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It’s not often that law students get to do the grading, but in Texas Lawyer‘s second annual Law School Review, 1,178 of them took the opportunity to assess their Texas law schools. Law schools were graded in categories including helpfulness of placement office; how well they felt they were prepared for practice; their law school’s collegiality; technology; library services; and the quality of instruction. Students also were asked about how competitive their schools are, how accessible faculty members are to students and the diversity of their law schools. In addition to assessing their schools, students were asked to list the expected total amount of their law school loans. Those amounts are broken down by school rather than averaging it among all 1,178 respondents. And, students were asked about whether they would change their minds about attending law school if they had the chance to do it over again. Finally, we asked respondents to name the professors who’ve been the most influential during their law school careers.
Related charts: Texas Law School Report Card Placement Office Preparation for Practice Collegiality Technology Library Services Faculty Accessibility Quality of Instruction Competitiveness Diversity
SURVEY RESULTS 1. BAYLOR UNIVERSITY SCHOOL OF LAW topped the survey this year, moving up from third place last year. It received its highest scores in how well its students believe the school prepared them for the practice of law (4.67) and in library services (4.54). The school was referred to as the Marine Corps of law schools in the 2000 annual report on the best law schools by the Princeton Review, says Baylor law Dean Bradley J.B. Toben. And, that reputation is one the school is proud of, he says. “Our obligation as a faculty runs not only to our students but to our students’ future clients,” he says. “We’re proud to have a rigorous program. That shows we have a program that reflects what the realities of practice are really like. It’s a program that’s marked by much rigor, and we seek to place upon the students the same type of expectations that their clients will be placing upon them,” he says. Some students agree. “I love my school,” says one 2L. “Baylor really is the boot camp of law schools, but I feel that the challenges I’ve faced here will make me more prepared than students from other schools.” Baylor took first place in the technology category with a score of 4.46. High tech is the name of the game for the entire law school, including its law library, Toben says. Baylor shelled out $33.3 million for the Sheila and Walter Umphrey Law Center, which opened in August 2001, Toben says. The center boasts a truly high-tech library and 1,600 seats wired with power and data ports, he says. The Waco law school received its lowest scores in categories assessing the helpfulness of its placement office (3.49) and the perceived collegiality at the school (4.04). “Career Services does a great job of placing the top 15 percent of our class,” says one 3L. “[The] only problem is that those are the students who can place themselves. Everyone else gets help when time permits. If you are in the top of the class and want to work at one of the big firms, Career Services will gladly take credit for helping you out. If not, the general attitude is ‘keep trying and good luck.’ “ Toben appreciates the feedback. “I think it’s important to note that our CSO seeks to help those students who are looking for employment in smaller geographic areas or in alternative practice settings, but that type of job search inevitably calls for more initiatives to be taken by a student as opposed to the phenomena of the large firms in the metroplex that come to the CSO where that office acts principally as a matchmaker,” he says. Economic realities also play a part, Toben says. “When the economy takes a downtick, concerns about the CSO operation are always more frequently heard,” he says. Baylor students ranked the school as having the most competitive environment with a score of 4.00. Enrollment numbers in the law school are purposely low — the smallest in the state, Toben says. That’s creates a close-knit environment but a competitive one, he says. “We enroll a very highly credentialed student body who are naturally very competitive academically. I’m sure that creates feelings of competition that can become personal. The practice of law makes the law school environment pale in terms of its competitiveness. We’re only preparing them for what is to come,” he says. Baylor scored last in the diversity category with a 2.20 score. This is a category that definitely needs work at Baylor, Toben says. “We are now able to work on it more effectively due to the Michigan decisions. Following Hopwood, we went from 17 percent [minority enrollment] down to 7 percent. Now we are inching back toward 11 to 12 percent. We hope to get back up to the higher levels we were at,” he says. Comments from Baylor law students reflect concern over the school’s “harsh” grading system, which leads to lower grades than those at other law schools. “We have resisted a move not only in law schools, but in all levels of higher education, to inflate grades. Grade inflation compresses everyone in the class and fails to recognize achievement,” Toben says. “We do put our grading system in our Web materials and in materials otherwise provided to employers. Class rank is also a very good indicator … as well.” The school emphasizes trial advocacy — a fact some students