How to Become a Lawyer: College to the Job Market (Part II)
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Overview of Law Schools
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Number of Law Schools

As of June 2008, there are approximately 200 American Bar Association (ABA) accredited law schools in the United States. The ABA is a large volunteer association of lawyers and law students that was founded back in 1878 in order to set academic standards for law schools. One task of the ABA is to set criteria for how law schools become accredited and must operate. To be "accredited" essentially means that the ABA has approved the way the law school operates. In most states, graduation from an ABA-accredited law school is expressly stated as a prerequisite towards being allowed to sit for that state's bar exam. California is one of the few states that does not require a law student to graduate from an ABA-approved law school to take its bar exam. But don’t worry too much about this, because most law schools are ABA approved (even in California).

Ranking of Law Schools

Professional schools including law schools, business schools, and medical schools are all ranked against their peers to try and determine which schools are "the best." This means that there is a separate list for the top 100 law schools, business schools, medical schools, etc. Think of it like the rankings in college sports, with basketball and football. There is no full-proof method to do this, and how the actual rankings are determined is quite complicated. However, law schools and legal employers often place a lot of emphasis on the ranking of a law school, just like the analysts do at ESPN with college sports.

US News & World Report runs the most popular ranking system for law schools and professional schools. Law schools are ranked once a year according to many factors, including reputation, law faculty, first-year GPA and LSAT scores, size of the law library, etc. Then, the law schools are "tiered" off into groups of 50. The top 50 law schools in the country are classified as Tier 1 schools; law schools from 51 –100 are Tier 2; law schools from 101-150 are Tier 3; etc. Many schools place a lot of emphasis on these reports because employers tend to select from the top law schools first, then work their way down the list. Large law firms that pay high salaries tend to only hire from the best law schools or select a few top graduates from lower ranked law schools. Therefore, many entering law students pay close attention to the rankings and try to get into the best law school they can in hopes of having more opportunities when selecting a job.

The rank of the law school that you attend will have some impact on your opportunities in job placement. However, many lower ranked law schools offer great legal education, and legal employers also like to hire alumni from the schools they attended. For example, if you want to practice law in Los Angeles, California, try to get into a law school in that geographical area. Because many lawyers end up practicing law near the law school where they graduated, there will be a higher percentage of alumni looking to hire you. The saying, "all law is local," sums this up best.

Next, we’ll take a look at what it’s like to go to law school.