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The Problem with Law School Employment Data

Two students are working overtime to change the way law schools report their job placement data. And they were unwittingly supported by a hunger striker over the summer. But despite all the effort, change may be slow in coming.     

Dozens of bloggers over the past year have been accusing law schools of  “fraud and misrepresentation” over legal employment placement numbers. While most in legal education say these bloggers represent a “very unhappy minority,” few doubt there are problems.

“Prospective law students need better information about the legal marketplace,” said William Henderson, a law professor at Indiana University Mauer School of Law. “Law school brochures are filled with glossy pictures of alumni at large law firms. Many law schools fail to provide the complete picture of what their graduates do and how much they earn.”

Last year two Vanderbilt law students started an effort — Law School Transparency — to collect more accurate employment data from law schools. The students, Patrick Lynch and Kyle McEntee, unveiled their plans to schools this summer. In August, another recent graduate, Zenovia Evans, waged a nearly month-long hunger strike to support their cause. While her strike was ridiculed, her action shows just how deep the anger and frustration has grown. 

The jury is out on whether Law School Transparency’s efforts will succeed. But most agree that it has added to an overall conversation among professors and deans on the matter.

In August, Brian Tamanaha, a law professor at Washington University in St. Louis, wrote a wake-up call to his peers.  “Law professors know there is a problem,” Tamanaha said. “We see students. We know about the heavy debt burdens. I am just the guy who wrote about this one afternoon to prompt some collective conversation.”

The conversation may be making some progress. The American Bar Association accreditation committee has announced that as part of an overall review of its standards, it will look closely at employment data.

The data men

 Patrick Lynch first met Kyle McEntee when he was a first year at Vanderbilt Law School, and McEntee a prospective student. Lynch was helping the school reach out to prospective students through discussion boards when he realized there was salary discrepancy that made his school look less attractive.  Vanderbilt’s response was to release a list that provided actual employer names and locations for 90 percent of the class of 2007. McEntee then compared the data with National Association for Law Placement (NALP) figures for firm salaries and derived a more meaningful median salary for the law school.

Based on that, he chose to attend Vanderbilt, and once he got to campus, connected with Lynch. The two decided that every law school should follow a similar approach — which would give prospective students more accurate data.  They set up a non-profit organization, Law School Transparency, last year and sent a notice to law schools this summer.  “The employment standard is the problem and not the schools that comply with it,” said Lynch, who graduated in May and is now working in Chile doing public interest law. “The stats that the ABA requires are aggregate, which means you can’t tell if someone is working for a law firm as an attorney or a secretary.”

The two hope to gather data from schools that breaks out each graduate by position name, whether the bar is required for the position, full-time or part-time status, salary and whether the graduate worked on a journal. However, position and salary would not be attached, in an effort to protect privacy.  “People will have the opportunity to tap into our database and make their own analogies of the data,” McEntee said. “It will be a data information clearinghouse. One place where they can go to find out job information for law schools.”

Both Lynch and McEntee say the current problem is that salary data that schools advertise currently represents a small percent of graduates. Even Yale Law School’s salary information can be misleading.  “When you look at the school brochures, the fact that the [Yale] median only represents 41 percent of the class is either missing or in small fine print,” Lynch said. “For some schools, the median only represents 10 percent of the graduating class. So they can show a really high median because it really only represents the top 10 percent of their class.”

Lynch said he is hopeful that their project will help prospective law students make more educated decisions. But first they have to get law schools to provide the information, and that could prove a challenge.

Don Polden, dean at Santa Clara University School of Law and chair of the ABA standards review committee, met with McEntee this past summer and said they are taking a “constructive and meaningful” approach to the issue. But, he said, there are serious privacy issues.  “The privacy issues are really not unsubstantial, even, though only a small number of graduates identities could be revealed,” Polden said. “All you need is the fear of one graduate threatening a lawsuit to get the general counsel of the university to shy away from it.”

Lynch and McEntee, who have devoted thousands of hours to the project, will spend hundreds more this semester trying to explain and convince law schools to participate. Schools would submit data in February, so they have time and are trying to be patient.

But not every one wants to wait and see what will happen.

The hunger striker

 Zenovia Evans decided that she also wanted to make an impact on the employment data front.  “I realized that a lot of students are having problems based on my own personal observations,” said the 2009 graduate from Thomas Cooley Law School in Lansing, Mich. “This problem was just outrageous to me.”

She announced her hunger strike on Aug. 5, under the alias of Ethan Haines, and sent a letter to 10 of the nation’s top 100 law schools asking them to comply with Law School Transparency.  “The only thing that law school administrators will understand is something of this magnitude,” she said. “People are starving by choice here. Another blog just talking about the issue wasn’t going to do anything to help the cause.”

But Evans’ effort was ridiculed and called a hoax. She finally revealed her identify through an article in USA Today in hopes that schools would see she was a real person, really suffering.  “I used an alias because this could be dangerous to your career,” said Evans, who is a graduate student at the University of Denver and had contract employment at a law firm. “I wanted to be the representative similar to a class action. You select one person to represent everyone.”