interested in transactional practices complained about in their survey comments. “We do note that the types of skills one learns in trying to be a trial advocate are very much the same skill set as transactional lawyers bring to the table,” Toben says. Perhaps the most comprehensive statement about Baylor’s law program came from this 2L: “I want to explain my ‘maybe’ answer to the question concerning recommending Baylor to a friend or relative. Baylor is a very tough school. I think anyone who truly understands that absolute fact going in will do well and excel here, but this school is not for everyone. It’s a wonderful law school to be attended only after being completely informed concerning exactly what you are getting yourself into. I would tell students considering any law school to ask questions, ask lots of questions and be sure you ask students — make this the most informed decision you have ever made.” 2. SOUTHERN METHODIST UNIVERSITY DEDMAN SCHOOL OF LAW retained its second place spot, and receive its highest scores in library services (4.46) and collegiality (4.23). The helpfulness of its placement office scored a 3.50 — first place in that category. However, several SMU respondents complained that the law school’s placement office seems to focus on the top third of the class while ignoring the bottom two-thirds. “That’s a common complaint,” says SMU law Dean John B. Attanasio. “It is the case that on-campus interviewing tends to be focused on students who place high in the class. It’s more than the top third, but I think students tend to feel that it’s focused only on the top third. We let employers pick who they’re going to interview. It’s not the case that the office is focused only on those students. We focus on the whole class and that’s why we have such high placement rates,” he says. “In the class of 2002, six months after graduation, there was 98 percent placed with 100 percent reported,” he adds. That 3.50 score regarding the helpfulness of its placement office was SMU’s lowest, just below the 3.54 it scored in how well students believe the school prepares them for practice. SMU’s fifth-place preparation-for-practice score is disappointing, Attanasio says. “We need to do better at that. We devote a lot of attention to [preparing students for the practice of law],” he says. “While I think we and other law schools do a lot more than we used to to make a student ready to practice law, there’s only so far we can go until they’re having to actually do it. I would be happy to explore how we can do more. This is important to me and to us institutionally.” SMU’s scores indicate it is the least competitive law school in the survey. Attanasio doesn’t believe that’s a bad thing. “The students are high-achievers. There are certainly a lot of type-A personalities here. I like to describe this place as a community of scholars. If you want a place where students hide knowledge from each other instead of share it, this is not the place for you,” he says. SMU came in next to last in its diversity ranking. “There’s no question we need to work on diversity,” Attanasio says. “We have increased our numbers pretty significantly. But we still need to do more. Five years ago, 12.9 percent of entering students were minorities. Last year it was 20.1 percent. This year, it’s 18.4 percent. We’ve made progress from where we were, but we still have a long ways to go.” Several student survey comments reflected concern that SMU’s reputation is limited to Texas. “I think our reputation in Texas is considerably better than our reputation nationally,” Attanasio says. “Part of the problem is that most of our students settle in Texas. … We’ve trained a tremendous amount of the leadership, not only of the DFW area but also of the whole state, and we want to keep it that way. In a given year, 83 to 86 percent of our students settle in Texas. … [W]hat that’s going to do is that firms nationally are not going to know our students as well as Texas firms. We’re doing things that are improving our reputation nationally and internationally. … “ Another common complaint from SMU law students was the cost of attending the school. Says a 1L: “I feel SMU has a good law program, but I am just finishing my first year and I am already feeling very burdened by my student loans. It is just way too expensive. I think I should have chosen to go to a less expensive school.” Cost is a problem, Attanasio says. “That’s the thing that I think is our biggest problem and the thing we’ve worked on the most. In about seven years, we’ve quintupled the size of the scholarship program. It doesn’t solve the problem, but we’re very aware of it, and we’re addressing it. For a private law school, we’re not that high.” Another factor students must consider is that SMU students do well after graduation, he says. “Our students’ median starting salaries have risen way faster than tuition. The median starting salary of an SMU law graduate in private practice is now $98,000.” 