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10 Factors That Matter to Big Law Firms More Than Your Law School

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These 10 Factors Matter More Than Where You Went to Law School

Last Updated: May 16, 2022

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Harrison Barnes' Legal Career Advice Podcast - Episode 23

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These 10 Factors Matter More Than Where You Went to Law School


  1. Your Previous (On the Job) Training
  2. How You Did in Law School
  3. Your Practice Area
  4. How Long You Stay in Your Legal Jobs and Stability
  5. The Amount of Business You Have
  6. Your Reputation
  7. Your Interest in Your Practice Area and Involvement in the Community
  8. Your Looks, Dress, and Personality
  9. Your Racial and Social Background
  10. Your Commitment to Working in a Law Firm

Summary: There are far more important factors law firms look at if you want to practice law for a long period of time with a good firm than the law school you went to.

Think it matters which law school you go to? Think again
 
A. Harrison Barnes
Harrison Barnes
 

In this article, you will learn that although where you went to law school might open a few doors right after you graduate, far more important things will determine the course of your career. They include your work ethic, practice area specialty, personality, and reputation you build for yourself.

The law school you went to matters surprisingly little the longer you are out of school. In fact, better law schools are often a detriment to attorneys practicing law for an extended length of time. Many attorneys who went to great law schools think that they will get special treatment due to having attended one of them. They are quickly disabused of this notion after the cold, hard facts of practicing in the real world wear off. This is a competitive game and there are far more important things than top school credentials at stake. In fact, if you think your school matters and act like it around people higher up who went to lesser law schools, they will quickly crush you with poor reviews, no assignments, and so forth. Your school will quickly become something that leads to your demise and not something that helps you.


Do not get me wrong, the school you went to matters, but it does not matter forever. Law school is simply a way to distinguish you from the tens of thousands of people graduating from school each year. After that, no one cares for the most part.

There are far more important factors firms look at if you want to practice law for a long period of time with a good firm (actually, any firm!) than the school you went to. I cannot tell you how little school matters in the real world. Numerous things matter far more.

The point of this article is to give you some hard-hitting advice so that you can stay employed for an extended period of time in the largest and most prestigious law firm possible and get a job with the best firms even if you did not go to a top law school.

Law schools are important when you are in school applying for jobs because this is really the only basis the hiring firms have for comparison. The idea they have is that someone from Harvard is better than someone from a lower-ranked school such as the University of Kentucky. There is no other basis for comparison this early on in someone's legal career. As time passes, factors other than the school you went to become far more important.

What does the law school you went to show? Not much in the long run …

If you went to a top-tier law school, it generally shows that you are very smart and likely did quite well on the LSAT and had good grades, wherever you went to college. Those things are important, and being a good student is a very important component of being a good attorney. Attorneys sit behind desks all day and look at papers, analyze various matters, and are paid to reach conclusions.

But being a good student where? You could major in some unrelated discipline like advertising or fashion design at Florida State or wherever and do well on the LSAT and still get into an awesome school. Law schools care where you went to school, but when it comes down to it, you get into a good school based on how you did in college and your LSAT scores.

I have seen TONS of people go to a community college for a few years—get a 4.0—then transfer to a big state school and continue to get good grades taking various easy classes, ace the LSAT and go to HARVARD LAW SCHOOL! Congratulations. No extracurricular activities are needed! Just good grades and an LSAT score. You can do that with Michigan, Columbia, and a variety of law schools. You cracked the code. All you need to do is get the best grades possible and a good LSAT score.

In my experience, the smartest attorneys are generally the best at figuring out complex problems that win cases, get deals done, and so forth. That is why the LSAT tests your ability to do puzzles, for example. Fact pattern puzzles are an important part of practicing law and being an attorney. If you were smart enough to get into a good law school, the odds are pretty good that you have the ability to sift through information and figure stuff out.

Attorneys are also paid to read a lot of stuff. The LSAT makes a big deal out of reading because of that. And attorneys are also paid to figure out who is bullshitting and not bullshitting—and that is why the LSAT tests your ability to sort out arguments.

So, the LSAT is important, maybe more so than your grades in an unrelated major.

If you went to a top-tier school and did well there, the odds are pretty good you have a serious aptitude for practicing law and can work very hard as well. You generally deserve to get a job in a good firm because the odds are you could do quite well there. That is why the best students from the top law schools get jobs with the best firms. Even if you went to a lousy school and were at the top of your class, this still shows a lot of aptitudes and you are likely to get a job with a very good firm—if you try hard enough.
 

