The American Bar Association has been taking it on the chin lately, getting sued by a shuttered law schools, students from said shuttered law school, and other law schools for how it enforces its accreditation standards. This is happening as the ABA prepares to remove the standardized testing requirement for law schools and use different requirements. Whatever system it ends up using, I think this string of lawsuits makes clear that the ABA won’t be as good at keeping an applicant away from a bad law school as that applicant will be. So this post is designed to help applicants familiarize themselves with the various research tools available to assess the strengths of law schools.
But first, a quick reminder on why researching your law schools is so important. Law school is incredibly expensive and gone are the days when merely attending a law school gave you a pretty good chance of getting a strong job after graduation. Outside of the top national and regional schools, your odds of making a return on your investment are probably higher if you put the six figures you would’ve otherwise spent on a legal education and bet it on a properly played hand of blackjack. Employment prospects are low ranked schools are well below 50%. If you don’t take the selection process seriously, you can find yourself in a lot of debt without a good way of paying back the money you owe. Make sure you’re investing wisely.
The most widely used resource for assessing law schools is NALP, The National Association for Law Placement. NALP allows you to look through a school’s basic information, as well as its placement statistics. You can get a pretty strong sense of where graduates end up, as well as the areas in the country in which they end up. NALP is a great starting place to get an overview of a school’s strengths.
My personal favorite resource is LST, Law School Transparency. Using the LST reports, you can analyze a specific school, survey a list of all the school’s in a state, or pick certain schools and compare them head-to-head. LST provides employment scores, under-employment scores, bar passage rate, and cost for law schools around the country. I found this information invaluable, and I would highly recommend utilizing it before making any decision on which law school to attend. It allows you to perform a more fulsome cost-benefit analysis in deciding how much you’re willing to pay for increased job prospect security, etc.
I would also consider looking at forums, such as those provided by Law School Life. While such forums can involve the blind leading the blind, there are a lot of well-intentioned attorneys and law students who can provide additional perspectives on schools, firms, and job markets. As long as you avoid the negativity and anxiety that can often crop up in posts, there is useful information to be had here.
I urge you to make use of as many resources as possible in making your decision. With that said, there are certain sources that I would not put a tremendous amount of stock in. For example, the USNWR rankings are not the end-all, be-all of the law school selection process. Additionally, law school websites and presentations are not necessarily going to give you an unbiased perspective on the relative strength of the school. If you talk to an admissions officer related to a school after you’ve received an offer, I would mostly focus on asking about whether there are any strings attached to financial aid packages. If you have to maintain a certain GPA to earn your aid, I would be extremely cautious before accepting.
Go into this process with your eyes wide open, and you’ll substantially reduce the chances of unfavorable surprises down the road.