She says her hunger strike was real. She lost 16 pounds and ended the strike on day 24 because her doctor told her she was at a very dangerous stage.  “Some days I was OK, other days it was really not so nice,” she said. “I had chest pains, a lot of problems with my legs and the abdominal pains were outrageous.”

Despite the criticism and the fact that no school responded, she says her strike was not in vain.  “The coverage I got for Law School Transparency was awesome,” she said. “I believed in this. I was being the change that I wanted to see in this world.”

Still, Law School Transparency made it clear that they had no connection to Evans.  “Neither of us are disgruntled with our law school,” McEntee said. “We just see a problem and want to fix it. We hope to see our standard adopted across the board, and we don’t care if it is the ABA or Law School Transparency that does that. We just want prospective students to have more information. If they know what they are getting into, they will be happier.”

Don Polden agrees that change is necessary.  “We don’t do a very good job of presenting data to our students and to the public,” said the Santa Clara dean. “We think the necessary data is already being collected. The issue is how it is presented.”  He said that law schools are more focused on the placement rate than they should be, because it is used by U.S. News & World Report in its annual rankings.  “It has become the Holy Grail and schools strive to improve that number,” he said. “But they lose focus on the detail.”  Polden says that his standards review committee, NALP and the committee that oversees the ABA questionnaire are all working on the issue. He expects committee reports by next summer. 

Brian Tamanaha, the law professor at Washington University in St. Louis, said it is important that law schools recognize they can make a difference — and need to.  “Schools need to think about the future and discuss possible implications — look for solutions,” he said.

 This story was written by Jack Crittenden and published in the Winter 2011 issue of preLaw Magazine.   Click here for the digital edition of the Winter 2011 issue or visit the preLaw Magazine website for more great content about law school.

Stay on top of all the latest information about law school with a free subscription to the digital edition of  preLaw and/or The National Jurist Magazines and by subscribing to Law School Podcaster’s shows! 

 

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Waiting Out the Waitlist

How to get into the ‘accepted’ pile sooner rather than later

Law school is a waiting game. You anxiously await your LSAT score. You wait for your professors’ letters of recommendations to come in. Then you wait for your LSAC file to be complete. Now that it’s winter, you are nervously waiting to hear back from schools with their admissions decisions. But what if you have to wait even longer? What if you are waitlisted at your dream school?

First the good news: The school obviously has positive feelings about you and thinks that you are capable of doing the work at their school, or they would have rejected you. You are under serious consideration. But what can you do to get out of limbo and into the “accepted” pile? It’s never too early to start strategizing about how to get off of the waitlist and into law school. There are some steps you can take that may help your chances of being accepted.

  No. 1: Read your waitlist letter carefully

 Admissions officers that I know recommend that you carefully read your letter from the law school that has waitlisted you. Different schools may give you different indications of both how their own waitlist works, and what, if any, additional information they would like to receive from you while you are waitlisted to support your application. Some schools will give you an explanation of their waitlist. Follow their indications very carefully.

 No. 2: Keep in touch

 In general, schools will welcome new information to add to your admissions file during the period of time that you are waitlisted. If you have something new and relevant to add to your file, such as an updated transcript, honors or awards you have received, a legally related job or internship, or a new recommendation letter, you can send it in. It will show the admissions committee that you are still interested in their school, and that you are continuing with achievements in your own life, while you are waiting for their final decision.

 There’s a fine line, however, between updating them and stalking them. I would be careful to politely and periodically update them, but don’t harass them with constant phone calls and emails. You have to find the right balance.

 No. 3: Be flexible

 This is easier said than done, but try to remain completely flexible about where you are going to attend law school until the very last minute. I have known pre-law students to be accepted into their dream school off of the waitlist as late as the first day of classes. And guess what, some of them went. This of course may be a hassle for you, but ultimately once you settle in, you are at your top choice school. Think through the ramifications on both sides, discuss it with your family, and do what’s best for you.

 No. 4: It’s a waiting game for them too

 Just as you are nervous about being in a state of limbo, remember that to some extent the admissions department is experiencing the same thing. They need to carefully balance their class; they don’t want to under enroll or over enroll their incoming class. They are waiting to see how many deposits they receive and withdrawals, at the same time that you are waiting to hear back from their waitlist. Admissions numbers fluctuate from year to year and are unpredictable, especially in this economy. So be aware that from both ends, it’s a balancing act, and don’t take the waitlist personally.

 No. 5: Good things may come to those who wait

Last summer, I was out for dinner and a Jeep screeched to a halt in front of me. One of my former students shouted excitedly out the window, “Hillary, I just heard back from Fordham. I finally got in!” In the end, it does not matter if you get into the school of your dreams in January or August. Once you are in, you’re in. You are just as welcome, ultimately, as the student who was accepted in the beginning of the admissions cycle. And finally, your long wait is over.

This guest post is authored by Hillary Mantis, a consultant to pre-law students, law students and lawyers. She is the director of Pre-Law Advising at Fordham College at Lincoln Center, the former director of Career Services at Fordham University School of Law, and the author of Alternative Careers for Lawyers and Jobs for Lawyers. You can reach Hillary at altcareer@aol.com. 

This story was published in the Winter 2011 issue of preLaw Magazine.  Click here for the digital edition of the Winter 2011 issue or visit the preLaw Magazine website for more great content about law school.

