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Steps to Take When Researching Law Schools View Count: 59

For anyone thinking about continuing their education by attending law school, you should research the idea before making a final decision. Data from the Wall Street Journal, as found in Fox Business, 55 percent of Class of 2011 law school graduates are working as full-time lawyers nine months following graduation.

The data also said that starting salaries have declined by $9,000 from 2009 to 2010 and 85 percent of law school graduates face an average debt of $98,500. Despite these factors, Lisa Jones Johnson, a lawyer and the co-author of So You Want to Be a Lawyer, said that obtaining a law degree can open doors.

“You’re buying yourself an insurance policy that says that if I go to law school and pass the bar, at some point I will always be able to hang out my shingle,” Johnson said. “It’s extremely expensive but you’re giving yourself a graduate degree, which is going to make you more competitive in the job market.”

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Returning to school to acquire a JD might make sense for some professionals, which is why experts have provided the following steps students should use before agreeing to attend law school.

The first step is considering the cost of the education, especially if the student has undergraduate debt. The student has to weight the cost of school along with lost wages while in school before making a decision, according to Brittany Bolton, a lawyer and grad of University of Georgia Law School.

“Attending law school costs roughly as much as buying a small home and is perhaps a larger decision because in addition to cost, it will become a career,” she said. “It is important to consider the magnitude of the investment, including the opportunity cost of earning money for three years.”

The second step is to choose the perfect school. Paula Casey, the dean at the University of Arkansas at Little Rock Bowen School of Law, says that when students known what they want to do in life with a law degree it is easier to decide on target schools.

“Does a student want to teach in a law school? Then a top-tier school that is rich in faculty research opportunities is probably the right choice from an investment standpoint,” she said. “If a student wants to practice law, he or she needs to enroll in a school that’s in the state where that future attorney wants to practice.”

Researching the profession is the third step. Students need to research what life will be like working as a lawyer, according to Bolton.

“Reaching out to practicing lawyers along with taking advantage of resources such as pre-law advisors, undergraduate courses on legal topics and pre-law programs are excellent ways to accomplish balanced research before deciding whether to apply to law school,” Bolton said.

The fourth step is figuring out how the student will perform while in law school. Law firms consider performance and grades from law school quite a bit when deciding on who to hire, according to Johnson.

“If you’re at a law school that is not a well known national law school, then your grades are absolutely important,” Johnson said. “For the mid to lower tier law schools, the only way you’re going to get a job in any kind of competitive firm would be if you are at the top of your class.”

The fifth and final step is to decide how the student is going to put the degree to use.

“They should also focus on developing soft skills – like communication, collaboration, empathy – because those will help in any workplace,” Casey said. “Clinical experiences and externships always add to a student’s chances of getting a job in the legal field.”

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