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).


  1. Great photos, Cody. The last one looks like a tough exposure but you pulled it off well. I'm commenting on the photos, because your review sounds pretty evident of your overall opinion and I appreciate the struggle of the decision, but I kind of hope you go to Berkeley. It almost seems like your heart is there, and not Michigan.

  2. Cody,
    I have really enjoyed reading your reviews of the various law schools. My sister graduated from Berkeley and i do remember the beauty. I do appreciate their commitment to social issues also.
    But the opportunity to go to a excellent school and leave with less debt is huge. As it will give you far more freedom the day you are finished. From several friends I have heard there is some wonderful campus ministry happening on that campus. I agree with Elwyn that following your heart is important, but will be praying that you choose the school that will build you up to be a man for God.

  3. Excellent overview of Cal. Seems like the only question is how much debt is it worth? In light of its legacy, faculty, and potential for future networking -- it's hard to walk away from in spite of the price tag. Maybe you could buy some land up here in the Northwest (with a little help from an investment group or something)and sell it when you graduate. Who knows? I'll be praying for you!