 

However, the best attorneys from the best law schools often are unemployable after several years out of law school. Just going to a good school is not enough to get and keep a job with a large law firm. Here are 10 factors far more important than where you went to law school:

 1. Your Previous (On-the-Job) Training

Certain firms have the reputation for training people very well—and everyone knows that they have high expectations for the people there. If you get a good job right out of school or thereafter (with a major law firm), firms no longer really care about where you went to law school. CONGRATULATIONS! You are now part of the club.

If you worked at a major firm for three or four years, you have proven yourself enough that whatever school you went to is relatively unimportant and no longer matters. If someone is working at Latham & WatkinsSkadden Arps, and so forth, they become more defined by that than the school they went to.

While working in a major law firm is important, being trained by someone well-known is also very important. If you are trained by an attorney with good qualifications who also had major law firm training, this is also seen as a very positive thing by firms. I have placed numerous attorneys from small firms, even those trained by solo practitioners, who were well-trained and had a good experience. The training you get is important. Even training outside a law firm is often highly valued:

  • Clerkships with federal judges are a form of training and thought of highly by firms.
  • Work in the patent and trademark office is a form of training and thought of highly by firms.
  • Work in a prosecutor's office, working for a US attorney's office, and so forth is often very highly valued.

2. How You Did in Law School

Do law school rankings matter? If you did well in school—was at the top of your class—the actual school prestige where you went generally starts to matter very little after you have been out a while. Going to a low-ranked school matters less. People see you were one of the few top students in your graduating class and your excellence is assumed.
 

 

Does it matter what school you go to? If you did well in school, within reason, firms do not care as much about where you went to law school.

3. Your Practice Area

I spoke with an attorney from Cravath Swaine & Moore the other day who went to a top school and has been practicing corporate law for three years. This attorney is not interested in being a corporate attorney anymore. According to him, being a corporate attorney is "like being a glorified clerk. It is not interesting, is a bunch of busywork, and completely unenjoyable."

He wants to switch to litigation and believes that will be more interesting.

 

Unfortunately, this sort of thing does not go over well, especially in New York. This attorney's odds of getting a job in litigation with a large law firm are essentially zero.

Firms are not interested in people who want to switch practice areas. This lack of commitment is generally the first stop on an attorney's choice to ultimately leave the practice of law. What firm wants to experiment with that?

 

The practice you are in matters a great deal. There are certain practice areas in which you cannot have a long-term future unless you have a lot of business. Litigation is one of them. When litigators without a lot of business become senior there is not much they can do to stay employed in a large law firm. It is very, very difficult. The corporate attorney from Cravath could get a job anywhere, just not in litigation.

There are litigators everywhere. Litigators are essentially coming out of the walls. There are so many litigators that firms, recruiters, and others are literally overwhelmed with them every time there is an opening. More than the school the attorney goes to, the practice area matters. Here is some information about various practice areas that are strong enough that firms do not care that much about where you went to law school:

  • Anything Related to Patent Law: Most attorneys go to school and major in English, political science, anthropology, and other majors that have very little use and certainly do not tax the mind that much. Very few major in difficult sciences such as physics, computer science, electrical engineering, chemistry, and so forth. Patent attorneys, therefore, are quite rare, and firms will almost always look at them, regardless of where they went to law school.
  • ERISA/Executive Compensation: Attorneys in these practice areas are also quite rare. There are just not a lot of them. Even senior attorneys without a business can get jobs in this practice area. If an attorney has solid experience in this, firms are really not all that concerned about where the person went to school.
  • Corporate: When the market is very active, corporate attorneys can get tons of jobs, as there is a huge demand for them. However, the market can also dry up and close very quickly. In this case, the corporate is not a very hot practice area and is a huge detriment. School matters very little in this practice area.
  • Real Estate: This practice area, when active, can also be an extremely good practice area to be in. When the market is strong for real estate attorneys, firms care very little about schools.
  • Healthcare: This market also heats up from time to time and can be a very good market for attorneys. When this market is active, firms care very little about your law school.
  • Immigration: There are very few good immigration attorneys out there. Most of them get their start in small firms and do not come from the best law schools. When a large law firm needs immigration attorneys, it frequently draws from this pool of people. It needs to because it is the only option. The school matters very little for immigration attorneys.
  • Trusts and Estates: This is a practice area that is also very specialized, so firms care very little about the school you went to. If you have good experience and training, this is generally enough.
  • See the BCG Attorney Search Reference Guide to Legal Practice Areas for more information
 

4. How Long You Stay in Your Legal Jobs and Stability

Firms want people who are likely to stay employed with them for a long period of time. Some people come into organizations and get along fabulously and are always happy and productive, while others join firms and have the opposite experience.

