Law School

Breaking Barriers: Selecting the Right Law School

Law school is different when you’re brown. It shouldn’t be, but it is. I mean, you already know that life is different for us. I think about this past summer when I did an outreach trip with coworkers and we traveled in southern Illinois. Someone wanted to stop to get a drink at a hole in the wall bar, but I became a wet blanket and encouraged us to just get to our next meeting spot. Not because I didn’t want a drink–hello, you must be new, but because I was so hesitant about entering a bar in the middle of S. Illinois. Whether that’s fair to those residents or not, I didn’t want to risk it.

It’s things like this that our white counterparts often don’t have to consider. But we do. And sometimes, we don’t even realize we should be thinking about how our race/ethnicity/color/accent comes into play. Like when picking a law school. I’m not saying your R/E/C/A has to dictate every decision you make, obviously not, but for those that are prelaw and ready to make a big decision for the Fall, there are some big factors you should consider before you make your choice:

One. Money. It’s always about money. You don’t want to go into debt more than you need to, but you also need to think long-term. Will this school give you better access to opportunities (jobs) in the future? Is the money you’re saving worth the low bar passage rate? Are there other ways you can mitigate your costs (selling your car and using public transportation for example). Going to a school you can afford has to be a priority, but you have to think beyond the 1L bottom line. The better question is what will your return of investment be?

Two. Location/distance. I am all about people spreading their wings and going away for school. Especially Latinas. But, I won’t pretend that leaving your family is easy. Be honest about what the distance of your school vs. family will mean for you. Are you ok with not being able to afford frequent trips back home? Or in contrast, will staying so close to home be overwhelming because you won’t be able to put off family obligations?

The location is also important. You’ve lived in a large city all your life–how will you manage living in a small town for the next three years? Will you be ok with less diversity than you’re used to in home and in college? Will you be ok with perhaps not having access to grocery stores that carry the food you like? All these things impact your mental health and ability to navigate stress. Make your choice and then come prepared with a plan when you move in to put off homesickness or other forms of law school blues.

Three. Terms/Conditions/Opportunities. Ok yaaas this school is giving you a great financial aid package, but have you read the terms? Is it based on a certain GPA? Are they going to stack the deck against you by placing all merit scholars in the same section? If you lose the scholarship will you be ok? Does your school have mandatory attrition? Know these things going in so you make the right choice. Let me be super DUPER honest: if my school had mandatory attrition, I would have been asked to leave after first semester.  And btw what a loss that would have been–not just to me, but to the school (I’m an awesome alumna) and to the legal community (when it comes to my legal skills I am not humble–I’m really good and it would have sucked for my clients and peers to not have me as an advocate. It makes me think of all the other even better potential lawyers lost because of funny financial games, but anywho that’s a post for another day).

Know your terms and conditions!

And just as important, know what opportunities are offered. How strong is the alumni base? What are the alumni even doing? Are the tracked into certain practices?  Is that something you’re interested in doing? It’s true that going in, you may think you want to do X and end up doing Y. That is totally the nature of law school–and you don’t even know yet all the possibilities available to you as a lawyer. But you can gage that opportunities available and sense whether it’s a place in which you would be able to flourish.
Those are just some important factors. I also encourage you to visit your schools before you make a choice! Go with your gut and don’t be afraid to ask everyone questions about what ifs and how do I do this, etc. You are at the beginning stages of your career–take control of it now.