Law school applications: Researching law schools
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, in addition to the $45 per school that LSAC charges. Being choosy saves you time and money. (Please note, though, that many, possibly most, law schools offer fee waivers, and that some even offer to cover the LSAC law school report fee.) 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-ish 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. There are a number of reliable search engines and individual ranking tools (helping you rank the schools based on your own criteria)—the best ones are listed on our links page.
In addition, every school has its own website and a few still produce catalogs (more often, just brochures on specific programs within the school). Take some time to look through the websites carefully and thoroughly to assess 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.
Meeting law school representatives
You will have several opportunities during the year to speak directly with representatives from law schools and get information about their schools.
Some years, we host a “mini-law school fair” with representatives from all of the Massachusetts schools and often a few others, usually in October or early November. We always host meetups with individual law school representatives. Look for information about these opportunities on our events calendar.
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 New York and Boston forums are normally held in October and November, respectively. (The Boston forum is now held only in even-numbered years.) There are several forums hosted by law schools in early September, each featuring 40-60 schools — in Boston, Providence, and Connecticut.
These are all excellent opportunities to go much more in depth with your questions about the schools and the admissions process. Even if you don’t think you’re interested in the particular school, you should attend—both because the reps have often worked at other law schools as well, but also because it gives you excellent points of comparison for the schools you’ve already identified as targets.
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?
Law schools usually host open houses throughout the year, with scheduled tours and meetings. These are usually advertised on their websites (or in your email if you’ve already started receiving marketing emails from them).
But you don’t have to wait for a law school open house to visit — at most schools, you can plan a visit outside these special events. If you want to visit a particular school, call or email 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, or with other students whose interests and/or backgrounds align with your own. In advance of the visit, reach out to 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. If you identify as a member of a group traditionally underrepresented in law schools—e.g., students of color, LGBTQ students, first generation college students, immigrants or children of immigrants, disabled students—make sure you have a chance to speak with students from a similar demographic, who will give you insights into how friendly and supportive the school is for minorities. Most schools have a number of affinity groups you can reach out to. LSAC also provides resources and events particularly for underrepresented law students and pre-law applicants.
Many schools offer travel stipends to admitted students to defray the costs of travel—if travel money is a problem, always ask the admissions office.
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 can be very important information for your decision-making.
Other online resources
You likely already know that there are a very large number of websites and forums targeting law school applicants. Private fee-based pre-law advisors and test prep companies, magazines, book authors/publishers, bloggers, forums 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 forums—can be rife with misinformation. The advice of a disgruntled law student or recent law grad, or the rumor-mongering among other stressed-out law school applicants can do an excellent job of raising your anxiety 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 in online forums 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.