If you consistently go into a position and stay there a long time, this is thought of highly and means that you are likely to stay in your next job as well. Firms like this, and showing stability is valuable if other factors (practice area, training, etc.) fall into place. People who stay in jobs a long time are generally thought of as those who are likely to go into their next job and stay there as well.

 

5. The Amount of Business You Have

 

When you get five or six years out of law school, if you get enough business at a high enough billing rate, your school becomes unimportant again.

 

While the point of this article is not to reinforce how important business is, it is far more important than your school after a few years out.

6. Your Reputation

If you work hard and have a good reputation in your practice area and other attorneys around town know you are very smart, willing to work hard, and are committed to what you do, then your school matters less and less.

I have had numerous instances where I called a law firm about someone and it said something like the following: "Our partners are already familiar with her and would love to meet with her about joining us." This has happened with the very best firms and with people from poorly ranked law schools applying to super prestigious firms. If you do good work and have an excellent reputation, you practically can have a job waiting when you get out.

I once knew an attorney who came out of a lousy school who was hired by an attorney from a major law firm right after they opposed each other in a trial. The partner was so impressed with his performance that he offered him a job right after the trial.

Your reputation becomes hugely important the longer you are out of school. If you work hard, are fair, and are considered a formidable opponent in all that you do, then your school will matter less and less and not even be part of the conversation. The best attorneys respect and want to work with other strong attorneys.

See the following articles for more information:  

7. Your Interest in Your Practice Area and Involvement in the Community

 

Related to your reputation are your interest in your practice area and the community involvement you have after you have been practicing for some time. Many attorneys will try to get involved with their bar association, teach classes, speak at seminars, write papers, and do other things. If you do enough of this, you can start to become relatively well-known among other attorneys, and this will help you a great deal. At the same time, it will start to make school not really part of the equation anymore.

The resumes of many of the best attorneys are littered with various papers, speeches, and other things that they have done that help them a great deal if they want to look for a new job at a more prestigious firm. If you were hiring an attorney, who would you want: one who is constantly out there and very active in his practice area or one who is not?

Your involvement in the community and interest in your practice area are both things that show your COMMITMENT to practicing law. This shows that you are not likely to go anywhere else and are likely to stick with it. This separates you from the variety of flakes who are part of the mass of graduates coming out of top law schools who have no idea what they are interested in doing in the long term or think they are above practicing law in a law firm. The worldwide is full of people who do not know what they want to do, and anything that shows you do know what you want to do is highly valued.

8. Your Looks, Dress, and Personality

If I see an attorney who went to a lower-ranking law school, especially women, practicing at a major law firm, I almost always know the person is going to be quite/extremely attractive and have a great personality even before seeing what they look like. Is this always the case? No. But more often than not it is.

Am I bad for saying this? I have been a legal recruiter for just about my entire career and simply cannot deny that there is a strong correlation. I am an observer of this and not the cause. There is an undeniable correlation, and I see it daily.

Am I saying that firms are hiring people without regard to whether they can do the work? Of course not. But taking care of your appearance and having some natural good looks certainly help with getting a job with major firms. I know it does because I have seen this happen far too many times. The "batting average" (interviews to offers) is simply much, much greater for attractive women and men (with a good personality) than it is for people without a good personality.

I had a woman 15+ years out of school in a relatively dull practice area get several job offers in the South recently. I did not know what she looked like before I began marketing her (I was more concerned with the quality of her resume and experience).

"Is it OK to take off my wedding ring and not talk about my husband and family in the interviews?" she asked me after she had started to get interviews, each of which I was not expecting. Her school was not great, she was at an average firm, she had no business, and her practice area was busy, but not hot enough that I expected so many interviews.

"Why?" I asked."

Because, well, the thing is … I think that I am getting all of these interviews based on how I look. I do not want to spoil it."

Was she right about this? I had at least two men with qualifications that were slightly better than her, and at a more appropriate experience level, not get interviews with the same firms.

