t put all your eggs in one basket. Apply to a range of schools including some that look sure (safety), some where you have a reasonable chance (likely), and some that are a stretch (reach). On average, each applicant applies to six schools, but that number is far less important than ensuring you’ve chosen schools that are both a good match for your interests and likely to admit you. Applying to a greater number of schools doesn’t increase your chances at any one school; all it does is defer your ultimate decision-making until the Spring (and cost you more in application fees). Your goal at this point is to apply to enough schools that you will have some choices in the Spring. You’re not yet deciding where you will attend law school, you’re gathering information: which law schools meet the criteria you’ve developed?
There are many resources designed to help you learn about and evaluate law schools. The ABA/LSAC Official Guide to ABA- Approved Law Schools is available free online. It includes a searchable database of all ABA-accredited schools, with an array of information and links to the schools’ own websites. (A hard copy is available for review in the Pre-Law Advising Ofice, or can be purchased through LSAC, but it’s frankly not as useful as the searchable version available online.)
In addition, every school has its own website and a few still produce catalogs (hard copies or CD-ROMs). Take some time to look through the websites carefully and thoroughly, looking for how well the school seems to match your criteria. Take notes, including questions to follow up on with each school’s admission office, faculty, students and alumni.
There are also many book-format guides to law schools, available in most bookstores. As you begin planning for law school, you may wish to browse through these books and see whether you particularly like the format or content of any of them. If so, it may be a worthwhile purchase.
Meeting law school representatives
You will have several opportunities during the Fall Semester to talk directly with representatives from law schools and get information about their schools.
UMass sponsors a “Professional and Graduate School Fair” the last Wednesday of October. Representatives from 30-40 law schools will be available to answer questions. Contact UMass Career Services to find out more information about this event.
In addition, LSAC sponsors Law School Forums in several cities including Boston and New York. Representatives from almost all of the law schools nationwide attend these events, allowing you to do a lot of research at one time. The Boston and New York forums are normally held in September or October.
Visiting law schools
Of course, visiting law schools is the best way to learn about them. Visits can tell you much more than websites ever will. If you are accepted at more than one law school, make every effort to visit each school before deciding which one to attend. You wouldn’t buy a $15,000 car without seeing it—how could you even think of spending $150,000 on a legal education without visiting the law school?
When you visit a particular school, call the admissions office and ask them to help you plan a visit. If school is in session, ask if you can sit in on a class. Talking to current students will give you a good “feel” for the school. Ask the admissions office at the law school to arrange a meeting with one or more UMass graduates now attending the law school, and with faculty whose research or teaching interests match your own. Speak with someone in the placement office and/or the public interest office to find out more about the school’s employment numbers, outreach and recruiting.
Many schools sponsor open houses throughout the year for prospective students—take advantage of these events.
Before the visit, make a list of the things you want to find out about. Check your list during the visit to make sure you haven’t forgotten to ask any questions. And take notes right after the visit about the things you liked, the things you didn’t like, and any follow up questions. If you meet with any faculty, be sure to send follow up notes to thank them for their time (and to ask any additional questions).
In all of these encounters, take note of what’s said but also of what’s not said (or done). If you’re not being made to feel completely welcome, that is very important information for your decision-making.
Other online resources
In recent years, there has been an explosion of websites and forums targeting law school applicants. Private fee-based pre-law advisors, magazines, book authors/publishers, bloggers and more are all trying to get your eyes on their site. Please exercise caution when you read these sites. While some are relatively reliable, others—especially the blogs and forums—can be rife with misinformation. The advice of a disgruntled law student or recent law grad, or the rumor-mongering of other stressed-out law school applicants can do an excellent job of raising your stress levels without offering any useful information. At the same time, most contain a grain of truth. The problem is sorting out that grain from all the bushels of falsity. As a general rule, don’t believe what you read unless you’ve confirmed it with a known reliable source (your own pre-law advisor, for example). And if you decide to participate in an online law school forum, be clear about the risks.
Talking to alumni
UMass Amherst has produced thousands of lawyer-alumni who have attended just about every law school in the country. Take advantage of this excellent resource to ask questions about law schools (and, of course, to begin networking). First check out these tips on networking, then jump into the pre-law and lawyer-alumni network.