If you read through my last post and still think law school is for you, than you now have the difficult task of choosing where to apply, and, once you get admission letters, of where to go. Choosing a law school is like choosing any other program; everyone will have different priorities and taste. In that respect, this guide is not meant to determine what you should prioritize; instead it is meant to assist you in balancing your preferences with the reality of law school. The following list of consideration is therefore not built in order of importance. It is your task to determine which consideration is more important to you. You should, however, consider them all and avoid basing your decision solely on one point. Moreover, I’m always happy to discuss the matter further with readers in the comments or via email.
- What are you passionate about? This is, in my view, the most important question. Your law school experience is greatly influence by two things. One is your colleague and the other is what you will study. You should thus prioritize law schools that offer courses in your area of interests (for your own benefit and to prepare you for a career in that area). These law schools will also attract students and faculty with similar interests. I strongly recommend going over the list of offered courses and program requirements. Also of importance is the list of faculty members and adjuncts, and what they teach (adjuncts – often lawyers – tend to have a different teaching style). This will determine what is the faculty’s areas of expertise. Law school also often outright announce what there specialties are, but you should still do your own investigation to see if it is true. Also, some law schools are more practical while others are more theoretical. This will influence the content of course and the teaching methods. You may not know at this point what type of law will interest you (for example, I never thought I would like criminal law). However, experience tells me that your personal interests are an excellent guide to determine what type of law you will like. I was passionate about international affairs, politics, environmental issues and Aboriginal Peoples. Lo and behold, my research interests are international, public, environmental and Aboriginal law. I was lucky enough to land in a law school that reflected those interests (I did not consider this point at the time of my application). I have some friends who were not so lucky and chose a law school with a greater reputation over one that reflected their interests; they all regretted their decisions. Therefore, if you are passionate about something, pick a school that reflects that passion.
- Where do you want to work/live? Another important consideration is where you want to work and live after your studies. It is important to consider this point because it is easier to stay in the same city or province/region after your study. Your law school will have better knowledge of firms, organisations, internships, and articling/employment opportunities that are in the same city or region. It will also be easier to make contact in the local milieu, and to attend events and interviews than in a city far away. If you want a Bay Street Job, than consider studying at Osgoode Hall or Toronto. Furthermore, if you intend to practice in an area of provincial jurisdiction (this is even more important if you want to work in Québec due to its different legal system), you will be better prepared if you study in a law school in the province in which you intend to work. It will also make the bar exams slightly easier.
- What is the status of your finances? Money is also important at this stage. Since tuitions vary between law schools, you should try to attend a law school that is “affordable” to you. If money is not a problem for you, congratulation you have the luxury of choice. Otherwise I advise going to a school that is either less expensive, offers scholarships and/or is in a city with low cost of living. For example, Toronto is very expensive as a city and as a law school (the most expensive in fact). If money is important to you, than I would avoid it at all cost. In fact I wouldn’t want to go there for a law degree unless I received considerable funding.
- Should I care about reputation? Ah the eternal question of university reputation. I am not one to pay that much attention to reputation, but others might and therefore it might affect employment prospects. Luckily in Canada law programs are considered to be of similar quality. Employers rarely care, in my experience, where you studied (except for a few “elite” firms). The top tier law school tend to produce more Supreme Court clerks, but beside that, there isn’t much difference. In fact if your record is great and went to a smaller less well-known law school you will have a better chance at employment than someone with a mediocre record from a “renown” university. Reputation may be useful if you intend to work outside Canada (to increase the chance the employer knows about your university). Nevertheless, reputation may play a role in getting a job if your law school if known for its expertise in an area (like intellectual property) and you are applying for a position in that area (this aspect is therefore linked to the first point).
- What about my personal life? Amongst all those considerations, one should not forget about one’s personal life. You will undoubtedly meet new friends in your law school, but having a strong support system can be crucial for an enjoyable law school experience and not everyone is as comfortable in new settings. If you are the type of person that needs this more than others, you may want to prefer a law school close to your family and friends or one where your friends are going (although technology can help staying in touch). Also, if you are very social, you should pick a school with a good social life and cohesion, instead of a more “cerebral” one. It is crucial not to underestimate the importance of a positive and comfortable environment for your success.
After applying to law school and accepting an admission offer, the next step is actually surviving the experience. Next post, in two weeks, will offer some tips on how to succeed in law school. Best of luck in your applications!