Wednesday, April 6, 2011

The University of Michigan Law School

The famous reading room
Note: click on any picture to enlarge.
Location: Ann Arbor, MI
U.S. News and World Report Rank: 7
What they like to talk about: being collegial (anti-pomp/competition), wide geographic distribution of graduates, academic excellence, happiness
Pros: Ann Arbor, the architecture makes your brain 10x more powerful, highly ranked, well-respected in the PNW (according to attorneys in Seattle)
Cons: It's cold there, lack of lay prestige (again)

Michigan represents a school that is well-rounded and a compelling option for almost every career path. It has the feeling of an institution that is scholarly, confident, and easy-going.  


If the best law school was determined by the impressiveness of architecture, Michigan would win hands-down
. That's the first thing you notice when you step on campus: Revivalist Gothic architecture that can take your breath away–I dearly wish my pictures could do it justice.
Looking through the north gate
Lawyers Club north gate
Library reading room
Library reading room from the east
A typical hallway
It should be noted that I didn't like Michigan initially. There seemed to be a presumptuousness seeping out from the ornate reading room. I suppose the architecture could do that to a person, but ultimately I found the opposite to be true: Michigan is pretty relaxed (they must have said "collegial" 127,346 times over the course of the weekend).

It was interesting being able to finally compare law schools. Throughout the weekend, comparisons between Michigan and Virginia were running through my mind. The two schools are extremely similar. Both are in small towns (Charlottesville is about a third the size of Ann Arbor, which I would actually classify as a small
city). Both are top ten schools and know it. Both also know that there are schools in the top ten that are better than they are–mostly the typical Yale, Harvard, and Stanford, but also, Columbia, Chicago, and NYU (though I personally would never give these last three a second thought). Both have friendly students–though Virginia's are markedly friendlier.  Both are incredibly proud of their institution as a whole. 

And here is where we come to the difference between Virginia and Michigan. They are both proud, but their pride has very different sources (at least according to the vibes I was picking up). Virginia gets it's pride from long-standing "Southern honor." They have an honor code on campus (you can leave your laptop unattended and not worry about it, etc.) and this attitude of honor pervades the institution (Note: a current Virginia student made a good comment on my facebook. He noted that Virginia's pride is also derived from student happiness and the fact that their alumni contribute to the school at a rate of 51%, which is more than any other law school.). Michigan is proud because of its academic excellence (the university as a whole is also one of the best in the world). Both are really great reasons to be proud of one's institution. 

Main campus
Another notable difference had to do with the architecture. While Virginia's main campus was more impressive than the law school (and thematically consistent), Michigan's law school is far more architecturally impressive than Michigan's main campus. While Michigan's main campus is still great looking, it suffers from what I've been calling "architectural schizophrenia." There are many different kinds of architectural themes on Michigan's main campus, whereas the law school maintains its revivalist gothic throughout.

Note: the second portion of this review is being written in Oregon after visits to Minnesota Law, Colorado Law, Berkeley Law, and Davis Law.


Michigan has the sense of fun and camaraderie that is usually associated with undergrad. Unlike Georgetown (and Minnesota and Berkeley) which has the feeling of a commuter campus (actually that's not fair to Berkeley–but I'll talk about that when I review Berkeley), Michigan has a more communal atmosphere which is accentuated by Ann Arbor. Something that helps: 50% of the entering class lives together in the Lawyers Club.

The Lawyers Club boarders the law quad on three sides
Lawyers Club dining room
Living in the Lawyers Club comes with a meal plan that is administered in the dining room (and is also why I won't be living there if I go to Michigan). The great strength is that living in the Lawyers Club makes you even more integrated in the law community (and it's a 10 second walk to class).

I think Michigan is a place I could feel comfortable, but still be committed to solving social problems (the Dean even emphasized solving social problems in his welcoming talk). A healthy attitude of social activism tempered by midwest practicality makes for a compelling combination.


Pros and Cons Summary:
 The cons first since they are few. Michigan is cold. This is especially acute since I'm considering Berkeley. While the Bay Area isn't always the picture of sunshine and warmth, it is if you compare it to Michigan. Second, Michigan suffers from a lack of lay prestige. In the Pacific Northwest, folks aren't going to know it's a better school than the University of Washington. However, attorneys in Seattle are quite impressed with Michigan and have told me that it would place much better than UVA.

The pros are many. People tend to undervalue architecture. Your physical environment determines much about the way you think and feel. Michigan has great architecture and I really think it's good for the brain. For instance, check out the library. It's underground, but there's a huge skylight that's cut into the ground and provides wonderful light three stories deep.

The classrooms are equally as impressive and well-lit.
It goes without saying (at this point in the post) that Michigan is one of the best law schools in the country. Not only does it have great job placement in every market, but professors and students participate in truly great scholarship. Lastly, Ann Arbor is a communal town and the law community is equally close-knit. 

The best part of Ann Arbor:

And the worst:
Luckily, nobody obeys this prohibition and there were plenty of dogs roaming the market.

4 comments:

  1. Sounds great overall. And when you consider their legacy of activism that ranked right up there with Berkeley back in the 60s, it's a hard one to outclass in light of all the others you visited thus far, don't you think?

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  2. Your photographs are marvelous, indeed better than anything on the law.umich.edu site. I've linked to them now in a self-comment to an essay about legal writing where I had referred to the Lawyers' Club. I also like your analysis of Michigan Law and your comment about the importance of architecture. I agree (with a nod to Freud): architecture is destiny, or anyway can be. But I am a fan of what you aptly call Michigan's architectural schizophrenia. (Or I have been ever since they renovated the outer skin of the Undergraduate Library, previously and rightly known as the UgLi.) The Law Quad is a beautiful and soothing oasis; the variety outside its walls is piquant and stimulating. And - like Berkeley - Michigan's campus is integrated with the urban scene. It is not like Stanford, which I think of as a castle in a moat. I prefer integration.
    Best regards, and keep up the excellent writing and phot0graphy.

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