Coulda Shoulda Woulda: Law School Research

For the month of October, we’ll be bringing you the Coulda Shoulda Woulda series – blog posts by current students on topics they wish they would have known more about, and tips and tricks for the tough parts of law school research.

Briana Jackson gives tips on law school research

Briana Jackson, 2L

Starting the law school application process can be daunting and extremely overwhelming if you aren’t sure where you want to be. Like many others, I am a first-generation law student in both my immediate and extended family. Without any direction I applied aimlessly to over 15 law schools. Of course, hindsight is 20/20 but I realized I “coulda” gone about it a better way; learn from my experience and follow some of these tips!

First, I would consider location – where might you want to practice after graduating from law school? This may seem premature for most, but I promise it’s not. The geographic area of the law school is important for a variety of reasons, including externship opportunities, alumni reach, and leisure activities. Externships give you the opportunity to get hands-on experience while also getting credit for school! Students at William & Mary Law School work at law firms, local government offices and some travel up to Richmond to work in the state capital. It’s a great way to gain experience in the legal field while staying within driving distance! Additionally, the reliability and success of the alumni is something that should not be understated when researching law schools. Not only can you generally measure the quality of the law school on the success of the alumni, but alums can be powerful networking sources for internships or externships, jobs, and tips for interviews. Alumni are generally concentrated in the same geographical area of the law school, which makes networking much easier. They are an excellent resource for advice and information about their particular practice area or field, and become an essential tool when you are trying to make connections and working through the job application process.

If you are not sure about where you want to live or are not ready to make a commitment, I assure you that you are not alone. If you are unsure about where you want to be post-graduation, the prestige of the law school will allow you to make connections in a variety of locations. The reputation of the law school can play an important role when it’s time to start finding summer internships and securing a job after graduation. Keep in mind that rankings and reputation don’t mean everything, but they can be helpful in transcending markets in various geographical locations. Make sure to utilize many resources so that you aren’t hearing only one side of the story. It can be a good place to begin your law school research, but it shouldn’t be the only factor in your search and decision-making process!

Lastly, don’t take the little things for granted. A gut feeling goes a long way, and often the law school experience will be made up of those around you. It can be hard to judge these factors on any type of research system, but if you have the chance to talk to those who have attended the school, or you have the opportunity to visit the school beforehand, this is an opportunity that should not be wasted. Often times, law schools can look similar on paper – numbers and types of clinics and journals, scholarship offers, alumni base, and services provided. What you won’t know is how you feel about the student body, the faculty, the facilities, until you visit the school and see for yourself. That gut feeling can tell you a lot about whether a particular school is a good fit for you, and vice versa. Don’t discredit it!

These aren’t end-all-be-all tips for law school research, but they are some of the things that I should have considered when I started looking at law schools. Hopefully you will find them to be helpful in your own search! Good luck!

Briana Jackson is a 2L from Leesburg, Virginia. She graduated from Christopher Newport News University in 2016 with a degree in Political Science. At the law school, she is involved with the Black Law Students Association, the Public Service Fund, and the Women’s Law Society; she currently serves on the staff of the Journal of Race, Gender, and Social Justice (formerly the Journal of Women and the Law), and spent last summer working at the Fairfax County District Court office.