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Texas law school deans, listen up. Sixty-eight students chose to grade seven of the state’s law schools by responding to Texas Lawyer‘s first-ever Law School Review. The students who responded to the survey — which was posted online at www.texaslawyer.com– judged their schools’ performance in a variety of categories such as helpfulness of placement offices; how well they felt they were prepared for practice; their law schools’ collegiality; technology; and library services. In addition to assessing their schools, students were asked to list the reasons they chose law. Although several like knowing the job pays well, they’re equally excited about legal work they see as interesting and intellectually challenging. Other popular answers were the desire to earn an advanced degree, a fondness for detail work, and an enjoyment of legal research and writing. SURVEY SAYS 1. South Texas College of Law received the highest marks in the survey with a 4.2 overall score. The school scored especially well for its library services (a perfect 5.0), followed by how well its students felt the school prepared them for practice and the school’s technology. The fact that South Texas is not state-supported or attached to a university is a blessing and a limitation, says the school’s president and dean, Frank T. Read. “All our services, whether it’s food or scholarships, are provided internally and created to specialize specifically in what law students need [as opposed to an entire university's student body],” he says. However, being the state’s only private independent law school has its downside. “Texas is blessed with a number of good law schools,” he says. “Without the big university and no football or basketball team, it becomes harder to keep track of us.” South Texas students ranked the school as the most competitive in the state. One student mentioned “an insight into transactional work” as the missing ingredient in her education at the school. Read isn’t surprised by this comment; he says the school focuses on beefing up the quality of its transactional law section. South Texas also has vastly increased foreign study programs and has created a Center for Legal Responsibility that concentrates on the gentler arts of problem resolution, such as arbitration, mediation and conciliation, he says. “We’re doing a lot of good stuff, but I don’t want to brag,” Read says. “I think a number of Texas schools are doing good work and not getting the national recognition.” 2. With an overall score of 4.16, Southern Methodist University Dedman School of Law was hot on South Texas’ heels in the survey. Dedman received the highest marks for its placement office and how well it prepared its students for practice (it scored a perfect 5.0 in this category). The school was also ranked as the least competitive in the state, an opinion with which the dean agrees. “We really try and encourage a community of scholars here,” says Dean John Attanasio. “The students here are so enormously talented. Law school is inherently competitive. We don’t encourage students being at each other’s throats or in hiding things from each other. … We feel this environment is much more conducive to learning.” As for preparing students for practice, Attanasio believes part of the credit goes to the school’s legal writing requirement of 11 credit hours. Another factor is the school’s faculty, which combines full-time professors and adjuncts, many of whom are practitioners and judges. One thing the school always works on, Attanasio says, is improving its relations with students. Another area marked for improvement is reducing the cost of a J.D. at Dedman. “We have dramatically increased our scholarship budget and hope to continue to do so,” he says. 3. Baylor University School of Law was breathing down SMU’s neck with an overall score of 4.13. The school topped the charts for collegiality and its technology, and tied for 2nd in competitiveness with Texas Tech University School of Law. That the school would earn high marks in the collegiality department is a no-brainer for Baylor’s dean, Brad Toben. “We have a small school — the smallest in Texas,” he says. “We have a big premium on faculty working in small groups. The culture is such that students work hard and get to know each other well.” Its high technology marks are credited primarily to its $33 million Sheila and Walter Umphrey Law Center, Toben says. The building opened in the fall of 2001. It has more than 30 miles of computer wiring and 1,600 stations where students can access power- and data-ports. The school’s placement office ranked last among its competitors with a score of 2.33, a score Toben says may be due to the school’s involved sign-up protocol for interviewing with various firms on campus. The reason for the protocol lies in the fact that there is a limited amount of time for firms to visit with a finite number of students. “I think there are times that students feel they don’t have an opportunity to visit with all the firms. There are some inevitable disappointments,” he says. One benefit of going to Baylor is its practice court program that students participate in during their third year, Toben says. “We expect a good deal of our students. We have a culture in which we turn up the heat successively through the three years the students are here.” Areas for improvement include the school’s curriculum, Toben says. “I think we could improve upon the research skills our students are taught. … I think Baylor law school and every law school can improve upon our teaching of ethics.” The school is well known for its trial advocacy program, and it showed in the survey results. Baylor scored 4.67 on how well it prepared students to practice law. “We have three concentration areasthat dovetail with our overall litigation focus — general litigation, business litigation and criminal practice. It’s the best, and you can quote me on that,” Toben says. 4. Texas Tech University School of Law’s overall score was 4.09. The school garnered high marks for its collegiality and for how well it prepared students for practice. Neither one of those