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September 6, 2011

Should you go far away to a higher ranked law school?

Above The Law makes the common claim:

“In most situations, going to the highest ranked U.S. News school that you can is going to be really important for your career.”

It's not clear to me that that is truly the case.  Does it make sense for someone in California to journey across the country to attend a law school that is a few ticks up on the US News ranking?  My suspicion is that, with the exception of the truly national schools--something akin to the top ten or so law schools in the country--most law schools are ultimately regional. That is, I suspect that their graduates generally end up working at firms in the same state--or in states adjacent to--the state of the law school they attend.

Ted Seto has done some important empirical work demonstrating this. In his paper, Where Do Partners Come From?, he argues that one should often choose a law school located in the geographic area in which one hopes to work.

As a professor, I often talk with applicants about how to realize their life goals. I recall in particular a student attempting to choose between Vanderbilt and the school at which I teach – Loyola Los Angeles. His ambition was to become a big-firm partner in Los Angeles. As students often do, he chose the higher U.S. News-ranked school. When he graduated from Vanderbilt, he was unable even to get an interview in LA. Had he attended Loyola, his paper credentials and performance at Vanderbilt suggest that he would have graduated near the top of his class. If he had, his chances of getting a Los Angeles big-firm offer would have been quite high. Again, based on the results of the study reported in this article, I can

Those deciding between law schools might do well to examine the list of firms that actually come calling to that law school's recruitment week.  For the most part, it is uneconomical for a firm to send partners to interview candidates in distant jurisdictions, because few students from those distant locations may be inclined to move to that firm's city. Staying within the state is likely to prove more efficient, in terms of partner time.

Anupam Chander

September 6, 2011 in Employment, Rankings | Permalink


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Great topic for discussion, Anupam, and I would assert that somebody with a strong (and certain) geographical affinity --- e.g., they love the Pacific oceans and/or persons they love to be around have to be around a certain city --- would be wise even to turn down HLS or YLS for the best law school(s) in that locale.

I often surmise a measure of regionalism even at the top national law schools, as well as a kind of disaffinity for folks from national schools in certain regions. I am not asserting that a strong HLS student won't be able to find a job in, say, Dallas, but I am asserting that someone 99% certain they want/need to spend their professional career in Dallas would be very wise to at at least apply to UT and SMU and other "local" law schools and to seriously think through the costs/benefits of putting rankings ahead of all other considerations.

That all said, I am not sure it is common (or wise) for most 20-somethings picking a law school to want/need to put geography ahead of all other long-term professional considerations. And that reality I think makes the ATL claim still sound for the "average" potential law student.

Posted by: Doug B. | Sep 6, 2011 6:12:18 PM

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