Wednesday, April 27, 2011

University of California Davis School of Law

Note: click on any picture to enlarge.
Location: Davis, CA
U.S. News and World Report Rank: 23
What they like to talk about: N/A
Pros: I love Davis
Cons: fairly good law school in market over-saturated by better schools 

I didn't spend much time at Davis Law... and this post will reflect that. Having said that, Davis is near and dear to my heart.

I was born in Woodland, CA, which is about 20 minutes directly north of Davis. For the first 5 years of my life, I lived in Davis and loved every second of it. Davis is the bicycle capitol of the world (along with several other places) and the community is tight-knit to boot. Obviously, the University of California Davis is world famous, but it also has some really cool progressive things going on... like The Domes.

On my way to Berkeley, I stopped in Davis to eat PinkBerry and visit Davis Law. 
I should point out that King Hall (the Davis Law building) is a bit underwhelming. Half the building had been renovated and the other half is like walking through the eighties (which I actually enjoyed, but that's beside the point). 
Renovated classroom

80s classroom



Regardless, the natural surroundings almost make up for it. There is a creek that runs past the law school and forms a small lake. A fantastic bike path runs along the creek and I could imagine many a sunny afternoon spent peddling along and feeding ducks (because in my imagination, I miraculously have no homework).

Unfortunately for Davis, just down the road resides Berkeley Law and Stanford Law. These two California powerhouses insure that Davis's employment prospects are limited to Sacramento and northern California (undoubtably the best part of the state, but still, one likes to have options). Disclaimer: the part about Davis grads only getting jobs in Sacramento and extreme northern California is not meant to be a factual statement. It is a metaphor that I'm using to say: "I could go to Davis and love it, but I would have an easier time getting a job to pay off my massive law school debt if I went somewhere else." 

I withdrew last week.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

University of California Berkeley Law School

Note: click on any picture to enlarge.
Location: Berkeley, CA
U.S. News and World Report Rank: 9
What they like to talk about: making the world a better place
Pros: one of the most renowned universities in the world, has the most top-10 academic departments of any U.S. university, public institution mission, confident, lots of lay prestige, bay area weather, driven students
Cons:  California budget crisis, cost, urban setting, driven students

When I first started studying for the LSAT, my goal was to earn a score that would get me into Berkeley. The radical heritage of the university attracted me because I wanted to attend a law school where my fellow students cared about making the world a better place. After my visit, I can say that Berkeley certainly fits that bill. 
Berkeley Law library

One of the most important things to note is that out of all the admitted students I talked to, only one was coming straight from undergrad. He felt like he was the odd man out... and he was. Overwhelmingly, the students at Berkeley law have been working for several years, are excited and invested in their work, and are attending law school to make them better at it. This makes for an extremely motivated student body who are serious about becoming effective lawyers. To top it off, virtually all of those I talked to were involved in work that makes the world a better place. A group of people more motivated to do good you could not find anywhere.

One practical effect of this is that Berkeley students are really active in clinical programs. At other law schools, clinics are reserved for 2Ls and 3Ls. But when the clinical craze hit, Berkeley 1Ls would have none of it. They organized student-run clinics, which have now become central to what Berkeley does in its local community. No doubt this insistence on hands-on experience stems from the fact that Berkeley 1Ls are used to "real-world experience," but I like the attitude that they aren't willing to sit back and let the 2Ls and 3Ls have all the fun.
Berkeley bell town
Because of their driven nature, Berkeley Law students seem a little insular. They're focused on their goals rather than on the law community itself. This is both positive and negative. At Michigan, I really enjoyed the feeling of community that was organized around the institution itself (it felt a little like undergrad). Michigan students enjoy cultivating their learning experience with other members of their learning community even if those others don't have the same interests and goals. At Berkeley, there is a sense of community, but the communities are organized around specific efforts, they are external to the law school itself.

In my notebook, I wrote: "Boalt is simultaneously jovial but preoccupied with professionalism. They are a happy and friendly community, but Michigan is a closer community." If studying at Michigan is like attending a close-knit college, studying at Berkeley is like working at a self-actualized public interest law firm.