For more information on this topic, listen to our podcast, Getting Off the Waitlist: How to Improve Your Chances of Getting Accepted

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Ready for a Logic Games Workout?

Take the Logic Games Challenge!  Manhattan LSAT posted Logic Games Challenge #30 and they invite our listeners to join in the chance to Win $200 off any LSAT Course or any Manhattan LSAT Strategy Guide (your choice!).  The latest challenge Computer Processes.

A computer engineering student must build four motherboards—labeled R, S, T, and U—using a total of eight processors. Each processor has a unique amount of processing power–from 1 to 8 gigahertz–and an identification number that matches this processing power. Each motherboard must use exactly two processors, and the total processing power of a board is equal to the sum of the capacities of those two processors.

The assignment of processors to boards must follow the following guidelines: 

  • Each board must have the same total processing capacity as every other board.
  • T cannot be assigned processor 6.
  • U must be assigned one processor that has more processing power than either of the processors assigned to T. 

 

1. Which of the following is an acceptable assignment of the four smallest processors, from smallest to largest?

(A) U, T, S, T

(B) U, R, S, T

(C) T, U, S, R

(D) R, T, U, S

(E) U, S, T, R

2. What is the smallest processor that can be assigned to T?

(A) 1

(B) 2

(C) 3

(D) 4

(E) 5

3. Which of the following is a complete and accurate list of boards that could be constructed with a pair of processors that differ in power by one gigahertz?

(A) R, T

(B) S, R

(C) R, T, U  

(D) R, S, T 

(E) R, S, T, U

4. If both S and T have processors that are consecutively-sized with at least one of the processors of the other board, how many different assignments of all eight processors are possible? 

(A) 1

(B) 2

(C) 3

(D) 4

(E) 5

5. If R is assigned processor 6, which of the following must be true?

(A) S must have a larger processor than either processor assigned to R.

(B) S must have a smaller processor than either processor assigned to T.

(C) U must have a larger processor than either processor assigned to S.

(D) U must have a smaller processor than either processor assigned to R.

(E) T must have a larger processor than either processor assigned to R.

6. Each of the following could be the boards to which processors 6 and 7 are assigned, though not necessarily in the order listed, EXCEPT:

(A) T, R

(B) S, U

(C) R, S

(D) U, T

(E) S, T

7. Which of the following, if substituted for the rule that T cannot be assigned processor 6 would have the same effect on the assignment of processors to boards?

(A) R must have a smaller processor than any processor assigned to either T or U, or T and U must each have a larger processor than any processor assigned to R. 

(B) T must have a smaller processor than any processor assigned to either R or S, or R and S must each have a larger processor than any processor assigned to T.

(C) Each processor assigned to S must be consecutive with a processor assigned to R.

(D) Each processor assigned to T must be consecutive with a processor assigned to U.

(E) U cannot be assigned processor 5.

Think you can solve this Logic Game Challenge? You can win $200 off any LSAT Course or a Free Manhattan LSAT Strategy Guide (your choice!)

 Post your answers on Manhattan LSAT’s site and your explanation on their LSAT Forum.  You have 2 ways to win: (1) Correct Answer Prize: Manhattan LSAT will randomly choose from any submitted correct answers during the Challenge period and (2) Best Explanation Prize: Manhattan LSAT will choose the best explanation posted on our forums.

Good luck!

For more information about the LSAT, check out Law School Podcaster’s full shows:

For more information about Manhattan LSAT and LSAT study options, listen to Comparing LSAT Test Prep Companies: Which One is Right for You?” 

And more LSAT shows are on the way…..

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Just in time for Spring. Our New Podcast Helps You Prepare for Law School Exams

Spring is here at last and that means longer days, hanging outside and…oh yeah, law school exams are just a few months away.  Our new podcast, Law School Exam Prep: Advice to Help You Make the Grade,  has some great advice for 1Ls about to gear up for Round II of  those challenging first  year exams.

We asked our guests about the most common mistakes 1Ls make in preparing for law school exams.  The answer will sound familiar to a lot of 1Ls struggling to put it all together.  Most students get caught up in individual cases, and they don’t organize properly.

Ursula Furi-Perry is the Director of Academic Support and the Director of the Bar Essay Writing Program at Massachusetts School of Law at Andover.  She explains how seeing the big picture during your first year is a skill to hone to get you through the rest of law school.   “I think that one mistake is not recognizing the amount of work that’s going to be required when one starts law school or perhaps just not having a seriousness or purpose about it that one is really required to have in order to approach the curriculum and the learning style, the differences in terms of learning environment that a student may be used to from the undergraduate degree.  And all of that, I think, goes into some of these mistakes that they make.  I believe that students, as soon as you figure out basically what you’re doing in terms of briefing and reading cases and trying to call the rule of law from a case and figuring out what that case really stands for and why you’re reading it, as soon as you figure that out in your first semester, at that point, it is time to start thinking about putting together the information.  Basically, it’s being able to see the forest from the trees.  It’s being able to put the information together in a way that makes sense to you that is comprehensive and yet concise enough.”

