Important questions to ask when you visit a law school

By Hillary Mantis

As your acceptances arrive, you feel a huge wave of relief. You’re in!

But at the same time a new type of anxiety begins to creep in….where should you deposit?

Some schools gave you partial merit scholarships. Others gave you no money but are ranked higher. One is in your home state where you hope to live after law school, but it is not ranked as highly as the others. Help! How are you going to figure this all out by your deposit deadline?

You’ve already looked at their websites, carefully researched their rankings and analyzed their stats (see the ABA Required Disclosures for informative stats about each school: www.abarequireddisclosures.org).

But you are still unclear on where you should enroll.

One of the best ways is to help clear up the confusion is to actually visit the schools now that you’re in. It’s one thing to read their websites, but another to actually physically go there, walk around and see how it feels. You should definitely attend the open houses for admitted students if you can. Admissions will be on hand to give tours and answer lots of questions. They are incredibly helpful. But I would go beyond that as you make your decision.

There are a few other places on campus you may want to visit while touring law schools and specific questions you might want to ask:

- Career services: Once you are accepted to a law school you can reach out with your employment related questions to their career center. Ask how many recent graduates land jobs in the state you hope to work in. Are they overwhelmingly employed in state or going to work all over the region? This may help you determine, beyond rankings, which law school is best connected to employers in the area you hope to practice in.

Also, see if they can provide you with information about what type of employers attend their fall and spring on campus interview programs. This is very valuable information as to who may potentially hire you down the line. I would also ask what type of alumni involvement they have available to students. Mentor programs or other alumni programs can be really important networking opportunities for you once you are a law student.  

- Clinics, centers and journals: It can be helpful to see what the different schools specialize in as you’re trying to decide. Law schools offer a variety of great clinics that offer you, a law student, real-life experience where you can represent clients (while supervised by an attorney). See what specialty clinics each school offers. Many law schools also offer centers which specialize in practice areas, such as real estate law.

Check them out and see if there is a center that interests you. Also take a look at the journal offices. All schools typically offer a law review. But many schools have specialty journals, such as an intellectual property journal, that you may be able to write for or edit when you are a law student. Sometimes it’s easier to see what a school specializes in once you are visiting the school and talking to them. If there are students working in the journal offices, for example, see if you can chat with them.

- The cafeteria and the community: I actually think it can be incredibly helpful to hang out in the cafeteria of whatever law school you are visiting. Beyond the official speakers of the open houses, you need to spend more time with the students. Students who are studying or grabbing a quick meal in the law school cafeteria are a wealth of honest information about their experiences at the school. Plus they could become future friends/mentors if you decide to go there.

Ask them which classes they recommend, how they found an apartment and how they found a summer job — or anything else that you are curious to know as you make your final decision. Take some time to also walk around the community, both on the campus, and throughout the town or city the school is located in.

You want to make sure you feel a good vibe and will be happy with the community and the culture. It will be three years of your life. And if you like the area, possibly you could spend your whole career there.

So, as much as rankings and stats can be important factors, there is really no substitute for visiting a school and seeing if it feels right for you.

If you are unable to visit a school, you can still get more information to help you decide. I would try to arrange a Skype or phone call with admissions, and you could also ask them for names of alumni in your area that you can reach out to.


Hillary Mantis works with pre-law students, law students and lawyers. She is author of "Alternative Careers for Lawyers" and director of the pre-law advising program at Fordham University. Questions about law school? You can reach her at altcareer@aol.com.


 

 

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