Top 20 Law School or Bust?

It’s that time of the year—when prospective law students are frantically sending away early applications for Top 20 law schools. Depending on your intended career path, however, going to a Top 20 school might not necessarily make-or-break your legal career.

Before you make a decision, here are some things to consider.

Why do you want to go to law school?

The number of law school applicants is rising and the number of jobs are staying even, if not shrinking. Aaron wrote a great article a year ago about what to consider before applying to law school. Among other things, consider the cost, the current legal economy, and your motivation.

At a minimum, you first need to have a reason for attending law school. Having a mid-20’s crisis or simply having nothing better to do is a terrible reason to go to law school.

Figure out a specific reason and then do the math to see if the numbers work for you. Accruing $150-$200k in debt to work at legal aid is not going to work, unless you are independently wealth or  your spouse makes loads of money.

Do you need a JD from a Top 20 school for your legal career?

Many attorneys will tell you that you should go to the highest ranked school possible. Big decisions like this, however, should not be made in a vacuum.

For the most part, higher ranked schools have a better reputation in the legal community as a whole. Local law schools might have an outstanding reputation (and more alumni) for specific geographic area. Local schools might also be a whole lot cheaper and smaller towns might have more available jobs.

Try and decide where you want to practice and what you want to do before picking a school. The extra cost of attending of higher ranked school might not work out in the long run.

On the other hand, according to at least one study, attending an “elite” college was worth the cost. The study found that paying that extra tuition had a net positive effect on the person’s lifelong income. But is the same true of law schools?

A JD from a higher ranked school will likely open more doors for you. But if those are not doors you want to walk through, attending a higher ranked school may not be the right move.



  1. I did not go to a “top 20” law school and it was the best decision I ever made. Instead, I selected a school in a location I wanted to live and work for the rest of my life. 25 years later I can confirm that my decisions were key to the happy, productive and successful life I’ve been able to live. You see, it’s not where you go, it’s what you do with it. Have a passion for the area of law you practice in and everything else will fall in to place.

    Have a wonderful and successful 2011! Mitch Jackson/

  2. Avatar AJ says:

    It’s been bust at the T14 as well.

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