When the words "law school" come up, chances are "cut throat" and "competition" aren't far behind. You've probably heard tales of students removing resource materials from the library so fellow students can't get to them and other similar sabotaging actions. But are these stories true? Is law school competition really cut-throat?
In true lawyer form, the answer is: it depends.
What does it depend on? Most notably, the law school itself.
Higher Rankings Often Mean Less Competition
The level of competition in law school varies greatly by school, and many surmise there is less competition at higher ranked schools, especially among those who don't use traditional grading and ranking structures. Indeed, instead of grades, Yale Law uses "credit/no credit" and "honors/pass/low pass/failure"; it also has a reputation for being one of the least competitive law school atmospheres.
The theory is that students who attend higher ranked schools are more confident of securing legal employment simply because of their law school and that grades or class standing matters less.
Whether or not this continues to be a solid line of reasoning in the current economy is debatable, but at least one survey seems to back up this idea. Princeton Review's 2009 Most Competitive Students (may have to register (free) to see full list) maintains the top five most competitive schools are:
- Baylor Law
- Ohio Northern Law
- BYU Law
- Syracuse Law
- St. John's Law
Although they all have strong legal programs, none of these schools are traditionally ranked in the top 20 law schools nationwide, possibly lending credence to the above theory.
Other Factors that Affect Competition Levels
From my personal experience, I will surmise the average age and previous work experience of law students can also play a factor in the competition levels in law schools.
Chances are if your law school class has a large percentage of students with "real world" experience, more students will have realized that working together toward a common goal is preferable to slashing competitors and burning bridges. Also, schools with evening and part-time law school programs may be less competitive as well.
Finding Out Whether Your Future Law School is Cut Throat
So are all law schools cut-throat competitive? Certainly not, but some are definitely more competitive than others, and if you're not looking to scratch and scrape for the next three years, it's something you should investigate thoroughly before choosing a law school.
The best way to get a better idea of the competitiveness of a law school is to talk to former and current students and/or look for their opinions online. Admissions offices probably aren't going to be your best source on this issue as no one is going to tell you "Yes, most law students here will do whatever they can to make sure they're on the upside of the curve!"
And then, when you get to law school, if you find yourself knee-deep in cut throat competition and you don't want to be around it, just refuse to play. You have the power to shape your law school experience, and if you want a collegial atmosphere, start by setting a good example.