This podcast is produced in collaboration with Ms. JD and features guests Ursula Furi-Perry, the Director of Academic Support and the Director of the Bar Essay Writing Program at Massachusetts School of Law at Andover and one of Ms. JD’s 2010 Writers in Residence.  Guests also include Nicolle Kownacki, 3L at UCLA School of Law and Epiphanie Marquez,  3L at The University of Texas at Austin School of Law,  both 2010 Ms. JD Fellowship winners.

Also on the show is Barbara Lasoff, Senior Series Editor for Wolters Kluwer Law and Business (Emanuel Outlines).

You can hear more by listening to the full show:

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What Do Law School Professors Want to See on Your Exams?

If you’re a 1L (or if you will be soon), you probably would like to know exactly what your professors look for when grading your exams. 

Our upcoming podcast, Law School Exam Prep:  Advice to Help You Make the Grade, gives you some inside perspective and also provides lots of good tips for those heading into first year exams in the coming months.    

In this show, we talk with Ursula Furi-Perry, the Director of Academic Support and the Director of the Bar Essay Writing Program at Massachusetts School of Law at Andover.  She says   “First thing’s first, you’re looking at a fact pattern and that fact pattern is likely testing several different issues.  The first step to all of this is to be able to spot those issues.  And in building up this skill, you can take your professor’s past exams, you can take hypotheticals that you’ve gotten in class, you can take questions, whether it’s multiple choice or essay questions from review sources and materials, and you can look at those and you will notice that a lot of the times professors don’t tend to re-invent the wheel when it comes to exams.:

Furi-Perry says “the fact patterns get recycled.  The names and the places and some of the facts get changed, but the issues that are tested stay the same.  There is only a number of ways to test medical malpractice, for example, in a torts class.  So, if you’ve done your diligent work and you’ve taken the time to look at some of these past exams, then you will start to see some similarities.  And the next time you see that same type of fact pattern, theoretically, you should be able to pick up on that issue right away.  So issue spotting skills for sure. ”

Furi-Perry also gives us a good look at the importance of communicating clearly your knowledge of the law, great organization in your writing, and a storng and insightful analysis applying the law to the facts.  

We also hear from Nicolle Kownacki, a 3L at UCLA School of Law.  She shares some valuable advice that worked for her in preparing for exams.  As each professor’s approach is different, she suggests students reach out to their professors.  ”Sometimes you leave just as mystified or in disagreement with the professor about a specific point, but one thing it has taught me is that different professors value different things about exams.  So, the next semester you go back and you start to think about what is the professor stressing in the class?  What is unique to this professor? Not going too overboard because at the end, a lot of law school exams are fundamentally the same, but there are different tweaks for each professor.  I think talking it through with them after really taught me how to look for that.”

This podcast is produced in collaboration with Ms. JD and features guests Ursula Furi-Perry,  the Director of Academic Support and the Director of the Bar Essay Writing Program at Massachusetts School of Law at Andover and one of Ms. JD’s 2010 Writers in Residence.  Guests also include Nicolle Kownacki, 3L at UCLA School of Law and Epiphanie Marquez,  3L at The University of Texas at Austin School of Law,  both 2010 Ms. JD Fellowship winners. 

Also on the show is Barbara Lasoff, Senior Series Editor for Wolters Kluwer Law and Business (Emanuel Outlines)

Stay tuned for the full show.

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Law School Transfer: What You Need to Know

Transferring to a different law school is like an intense breakup: you’ve committed endless hours, the 1L path has been painful and confusing, you’re not sure you really want to break it off and it’s not as easy as saying goodbye. While breaking up is never easy, sometimes ditching your law school after 1L year is the best move for you. But as a transfer hopeful, you’ll be applying to law school all over again, which means preparation, research, personal statements, recommendations, and numbers. Get ready for the transfer process with these tips:

Should You Transfer?

The decision to transfer is a personal one and may be based on a number of factors: better career prospects, prestige, location, tuition cost, family and other personal reasons. If you think that another school will be a better fit for you, you should seriously consider your options and weigh them against potential disadvantages of transferring.

What Kind of Disadvantages?

You’ve spent your 1L year building your own brand at your law school through your grades, relationships with professors, networking with fellow law students, contacts with alumni, and involvement in clubs and activities. As a transfer, you’ll start with a clean slate. Say goodbye to the stellar grades you toiled for during 1L year, the connections you’ve developed (of course, you can continue your relationships with professors, students, and alumni, but you’ll probably be more likely to obtain job and research opportunities from connections at your new school), and the comfort of knowing the ropes. You’ll have to prove yourself again: reestablishing your GPA and rank, building connections, and getting involved in a world where everyone has already connected and bonded during 1L year. You also may have to relocate, find new housing, and figure out financial aid at your new school. Don’t let the challenges dissuade you, though—look at it as an opportunity to add even more connections and experiences to your professional arsenal.

Now that the Negatives Are Out of the Way, How May Transferring Help Me?

If you feel off-course, transferring is a great way to navigate your legal career toward your goals. For students who didn’t have impressive LSATs or undergrad GPAs, but rocked the curve during 1L year, transferring provides an opportunity to move to a higher-ranked school. For those who used 1L year to figure out in which area of law they want to practice, transferring is the perfect opportunity to move to a school that specializes in that area. And for those with personal reasons (like relocation) or who just don’t like their law schools, transferring is a great option.

