bk1 wrote:If you want the east coast take Penn.
If you want the west coast take Berkeley.
I'd agree this makes sense but either school can get you big law on either coast (though it seems like ties matter for CA big law) so I'd decide on where you think you'll be happier and do better academically for the next three years. A few points:
From Boalt or Penn you'll need top of the class grades and probably law review (this is true nearly everywhere but Yale) - no one can be realistically confident about that result before stepping into a law school classroom. Its not like undergrad - at top schools everyone is smart, everyone works very hard, its an alien discipline taught through unfamiliar (and somewhat bizarre) pedagogical methods. In addition exam grading is at least somewhat random at the margins. If do you achieve those credentials Boalt or Penn are both just fine for academia. I go to Boalt we have Professors who went to Penn and Professors who went to Boalt - the main thing they have in common is lot of academic awards at their respective schools. I wouldn't even factor that in.
2. Big Law placement
From what I've seen Boalt places fine in DC/NY and Penn will do fine on the West Coast (if you have California ties). Both are national schools but place a little better on their own coast (though it depends...some firms like the diversity of having someone from the other coast) but if you have a clear preference go with that.
3: The SO
Honestly, I'd avoid factoring in your SO at all (I didn't listen to this advice but you should). You don't want to regret this decision, the first year is hard enough without wondering if the place you really wanted to go would have been better for you. Making this decision based on someone else puts pressure on a relationship that isn't fair to yourself or the other person. I hated it when people told me this but only do that if you and your spouse are definitely going to get married (or otherwise long-term committed).
4. Decide Based on Where You'll Be Happier and Have a Better Chance to Do Well
All that said, I'd advise you not to decide based on where you want to work (though thats a sensible factor) - not to assume top of the class grades (and thus think about academia) or bottom of the class grades (and worry about not getting back to the market you want to be in) a better market or a worse one. All of that is out of your control.
Also the California budget stuff really doesn't effect Boalt that much...for better or worse most of the funds for Boalt has come from donations and tuition for quite a while. The building was just completely redone, the school is expanding the faculty and class sizes remain small and tuition basically is pegged to Boalt's peers (like Penn) and will rise at basically the same rate they do so that it will be a little more expensive for out of state and a little less for in-state.
In the end these are two equivalent but very different law schools - you have to decide where you want to be. Boalt has a more relaxed culture, Penn will probably feel more self-consciously prestigious (Ivies tend to be that way). Boalt will probably have stronger offerings in IP, Environmental Law and public interest topics, Penn in corporate and business law (though Boalt has some great law faculty in that an area). Berkeley is a college town - its near SF which is a great city and some students live there but you'll spend at least your first year there, Penn is in a real city. The Bay Area has a lot of natural beauty and great weather, Philly less so. I went through a similar decision and my best advice would be think hard about your visits and where you think you'll be able to do your best the next three years and where you are most excited about going and then go there.
Good luck with your decision and with your first year next year wherever you choose to go.