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.


  1. I'm with you, Cody. Sometimes the fit just isn't there. Great observation on the T10 syndrome, I wonder what other kinds of analogues are there like that. Keep those reviews coming!

  2. Picking a law school is definitely a big deal so it is definitely your prerogative to pick a school where you feel completely comfortable. No offense taken. My favorite part of the pics are also the Roman'esque buildings. They are sweet.

    Lupient Collision