Is it Difficult to Transfer?

Transferring is competitive—stellar 1L grades are particularly important. Below is a glimpse at what some of the top law schools generally look for in transfer applicants:

Columbia Law: top 5-10% of law school class

Berkeley Law: top 3-5% of law school class

Michigan Law: top 10% of law school class

Duke Law: Top quarter of law school class

Cornell Law: top 10% of law school class

Georgetown Law: top 15% of law school class

What do I need to do to Transfer?

Schools may request some or all of the following along with any institution-specific requirements:

• Completed application form

• Letter(s) of recommendation (schools will likely want a recommendation from a current law school professor)

• Certification from your current law school

• Certification from your undergraduate school

• Transcript of your law school grades

• Law school class rank

• Transcript of your undergraduate grades

• LSDAS report with LSAT score

• Personal statement

• Application fee

When Should I look Into Transferring?

You should start thinking about transferring during your first semester of law school (just thinking) because your 1L grades are critical for your transfer application. Once you begin second semester of 1L year, you should begin selecting potential transfer options. Some law schools, like Georgetown and University of Chicago, offer early admission for transfers based on first-semester 1L grades. If you plan to apply for early admission, you have to be on top of your applications early in your second semester and submit them around the middle of your second semester.

But even if you’re applying for regular admission at the end of your 1L year, you should start preparing during second semester. You’ll need to sit down with a professor and ask for a letter of recommendation, gather materials from your law school and undergrad, and work on a personal statement. Plus, it’s a good idea to submit your application early for schools with rolling admission—receiving an earlier decision will help you better prepare for Fall interviewing and journal competitions.

Where Should I Apply?

Consider your reasons for transferring and which schools are the best fit for your professional goals. Also, research which schools are the most transfer-friendly in terms of transfer class size, transfer integration, Fall OCI interviewing for transfers, and transfer journal participation.

Stay tuned to Vault and Vault Law’s Blog for more information on transferring. You also may want to join the Yahoo group transferapps for discussions on the transfer process.

Columbia Law Transfer Information

Columbia Law Transfer Admissions Criteria

Berkeley Law Transfer Information

Michigan Law Transfer Information

Duke Law Transfer Information

Cornell Law Transfer Information

Georgetown Law Transfer Information

University of Chicago Law Transfer Information

This post is authored by Mary Kate Sheridan, Vault.com’s law editor. She covers legal news and trends relating to top law firms, law schools and the general legal industry. In search of a practical use for her writing, she wound up on the liberal arts path often-traveled: law school. After law school, she worked as a litigation associate in a large New York law firm. Mary Kate holds a BA in English from Mary Washington College and a JD from Columbia Law School.

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Hot Off the Press: New Manhattan LSAT Logical Reasoning Guide is Out!

Some good news for students looking for LSAT study options – here’s a great choice for self-study or to supplement your current prep course work.    

Last week, Manhattan LSAT unveiled its new Logical Reasoning Guide.   No lightweight book is this — coming in at 552 pages and covering everything you need to master this important part of the test.  Manhattan LSAT’s Managing Director, Noah Teitelbaum says ”we’re really psyched about what’s inside this book. We’ve kept our focus on what top scorers actually do, but we’ve added in a ton of practice sets (with explanations) to help students put our strategies to work immediately.”

So, what’s new about this guide? 
Well, according to Manhattan LSAT, it’s their simple but powerful approach to common question types.  “We know that it’s not hard to find LSATs to practice with, but with our new LR book, your initial slam-it-in-your-head-but-think-deeply-cause-you-can’t-memorize-your-way-to-170 practice is right there. We’ve also expanded our discussion of the assumption family of questions. If you don’t know about our approach, what we do is find the commonalities between question types (and this will be a relief to those who find the overly-dichomotized systems found in other LSAT books to be overwhelming). We know that memorizing a ton of question types leaves you struggling on test day, so we keep it simple and powerful.”
 
Be sure to visit the  Manhattan LSAT Store to check out the new LR Guide! 
Manhattan LSAT is so sure you’re going to love it, they’ve said this to show you how much: “If you bought our last Logical Reasoning Guide after December 15, 2010, we’ll happily replace the book with a new one so that you can join in the Manhattan LSAT logical reasoning jamboree. If you bought it at a bookstore, send us the receipt, if you bought it through us, just e-mail us the shipping address to use.”

 

For more information about LSAT study options, listen to our podcast: Comparing LSAT Test Prep Companies: Which One is Right For You? 

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preLaw Magazine’s Best Law Schools for Public Interest

Law schools commit to helping its public service career-minded students make their dreams a reality with clinical opportunities, faculty involvement and access to loan repayment assistance.

The commitment to public interest at the University of Maryland School of Law reached new heights last spring when it sent 13 students to work in Namibia, China and Mexico, as part of their new International and Comparative Law Clinic.  Emily Siedell, Carlos Guevara and Eric Kunimoto were three of the pioneering students to kick off the first year of the clinical program. The students, now in their third year, spent eight weeks getting experience in global issues while helping strengthen legal systems and increasing access to justice in developing nations.  “The greatest experience for me was visiting these Chinese citizens in these remote villages,” said Kunimoto, who was one of three students to go to China. “The interviews were supposed to take 20 or 30 minutes, but they would go on for two hours because I got so invested.”

