Finding the Perfect Match: Fourteen Questions to Ask During Your Law School Visit
So you’ve decided to take the plunge and apply to law school. Congratulations! Whether you’re debating where to apply or have already received offers and are narrowing options, consider visiting your prospective schools. A visit will not only provide a good visual of campus but will also give you an opportunity for you to ask questions of campus representatives that will help inform your final decision on where to attend. In this article, we’ll review some of the key (though by no means exclusive!) questions to ask during your law school visit.
Finding the Perfect Match: Fourteen Questions to Ask During Your Law School Visit
1. How big can I expect will my classes to be, particularly during 1L year?
While you won’t find anything like the 400+ person freshman lectures you may have experienced during undergrad, many law schools have begun increasing student enrollments. As a result, students may have fewer opportunities to participate in class or access professors during office hours. That reality won’t negatively impact many students’ ability to excel, but you’re not every student. Carefully consider what sort of academic environments you need to maximize success and make your choice accordingly.
On the other side of the coin, specialized classes such as clinics often limit the number of participants in any given semester. Are you absolutely burning to take that trial advocacy clinic but find out it’s nearly impossible to secure a seat? Better to discover that during your law school visit so you can prioritize your courses once classes start.
2. What percentage of students who start at the school transfer or drop out prior to graduation?
Law school isn’t for everyone. Plenty of people reassess plans after a semester or two and drop out or put their studies on hold. Others want to continue studying but choose to transfer elsewhere. While this happens everywhere, you might be concerend if your prospective law school has a higher-than-average rate of dropouts or transfers, as it could speak to deeper issues with the school’s standard of education, social atmosphere, or prospective job opportunities for graduates.
3. What is the job market like for students who graduate from this university?
A law school’s ability to connect students with job opportunities and prepare them to succeed at interviews is essential. Be sure to ask what percentage of students attain a job prior and after graduation. You’ll also want to know how many of those jobs are full-time and/or require licensed attorneys for the role. Likewise, it’s important to gather whether graduates are still at those jobs a few years after leaving school (generally a marker of job satisfaction). These statistics are collected by every law school career services office and should be readily available during your law school visit.
4. What percentage of students pass the bar exam on the first try?
Let’s be frank: there’s no point in going to law school if you can’t get a job afterward. So, if the vast majority of legal jobs require that candidates be licensed attorneys, you’ll probably want to know how many students from the school are passing the bar within a reasonable time after graduation.
During your law school visit, you’ll also want to ascertain how many students pass the bar on their first try. Plenty of people do not get the result they are looking for the first time around, and that’s totally fine. Nevertheless, a low first-time bar exam pass rate could indicate that your prospective law school might not provide enough resources to help students pass the bar exam the first time around. In these cases, it’s worth asking whether you are putting yourself in the best position to succeed when the time comes to start studying.
5. How does the university handle students in need of extra support or reasonable accommodations?
All law schools are required to meet a minimum standard of accommodation for their students. Some will go the extra mile to ensure each student feels comfortable in such a rigorous environment. If you anticipate being in need of extra support during your studies, do not hesitate to speak up. Ask to meet the staff with whom you will be working and seek out similarly-situated current students who can share their experiences. This information will not only allow you to make a choice on law schools but also will help you better set a plan to succeed starting day one of your first semester.
6. Does the school have a reputation and/or offer a varied course load in my preferred practice area?
My former law school is located a stone’s throw from one of the insurance hubs of the world. Some of my classmates traveled from around the world just to learn insurance law and work in the area. Conversely, one of my friends realized she was interested in museum law after taking a class on the subject. The problem? Our school was nowhere near the museum-heavy cities like New York or Washington D.C., where she may have had a better chance to find an internship and job opportunities.
Every law school can give you the skills necessary for general practice. However, if you think you may want to specialize in a niche area of the law, make sure you are in the right place to turn your goal into a reality. The best time to find that out? You guessed it: your law school visit.
7. What are some opportunities for part-time or evening students to participate in campus life?
This question should be at the top of your list if you plan to attend school as a non-traditional student. I can still remember a part-time classmate grumbling to me that our school essentially shut down after 5:00 pm. This is a common issue that can affect students’ access to extracurricular activities as well as academic opportunities. If you work full-time and most classes are held from 9:00 am-4:00 pm, that school may not be a good fit. If you want to get a better sense of how you’ll fit in as a part-timer, be sure to connect with current students balancing work and academics to see how well the school supports students in your position.
Still debating whether to attend law school while working? Check out our post entitled Can I Work During Law School? We offer some additional aspects to consider when approaching law school with a job!
