Berkeley is the obvious choice. #1 for intellectual property law, well ranked overall, and near lots of nerdy potential employers. It's not that expensive for a law school, since getting residency is easy. Like half my friends live in the area, and Nelson liked it when he lived there. We could maybe even achieve Nelson's dream of having orange grove, if we lived inland, at least.
But. I'm not confident I can get in, for one thing. It's one of those where there's no guarantees, no matter how good your grades are. But I'm also unsure about going back to California. Granted, it's not LA, thank goodness. But California is an alien, if generally agreeable, culture. I don't think I want to settle down there. Having your own orchard would probably be considered settling down. How long can I safely reside in California before "You can check out any time you want, but you can never leave" kicks in?
So to the other end of the geographic spectrum. The U of M. Also cheap, thanks to in-state tuition from the get-go and a Midwestern standard of living. Good for international law, with an exchange program with the University of Uppsala. Located in sweet home Minneapolis (and a cool neighborhood thereof) in the beautiful state of Minnesota, near family and some of my high school friends. Familiarity.
But. While the U isn't ranked *badly*, on US News it's at #22 after slipping a few spots. While I think the US News rankings are an easily-gamed crock of shit, it's our crock of shit. Biglaw only interviews at top schools, public interest law is even more selective (!), and law professors apparently only come out of Yale. The legal profession is basically a bunch of snobs. So even if I and all my fellow students agree that the rankings are stupid and say little about the strength of a lawyer, we cannot avoid taking the snobbish reality into account. I'd definitely be able to get a job out of the U in the Twin Cities or Chicago--but would it be good enough for firms outside the Midwest? Not going somewhere in the top ten seems to close (if not lock) a lot of doors.
Also, the new UMlaw dean seems to be taking the school in a very practical, practice-oriented direction; the school has a higher clinic-to-student ratio than like everybody. Normally, that would be a positive in my mind, except: 1.) I *like* theory and am considering an academic career path and 2.) none of those zillions of clinics is in IP or anything related. The U *has* IP classes and such, but it is definitely not an IP school.
Harvard: Zittrain! The Berkman Center! Unimpeachable credentials that can travel anywhere! What's not to like?
First, Harvard has a reputation for having lots of highly competitive assholes. I'd rather not get my throat ripped out. I like it where it is.
Second, so far as I've been there, Cambridge/Harvard Square gives me hives. It's just so...commercial, much more than I expected. And the cost of living is ridiculous. Boston seemed alright, though, so long as you don't ever drive and can tolerate ridiculous accents.
Third, hella expensive. Though Harvard's LRAP's the second-best I've seen, it's still public interest-only.
On to Michigan, my other probable top choice. While it's not in Minnesota, it is the Midwest, and Ann Arbor sounds like a wonderful, livable city. Michigan isn't known as an intellectual property star, though it's very well ranked overall, but its dual degree with the School of Information pretty much looks like the most perfect course of study ever for a free culture-minded high-tech fangirl like me. I like their interdisciplinary approach and friendly, humane academic environment.
But: Ann Arbor is not that large a city. Detroit is an hour away, but it's mostly abandoned and on fire. Would Nelson be able to find a job there? Michigan (like any place that's not an in-state state school) is also hella expensive.
Next, UPenn. Well-ranked, interdisciplinary, intellectually curious. It's also in Philadelphia, a city I've always felt comfortable in. I dunno what it is--maybe the high concentration of Lutherans and Quakers--but I've always liked Pennsylvania. It's like a little piece of Midwest transplanted east. Having grown up in New Jersey and gone to Swat, Nelson's also got plenty of connections in the area.
Downsides: Not particularly intellectual property or techlaw-oriented. Rumors that it has been slipping in the rankings. Expensive, and their LRAP isn't all that good.
If UPenn is expensive, Yale is downright extortionist. However, Yale also has the best loan repayment program I've seen. Anyone making less than $80K (even in a non-public interest job) qualifies, with few restrictions. By the rankings, Yale is the #1 law school in the country. It's a small, close-knit, and extremely selective. It also hosts the annual RebLaw conference, which sounds about as fun and debaucherous as law school gets.
