Last updated: August 21, 2013

Dean Gerald L. Wilson
Duke University

When students ask about visits to law schools, it is important, first of all, to find out what question they are REALLY asking.  If the visit is for the purpose of deciding whether or not to apply/enroll in that particular law school, then such visits should be encouraged.  If the visit question is really, Will it help me get in if I go and interview at the school? Then, in many cases, unless the law school clearly indicates otherwise, the answer is probably no.

In instances where students plan visits for informational/decision-making purposes, then they should be advised not to just show up at the school but to call ahead so that the school may have the opportunity, if it wishes, to arrange a tour for students and perhaps arrange for the students to attend a class.

Students often ask their pre-law advisor, what should I look for? And/or what questions should I ask? These questions and suggestions are valid both for individual visits and for organized “accepted students days.” Tours of facilities and attending classes are valuable but the whole experience can be more valuable if the student-visitor looks for the following during the visit.

  1. Wander into the Student Lounge and listen to conversations being held by current students.  What are they talking about?  Are they excited about what they are doing? What are their complaints? Are they real or are they generic law student complaints?  (Probably 80% of the complaints voiced by law students can be heard at any law school.  Students/applicants should consider the remaining 20% in determining whether the school is right for them) The student should not be shy about introducing himself/herself as a perspective applicant/student and asking questions.
  2. Read the bulletin boards (both on and off line ones.)  What organizations exist at the law school and what is the level of their activity?  Do they seem to be an integral part of the law school or do they just seem to be there in name only? How often do they meet? When was their last posted meeting?
  3. Note the location of faculty offices.  This should give you a good idea of how serious the school is about accessibility of faculty.  If the faculty offices are on the third and fourth floors of the library and accessible only by a special elevator key, then certainly there is a message being conveyed.  If, on the other hand, the faculty offices are on the main corridor between the library and the student lounge, then the school obviously means it when it advertises faculty accessibility.
  4. When schools arrange for a perspective applicant/visitor to attend a class, the school will, of course, choose the class of one of the best professors.  However, since all law school faculties are good, the student should observe both professors and students.  What is the level of students’ questions?  Are they simply requests for further information or are they thought-provoking, sophisticated questions that show an understanding of the material?  Also, note the interplay between the professor and the students.  Does the faculty member really care about his/her students?  Does the professor seem to know something about them personally?  Is there an atmosphere of genuine respect and perhaps even affection between the professor and the students?

Student visitors have their own questions, of course, but the whole experience can be made more profitable if some of these observations are a main part of the visit.  In the end, whatever the advantages and ranking of a particular school, the student must feel that the fit is good. There really is not such a thing as the “best” law school, only the best law school for each individual.