 

On another level, I have seen NUMEROUS very attractive attorneys from great law schools not be able to get jobs because they have very bad personalities. They are not likable, seem defensive and judgmental in interviews, and just rub people the wrong way on numerous levels. It is not just about looks—PERSONALITY MATTERS a great deal. If you are going to work for someone, you sure as hell better connect with them and get them to like you.

See the following articles for more information:   

I am a recruiter. I have seen this sort of thing over and over again (with both men and women). If you are very well put together and impressive looking, then firms are more likely to hire you and overlook what school you went to. I am sorry to point this out, but here are some facts I cannot help but have observed (I underline observed because I am an observer and not the cause):

  • Thin people are more likely to get hired than fat people.
  • Attractive people (especially very attractive people) are more likely to get hired than unattractive people.
  • Young people are more likely to get hired than old people.
  • Sharp-dressed people are more likely to get hired than frumpy people. (See What is the Appropriate Way to Dress for an Interview for more information.)
  • Tall people are more likely to get hired than short people.
  • Socially withdrawn nerds are less likely to get hired than social types.

 Personality matters a great deal. I see people from Harvard Law SchoolYale, and other schools all the time who cannot get jobs. They are just too nerdy and have poor personalities. They cannot connect with people and this messes them up. People need to be outgoing, likable, and so forth (and look good while doing this).

When I was practicing law in a large New York law firm, I remember an associate lecturing the other associates about their dress, the sort of tie they wore, and so forth. The attorney said that when an attorney walks into a room and is billing a client an outrageous amount of money per hour, he better be the most impressive-looking and -sounding person in the room. If you look and sound good and have a pleasing personality, clients like this. This is what clients want to see, and it is what you need to get ahead in the legal profession. This is also something that firms expect and want to see.

9. Your Racial and Social Background

There is discrimination inside of firms, and there is reverse discrimination as well. A law firm composed of Catholic men is more likely to hire Catholic men than Orthodox Jewish men. A law firm composed of black women is more likely to hire black women than white men. A law firm composed of Hispanic males is more likely to hire Hispanic males than Arab males. A law firm composed of white feminist women is more likely to hire white feminist women than white males. A law firm composed of Jews is more likely to hire Jews than non-Jews.

 

No one will admit to this, of course, but in my role and my position, I am AN OBSERVER and see this sort of thing daily. Do firms intentionally discriminate? NO, I honestly believe the majority of them do not. What they do, though, is hire people they are most comfortable with, and this generally means they are going to hire people from similar backgrounds who are like them./

 

 

People from a certain area are more likely to get hired than people not from that area. People who went to local schools are (often) more likely to get hired than people from similarly ranked schools outside of the area. People from important (upper-class/well-known) families are more likely to get hired than middle-class people from average families.

Here are some stereotypes that I have OBSERVED: People without handicaps are more likely to be hired than people with handicaps. Women of a Middle Eastern background are more likely to get hired than white women. White males are more likely to get hired than black males. Asian males are more likely to get hired than white males. White females are less likely to get hired than Indian females. Former college athletes are more likely to get hired than non-athletes.

While you can make of this what you want (and shoot the messenger for delivering these OBSERVANCES), it is what it is. What this means is that whatever your position is, you need to use this to your advantage and make sure that you go after the people and groups that are most likely to be interested in you.

10. Your Commitment to Working in a Law Firm

  If you take time off, go in-house, or do something else, this is not a good thing. You generally need to continue working in a law firm pretty much permanently if you expect firms to disregard your law school. Anything that suggests a lack of commitment to law firm life is not welcome in the law firm.

 

See the following articles for more information:  

Conclusions

A legal career is a race. Your objective is to join the race and stay in it as long as possible. If you want to work in a large law firm and stay employed there for an extended period of time, there are far more important factors than where you went to law school.

I talk to attorneys daily who expect firms to open up to them because they attended YaleStanford, or some other great law school. NO ONE CARES! Just because you went to a good school does not mean you are going to fit into the law firm, do the work, stay around, contribute more than you take, and be fun to work with. Work ethic, commitment, and other factors are far more important than other things that you may think are important.

I see attorneys go out on interviews all the time with great educational qualifications and talk about what they want, including good hours, high pay, and no deadlines and expect firms to roll over and give them whatever they want because they managed to get into a good law school. There are countless attorneys out there in the market like this who are unemployed and doing nothing because they do not have anything to offer other than a school.

