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  • Choosing a Law School

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    Law school has been likened to having root canal surgery. The LSAT is a headache, the first year is described as "hell" and the only sure way to land a great job is to hit the books hard starting on day one.

    So it seems that the only easy aspect of becoming a lawyer is choosing the law school that is best for you. Compared with all the rest, this part's a regular walk in the park. Here are some tips to keep it that way.

    Where to Practice

    If you were born and raised in the state of Nebraska, wish to practice law there and want to be governor someday, then your best bet is to go to a Nebraska law school. A school's reputation is usually greater on its home turf than anywhere else (except for some of the internationally known schools, like Harvard and Yale). If you aren't going to a Top 10 school, apply to the schools in the state or region where you might want to practice law.

    Similarly, don't apply to schools in cities or regions where you think you wouldn't, under any circumstances, wish to practice law. A big part of many law programs is participating in local law clinics. If you're integrated in the community, through clinics, professors or roots, you'll find it easier to get interviews upon graduation, because you're positioned as someone who already knows local culture.

    Fields of Law

    Law schools do have specialties, just as practicing lawyers do. These range from environmental law to corporate law and more. By determining what is important to you and what type of career you want to have, you can choose a specialty. Having a specialty in mind can assist you in deciphering what schools will best fit your needs. For instance, if you are very interested in environmental law, it might be better to attend the Vermont Law School rather than New York University. Vermont is one of the most highly regarded schools in the country when it comes to environmental law. So remember to look at what you want to do in addition to where you want to do it.

    Your Chance of Acceptance

    Most prospective law students think the correct answer to the question "What law school would you like to attend?" is "The best school I can into." Wrong. Many, many people apply to Harvard. Very, very few get in. Go right ahead and apply to any school dreamed of, but unless you have got killer scores and some unbelievably impressive life experiences to tout (it's O.K. if you haven't, honestly it is), your chances are, well, slim.

    Apply to a few "reach" schools, but make sure they are schools you really want to attend. Look at the acceptance rates for each school, the average LSAT scores and GPAs of their current classes and assess your chances. If you're realistic about your chances, you'll save yourself from emotional letdowns. And if you do apply to schools that are out of your league academically and, by some fluke, actually get in, you may spend the next three years living in sweat-drenched terror.

    Network with Graduates

    Where do alumni work? What do alumni have to say about their educational experiences? If you can talk to someone who has recently graduated from each law program, do it. These people will be able to tell you all about the school--both academic and social aspects--that can significantly help you in narrowing down your search. Not only will you get insight into the particular program, but you may find out which professors to seek out, which to stay away from, and you may even make a contact that will come in handy in a few years--when you're looking for a job.

    Job-Placement Ratio

    Contact the career placement offices of the schools you are interested in attending. Request information from them regarding how many graduates get jobs right out of school, the average salary of a graduate from that particular school, and what kind of recruiting they have on and off campus. Also, if it is important to you to gain hands–on experience during your education, find out if the school offers externships, clinical programs, field studies, etc.

    Cost

    Last, but certainly not least, the cost of law school will always play a role when looking at schools. In most cases, you will probably not be able to simply cut a check for the total amount of tuition, fees, room, board, books and other expenses. Therefore, if you are looking at expensive schools of law, immediately begin looking into available scholarships, as well as loans. But, with loans, keep in mind that you may be paying the banks back for years to come. If this makes you uncomfortable, either because you do not want to be in debt after school or because you are nervous about your debt load influencing your career decisions, your best bet is to look at state law schools. These tend to be less expensive than private law schools