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.

How to Find the Right Law School for You

rhiannashabsinby Rhianna Shabsin, Senior Assistant Dean for Admission

How to Research Law Schools

One of the most important and most often overlooked steps in the application process is to thoroughly research the law schools you’re considering. Whether you’re just getting started in your law school search or are about to press “submit” on your applications, the right research can go a long way in ensuring you find a school that’s just right for you.

Getting Started: What to Consider In the Beginning

No two law schools are exactly alike, and the qualities that make one school perfect for one person may be the very things that make it the wrong choice for another. Here are some things to think about as you begin your law school research:

What are your career goals?

Do you want to work in public service? Land a job at a large firm? Work at a federal agency? The number and variety of jobs available to lawyers are vast, but different schools will have different programs available to meet your specific career goals. Look for things like clinical opportunities and externships, and take note of those places that have an active and engaged career services office. You may also want to consider the area of law you would like to practice in and look over each schools’ curricular offerings in that area. If you’re unsure what kind of law is for you, look for schools with well-rounded course offerings that will allow you to get a wide range of subjects under your belt before graduation.

Where do you want to practice relative to the school’s location?

Law schools are typically thought of as “national” or “regional.” National schools draw students from across the U.S., and they tend to have alumni in most states. These schools may have concentrations of alumni in specific areas of the country, but, generally speaking, their reach is nationwide. Alumni from regional law schools tend to be concentrated in one region, state, or even in one specific area of a state. Which type of school is right for you will depend on several factors, including the geographic region in which you want to practice after law school (if you know) and your financial situation and the relative costs of each school.

14054340_1153606631371050_4496130619942532830_oIn what type of school environment will you thrive?

For the most part, law schools today are a far cry from the ultra-competitive environments portrayed in films like The Paper Chase and books like One L. But each law school has its own distinct personality, and the degree of collegiality will vary from one school to another. In addition, some schools will offer more interaction with and access to professors than others. Think about the type of environment that works best for you, and don’t be afraid to ask questions of admission offices and current students!

Resources

Now that you have an idea of some of the things to look for in a law school, it’s time to begin gathering that information. A great place to start is the LSAC website. It has information about law schools, preparing for the LSAT, and dates of law school fairs across the country. The resources on the LSAC site can help you as you work to narrow down the list of schools you’re interested in.

Next, look around on the websites of the various schools you’re considering. You’ve already thought about what you’re looking for in a law school – which schools offer the programs and environments that appeal to you? If you are still an undergrad, your school’s prelaw advisor is another great resource.

Finally, once you have your top schools narrowed down, consider attending a law fair or, if you’re able, visiting schools in person. Admission officers are happy to answer any questions, and most schools will set up a campus visit so you can get a firsthand look at daily life in law school. In fact, if you’d like to arrange a visit to William & Mary, we can do that for you right here!

This is a series written by the admission staff at William & Mary Law School about the admission and application process. The posts in this series will be published in no particular order and are not inclusive. The series is designed  to provide information and advice to our applicants as they apply to law schools!