While at Michigan I was prepared for any hint of pretentiousness, I realized that Berkeley is really the place that suffers from it (though when compared with some other law schools, none of my prospects suffer from it). Berkeley is home to the "liberal intelligentsia" and it feels like it. Pretentious might be a strong word for it, but Berkeley is confident in it's intellectual bona fides. And honestly, it should be.
Berkeley Law

Berkeley campus
But Berkeley is confident for different reasons as well. I didn't realize until I was doing research on law schools that UC Berkeley is one of the best universities in the world (anywhere from 8th to 2nd in the world depending on the source-here, here, or here). Moreover, I learned that out of all U.S. universities, Berkeley has the most departments ranked in the top-10 in their fields.

The way Berkeley's confidence came across during my visit was refreshing. They didn't try to "sell" us on Berkeley Law. They simply told us about their excellence. The Dean, Christopher Edley, Jr., spoke to us on the first day despite having broken his ribs several days before. His talk was the most moving part of my entire trip west.

He spoke about the unique mission of a public law school. That as a society we had come together to form a place of learning that would create great leaders. That Berkeley Law was committed to the public interest and the public good.

I was unprepared for the extraordinary beauty of Berkeley's campus. I was under the impression that Michigan was going to be the campus that took everyone's breath away (and it did), but Berkeley did too in a different way. At Michigan the revivalist Gothic architecture stood as a testament to the creative genius of whomever had built it. But at Berkeley, nature served as the architect and there is no better designer than God. 

It's not that the buildings were underwhelming, they were spectacular, but the redwood grove and the eucalyptus trees that dotted campus helped me remember that the best human efforts are easily outdone by our Creator.

I'm struggling with the weight of my decision as I write this. I asked Berkeley to match one of my other scholarships (they have a program for this), but I got word today that they won't be doing that. Now I must decide if Berkeley is worth taking on substantially more debt than other top schools (e.g. Michigan).

Monday, April 18, 2011

University of Colorado Law School

Note: click on any picture to enlarge.
Location: Boulder, Co
U.S. News and World Report Rank: 47
What they like to talk about: N/A
Pros: Boulder, enthusiasm for Boulder, the mountains, the architecture
Cons:  lack of lay prestige (again), lack of national prestige, non-T10 syndrome

Colorado's Boulder campus is stunning. I could stop here and just show you pictures the rest of the way. When I set foot on campus, it was 77 degrees, sunny, and the architecture against the backdrop of the mountains made a good case for Colorado Law. I dearly wanted to attend Colorado Law for a solid 56 hours... and then I arrived in Berkeley (and that's another story).

Boulder Mountains

The Stadium

What's striking about the architecture is that it's completely consistent throughout the entire campus. Even the stadium is constructed with the distinctive southwestern flair.

It's hard to beat Boulder for a place to live if you like the outdoors. The student body is rife with enthusiasm for where they live and that enthusiasm translates into a cordial spirit. The students are easygoing and seemingly pretty comfortable in their own skin.

The class I visited wasn't super interesting (they were going over rules of evidence on a powerpoint), but there were windows so I could look out and wish I was outside in the sunshine (something I imagine many law students feel when they're in class).


So why won't I be attending Colorado Law? At 47th, Colorado is the lowest ranked law school I was accepted to. In this instance, that means it will be much harder to get a job in the PNW with a Colorado degree than with a degree from a top ten school or the University of Washington. Plus, as I discussed in my post about Minnesota, the non-T10 syndrome makes for a more stressful and lower quality law school experience. 
I slept up in the mountains my night in Boulder. Apparently there were some great tent sites just across this bridge. However, because I arrived at the trailhead at 1am, finding a place for a tent proved rather difficult and I ended up sleeping in my car.
I withdrew my application last week.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

University of Minnesota Law School

The centerpiece of main campus
Note: click on any picture to enlarge.
Location: Minneapolis, MN
U.S. News and World Report Rank: 20
What they like to talk about: having national prestige, great clinics
Pros: excellent bar passage and job placement, nice people, great clinics
Cons: It's cold there, lack of lay prestige (again), lack of national prestige, commuter campus feel, urban feel, lack of enthusiasm, non-T10 syndrome, oversubscribed clinics

I also want to give a disclaimer here that I did not get the level of exposure at Minnesota that I did at Virginia, Michigan, or Berkeley. I visited a class, got a tour of the law school from a member of the admissions staff, and poked around a lot by myself.