But. Do I really want to live in New Haven? Does anyone really want to live there? And could Nelson get a job there (especially competing with Yalies)? The nearest large city, where most grads end up, is New York. I still don't like New York.
Yale doesn't have grades--they have one of those HP-P-NP systems. I can appreciate that for defusing the hypercompetitiveness that would probably otherwise result. But, at the same time, I dislike the potentially-associated attitude that because one got into Yale one can just rest on one's laurels. Not everyone who gets into Yale is a wunderkind; see: George W. Bush.
My understanding is that UChicago has the complete opposite approach; instead of "Welcome, you've made it!" it's "Abandon all hope, ye who enter here!" They work you like a dog. They have you pay crazy expensive tuition. And, again, while it's a well-ranked school overall it isn't particularly strong in IP or techlaw so far as I can tell.
What attracts me to UChicago, though, is just the whole Hyde Park atmosphere. UChicago sounds like a really cool place to be intellectually. You've got the Friedman libertarians, thinkers like Cass Sunstein, a very centrist, pragmatic ethos alongside idealists from both ends of the political spectrum. And it's another Midwestern school, in a big city with plenty of law offices.
University of Virginia has Siva Vaidhyanathan (though he's undergrad, not at the law school) and is relatively cheap (by the time I would be attending, I could probably get residency). I mostly applied there, though because it was free. Outside of Siva, it doesn't seem to be a huge IP powerhouse. And Charlottesville not only is a small town (with accordingly fewer legal jobs, especially in something as specialized as IP/techlaw public interest), it's particularly non-Nelson-compliant; very few vegetarian-friendly restaurants and no Asian supermarkets as far as I can tell.
Duke's also in the South, but the Research Triangle seems to be fairly culture-compatible. Vegetarian restaurants, Asian groceries, tech companies, and general blueness--it's kind of pathetic, but the fact that North Carolina went for Obama this year makes me significantly more open to living there. Duke is well-ranked both generally and in IP; Jamie Boyle, Jennifer Jenkins, and the Center for the Public Domain are there. They have a study abroad program with the University of Copenhagen.
But still. North Carolina? Really?
I should be rooting for Stanford more than I am. Home of Lessig, the Samuelson clinic, the Center for Internet and Society, it's the other (more expensive) Bay Area law school with all the advantages that locale entails. Stanford's #2 for IP, and Silicon Valley's right there. By reputation and practice area, it would totally be an excellent place to go. I think my creeping lukewarmness isn't because of the school itself but rather a reflection of my belief that I have little chance of getting in. Not only is it (like most of the other schools on this list) an extremely competitive school, where my stats only put me at the median for the 2007 class, apparently Stanford "recommends" (though doesn't require) three recommendation letters. I only have two--the requirement for all the other schools--and I'm not sure who I'd ask for a third even if it wasn't so late in the game. So I fear that might rule me out. Those feelings of inadequacy shouldn't affect my actual chances, though. We'll see what happens if I do get in.
Finally, Georgetown. I applied mostly because I got an app fee waiver, it's well ranked overall, and to provide for the case where I decide to stay in DC for some reason. Extremely strong in constitutional law/civil liberties and international law; not as much in IP/techlaw. I REALLY hope the hack who testified in front of Congress that the NIH mandate violates copyright law (*insert baffled noises here*) isn't representative of the GU IP faculty, either politically or intellectually. That really did not improve my opinion of Georgetown.
So I've got some first choices, and some less-than-first choices. I think I'll just have to accept that there's no perfect choice; the geographic distribution of my friends and family alone guarantees that. The roll of the dice, where I get in and where I don't, will trim some of my options off, so some of these considerations will likely no longer be relevant.
Still, though, it's worth considering them as if I got into every one. Since I'm applying a year in advance, if I only get into my less-than-first choices I'll have to decide whether to settle for what I got or to try again next year (at the price of uncertainty for Nelson's job search). The very fact that I am applying early will count against me in the admissions progress--meaning that it is reasonable to believe that I could reverse some of my inevitable rejection letters if I tried again.