3. SOUTH TEXAS COLLEGE OF LAW slipped to third place from its first place score last year primarily due to low scores in categories assessing the helpfulness of its placement office (2.75) and collegiality (3.81). Dean James Alfini could not be reached for comment before presstime. “The only complaint I have about this school is the career services,” says a 1L. “I know that I will have to find my own job without any help from them. That is quite scary, and I am in the top 33 percent of the class.” South Texas received high marks for its library services, where it topped the chart (4.73), quality of its instruction (4.28) and in technology (4.26). “STCL has superb teachers,” says a 1L. “The library resources are excellent. The career resources center has been very helpful to me. It is definitely more like a tier-one school than a tier-four school.” South Texas received relatively few complaints other than a handful about its career services office and some from night students who believe they are left out of course offerings and speakers. “My only disappointment is that the school publishes a wide variety of courses but, outside of the core bar curriculum, these course are rarely taught. I would say close to 50 percent [of the classes] will not be offered during my four years at the school — I am a night student.” However, the school is committed to the purpose of producing lawyers, says a female 2L. “South Texas is a ‘pure’ law school. The law school doesn’t compete with an undergraduate program, or a master’s program — it offers only one degree — a J.D. Each teacher is a J.D., teaching the skills to be a J.D.; it is fantastic,” she says. 4. TEXAS TECH UNIVERSITY SCHOOL OF LAW retained its fourth place ranking from last year. Its scored highest for its library services (4.37) and quality of instruction (4.24). Library spending at Tech is being increased by $800,000 per year and Dean Walter Burl Huffman says he expects the school’s ranking in this area to continue improving as more volumes are acquired. “We have a very strong faculty,” he says. “Tech’s persona is that it’s a smaller state school. Students actually know their faculty, and we have an open door policy. They can go to them. It leads to a cordial relationship. I think students feel faculty is there for them.” Tech also scored a 4.57 in the accessibility of its faculty. The high score is easy to understand with comments like this from one 2L: “In regard to my professors, I couldn’t ask for more. My professors welcome student interaction. It is not uncommon for them to host events for students, even in their homes.” Tech received lower scores in categories assessing the helpfulness of its placement office (2.43) and how well the school prepares students for practice (3.93). Tech law school was “woefully” lacking in two areas — career services and fund-raising — when Huffman came on board, he says. “In my employment contract, I negotiated with the university to pay for and allow me to hire an additional career services person and a development officer [a fund-raiser]. We have hired an additional placement person, so hopefully that will turn around.” As for preparing students for the practice of law, you can’t teach all the people all things, Huffman says. “The truth of the matter is that, try as we may, none of us can prepare our students for the practice of law immediately. They have to go out and get some experience. There are certain things you can’t teach without real live clients and cases. However, we, along with most law schools, have made some real efforts to change that,” he says. Two years ago Tech added some clinical programs, he says. A tax program was added that helps lower-income individuals resolve problems with the Internal Revenue Service. Indigent clients are helped in civil areas. And, in the criminal prosecution clinic, students work with the Lubbock District Attorney’s Office on criminal matters under the supervision of a professor. Additionally, Tech is nationally recognized because it has won national and regional competitions with its mock-trial program, Huffman says. “The most consistent remark I get from employers is that Tech lawyers are very prepared for practice,” he says. This 1L sums up comments from several Tech law students: “Texas Tech might never attain the prestige of UT, but the smaller student body and quality of instruction make it a pleasure to study law in Lubbock.” 5. TEXAS WESLEYAN UNIVERSITY SCHOOL OF LAW is a newcomer to the Law School Review Survey this year. Wesleyan placed first in the quality of instruction category with a 4.50, and scored 4.01 in collegiality. It also took first place in the category assessing accessibility of its faculty (4.59). “I’m not surprised that we scored well in instruction quality, faculty accessibility and collegiality,” says Frederick G. Slabach. “We pride ourselves on our faculty’s teaching abilities and accessibility to students. … It’s actually part of our identity we promote, not only in admissions, but also throughout a student’s three-to-four year career at the law school. We view accessibility and classroom instruction as a core part of our mission.” Collegiality is harder to explain, he says. “Maybe [students] take a cue from our faculty and staff. I’m delighted they feel that. We certainly see it. Many schools report that students will hide books in the library that are being used in class. That doesn’t happen here. During our Introduction to the Law program [a week-long program], we focus on professionalism right up front. We talk about modeling professional behavior while they’re students.” Wesleyan received its lowest scores for the helpfulness of its placement office (2.90) and for how well its students feel they are prepared for practice (3.87). The score in the placement office category surprises Slabach. “We get glowing comments about how helpful our career services office is. We also get students who express concern. We obviously want to do better. We have a new assistant dean for career services … who is doing tremendous work in helping our students find the kind of