Wednesday, March 23, 2011

University of Virginia School of Law

The Rotunda on main campus
Note: click on any picture to enlarge.
Location: Charlottesville, VA
U.S. News and World Report Rank: 9
What they like to talk about: alumni network and quality of life
Pros: Small town, friendly students, killer job placement, national portability, honor code
Cons: Alcohol-soaked campus, low lay prestige (compared to Berkeley or U of Washington in the PNW), politically conservative reputation

As the first law school I've visited, it's hard to comment on Virginia Law. After I visit Michigan, I'll be able to speak more about comparisons, but since I visited Duke on the weekend, I can't use it as a foil beyond considerations of architecture.

Prior to my visit, I didn't know that UVA was considered a "Public Ivy."

Main Campus: The Virginia campus feels very old and renowned in a distinctly American way. As Thomas Jefferson's brainchild, the University of Virginia was meant to be a learning community.
The Range

This area, "the Range," formed the center of the learning community.
The Lawn

"The Lawn" in the middle is faced on both sides by living quarters which were originally designed to house professors and students. Professors would hold class in their living rooms and all community members would eat and spend other community time in the Rotunda.
Living quarters
I might be hard pressed to find a school that likes to talk more about their founder. Often referring to "TJ," students and faculty alike connect the law school and their personal activities to his vision for a learning community.

School of Law

The Law School: It is clear that Virginia Law is proud of their national reputation and firmly believe in the academic and intellectual integrity of their students. Further, the entire university is governed by a student-administered honor code. There were several comments during the open house corolating this honor code to the trust between students. Apparently, students frequently leave their laptops, books, and notes in the library without worry of theft.

I cannot imagine a more friendly group of students. It was easy to talk to both current students and other admits. They seemed willing to be honest about the school's vices, but also wanted to tell me every wonderful thing about the institution.

Law School facing south
The law school is located on the northern edge of campus and so enjoys both easy access to the main campus and also a level of quiet and seclusion.
Law courtyard complete with bocce ball

The interior of the law school seemed light and airy, a easy place to have a clear head for studying. The temperature was pleasant to the point of being completely unnoticeable.
The reading room in the library
A typical classroom

One of the main hallways

The hall with all the pictures of former deans

Pros and Cons Summary: Over the course of my visit, Virginia Law staff focused on communicating their two main strengths as a strong (actually quite rabid) alumni network and a high quality of life. Over 50% of (living) Virginia alumni contribute to the school every year. To put this in context, other nationally-leading schools are happy with percentages in the teens. Further, it became clear from conversations with students that the quality of life was really fantastic. These students were happy... in law school. And that's something they should be bragging about.

I was a little turned off by the prevalence of alcohol on campus (it plays a central role in many UVA functions), but I was assured that there are plenty of students who abstain and are able to integrate quite well.

Another concern I have is that Virginia is one of the few schools that is (or has been in the past) tied to a political persuasion (I'll run into the same concern with Berkeley). Historically, UVA has leaned conservative and traditionally places clerks with more conservative judges. I asked many people about this concern (I even was able to question the former general counsel of the Democratic National Committee) and the consensus was that though UVA might be slightly more conservative than the average law school, its extreme conservatism is a thing of the past.

My last concern is about what I perceive as a lack of "lay prestige" (coupled with questionable portability to the PNW). Frankly, the average person doesn't know that Virginia law is one of the best law schools in the country. Since I want to live and practice in Washington State, I'm most concerned about people there. The Virginia name simply doesn't turn heads like Berkeley or similar schools do. I'm certain the average Washingtonian thinks the University of Washington is a much better law school than Virginia even though the opposite is true. But this concern isn't just about the general population (who really wouldn't come into play unless I was running for office). It is also my concern that UW graduates have a distinct hometown advantage when it comes to job prospects. The real question is how well will a Virginia degree travel to the PNW and match up against a degree from the UW?

Regardless of my concerns, Virginia is a strong candidate and a school that is a forerunner in my mind. Out of the schools I'm considering, Virginia has the strongest firm placement statistics along with the strongest clerkship statistics. For instance, it is one of the few schools that is regularly represented among the ranks of U.S. Supreme Court clerks (in a later post summarizing my visits, I'll go over the specific employment data for each school). A Virginia degree will carry with it national recognition from those "in the know."

I've already talked about the honor code and how happy the students are, but the location is equally as desirable (except for being on the East Coast). Charlottesville is a small town (less that 50,000 people) and feels nicely rural, while still maintaining eclectic shops and restaurants (reminds me of Walla Walla in this way).

Ultimately, I enjoyed my trip to UVA and my visit made me more inclined to attend. I felt like I could make close friends at Virginia (though certainly not as close as my buddies from the West Whitman Estate or the Inner Circle from UCA). Further, during a class visit and a mock class, I caught a glimpse into what law school is really like... and I think I've made the right choice. I'm going to like it.


  1. So, Cody, the photos look publication worthy! Great write up. I'll be looking for more!

  2. I think UVA sounds great. The fact that students are happy and alumni feel such a strong sense of ownership there is really something. The conservative tendencies can actually be a help to gain more insight on their mindset and also get a better feel for where the "middle-ground" might be when it comes to accomplishing something with "hard-heads." I love TJ, flaws and all -- so being at "his place" sounds great -- he's as authentic American as they come. I was on a campus of heavy drinkers and found that their spiritual emptiness is just more obvious to them if someone (like you) could point it out to them in a wise but friendly way. Isn't that what Jesus-bottles are for? At this point, just come on home and report back to UVA in the Fall!

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