2020-2021 has been a historic law school admissions cycle. With competition higher than ever before, applicants may be wondering whether or not getting into a top law school is possible. For many, a lower-ranked law school may seem like the only plausible option. Still, candidates will be going up against a perception that experts say is flawed: lower-ranked law schools are a throwaway education.
“It is far from true that all graduates of lower-ranked law schools are doomed to scratch out a living,” Kuris writes. “Earning a law degree from any reputable program is an impressive achievement. A glance at the bios for any major law firm will reveal many successful lawyers who attended low-ranked schools.”
QUESTIONS TO ASK YOURSELF
If you’re considering a lower-ranked law school, Kuris recommends asking yourself a few questions—from how much the program costs to the type of access a law school may provide.
Cost at lower-ranked law schools varies. While tuition at top law schools may top $70,000 a year, lower-ranked law schools aren’t all necessarily any cheaper.
“Law school tuition depends on several factors, including the location of the school, the costs of room and board, and whether it is public or private,” Kuris writes. “Even public law schools vary in their rules about eligibility for in-state tuition. Plus, some schools offer special programs or paid work opportunities that lower the cost of attendance.”
Before accepting a seat at a lower-ranked law school, Kuris recommends doing some research on potential signs of trouble.
“Search news sources for any signs of trouble like financial distress, legal disputes or a leadership vacuum,” she writes. “If a school has declining admissions standards, your degree could carry less weight on the job market by the time you graduate. Be sure to look into recent trends in the school’s rankings and admissions statistics.”
One potential benefit of attending a lower-ranked law school may be the unique access it gives to a legal market.
“For example, New Mexico has only one ABA-accredited law school, the University of New Mexico School of Law, which is tied at No. 102 in the 2022 U.S. News Best Law Schools rankings,” Kuris writes. “Likewise, Vermont Law School, which U.S. News currently places in its bottom quartile range, is the only law school in the Green Mountain State.”
With any big decision, it’s important to look at all factors—from the cost to the potential benefit. You may find that a lower-ranked law school education could offer you more than expected.