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Law students, who pay through the nose for their J.D. degrees, may well wonder how their schools stack up against others — and not just in the U.S. News & World Reportrankings. We decided to take advantage of a captive audience and asked the 2Ls who participated in L‘s and The American Lawyer‘s 2001 Summer Associates Survey some questions about their schools. The associates who responded to our survey — some 5,165 in number — make up a subset of America’s law school students: those working summers in large law firms. We asked them how helpful they found their schools’ placement offices and how well their schools prepared them for life in a large law firm. And we threw in a bottom-line query: If you had it to do over, would you attend the same school, another school, or do something entirely different? Written comments were given anonymously in answer to the question, “If you could tell the dean to change one thing, what would it be?” Here was the chance for this highly motivated group of young talents to send a summons — or a love letter — to the dean of their own school. We knew the results would be interesting, but we didn’t know what we would get. Some of the comments surprised us. They may well surprise you. ‘TOTO, WE’RE NOT IN KANSAS ANYMORE’ Law firm life can be a rude awakening. Even after two years of law school, though, many felt themselves unprepared for the reality of daily practice. Some schools seemed, nevertheless, to have a knack for making students feel ready, although it is hard to pinpoint just what that magic ingredient is. Even among the three schools where students felt the most well-prepared to enter the law firm world — Notre Dame, the University of Chicago, and Loyola — one still found students hankering for more practical courses and more hands-on training. The answer to how to address these widely felt needs, based on numerous comments, may lie in how substantive courses are presented or in other factors such as the accessibility of professors and technology. The Ivy League was not immune to low scores, especially when it came to preparation for law firm life. Yale, ranked number one in the most recent U.S. News & World Reportlaw school ranking, received the lowest score, 2.97 (on a 1-5 point scale, with 5 representing the highest score), on how well it prepares students for law firm life. The lack of practical application clearly rankled many up in New Haven. “More black-letter courses,” was a familiar refrain. One frustrated Yalie pleaded for “more writing [that is] practice-oriented, not academic writing.” Dean Tony Kronman admits that, “This complaint has been perennial. Yale deans have been hearing it for a half century — at least.” But given the “freely structured curriculum that is the hallmark of Yale,” says Kronman, “that anxiety is likely to persist,” adding that “students here can be as head-in-the-cloud or as practical as possible. That’s the culture of the place.” Along with Yale, the University of California at Los Angeles and Emory scored lowest when it came to preparing students for private practice, earning marks of 3.40 and 3.33, respectively. “Offer more business-law-related classes — animals and the law, what is that?” asked a frustrated student at UCLA. “Prepare us for being lawyers, not scholars,” agreed another. Emory students repeated the words “more practical” like a mantra in response to a question inviting them to tell the dean the one thing they would like to see changed at their school. One suggested moving the “trial techniques program” to “the first summer,” and another thought “we need to have more legal research and writing in classes.”
If I could go back in time, I would:
Attend the same law school 82%
Attend a different law school 13%
Do something else 3%
Enroll in an MBA program 2%
( Lmagazine, February 2002)

PLACEMENT FOLLIES 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:
Two years 48%
Three years 46%
Four years 6%
( Lmagazine, February 2002)

SWEET REGRETS 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.” GENERAL GRUMBLING 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.” POLITICALLY CORRECT 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. Related charts

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