After you’ve combed through your stacks on stacks on stacks of acceptance letters, you’re on to one of the trickiest parts of the law school application process (after the Mauve Dinosaur game, of course): actually picking a school.
Among the myriad factors you’ll want to consider is location, location, location. Are you hoping to move back to your small town to practice after graduating? Are you dying to get out of suburbia? Itching to get to the Big Apple? Sunny California?
If so, it can be advisable to try and select a law school near your target area. For example, if you want to live and work in Los Angeles, then picking USC over Georgetown may make sense, despite the latter’s higher rank (lots to be said for the fickleness of rankings anyway — but you get the idea here).
A cautionary note: your school selection should be based on a confluence of factors, including specializations, employment statistics, and expected debt. To help you measure the relative importance of this particular consideration, a useful heuristic to keep in mind is “how hefty is your school’s national clout?” Put it this way: if you decide to attend Hofstra (located in Long Island), you will likely have a more difficult time finding a job in Colorado than you would in New York, or in the northeast generally.
But this is less and less true the higher you go up the ranking system (and, correspondingly, the higher you go up in terms of national clout). If you attend Columbia, for example, you’re certainly going to have an “in” to the local New York market, but you won’t have much trouble finding a job in New Mexico or Idaho either (not like you’d want to move to either of those places). People have heard of Columbia, the network is broad, and employers know it’s highly regarded and delivers a good legal education.
Is it smarter to go to Stanford over Harvard, if you know you want to practice in California? Potentially. Having a network of peers, faculty members, and fellow attorneys in CA is usually better in that case than having a network of peers, faculty members, and fellow attorneys in Massachusetts. No surprises there. But other factors, relating to clinics, specializations, and snowman-building-opportunities, may also be worth taking into account.
In short, where you go to law school does impact where you practice. Small, local schools often have small, local networks. However, the impact of your location is (roughly) inversely related to the rank of your school — anything within the T14 will have some hefty national draw. Bear this element in mind as you make your selection, and best of luck.