 

This is ludicrous. You need to get in and play the game. The sad thing is (and I see this far too often) is that the people who went to the best schools and have other qualifications are generally the ones who are the worst at playing the game and staying employed in firms for a long period of time. They think the rules do not apply to them. If you understand the rules above, you can have a long and successful legal career.

Frequently Asked Questions

Does Law School Ranking Matter?

Choosing which law school to attend is probably the most important decision you will make regarding your legal career. And this matters a lot.

As a recent law school grad looking for your first job, it is commonly accepted that the school on your resume carries a lot more weight. Years from now, it will not matter as much. Experience and an impressive track record will eventually be added to your credentials, and that is more significant.

Choosing the right school can set you apart from other graduates looking for jobs. The higher your school's ranking, the easier it will be to find a job.

Legal Professions Are Snobby

The legal profession can be a snobby bunch. Hierarchy and precedent are important to them. In some cases, you can open some doors by attending a prestigious law school.

Despite this, many successful attorneys did not attend fancy law schools. It has been proposed that graduates from less prestigious schools have a greater chance of success.

A less prestigious school can still produce successful attorneys, but you will have a hard time getting jobs that require your legal expertise, such as law professorships or Supreme Court clerkships.

Location Is Important

If you do not have access to one of the few truly "national" schools at the top of the prestige heap, location should be the most important consideration when choosing a law school.

If at all possible, consider going to laschool in an area where you are already familiar with your intended profession. While you are in school, you will be able to participate in the legal community there for three years.

By being located in your desired location you will have the opportunity to network and find internships that would not otherwise be possible.

Researching the area where you want to work shows a commitment to it. If you want to be hired, show the hiring manager that you plan to stay.

Whenever an opportunity arises for a desirable job, you can interview immediately. Having an interview across the country opens up many more options than flying across the country.

Lastly, it might help you pass the bar exam. In states like California with notoriously difficult exams, attending a local school will give you a better chance of passing on your first try, especially if you are exposed to more of the law you will be tested on.

Networking Starts At Your School

After graduating, you will have a professional network made up of people you met in law school, whether they were professors, classmates, or alumni. Although it is possible to meet attorneys in a new area despite the absence of a network, it is far easier to stay connected with your law school friends and build your network gradually.

If you are choosing between schools, inquire about the alumni network. Ask some recent graduates if they would be willing to speak to potential students about their experiences. Alumni networks pay dividends well into the future, so it is important to seek them out upfront.

Take Advantage Of The Opportunities Offered By Each Law School

Consider the career options that each school offers. Assess the availability of clinics and externships to develop your practice skills and the competitiveness of the opportunities.

For public interest work, some schools offer a loan repayment plan. Consider this option carefully if you are interested in it.

You should also investigate the school's job numbers, but be sure you can trust them. Instead of just reading glossy brochures, talk to recent graduates to learn more about jobs and other opportunities.

Does Honors College Matter For Law School?

Honors College is not relevant because thousands of applicants have it (or something similar) on their law school applications. You should do an Honors thesis because you want to and you find it interesting. Do not do it for the sake of admissions.

The Top 5 Traits for Getting into Law School

Those who explain clearly why they are interested in becoming a lawyer have a higher likelihood of being accepted. It is not easy for aspiring attorneys to get into selective law schools. These five attributes are considered key factors that boost a J.D. applicant's chances of getting accepted at top law schools.

Exceptional Academic Credentials

Getting accepted to competitive law schools is extremely difficult without strong college grades. Law school applicants should not fall behind in college courses. A low GPA will be harder to compensate for than extracurricular activities, regardless of how impressive they are. Activities show a well-rounded approach to life, which is helpful when applying to law school. A good undergraduate grade is the best indicator that you will succeed at school and afterward. Despite the challenges of being a student, good grades indicate that you did your best to succeed.

Real-World Experiences

People who apply to law school during college are typically less competitive than those who apply after college. Work experience is valued by admissions officers. People become different applicants once they begin working. Besides being older and more mature, working allows you to bring real experiences to law school.

Detailed Endorsements

Strong recommendation letters can make any law school application stand out. There are thousands of recommendation letters colleges receive, but those that stand out are those that champion someone rather than provide a vague endorsement.

A Clear Argument for Pursuing Law School

A theme in your application can also make you stand out from other candidates. When a candidate's entire application demonstrates their interest and dedication to a career in law, their application is compelling. It is much more likely that law school candidates will be admitted if they tell a consistent story throughout their application. If the student can work closely with the recommender to have some synergy, they will have the chance to stand out even more. Letters of recommendation can be a missed opportunity because the recommender may not know what the theme of the student's essay is.

