Why you should go to New York University Law School
Prestige. John Sexton, former dean of NYU Law and now president of NYU as a whole, used to say that NYU Law is one of five schools with a claim at being in the top 3. This was typical spin by Sexton. Still, the point is there -- this is an elite law school, number 6 according to US News, or "Bucket 3" according to my categorization, equal to Columbia and Chicago. You need to do well -- be near the top of your class and make Law Review -- but there is very little you can't do if you go to NYU Law School.
If you get into a Top 3 Law School (Yale, Harvard, Stanford), you'd probably choose to go to one of those instead. Unless NYU offers you money and the other law schools do not. And given the generous scholarships, there is a good chance you might get funding at New York University Law School.
If you get into Columbia or Chicago, it's a toss up. I'd say go to NYU Law still. Columbia is slightly more prestigious, but much less fun (and Columbia law students will admit it). Chicago may be somewhat better for you if you want to become a law professor someday (although NYU has been doing well on that front these days), but otherwise I'd go to NYU. While in great cities, neither Columbia nor Chicago is in a great neighborhood. Harlem is not bad (my sister), but it is not as fun as Greenwich Village. And University of Chicago Law definitely is not in a fun neighborhood.
Great Scholarship Programs - New York University Law School manages to attract many students who got into Yale or Harvard law as well by way of its generous scholarships. NYU Law has money and isn't afraid to spend it. Here are some of the great programs you might consider:
Root-Tilden-Kern public interest scholarsA group of about 20-30 law students every year gets this award, a full-tuition scholarship for law students interested in public interest careers after law school. Generally to get this you had to have shown a strong commitment to public interest work. People who get this have largely worked several years doing public interest work.
Furman Academic Scholarships - A relatively new scholarship, a handful of students are picked. Basically if you have tip-top credentials (mid or high 170s on LSAT, high GPA, great undergraduate school), and you display an interest in becoming a law professor, you have a good shot at getting this. Best part is, NYU Law School invests in you if you get this scholarship; they want to help you become a law professor.
An Bryce Scholarship. Another relative new scholarship, it provides full tuition to students who are among the first to get graduate degrees in their families and come from economically disadvantaged backgrounds.
Great International Law and Public Interest Offerings - New York University Law School is especially strong in a couple of areas of the law:
International Law. NYU has the best international law department hands down. No other U.S. law school, or probably law school in the world, comes close to having this strong a faculty. A "strong" international law department at most law schools means 3-4 famous scholars in the field (not generally famous, but rock stars to people in these fields). NYU has almost 10 who are at the top of their game: Joseph Weiler, Philip Alston, Benedict Kingsbury, Andreas Lowenfeld, Theodore Meron, Robert Howse, Jose Alvarez, Ryan Goodman, and Gráinne de Búrca. Many of these were stolen from Harvard (Weiler, Goodman), Columbia (Alvarez), etc. Seriously, they are the Traveling Wilburys of International Law. Even better, most of these professors are not American (Lowenfeld, Alvarez and Goodman are exceptions), and have training from outside the U.S.
Public Interest New York University Law School is also full of do-gooders. Not only are there generous scholarships for public interest students (see the Root-Tilden scholarship program, above) but the school has wonderful clinical offerings that allow students to actually practice law with serious (Federal Defenders Clinic, Legal Aid Clinic, International Human Rights Clinic, etc.). Many students after NYU do go on to real public interest careers.
Best urban location - Seriously, there is no better located law school in the United States. None. New York University Law School is simply in the heart of Greenwich Village. There is no more fun place, if you like night life, to go to law school. But more than that, being in New York City opens up other internship options. Big law firms, the United Nations, NGOs, federal and state courts -- all of these are just a short subway ride away. And you can believe that students intern or have clinics at all of these places.
Reasons not to go to New York University Law School
Prestige is somewhat limited to the law school (still). Sexton has, in his 10 years as NYU's President, done a great job of raising the profile of NYU as a whole, but while they are improving, NYU's other schools and programs are not as well-regarded as the law school (except perhaps the Film School, which is the best in the country along with USC). Compared to the other top 6 - Yale, Harvard, Stanford, Columbia and Chicago are all world-class universities in almost all areas -- NYU is still catching up a bit.
Of course, one good side effect was that many douchey, prestige-obsessed students who got into NYU Law went instead to Columbia and Chicago. This was especially true of Ivy League undergraduates who still wanted Ivy but were sad (secretly, they believed) that they did not get into Yale, Harvard or Stanford. Their main obsession (to generalize a bit) was to impress non-lawyer friends would did not know how prestigious NYU Law School was to lawyers. Honestly, good riddance.
Cost. The cost of living at NYU, just based on housing alone, can be twice as expensive as Columbia, which is just a long subway ride up town and just as prestigious (if not a little bit more). Also a factor: going out. It is expensive largely because it is so easy. It is hard to avoid the temptation of the restaurants and bars in Greenwich Village. If you really want to immerse yourself in the law, but know that you can be tempted into being a big partier, avoid NYU law school. Go pastoral or somewhere you can avoid bars or restaurants a bit easier. I did well enough at NYU and had a wonderful time, but I somethings think I could have spent $10-$15,000 less during law school had I not spent so much money going out to eat and drink. Even going out half as much might have given me a couple more As and a couple fewer hangovers I still regret.
Not as fun as it used to be. Aside from the nightlife, the esprit de corps of New York University law school has changed over the last 10 years, I believe for the worse (but only slightly). When he was dean, Sexton's avowed goal was that NYU Law School the best law school it could be, not the best school by someone else's criteria. This is a bit of marketing spin, as it is unlikely any school will replace the "top 3." He did enough to move NYU up the ranks in a short period from a "bottom of the top 20" school to a top 6 law school in 10 years. But he did this while also trying to make the law school a fun place. He told students not to worry about grades (including those first-years he taught civil procedure). Sexton was a showman and an impressario, and maybe not a scholar or academic, but he knew how to create an atmosphere.
Under current Dean Ricky Revesz, some of that atmosphere, that excitement is gone. Maybe Revesz is a good counterbalance. He has focused on hiring excellent scholars, even better than those under Sexton. But the tone at the top is not as deft as it once was in reducing student anxiety. It seems, to me, that the school has become more competitive and less fun, a view I've taken from talking with my tutoring students from New York University Law School.