Students were also asked to rate the performance of their school’s placement office. The national average was a fair to middling 3.63 — lukewarm praise at best. Law students said they tended to favor self-reliance when it came to researching job prospects. More than half reported that they got most of their information about firms from friends’ recommendations and from law firm Web sites. Yet students were brutally honest when it came to rating school placement offices.
NYU students may be drowning in debt, but they do seem to be getting their money’s worth when it comes to their placement office. NYU received the highest score nationwide — 4.50. While there were some isolated complaints about career services, these were a distinct minority among the 236 NYU respondents, who were far more concerned about large class sizes, high tuition, and the grading system.
Similarly, at Cornell, which had one of the top three scores for effective placement offices, the main concerns of the respondents were a greater variety in the curriculum and smaller classes. At Columbia, which also made the short list for best career services, students angled for more attention from research-driven professors, more diverse course offerings, and lower tuition.
At the other end of the career services scale, an average loan balance of $86,968 didn’t buy very effective help in getting a job for folks at American University School of Law, where students rated the placement office a mediocre 3.00. “Change the entire system used by career services during fall recruitment,” wrote an A.U. student. “Charge less and use our money more wisely,” another added. Still another would like to see “more national recruitment efforts.” Dean Claudio Grossman responded: “While we are proud of our success, we need to constantly evaluate how we prepare our students to compete successfully with students from the other elite schools.” He also noted that, “Each year an increasing number of large law firms hire our graduates.”
Career services at Northwestern University School of Law may also be in need of some change. At least one angry Northwestern student called for a total overhaul. “Better career counseling” is needed, another agreed. That includes “being a stronger advocate of public interest careers.” These student concerns have not fallen on deaf ears. “We’ve been trying to respond,” says Dean David Van Zandt. Last year the placement office was revamped and new student advisers added, including one dedicated solely to public interest careers, he says.
The James Beasley School of Law at Temple University — named for the Philadelphia tort king and major university benefactor — also found itself in the lower ranks on the career-office front, which was described by one student as “an embarrassment.”
Temple’s Dean Robert Reinstein was surprised to find the school ranking poorly on placement services. “We survey our 3Ls on the eve of graduation and have had few complaints about the placement office,” he says. Reinstein also astutely pointed out that the students surveyed as summer associates by The American Lawyer“all got very good jobs.” The school, he adds, has computerized the interview sign-up system and even installed a national database that automatically alerts students — on their home computers — about new job openings.
|If it were up to me, law school would take:|
|( Lmagazine, February 2002)|
Despite gripes, 82 percent of the students surveyed would attend the same law school if they had it to do over. Only 3 percent would “do something else” (rather than attend law school), and a mere 2 percent wish they’d gone for an MBA instead. Yale may not leave its students feeling well-prepared for the real world, but they feel satisfied nonetheless. Eighty-nine percent would attend Yale again if they had it to do over. The sentiments ran just as strongly at the University of Virginia, where students’ praise for the school ran to the effusive [see "How the Top Ten Fared"]. And close to 88 percent of students at the University of Pennsylvania and Boston College reported being happy with their choice. The most dissatisfied were students at Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law, Boston University, and Loyola, where about a quarter of 2Ls said that they would go elsewhere if they could. At both Cardozo and B.U., there were complaints about inadequate building facilities, libraries, and indifferent administrations. Deans at Cardozo and B.U. acknowledge that their schools have faced some challenges, but insist that progress is being made. Dean Ronald A. Cass of B.U. is aware of the students’ displeasure with the physical facilities. “We have just announced plans to break ground on a new facility in 2004,” he says. Cass also points out that in other surveys, such as one conducted by the Princeton Review, the school did quite well.
At Cardozo, newly installed Dean David Rudenstine feels his students’ pain. “[They] are absolutely right about the facilities,” he says. But “we have begun to improve.” The school has added new floors to its high-rise space and is redoing the lobby, which Rudenstine hopes will “totally change the tone of the school” to “lift spirits and inspire the soul.” On a more prosaic level, Rudenstine, who taught at Cardozo for 20 years and may be closer to the pulse of the student body than his immediate predecessors, plans on “a town hall meeting and get-togethers” to better understand what is on students’ minds. That’s a thought that other deans might well bear in mind.
At Loyola, unhappy students asked for a range of improvements: “Get rid of the night school,” “cut admissions,” and “[add] more technology.” Loyola’s dean, David W. Burcham, acknowledges that there are problems but emphasizes that “these survey results just make my resolve greater to work harder” at addressing student concerns. He notes, for example, that the school has “a ten-year plan to reduce enrollment in the day school by 50 to 60 students.” But on the issue of eliminating the night school, the dean won’t budge. “The night school has been the heart and soul of Loyola. Some of our most notable graduates have been night students. [It] provides an important opportunity for many people who otherwise would be unable to go to law school.”
Summer associates found plenty of things to kvetch about, ranging from lousy cafeteria food to “egomaniacal professors” to waiting too long for grades. Griping was rampant everywhere, even at the top of the heap. “Reduce the hell factor,” was how a disgruntled Harvard law student put it. Still, a number of consistent complaints emerged among all the top schools.
Far and away the most emphatic requests were for a greater practical focus to legal education and a greater emphasis on corporate law. This reflects the popularity of corporate work as a career goal among respondents, all of whom were interning in large law firms at the time of the survey; 40.9 percent said they hope to practice in the area of corporate/transactional work. Classes themselves, according to one respondent, should “develop skill sets that are transferable to firm work.” One radical suggested, “How about reading a contract in contracts? Or a complaint in civil procedure?” There were numerous calls for law school curricula to balance the introduction of litigation-related doctrines with the “transactional side of the law.” As one student succinctly put it, “Less obscure, b.s. theory. Teach what we can use.”
Grading curves were another common irritant. And the continued use of the Socratic method of instruction continues to be the bane of law students just about everywhere. (What else is new?) The Socratic method, wrote a typical respondent, “is overrated as a learning system.” Another insisted that the Socratic method “does not make you a better lawyer, and it makes law students nervous.” One respondent urged that “the time has come where professors and administrat[ors] do need to move into the twenty-first century. Schools should be more open to new teaching techniques.” This may fall on deaf ears, however, given the amount of griping about “tenured professors who don’t care anymore” and “who could use a lifelong sabbatical.”
Many criticized what they saw as too much emphasis on liberal politics in law schools to the exclusion of conservative ideas. A Harvard student wrote, “the law school, including its faculty and students, needs to be more ideologically diverse; having too many liberals causes one-sided, boring discussions.” At the University of Michigan, one student complained that, “We make George McGovern look like a right-winger. How about some balance?” On the other hand, a respondent, this time from the University of Virginia, suggested that his school, “Concentrate on diversity of viewpoints: political, cultural, and social.”
Finally, respondents were split almost evenly over whether law school should take three years. Forty-six percent thought it should. But 48 percent felt confident that two years was enough. Many respondents suggested that law school should be a balance of two years of class and one year spent doing a clerkship or other modest-paying public law job.
Summer associates clearly didn’t hesitate to speak their piece. The real question is: Are their deans listening?
Carla Main is an associate editor/legal atThe National Law Journal . She writes frequently about the legal profession.