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When Do Law School Rankings Matter?

Do law school rankings matter equally for all applicants? Certainly not. Law school rankings are an important consideration when applying to schools, but they may be more important for some than for others. From a previous post, we know they can affect employment outcomes and determine what city your future job might be in. But law school rankings, despite all the talk and commentary they generate, have limitations.
 

Rankings matter more when:

You’re looking within a wide range of schools. For example, if you’re considering a school ranked #20 and a school ranked #65 and they’re both the same cost, by all means, go with school #20.

You have your sights set on working in a competitive city. New York, Washington D.C., and San Francisco, for example, are much easier markets to find jobs in when you have a top law degree.

You’re not sure what kind of law you want to practice. Attending a highly-ranked school will typically unlock more doors for you. If you think you’d be interested in large firm work, but might also be interested in public interest or academia, attending a top law school will generally keep more options available.
 
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Rankings matter less when:

You’re looking within a narrow range of schools. Does it really matter if you graduate from school #85 versus school #87? Would you really shell out more tuition to attend a school that’s ranked two spots higher? No, we didn’t think so either.

You’re interested in practicing law in a smaller market. Let’s say you want to practice law in Kansas, both because your family is there and you attended college there. Law firms will probably be more interested in hiring a graduate of the University of Kansas (ranked #67 in U.S. News) than they would be in hiring a graduate of a higher-ranked school. Why? In smaller markets, employers tend to favor grads of schools they share local ties with.

You want to practice a specific specialty. U.S. News ranks Vermont Law School #122 in its overall list of best law schools, but did you know that Vermont is ranked #2 for environmental law? Don’t dismiss a school just because it’s not highly ranked overall. Some schools are well-known for specific programs and will provide a great education for the subfield you’re interested in.
 
 

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