Your chances of being accepted at your dream law school may increase if you write a compelling personal statement. Since most candidates to law school will not have decided yet what sort of lawyer they are going to become, it is not expected of them to write about what area of law they wish to practice. Nevertheless, law school candidates should be able to explain why they want to attend law school in a sophisticated way. Admissions officers will be impressed if candidates can convey their interest in law without using cliches.

Compelling Academic Projects or Extracurricular Activities

J.D. applicants might benefit from extracurricular activities demonstrating leadership, voluntarism, or athleticism. The J.D. application process is much easier for undergraduates who have taken rigorous courses and conducted interesting academic projects. A history major who gets straight As could build an impressive law school application regardless of extracurricular activities. However, someone with an even better academic record and an honors thesis and published articles would have an even stronger application.

Does It Matter What Law School You Go To?

Attending a top-ranked law school is important because it can give you a leg up when it comes to getting into top firms. You may not care so much which school you went to if you lack drive, motivation, and charisma. Choosing a law school is probably the biggest decision you will make for your legal career.

Priorities and hierarchy matter to them. It can open many doors to the legal profession that otherwise would not be opened. However, many successful attorneys do not go to fancy law schools. You can definitely become a happy, successful attorney if you go to a less prestigious school (in fact, some suggest the graduates of less prestigious schools are more successful at firms.) If you choose that path, you are less likely to obtain certain jobs (law professors, Supreme Court clerks, etc.).

Location Matters

A student's location should be the single most important consideration when choosing a law school.

This is due to several factors. First of all, you will have the opportunity to be part of the legal community for three years. If you do not live near where you want to practice, you will not have the opportunity to network, intern, and so on. Secondly, it proves that you are serious about your search.

Studying where you want to work shows a commitment to the area, especially in highly desirable (or highly insular) locations. Sending a message that you are here to stay is very valuable to potential employers since nobody wants someone who will move in a few years. Thirdly, you can interview immediately. Better to be prepared when a job opportunity arises! Your options are far more open if you have to fly across the country for an interview instead of popping across town. Last but not least, it might help you pass the bar exam! Attending a local law school, especially if you live in a state famous for having difficult bar exams (California), can make it easier to pass the bar on the very first attempt.

School is Your Network

Whether it is professors, classmates, or alumni, you can count on them as part of your professional network after graduation. You can certainly overcome the lack of a network where you want to practice law and meet local attorneys, but it is much easier to stay in touch with former classmates and cultivate those relationships over time! If you are choosing between schools, find out how strong the alumni network is.

Consider the Opportunities Offered

Consider the opportunities each school offers to explore your career interests, regardless of whether you are pretty sure you want to work in a certain area of law or not. How can you develop your practice skills through clinics and externships? What is the level of competition for these opportunities? 

Instead of relying solely on school brochures, speak with recent graduates to get the scoop on jobs and other opportunities!

Does Law School Location Matter?

Legal markets are often overlooked by law schools. There are as many attorneys in America as yellow school buses and large coffees to go. From tiny offices in small towns to large skyscrapers in major cities, lawyers practice all over. The distribution of law schools is less even, however. The majority of states have three or fewer.

If you do not graduate from a top-ranked law school, it can be tough to find clerkships and job opportunities outside of your state. You should study law near where you intend to build a career. You may be able to get a foot in the door through clinics, internships, and alumni networks at your law school. Additionally, law school courses might be structured like bar exam subjects and rules.

Consider these factors when choosing a law school based on location:

Large Legal Markets

Developing your legal career in global hubs such as New York, Los Angeles, and Washington, D.C. can be both an advantage and a disadvantage.

On the one hand, they have some of the largest legal markets in the world. The cities have firms, legal departments at major corporations, and boutique firms that handle everyday legal issues, such as traffic violations and property transactions. These positions can offer enviable starting salaries, along with the chance to work on cutting-edge issues and billion-dollar deals.

On the other hand, these are highly competitive legal markets that offer great career opportunities and unique cultural amenities. Although attending school in these major cities can give you an entry point, you will have to outcompete your peers while managing expensive tuition and living expenses.