The public service ethic is ingrained in the fabric of schools like The University of Maryland, City University of New York School of Law, Wake Forest University School of Law and Rutgers State University of New Jersey School of Law-Newark.  “Sometimes people look at public interest or pro bono work as an extracurricular activity,” said Blake Morant, dean of Wake Forest University, and recipient of the John R. Kramer Outstanding Law School Dean Award from Equal Justice Works, an organization devoted to getting new legal talent in the nonprofit and public sectors. “We saw this as a very important part of the education of the student. Giving back is about being a true lawyer.”

Law schools overall have increased their commitment to public service over the past 15 years. This year, preLaw magazine is recognizing 96 law schools — almost half of those in the U.S. — for making an above average commitment to public service. When this magazine’s sister publication — The National Jurist — first published public interest rankings in 1994, it recognized only 10 law schools.

That increase in commitment across the board helped 2009 graduates who faced new challenges after graduation. Several big law firms deferred new hires and gave them the opportunity to work at public interest jobs. Many of the young lawyers have now decided to stay in public service instead of returning to their firms after the deferral ends, as reported by the New York Times in August. Some of these graduates say that though they thought the deferral process was wrong, in the end, it had them pursue what they wanted to do in the first place — public service.

Educators say more students are holding on to their attraction to public interest throughout law school. For some, an interest in public service is why they go to law school, but a large debt load and a traditional pipeline move them toward the private sector.

 But some law schools are better than others at helping students stay focused on public service and preparing them for a career in the field. preLaw magazine has run the numbers on all law schools to identify which do the best job. At the top of the list are two very different law schools — Yale Law School and CUNY.

 The rankings weight schools in three categories: curriculum (which includes courses and clinical opportunities), cost of legal education (tuition, debt and loan repayment options), and placement (the percent of graduates who work in public service).   CUNY ranks first in placement, followed by Yale, Vermont Law School, University of Oregon and American University. CUNY also ranks first in curriculum, followed by University of Maryland, Northeastern, Gonzaga and Stanford.

 Clinical Education: the key to preparing for a career in public service

 Sameer Ashar, associate dean for clinical programs at CUNY, said clinical work is essential more so in public interest law than any part of the practice.  “Students come out of law school immediately working with people,” Ashar said. “They kind of have to hit the job running, with no formal on-the-job training.” 

Of CUNY’s seven clinics, the Community and Economic Development Clinic is particularly popular right now, as immigration issues continue to draw a lot of student interest. The law school requires every student participate in a clinic or externship while in law school.  “We try to transition them into practice through that experience,” Ashar said.

Law is dynamic and learning law in the classroom is essential, but it needs to take a step further to see how it actually works, said Wake Forest’s Dean Morant. Clinics help do that. At the same time, these clinics work for individuals. They are learning what a traditional lawyer actually does.  “A true professional lawyer is one that not only has great academic competence, but truly recognizes his/her function in society,” Morant said.

 For many of the law schools, strategic plans are set up connecting the law school with a variety of different communities needing assistance.

Like CUNY, Rutger-Newark’s most popular clinic is community law.  “Our clinicians help people with real estate closings, patents, copyright issues,” Dean Farmer said. “We offer the full range of business-related services to people who are trying to start enterprises in urban areas. The opportunity for learning is tremendous. Students get to learn so many things: contract drafting, zoning conflicts, counseling small businesses and non-profits. And it actually helps rebuilding communities in the process.”

 Clinical opportunities vary by school and geography — from criminal law to elder care.  Boston University School of Law is coming up on 50 years of clinical education. With an impressive alumni support system, every law school panel has at least one public interest or pro bono representative on it. The goal is to help students meet people from different backgrounds and areas of the law, said Maura Kelly, assistant dean of the career development and public service for Boston University.  “We truly try to match students’ interests with opportunities,” she said. “Many students are trying to figure out how to include public interest in their lives, full time or through private practice.”

 The law school is also open to students suggesting new clinics/pro bono work. For example, one student who did some work with the Innocence Clinic suggested a new clinic on detention issues. They found an alum who is an expert in asylum and immigration, who is now teaching on a part-time basis. The clinic will start this spring.  “It’s a great model that shows we are listening to students and hearing what their needs are and those of the community,” Kelly said.

 Emily Siedell, a third year who spent last spring in Namibia for Maryland’s International and Comparative Law Clinic, said the people they worked with were very inspiring.  “They had hope despite so many hardships,” she said.  There were four projects in Namibia, but due to time, Siedell only worked on two, helping set up businesses and litigation over sterilizations.  ”We discovered that the artists working there in the craft centers had to pay rent on the stalls they were using, and sometimes they only got a small percentage of their commission from the stall owners,” she said. “We worked with them on how to improve their livelihood, how to start their own businesses and become self-sustaining.”  The other project required her to travel to the northern region, where they have the highest concentration of HIV. There, the students did workshops on women’s rights when it came to the sterilization of women during the time when they went into the hospital for cesarean sections.  “At times, it could be frustrating because there’s so much change you want to create,” Siedell said. “But the most rewarding thing was being part of that process. We were the ones to start [the clinic] off.”