Minnesota Law was a disappointment. I'll just say it right away. I wanted to like Minnesota so badly; they offered me a full-tuition scholarship, I have family ties to Minnesota, and
TLS describes Minnesota Law as "an ideal law school." But it wasn't meant to be. 
Looking west across the river toward the law school
First off, there was a confluence of circumstances that didn't help: the weather was not great (overcast and rainy), someone had just demolished a building next door, the law school seemed to be in a "less than ideal" part of town, and the constitutional law class we were supposed to visit was cancelled so we visited a class about corporate mergers instead. 
Minnesota Law building
Common area
Hallway outside classrooms
On top of that, the Minnesota Law building is straight-up ugly, inside and out. The outside seemed angular and uncomfortable, while the inside seemed dark and cramped. In my notes, I wrote that the law building was "very utilitarian feeling and yet completely confusing to a visitor." There are nicer things to say about the Minn Law building. Frankly, it does have a practical feel; very midwest, very working class. But that feeling also translates into a stern environment that I imagine isn't a really great place to think. 
The classrooms, with their desks in concentric squares, are unique and distinctive. At worst, the classrooms feel cramped and unnatural. At best, they display an urban seriousness that indicates both a no-frills attitude and astute concentration. I don't think I can say enough about how disappointed I was with the law building. After coming from Michigan where the architecture was breathtaking, Minnesota's architecture just seemed boring. 
Library reading room
If only they had stuck with the old law building (though it may look boring, it's located adjacent to the main campus and is in the same spirit), I would be more enthusiastic about Minnesota Law.
The old law building
The main campus was impressive to say the least. I had no idea the University of Minnesota was quite this visually overwhelming, but I was quite inspired by my visit. If only that feeling had crossed the river to the law building. 
The bridge going to the main campus from the law school
The buildings on main campus have the distinct feel of WWII era architecture–massive, blocky, and serious. Because I am inspired by Greek and Roman architecture, I really dig these buildings.
You gotta love those Grecian pillars (see how I got carried away with pictures of them?).

Pros and Cons Summary:
Minnesota is a great law school. It's just not so great if it's viewed beside the schools I've already reviewed. Nobody will dispute that Minnesota has great bar passage and employment rates; they'll simply point out that these statistics are referring to the midwest. The bottom-line is really that Minnesota is a great regional school. This brings us to their most significant weakness. When I asked Seattle attorneys about Minnesota, they didn't have much to say because they didn't know about the school. And that's the problem. Despite Minnesota insisting that they have national reach, they don't (at least compared to the other schools I'm considering). However, they are recognized nationally in the area of clinics. Unfortunately, their clinical programs are "oversubscribed" (their words) and therefore you "might not get in the clinic you want." Oops.

My real concerns stem from something else: I'm calling it the
non-T10 syndrome. T10 refers to the top 10 law schools as defined by US News and World Report. I've noticed something about non-T10 schools (and the opposite phenomenon at T10 schools). At non-T10 schools, the students and faculty seem to have a chip on their collective shoulder. Professors work harder to be "tough" and embarrass students in class to make sure they "know their stuff." Students are deliberate about being a "hardcore studiers" (probably because they have to achieve a higher class rank
 to get a good job). At T10 schools, the people are more comfortable and eager to truly think about what a particular case means rather than worrying about whether they'll be called on to recite the facts of the case (etc., etc., etc., you get the picture).

It's possible that this "syndrome" could very well be a figment of my imagination. I can think of a lot of scenarios where that's true. Nonetheless, I'm pretty confident about the idea and intend on taking it into account when I decide on a school.

I withdrew my application from Minnesota Law last Friday.