jobs they’re interested in. The economy is difficult now and that’s why we’re working twice as hard to help our students find the right fit.” The low score in practice preparation also shocks him. Wesleyan’s law school has more practical courses as a percentage of its curriculum than most law schools, he says. However, the Fort Worth law school is considering adding a certificate track in legal research, writing and drafting within the regular J.D. program, he says. “When I talk to lawyers in the practice and ask them for advice about our curriculum, invariably they tell me to give students more research, writing and drafting. That’s the best thing we can do to better prepare students for the practice of law. We’re going to take a look at that and see if we can craft something that would be helpful to our students,” Slabach says. Wesleyan took second place in the diversity category with a 4.00. Its current first-year class includes 23 percent minorities, Slabach says. “I think that’s important because I believe students learn as much from each other as they do from the professors in the classroom. I believe that the more different opinions, ideas and perspectives a student hears, the better educated they are,” he says. One 2L offers this comment: “Texas Wesleyan is an excellent school simply going through the typical growing pains of a young school.” And, although student comments seem to disagree on this point, Texas firms are starting to notice Wesleyan law grads, Slabach says. “Some of our top graduates have been hired by well-known firms,” he says. 6. THE UNIVERSITY OF TEXAS SCHOOL OF LAW received its highest score in library services (4.56) and technology (4.43). Its lowest marks were a 2.92 for the helpfulness of its placement office and a 3.03 for practice preparation. It also took last place in the faculty accessibility category with a 3.75 score. Dean William Powers did not return two calls seeking comment before presstime. Other than complaints about the school’s career services office, students expressed concern about the importance they believe the school places on the prestige of its instructors. “Students have felt that there is too little emphasis on instruction, and too much on research and the prestige of certain ‘star’ professors. This has led to the recruitment and high salaries of many new professors who are recognized in their field, and with the recent budget cuts, this has resulted in fewer course offerings. Thus, we have a few classes with brilliant legal scholars who can’t teach worth a damn. I wish the school would refocus its priorities on the students, not its U.S. News and World Report rankings,” says a 2L. However, another 2L says the professors are “great.” Students seem to be happy with the education they’re receiving at UT law school. “Great school! The community is what makes the school feel like home. Of course nothing is perfect, but here I feel like I get a taste of everything. I am not hammered into a mold of what the school expects to produce as an attorney,” says a 1L. Another 1L is not certain what he’ll do with his J.D.: “I came to law school from six years in public accounting, with no idea what type of law I want to practice. After one year, I’m still not sure in what area I would like to practice, but virtually all of my professors have gotten me excited about practicing somewhere. It’s not that no areas of the law interest me; my professors have done such a great job, all of the areas I have been exposed to so far interest me — except property [law],” he says. 7. UNIVERSITY OF HOUSTON LAW CENTER took its top marks in the quality of its instruction (4.03) and technology (3.94). The law school works very hard on providing students with a quality education, says Dean Nancy Rapoport. “Our faculty takes that very seriously. In terms of hiring people and promoting them, it matters to us if people are good teachers. We also have teachers’ workshops on new ideas and teaching,” she says. The school has a wireless network with capabilities of serving up to 1,100 students plus its faculty, Rapoport says. One “thing I love about UH is how wired and technological it is,” says a 1L. “I can take my laptop outside of the school and still access the Internet due to the strong wireless system connection inside the building. I can even print with my wireless connection when I am a mile away from the school!” UH received its lowest scores for library services (3.10) and for the helpfulness of its placement office (3.37). Rapoport takes complaints about the career services office seriously. “Because I want everyone to understand how important career services is to our school, that office will be reporting directly to me. If that doesn’t send a strong signal, I don’t know what does,” she says. Tropical Storm Allison destroyed 175,000 volumes in the law library when it hit on June 9, 2000, Rapoport says. But some students believe the school should be finished with repairs and replacements due to the storm. “It has taken entirely too long to fix the damage from Tropical Storm Allison,” says a 1L. But Rapoport says, “It will take us five years to buy back all the volumes. The cost is more than $30 million.” Several students complained about a recent increase in tuition rates. “When I showed up, we were in the top 50 law schools and the total costs were less than $18,000 per year. Now this dump is ranked [in a tie at 69] and costs more than $26,000 per year. Basically this place was worth it when I showed up, but I wouldn’t come here now,” says a 