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Choosing and Choosing Again

I cannot begin to comprehend how people choose a list of law schools. Here are some choice conversations:

"Your list includes Harvard, Duke, and William Mitchell. Could you please explain this?"

"I want to go to Harvard, but I like Duke's basketball team, and I've heard that the Twin Cities are a great place to live."

What's your LSAT score?"

"I haven't taken it yet."

"Columbia, Cornell, and NYU. Nowhere else."

"Why?"

"I want to work in New York."

"And where do you think grads from Michigan, Duke, Georgetown, and Stanford work?"

"Um, I don't know."

"Yeah, I can tell."

"I want to go to a really top school."

"What's your LSAT score and GPA?"

"152 and 3.3"

"And why would a really top school want you?"

I assume that the people who make these incoherent statements really mean, "I'm not sure of what I want or how to choose, but I had to pick something, so I did."

I see choosing law schools as a three-step process, carried out over many months.

First, consider what you want from the place where you'll spend three to five years of your life (I've allowed for a joint degree there.) Geography, ethnic diversity, and snowfall may all factor into your decision. I've devoted a section to considering your needs right here.

Second -- and here's the hard part -- research the nearly 200 law schools in the United States. Not just the top 10, or 50: all of them. You may be shocked to learn that Stetson has the #1 trial advocacy program in the country, and that UCLA promises you that their entertainment law specialty WON'T get you a job in entertainment law.You can chop many off your list with a machete: I hate hot humid weather -- whoosh! 30 schools in the southeast, gone! But others require the use of a scalpel as you read whole web pages. One school may list a real estate specialty with six courses, while another school with eight courses doesn't call it a specialty.

In step 2, you should not even think of looking at a school's U.S. News ranking. The goal is to see what's offered and what catches your attention. Once you know what you like, you may see it at many law schools. You may find that Law Forums are a good place to meet admissions officers and see what kinds of programs and specialties are available.

Step three happens after you get your LSAT score. You look at some data to see what your chance of admission is with your LSAT and GPA, and narrow your list down to 20 or so. Then you take this small list and add costs, rankings, job prospects, and bar passage rates. Factor in your interests and needs, and cut the list in half.

Now you're ready to apply. If you did your job well, you'll be choosing a fourth time -- after you have a few acceptance letters.

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