8. What efforts does the school make to connect students with alums and local bar associations?
Law school is only a few years of your life. Once you have walked across the graduation stage you’ll be out in the world as a brand-new lawyer. It’s not unreasonable, even at this stage in your search process, to ask what life might be like as a graduate of your school. Nobody goes it alone; we all need solid mentors to help us along the way. For more than a few law students, these connections are formed via alumni and bar associations.
As a favor to your future self, ask about student opportunities to meet practitioners during your law school visit. Does the university invite alumni to campus on a regular basis or provide student access to bar events or other functions? A positive answer will suggest you’ll have the opportunity to make the connections necessary to advance in your profession. For further discussion on networking, check out Is it important to network in law school?
9. Are there people like me on campus?
Let’s acknowledge an unfortunate truth: law schools are not always the most diverse places on Earth. That reality is changing, but much of the legal profession is still disproportionately represented by white, cisgender men. If you don’t fit that mold (or even if you do but want to surround yourself with talented professionals from all backgrounds), ask how people like you find space and success on campus. Similarly, ask campus reps what efforts the university makes to ensure your success in an exclusive industry. If possible, speak with students who share a similar identity to see whether they feel included and valued on campus. Perhaps more importantly, ask the university to connect you with alums who may be able to share their perspectives on how their law school experience helped or hindered their progress as professionals.
10. Where are the best places for students to live?
Unless you go to school near home, you’ll need to relocate when you begin your studies. Use your law school visit to discover which neighborhoods are the most popular with fellow students and why. Also, keep in mind that not all people want to live in the same type of area. You may have different preferences as a mid-career student with kids than a 21-year-old undergraduate student. That’s perfectly ok! Just be sure to connect with someone in a similar life situation so they can give you more personalized advice. Once you settle in, head on back for our 5 Tips for Settling Into a New City for Law School.
11. What are the common internships/externships available to students? Does the law school help fund the unpaid experiences?
Many of the most common internship placements at a particular school tend to be recycled each year. That’s not to say you can’t forge your own path and find a completely amazing opportunity on your own. However, you are far more likely to find ready opportunities at offices that have established relationships with your school and take on a handful of students for internship placements each year. Be sure to listen as the campus representative lists some of the most common placements in your preferred practice area. Do they sound appealing and/or likely to help enhance your resume for a future job search? If not, it may be best to consider other schools.
Also, grocery bills and rent unfortunately still exist while you’re in law school. You’ll want to figure out how you can receive a paycheck while interning, particularly during the summer months. Are many of the most common internship experiences paid? If not, does the school make funds or grants available to students to help offset costs? Better to find the answers to these questions during your law school visit so you can plan ahead of time.
12. How do students have fun in their free time?
Reality check: it is not possible to spend every waking hour briefing cases and perfecting your outline. Every student needs to find ways to pace themselves throughout the semester. The best way to do so is by finding outlets to blow off steam by doing something that isn’t so…academic. Perhaps there’s great nightlife near your school. Maybe you’re lucky enough to be close to some amazing museums, concert venues, or hiking trails. It might be getting involved in organizations that support one of your hobbies. Whatever you like to do during your free time, it’s important to ask how you can go about doing it and maybe see if there are other students who also enjoy similar activities.
13. What clubs/student groups exist on campus?
Student organizations are central to any law school experience, and not just because they look good on a resume! These groups bring together students with similar interests or backgrounds and provide an opportunity for you to meet new people, participate in interesting discussions, and potentially network for that future job. See what clubs already exist and whether you could see yourself feeling socially and intellectually stimulated during your non-class hours. If you are interested in a group but don’t hear it mentioned, ask how you can start your own!
14. Where do students move after graduation?
Are you set on living and working in New York/Washington DC/Los Angeles/<Insert location here> after graduation? That’s amazing! You will no doubt succeed in living that dream if you set your mind to it! Nevertheless, going to a school with established connections and alumni networks in your preferred location sure makes the process easier. Some schools will even coordinate semester-long programs in nearby cities to allow students an immersive experience while completing their degree. During your law school visit, be sure to ask whether graduates frequently move to your preferred location. If the school has an established alumni network in the area and can offer you learning opportunities, it may just be the perfect fit.
In the alternative, the alumni from smaller schools often stay within the surrounding community to begin their careers. If you’re from that area and have plans of staying long-term, that may be perfect. If you’re looking to leave the state five minutes after graduation, then you might have to work harder to meet alumni in the geographical area where you want to practice.
These questions should give you a good start on forming an opinion of a law school. If you still have questions about the application process, consider tuning in to J.D. Advising’s free webinar covering the master checklist for applying to law school.