Hannah R. Arterian
Q: Is a law school education a good buy in the current economic environment? Why is law school so expensive?
A: It is more appropriate to consider legal education as an investment in a rigorous academic discipline that advances your platform over a lifetime. If you think of an education as something a person “buys,” you miss most of the costs, which include three years of challenging academic work, and many of the rewards, which are not about the moment you graduate, but are over a professional lifetime.
Law school is more expensive than it was years ago for a variety of reasons. Rather than catalogue them, consider that the overwhelming cost for most law schools is personnel. With the increase in clinical and experiential learning, in writing programs and other very low student/faculty ratio requirements, those costs increase. If a teaching load is eight students for a semester, you have more costs than if it is one faculty member for 80 or more students.
In addition, there is an expectation of much more variety in depth and breadth in what might be called student services, but which encompasses professional advising, counseling, academic monitoring and the like. To do this well, with strong programs and talented, dedicated staff, adds costs that aren’t readily apparent. The increase in technology and the assistance for that is another example.
Q: Are you confident that there will be enough legal jobs in the foreseeable future to accommodate your graduates? In what sector will graduates find those jobs (for example, in government, large firms, small firms, insurance agencies)?
A: NALP Executive Director James Leipold very aptly stated that “the legal employment market is undergoing a period of profound change, and there is likely to be some uncertainty surrounding the job market” for the next several graduating classes. The predictable, cyclical nature of the employment market has disappeared and new cycles and models are beginning to develop. The College of Law works to stay ahead of the changes in both the marketplace and in hiring models while providing opportunities for our students to learn of those changes; create strong, strategic job search plans; network with alumni and attorneys; and gain valuable experiences in and out of the classroom.
Across the United States, small law firms are one of the largest employers of lawyers and will remain a critical employment sector for graduating lawyers. Local governments and mid-size law firms will likely also be amongst the strongest sectors for those seeking traditional legal positions.
While the traditional pathways to a legal career are changing, a legal education continues to provide a rigorous and rewarding educational process that allows our alumni to succeed in a variety of contexts. Alumni working in businesses, both large and small, as well as in education, the not-for-profit sector, compliance and government exemplify the diverse opportunities and paths that can be accessed with a law degree.
Q: What changes have been made to the curriculum to ensure that students are well prepared for a career?
A: The College of Law has enhanced practical training for its students. It offers eight Clinics, a comprehensive externship program, and the well-established Law in London Program that prepare students for practice. These programs afford them opportunities to represent clients, to work in judicial and other government law offices, or to work abroad during a summer.
The College of Law offers 11 curricular programs that permit students to concentrate their studies and develop expertise in areas such as property and social entrepreneurism, estate planning, technology transfer, and national security. In addition to mastering the advanced curriculum, students must complete a capstone project.
Q: What does your school do to make it stand out among the state’s 15 law schools?
A: Syracuse University College of Law is a vital part of an outstanding research university. This strong relationship has long fostered exciting interdisciplinary work and opportunities for our students. I don’t think any law school is designed or purposed to “stand out” among a state with many law schools. Each law school will have its ethos and community.
The College of Law has a long history of joint degree programs, with more than 10 offered in areas ranging from Public Administration and International Relations, to Business Administration, to Computer Science. Approximately 10 to 15 percent of each graduating class earns a joint degree. Law students may also create individualized joint degrees to meet their needs.
The College of Law has a number of centers or institutes that are interdisciplinary in nature and provide our students with distinctive opportunities for enhanced learning.
The Syracuse University New Technology Law Center is the umbrella organization responsible for the operation of the New York State Science Technology Law Center, the Technology Commercialization Law Program and the Technology Commercialization Research Center. Students work in teams to research and analyze alternative strategies for commercializing early-stage technologies on behalf of universities and federal laboratories, and also large, medium, small and start-up companies.
The Institute for National Security and Counterterrorism (INSCT) has provided 10 years of interdisciplinary and innovative research, teaching, and public service. Drawing upon the expertise of affiliated faculty, INSCT’s work addresses key national and international challenges pertaining to security, terrorism and counterterrorism, post-conflict reconstruction, and community resilience. INSCT’s faculty and research fellows strive to deliver cutting-edge scholarship and a first-class educational experience for students and professionals.
The Institute for the Study of the Judiciary, Politics, and the Media is a first-of-its-kind academic institute devoted to the interdisciplinary study of issues at the intersection of law, politics, and the media. The institute sponsors lectures, conferences, and symposia designed to foster discussion and debate between legal scholars, sitting judges, and working journalists. Additionally, IJPM’s faculty and fellows publish writings and research that are relevant to the intersections of law, politics, and the media.
We are a law school embedded in a leading research university with natural interdisciplinary connections that are unusually robust at the student level. But that doesn’t define the law school. It is our community that does that.
Q: How do you plan to implement the requirement that law students complete 50 hours of pro bono before being admitted to the bar?
A: We are ahead of the curve on this issue. Between existing pro bono programs, clinics, and externships, we already have the capacity for our students to meet the new requirement. We can increase our capacity with new pro bono opportunities and experiential education opportunities in existing courses.
Providing pro bono work and supporting our community is part of the academic culture at SU Law and we currently have the staffing and programmatic opportunities to accommodate our student needs. We have eight Clinics (five semester-long and three academic-year long), and a summer Clinic. Since January 2012, students have logged nearly 7,400 Pro Bono hours that are supervised by practicing attorneys, judges, or faculty.
SU College of Law Pro Bono Advisory Board is a committee of law students that works to instill a sense of service in the law students and to encourage all students to participate in pro bono and community service activities. For its work, the Board received the 2012 NYSBA President’s Pro Bono Service Award. In addition, the group was recognized in 2011 with the SU Chancellor’s Awards for Public Engagement and Scholarship.
Q: What advice would you offer students about how to make the most of their law school experience?
A: When I speak to students, I suggest they consider law school a full-time job. They should approach it that way, rather than an extension of undergraduate or other graduate degree experience. It is rigorous and demanding. Individuals should believe that they have the capacity to grow in how to think, rather than believe they are stuffing information into a closed system that cannot adapt and change. Take uncertainty as part of the excitement of learning, and develop the ability to listen, not just passively observe what develops around you. Embrace your law school community: The people you are with will, in fact, become professional colleagues and some will be your friends for life.
There are many ways to chart “success” but doing it by measuring yourself against others in law school is devastatingly unhealthy. Students should chart their own growth, and every night should write down three good things about the day—the clouds, a call from a friend, something you notice that inspires you. As you continue to do this every day, your list, even on a day of discouragement, will hold good things.
At the end of the day, your grade point average may get you a first job. But that is all. It is the quality of the person and their emotional intelligence that creates meaningful success and fulfilling lives.