Photo: Warren Recruiting, Inc.
This is part of our comprehensive ranking of The Best Law Schools in America.Law school is important if you want to be a lawyer.
But how important is it to choose the right law school?
Does it really matter if you went to Harvard?
Or is any program acceptable as long as you worked hard and have something to show for it?
We asked top legal recruiters all over the country to weigh in. Their answers might surprise you.
While Bradford Kaufman of Greenberg Traurig says he would recommend going to law school if you've always dreamed of becoming a lawyer, getting a law degree just because you think you'll earn a ton of money is a mistake.
'Most kids will come out with significant debt into a weakened job market,' Kaufman said.
That being said, the prestige of your chosen law school won't necessarily be a factor, or a detractor, in getting a job, according to Kaufman, who said he doesn't put on blinders and limit himself to recruiting from a certain pool of schools.
'The law schools, I don't think it's a secret, really don't train people to be lawyers,' he said. 'The mere fact that somebody has been a very good student doesn't always translate into being a very good professional.'
No matter what, a law school's reputation matters, according to Morgan Warren of Warren Recruiting, Inc.
Warren said her clients, namely top-tier firms, want to recruit from the best schools.
'Law school is the first thing that clients want to know,' she said. 'I think grades are paramount.'
But, the two can work in a sort of trade-off.
If you attend a top-tier school but earn lackluster grades, you might be considered a less viable candidate than someone who attended a decent but not top school and earned exemplary grades.
'If you're going to a lower-ranked law school it's even more important to graduate with very good grades,' Warren said, stressing that it's also important to perform well at a summer associate job.
'That tends to be the most common way that people get jobs,' she said.
If you don't have the grades and the LSAT scores to get into a top-tier law school, it's best to find another career, according to ESQ Recruiting LLC's Vanessa Vidal.
'We are looking at one of the worst economic times for legal hires,' Vidal said, meaning prestige counts for more.
'You've got to weigh the investment of time and money versus how marketable that's going to make you,' she said of law school.
Currently, the most marketable degrees come from the top 20 to 30 schools, as ranked by U.S. News & World Report.
To put it bluntly, if you can't graduate from Harvard or a similar school, don't bother wasting your money.
On the other hand, the argument that top-notch specifically-tiered programs exist at smaller schools is true.
However, in that case, you will be fighting against a market mindset that a broader program at a top school is better than a specialised program at a lesser-known institution.
'Right now, the situation is completely market driven,' Vidal said of the job market.
Sharon Rosen is a manager at Winston Resources who recruits for legal support positions. While she doesn't do placements for attorneys, she says 'it's my impression that it's very important that you go to a good law school.'
Due to the grim outlook of employment prospects for recent graduates, Rosen says that many law school students don't realise what a huge financial risk it is. Where a lawyer went to school can impact his or her success in the field.
'I think few potential attorneys know how important it is to be able to bring in business in order to succeed,' she says.
Having served as a legal search consultant since 1991, Joe Ankus of Ankus Consulting, Inc. says that today more law firms are closely examining the transcripts of job applicants than before, even when the applicant comes from a top tier school.
When considering candidates for open positions with his law firm clients, Ankus says, 'I would prefer a candidate in the top five per cent of their class from a local or regional school than I would an Ivy League candidate in the bottom of their class.'
But neither good grades nor Ivy League educations are absolutely guaranteed to get a law graduate a job.
'I think there are a lot of law student that are being fed pipe dreams which are simply not reality,' says Ankus. 'I think it's a real tragedy for these kids.'
Jocelyn Glantz, of Law School Expert, Inc., consults with potential JD candidates prior to going to law school. Name, she says, isn't everything.
'Even the most recognisable law school might not be the best law school choice for a student who hopes... to specialize in a certain niche or one who intends to practice in a certain part of the country.'
But Glantz still points out that law school is a huge financial investment.
'Law school is very expensive. Despite that... it might be possible to get a better financial aid package from a school that has a record of good job placement for its graduating students but a slightly lesser reputation' than a big name or Ivy League school.
At the end of the day, Glantz says law school is what you make of it. 'If you are a dedicated student who does well in class, gains practical experience and makes the right connections, you will be fine.'
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