items is coincidental, says Walt Huffman, the school’s dean. The founding fathers of Tech’s law school intended it be collegial, he says. “The founders made a conscious decision to keep the law school relatively small and adopt an open-door policy for the faculty,” he says. “It’s something we work very hard at. It’s definitely not happenstance.” Practice preparation at Tech isn’t left to chance either. “We’ve always stayed with a required curriculum that is more rigorous than many law schools to make sure no one graduates from here without the courses that time has shown to be essential to the practice of law,” Huffman says. Its low mark was in its technology, which comes as a surprise to Huffman. “It’s odd that anyone would say that,” he says. “The ABA provides statistics on this. We provide more computers per capita to our students than any law school in the nation.” On the respondent wish list were more elective classes, a greater emphasis on practical application and a law school dean. (Huffman took over as dean on Aug. 1, 2002.) Huffman says Tech’s law school is always revising its elective offerings. “We are constantly working to increase the number of elective course offerings we have,” he says. “However, I don’t think you can always cover every possible elective anyone can want. It’s a very broad-based curriculum.” 5. With the first overall score below a 4.0, the University of Texas School of Law ranked fifth. The school did get close, however, earning a cumulative 3.9. The biggest point contributor to this score was its library services, which ranked second among schools in the survey. Its placement office took third place. Dean Bill Powers credits Roy Mersky and Kathryn Holt Richardson with success in those areas. Mersky is the Harry Reasoner law professor and law librarian, and Richardson is the assistant dean for career services. “We have terrific leadership at the top of both of those areas,” Powers says. UT took sixth place for how well it prepares students for practice, fifth for collegiality, third for technology and was considered to be the third most competitive school in the state. Several respondents noted practical experience as the missing educational ingredient at UT Law. Powers says the school spends a lot of time on collegiality and preparation for practice. “We work hard to have small sections. We have open-door policies. … On the other hand, we’re a big school. Being a big school gives us a lot of advantages … but presents a challenge in making sure we’re a collegial place.” Powers is surprised to hear other Texas schools did better than UT on the preparation-to-practice ranking. “To be candid, we have a terrific clinical program. … Our faculty takes teaching the practice of law very seriously.” As for practical experience, the school plans to expand its internship program substantially, placing students in various agencies, nonprofit groups and courts, Powers says. 6. The University of Houston Law Center came in close to the bottom of the survey with an overall score of 3.62. One strike against the school was its consistently low marks in the library services category, a situation Dean Nancy Rapoport says can be explained in three words: Tropical Storm Allison. “Fourteen months ago, we had 14 feet of water in the bottom of our law school. It was an unusual atmosphere,” she says. “That flood wiped out half of our library. … We had more than $50 million in damages. It was the single largest physical disaster to hit a law school.” But Rapoport says there was somewhat of a silver lining to the storm clouds: “When you watch your goals wash away, you see that everyone else is still standing there. You realize the level of commitment everyone has to the school.” Respondents were also less than impressed with the school’s collegiality. Like the library situation, Rapoport says the school has mobilized to address this issue. It created a new position in 2002 — associate dean for student life — and hired Michael Olivas to fill it. The goal is to see if the school can do a better job of coordinating student programs and reaching out to its students, Rapoport says. One student noted that the missing ingredient in her education at UH was clinical experience. “No one takes it because it hurts [your] GPA.” The school’s highest marks came in the category of helpfulness of its placement office. It ranked second in this area. “We’ve always had a tradition of a very active career services office,” says Rapoport. “We work at making sure people find the right fit for them. When we hired Kathryn Bernal, the director of the law center’s career services office, we hired someone with big-firm and small-firm experience so she has the credibility to give advice.” 7. Bringing up the rear, St. Mary’s University School of Law scored 2.97 overall. The school’s lowest marks came in how well its students felt they were prepared for practice (3.00), its technology (1.83) and its library services (2.83). The school is implementing a rebuilding program for its library holdings, Dean Bill Piatt says. Its goal is to raise another $1.2 million for that cause, he says. Also, he says it’s exploring ways to improve the available technology. Lastly, Piatt says a plan is in place for better preparation for practice. “We need to focus more on Texas law courses,” he says. “When I arrived here, the school had eliminated most Texas law courses as requirements. … I think I’ll be urging our faculty to require Texas law courses of everyone. People expect Texas law graduates to have grounding in Texas law. I want our students to learn those basics while they’re in our law school. The public and the bar expect that of us.” Yet St. Mary’s scored well in collegiality (4.0) and was the next-to-the-least competitive. “Overall I think the law schools in Texas are superlative,” says Piatt. “We at St. Mary’s might not have the same recognition nationally as other schools might. … We try to have a positive sense of community here. We have a full-time campus ministry office. That helps build on the spirit of collegiality.” Related chart: Texas Law School Report Card

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