I remember when I used to spend hours pouring over books about various colleges. Then when it came time to apply to law school, I spent an embarrassing amount of time researching law schools. A large part of looking at schools was trying to find the place that was the best fit. After all my research, I landed on the right school and started there in the fall. However, when the new law school rankings were leaked, and my school dropped a few spots, you’d have thought a war began with how much buzz and administrative attention the new number received. I couldn’t help but think, ‘Is this really that big of a deal?’ But at the end of the day, law school rankings exist and they seem to matter to some people. However, I asked Camille of the Tumblr blog Lawyering in Lilly to write about law school rankings after I realized she decided to keep her law school private because she was receiving hateful messages regarding her law school. She’s written for Bottled Creativity before here. Below are her thoughts on rankings.
Law school pedigree. If you’re a law student or are planning on embarking on the law school journey, you’ve probably heard the term. Is it really true that where you go to law school determines your future rate of success or that going to a lower ranked law school isn’t worth your time? I suppose that depends on who you ask, but as a third-year law student at a lower ranked school, I would say that that couldn’t be further from the truth.
While there is no doubt that higher ranked schools have their reputation for a reason, an education from a lower ranked school can be equally as fulfilling. One important note about legal education is that it is widely the same across the country. Most students finishing their first year of law school will have a similar experience, whether they attend Harvard or Yale, or a school with a less reputable title. They will likely all have taken the same courses – Torts, Property, Civil Procedure, Contracts, and Criminal Law (with some exceptions, as some schools choose to teach Constitutional Law during the first year instead). They will likely all have a war story to tell about a cold-call session gone wrong. They will all likely be able to recall several sleepless nights before a major legal writing assignment was due, or the clammy palms and cold sweat before their first oral argument. They will all likely know what it feels like to venture into the unknown, to study for finals not knowing what to expect, and to drastically change the way they think about life.
Attending a higher ranked school comes with a great deal of opportunities and an inherent reputation. For big law positions, law students attending lesser-known schools might be glossed over, their resume tossed aside in favor of one with a GW, Columbia, NYU, or Stanford label. Working hard at a top 25 law school could mean that the world is your oyster upon graduation.
But there are benefits to attending a lesser-known, lower-ranked school – a less competitive atmosphere and more opportunities to do well being two benefits that I have found. I am first to admit that while graduating college with honors and multiple degrees, scoring decently on the LSAT, and having a well-rounded resume, I don’t think I would be as successful at a top school as I am at my own school. I have had opportunities to become a member of the Law Review Executive Board, the Moot Court Board, and have my writing published, things that probably would not have been possible at a school that is much more competitive.
More importantly, I found myself to be better prepared for my summer position than my other peers who attend a more well-known school. While I had experience writing motions thanks to my first and second-year legal writing courses, my peers had only written memos. I also learned that, while I would spend my third year working out in the field through my school’s externship program, my peers would be responsible for getting into the trenches and finding their own externship, leaving many with little to no practical experience upon graduation. My point is not to brag or put myself above my other brilliant legal colleagues, but to gently remind those who may feel defeated that the grass is not always greener.
Not everyone is able to score in the 170’s on the LSAT, or graduate college in the top 5% of their class, or afford a top 25 law school education. It is important for those who cannot to know that it is certainly still worth going to law school. It is a rewarding experience that will open many doors for you, that will teach you the value of hard work, that will place you among some of the most wonderful people you will ever meet. At the end of the day (or, more accurately, three long years), you will still hold a piece of paper with “juris doctor” imprinted on it. You will still be an attorney, no matter where you chose to go to law school.
Thank you, Camille! I think her thoughts are great, and I appreciate her reassurance that if you pick a school because you feel it’s the best fit for you, and not because of its pedigree, you’ll thrive. Don’t pick something that isn’t right just because you think its name will bring you more ease in finding a job. Finding a job is important, but so is being happy and loving where you are!