Although they do not feature in many glamorous legal dramas on television, there are still many desirable cities with large legal markets. Think of cities such as Phoenix, Denver, Orlando, Florida, and El Paso, Texas, which are experiencing rapid growth. Sacramento, California, and Columbia, South Carolina, are also in demand for lawyers.

Nearby Industry Clusters

Specific industries dominate many legal markets. Houston and Dallas are obvious locations for energy law while San Francisco and Seattle are technology centers.

The law schools in boomtowns are often few and far between. You should apply to many different law schools, even if you think they are a good fit for you.

You should consider a lesser-known secondary city if you want to break into one of these industries. Charlotte, North Carolina, is a hub of finance, Pittsburgh has a thriving technology sector, and Oklahoma City is a leader in energy. An unrelated job in law can provide more industry experience in a competitive market than a solid start in one of these cities.

Underserved Legal Markets

For law graduates without local connections, some cities are particularly hard to break into. Law graduates from all over the country flock to hubs like the San Francisco Bay Area and Washington, D.C. Ohio, Illinois, and Massachusetts are overrun with law schools.

Compared to their populations, other states have fewer law schools. Nevada has only one law school despite its fast-growing population of about 3 million. With nearly 9 million people, the state of New Jersey has only two universities, one of which has two campuses. Despite being overshadowed by their larger neighbors, these states have attractive legal markets of their own.

Culture and Fit

Three years of law school is hard work. Starting a law firm can be even more challenging. Whether you are in your 20s or older, there is no sense in spending a decade in a place that you dislike.

About Harrison Barnes

Harrison Barnes is the founder of BCG Attorney Search and a successful legal recruiter. He is extremely committed to and passionate about the profession of legal placement. His firm BCG Attorney Search has placed thousands of attorneys. BCG Attorney Search works with attorneys to dramatically improve their careers by leaving no stone unturned in job searches and bringing out the very best in them. Harrison has placed the leaders of the nation’s top law firms, and countless associates who have gone on to lead the nation’s top law firms. There are very few firms Harrison has not made placements with. Harrison’s writings about attorney careers and placements attract millions of reads each year. He coaches and consults with law firms about how to dramatically improve their recruiting and retention efforts. His company LawCrossing has been ranked on the Inc. 500 twice. For more information, please visit Harrison Barnes’ bio.

About BCG Attorney Search

BCG Attorney Search matches attorneys and law firms with unparalleled expertise and drive, while achieving results. Known globally for its success in locating and placing attorneys in law firms of all sizes, BCG Attorney Search has placed thousands of attorneys in law firms in thousands of different law firms around the country. Unlike other legal placement firms, BCG Attorney Search brings massive resources of over 150 employees to its placement efforts locating positions and opportunities its competitors simply cannot. Every legal recruiter at BCG Attorney Search is a former successful attorney who attended a top law school, worked in top law firms and brought massive drive and commitment to their work. BCG Attorney Search legal recruiters take your legal career seriously and understand attorneys. For more information, please visit www.BCGSearch.com.

Harrison Barnes does a weekly free webinar with live Q&A for attorneys and law students each Wednesday at 10:00 am PST. You can attend anonymously and ask questions about your career, this article, or any other legal career-related topics. You can sign up for the weekly webinar here: Register on Zoom

Harrison also does a weekly free webinar with live Q&A for law firms, companies, and others who hire attorneys each Wednesday at 10:00 am PST. You can sign up for the weekly webinar here: Register on Zoom

You can browse a list of past webinars here: Webinar Replays

You can also listen to Harrison Barnes Podcasts here: Attorney Career Advice Podcasts

You can also read Harrison Barnes' articles and books here: Harrison's Perspectives


Harrison Barnes is the legal profession's mentor and may be the only person in your legal career who will tell you why you are not reaching your full potential and what you really need to do to grow as an attorney--regardless of how much it hurts. If you prefer truth to stagnation, growth to comfort, and actionable ideas instead of fluffy concepts, you and Harrison will get along just fine. If, however, you want to stay where you are, talk about your past successes, and feel comfortable, Harrison is not for you.

Truly great mentors are like parents, doctors, therapists, spiritual figures, and others because in order to help you they need to expose you to pain and expose your weaknesses. But suppose you act on the advice and pain created by a mentor. In that case, you will become better: a better attorney, better employees, a better boss, know where you are going, and appreciate where you have been--you will hopefully also become a happier and better person. As you learn from Harrison, he hopes he will become your mentor.

To read more career and life advice articles visit Harrison's personal blog.


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