 Mike Millemann, Jacob France Professor of public interest law of the University of Maryland, said the ICL clinic had more than 30 applicants for the first year.  The clinic, which admitted 13 more students for the 2010-2011 academic year, builds on the law school’s groundbreaking LEAD Initiative, which helps students develop the cross-cultural competence they will need to practice law in today’s global arena.  “In designing the clinic, we decided to do something that most international clinics have not done, which is to place students in the country for substantial periods of time (and) have full-time faculty that go with students,” Millemann said.

 Third-year Eric Kunimoto’s project in China focused on helping people develop a micro-credit loan program and small-business finance. They particularly looked at small farmers and women who otherwise have been kept out of the mainstream of Chinese finance.  One highlight, Kunimoto said, was the supervising professor from Maryland who also taught at a university in Beijing.

Faculty involvement plays a huge role in the success of a public interest program.  When students come to law school, their primary role models are the faculty, said Wake Forest’s Dean Morant. To be fair, faculty are very busy, but if it’s done right, the clinical teaching can be very innovative and contribute further to the scholarly dialogue.  “When we were putting together the pro bono section, it started with faculty,” Morant said. “They helped the pro bono effort get crystallized in a particular way. It was amazing to see how many people were giving themselves in a variety of different ways. I think it’s critical to have faculty who support this program for one and by their actions show that they are giving of themselves to society.”

Dean Morant said it’s gratifying to see how public interest has come of age in the 21st century.  “It’s an integral part in legal education,” he said. “Doing public service is not only a philanthropic or volunteer effort that shows goodwill, but more of a goodwill enterprise to show the fluidity and education of law.”

Funding and repayment

 “What I would like people to understand is that it is more affordable than ever for people to practice in public interest,” said Heather Jarvis, a senior program manager for Equal Justice Works. “Even though law school remains extremely expensive… there are more options to help them afford them.”

First thing to note is that the schools with the highest tuition and fees are not always the most expensive in the end, because students could receive more grants and private funding, Jarvis said. While it’s important to consider the cost, it can also be more complicated than just looking at tuition.  “There is a whole landscape of debt release programs,” Jarvis said. Some law schools have school-based, state-based or employer-based loan repayment assistance programs.

 preLaw magazine’s rankings look at LRAP, tuition and a calculation that compares average debt payment for each school minus the average LRAP payment. Not surprisingly, most of the schools at the top of the cost of education category are public schools — Rutgers, West Virginia University, The Ohio State, University of Nebraska and University of Maryland are all in the top six. But Stanford ranks third and Yale ranks seventh based on strong LRAP programs. 

 When it comes to evaluating any LRAP, students need to be thinking about the design of the program. For example, which employment qualifies for assistance? All LRAP programs are not created equally. If you plan on working in the government sector of public interest law, be sure that LRAP program of the law school of your choice covers you under that type of employment.

It’s also important to know which loans are eligible for assistance. Does it cover undergraduate loans or part-time employment? And, how is the award amount determined? Many LRAPs also have salary caps or specific amounts of indebtedness that are required to qualify. These are all good questions to answer, Jarvis said.  “Law school-base LRAPs are only as strong as the school,” she said. “Students need to look a little deeper.” 

The real hot issue is public service loan forgiveness at the federal level. Students need to understand student loans and avoid private student loans. Private loans aren’t accepted under the Federal Loan Forgiveness Program.  Though the Federal Loan Forgiveness Program has the same requirements for everyone, there is still a need for strong school-based LRAP programs, Jarvis said.

The latest information from Equal Justice shows that it’s still around 100 law schools that have LRAPs. But what varies a lot is the average annual award. Though many are giving much higher rewards than before, most programs still only give modest benefits. Those that give larger amounts — like Yale, Harvard and Stanford — have access to large endowments. 

Rutgers-Newark has a long history of public service. It was among one of the first clinical programs nationwide, established mostly in the late 1960s as a consequence of the Newark riots. This represented the law school’s reinvestment in the community there.

An anonymous donor who is an alumnus of the law school today largely funds the LRAP program, which began in 1998, said John Farmer, dean of Rutgers-Newark. The alum went into public-service work after law school and wanted to recognize the school’s commitment and the Rutgers tradition. Over the past 10 years, more than $1 million has been provided to students who go into public interest work to help them repay their student loans and do this.  “LRAP benefits are for people who need it,” Jarvis said. “Not only are you in debt but you earn a low salary in public interest.”

 This is where the federal law has stepped in to assist. The federal law helps for debt and employment in any area of public interest.

It’s true that the pay gap between public interest and private firm work is steep. These figures can be seen from the latest “Jobs & JDs report for the Class of 2009” by the National Association of Law Placement. Medians for government, judicial clerkships and public interest jobs changed little from 2008 at $52,000, $50,000 and $42,800 respectively.

 Over one quarter, 25.8 percent, of the Class of 2009 graduates who reported being employed on Feb. 15, 2010, were working in public service positions, including government jobs, the military, judicial clerkships and public interest positions. This percentage has also remained relatively stable for almost three decades.

For students like Carlos Guevara, a third year at Maryland who also participated in the International and Comparative Law clinic, their experiences while in law school can greatly impact their future.

“For me, personally, it had an impact,” said Guevara, who spent last spring in Mexico. “I saw my country in a different light, and that was an incredible experience.”

How preLaw Magazine did the rankings

 This year’s list has 96 Best Public Interest Law Schools, with each assigned a letter grade of A+, A, A-, B+, B OR B-. CUNY, Yale Law School, Rutgers-Newark, Stanford Law School and the University of California at Berkeley School of Law round out the Top 5 law schools.

 Law schools make the Best public interest Law School rankings if they meet their main criteria: have one or more public interest clinic; have one or more faculty committees/administrators that oversee public interest; and have a loan repayment assistance program. By definition, a school that does not have all three would receive a grade below a B-.

 preLaw Magazine then weighed the schools using three main categories: cost of legal education, placement and curriculum. For cost of legal education they factored in tuition (10 percent), public interest scholarship opportunities (2 percent), quality of LRAP program (8percent), and a calculation of average debt payments minus average loan forgiveness (20 percent). For placement, they factored in percent of graduates placed in public service, with greater weight being given for placement in public interest (32 percent). (Public service includes clerkships and government.) For curriculum, they factored in pro bono opportunities (3 percent), public interest courses offered (15 percent), public interest clinics (5 percent), and number of clinic positions to enrollment (5 percent).

 All of the categories reflect the same areas that Equal Justice Works recommends students consider when investigating law schools. The preLaw ranking was compiled independently by staff editors and did not reflect the views of Equal Justice Works.

The Top 20 law schools are ranked, and the law schools in the remaining letter grades appear in alphabetical order. (click the  PI Rank chart for the full list of Best Law Schools for Public Interest). 

preLaw magazine has ranked schools for public interest in the past, most recently 2008. This study reflects new factors and weights that the editors felt best matched the data available andwhat makes a great public interest law school.

This post is authored by Michelle Weyenberg and was published in the Winter 2011 issue of preLaw Magazine.  Click here for the digital edition of the Winter 2011 issue or visit the preLaw Magazine website for more great content about law school.

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With an Eye on Big Firm Market, NLJ Reports On Top “Go-To” Law Schools

Law school applicants deciding which law school to attend are advised by just about everyone these days to consider carefully a law school’s employment data.  If you’re thinking of seeking employment in the big firm market, (and clearly not everyone is), you may be wondering which law schools sent the most graduates last year to Big Law?  According to The National Law Journal’s new list of  “Go-To Law Schools,” The University of Chicago Law School led the way in 2010, sending  nearly 59 percent of its graduates to the nation’s top law firms.   

The National Law Journal published a list ranking the top 50 law schools by the percentage of juris doctor graduates in 2010 who took jobs at NLJ 250 firms, the nation’s largest law firms identified by the NLJ 250 annual survey.

Some notable points from the NLJ survey:

  • The University of Chicago Law School jumped to No. 1 from No. 4 last year. Last year, the No. 1 school sent 55.9% of its graduates to NLJ 250 firms.
  • Columbia Law School was ranked No. 1 in 2008 and in 2007. In 2009, the school sent 246 graduates to NLJ 250 law firms.
  • Northwestern topped the list last year, with 142 of its graduates hired by NLJ 250 law firms.
  • The number of 2010 graduates taking jobs at NLJ 250 firms was 3,822. The number of J.D. graduates from those schools was 13,989.
  • New to the top 50 this year are Georgia State, Rutgers–Newark, Seton Hall and Tulane.
  • Last year, the No. 50 school, Chicago-Kent College of Law, sent 13.2% of its class to NLJ 250 firms.

 In reporting the data, the NLJ concluded that that, “at first glance, it looked like a brighter picture for first-year associate hiring in 2010. After all, the top two schools on the list supplied nearly 3% more of their graduates to the nation’s 250 largest law firms, compared with 2009. But overall, this year’s Go-To Law Schools sent fewer graduates into the big-firm market. The percentage of 2010 graduates taking jobs at NLJ 250 law firms was 27.3%, compared with 30.3% of 2009 graduates.”

 Here are the Top 25 schools:

  1.  1.   University Chicago
  2.  2.  Cornell
  3.  3.  Columbia
  4.  4.  University of Pennsylvania
  5.  5.  Harvard
  6. 6.  University of Virgina
  7. 7.  UC Berkeley
  8. 8.  Northwestern
  9. 9.  NYU Law
  10. 10.  University of Michigan  Law
  11. 11.  Stanford
  12. 12.  Duke
  13. 13.  Georgetown
  14. 14.  UCLA
  15. 15.  Yale
  16. 16.  Boston College
  17. 17.  Boston University
  18. 18.  Vanderbilt
  19. 19.  USC- Gould
  20. 20.  University of Texas
  21. 21.  Fordham
  22. 22.  George Washington
  23. 23.  Notre Dame
  24. 24.  Emory
  25. 25.  Washington University, St. Louis

 

For more information on this topic, check out these great podcasts:

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