2L. Part of the reason for increased tuition is a decrease in state subsidies, Rapoport says. “The state cut the budget to higher education by 5 percent. I don’t blame them for complaining about tuition costs. However, I still have to put on a program so they all graduate. They would complain about that more.” The school received praise from some students. “I continue to be more impressed with what UH is able to do for me every day. The faculty is fabulous, and being situated down the street from one of the best legal markets in the country allows the school to create numerous opportunities for students to embark on an ambitious career. It’s an ugly little building with huge potential waiting inside for those who want to take advantage of everything it offers. People at UH are intelligent but down to earth. And the tuition is about as good as anyone could ask for,” says a 1L. Rapoport doesn’t expect to please everyone. “I never expect to win over 100 percent of the people because, if I am, I must not be doing a whole heck of a lot of work. If I’m not changing anything, people won’t be mad but they won’t see the benefit of the change,” she says. 8. ST. MARY’S UNIVERSITY SCHOOL OF LAW received its highest marks in the quality of its instruction (3.96) and collegiality (3.45). However, it took last place in both of those categories. The school received its lowest marks for technology (2.54) and the helpfulness of its placement office (2.63). It also took last place in the library services category (3.02). The school is taking steps to improve these areas, says Dean William “Bill” Piatt. It is installing a wireless system to give students Internet access, he says. There are currently 124 data ports in the library, but that number will jump to 700 data ports by the end of September, Piatt says. The library also was recently reorganized to make it more user-friendly with the creation of a student lounge and it moved one of its two law journal offices into library space, he says. All the chairs in the library will be replaced this year, he says. Faculty members also are expected to have their computers replaced this year, he says. A new placement office director came on board last year, and the career services office already has seen dramatic improvements, Piatt says. “It looks like we will have more on-campus interviews this year than in previous years. We’ll always continue work on our placement office.” However, the economy must be considered. “The number of new hires is down,” Piatt says. St. Mary’s topped the diversity chart with a score of 4.11. The No. 1 reason for that is the location of the school in San Antonio, Piatt says. “Historically, we’ve drawn students from a very diverse pool here in South Texas. Second, I think is the composition of our administration and faculty. I’m one of only three Hispanic deans in the U.S. Having a visible minority presence is a good recruiting tool. Including myself, we have 10 full-time faculty members with minority backgrounds.” Several comments from students complained that the school has a low bar passage rate. The school is taking steps to improve that, Piatt says. “We’re always working on bettering our scores on the bar exams. We’re improving our teaching — now it’s internal. We have a teaching excellence committee that is focused on improving teaching in this school. We’re working on improving our examinations. We want to make sure they are of sufficient length and complexity. Those things fall under the heading of improving the academic environment here at St. Mary’s.” Other students complained about the school’s recently changed grading scale. “St. Mary’s is trying to suddenly build back its reputation at the expense of the current student body,” says a 1L. “The bar has swung too far in the opposite direction. A few years ago you were more likely to get struck by lightning than flunk out of law school. Now St. Mary’s accepts more students than it can teach so it can ‘weed out’ the weak and keep the best. I don’t appreciate St. Mary’s speculating at my expense.” Piatt is unapologetic about the new grading scale. “The grading scale was imposed by the faculty,” he says. “I am pleased that they have tightened the grading scale. When I came here, I found it to be lax. It’s a more difficult school to get into and a more difficult school to graduate from than when I came here. I will try really hard to continue to communicate, not only to students but also to the alumni, the bench and the bar, the importance of our need to continue to improve our academic environment at St. Mary’s.” Other students recognized that change causes some turmoil at first. “I have been extremely impressed with some recent changes and visions for the future improvement of the school, which I feel have occurred as a result of alterations in the faculty/administration,” says a 2L. “I am excited to see St. Mary’s improve as a result of the ideas of inspirational faculty members and students.” And, students should expect more changes, Piatt says. “I think it’s obvious that changes are going on here. I think most people are very happy with it. It’s necessary at this point in our history that we just have to do this.”
BAYLOR LAW SCHOOL If I could go back in time, I would: Attend Baylor University School of Law: 74.36 percent Attend a different law school: 21.79 percent Enroll in an MBA program: 0 Do something else: 3.21 percent No response: .64 percent Average total law school student loan debt: $68,331 Most influential professor: Brian Serr SMU DEDMAN SCHOOL OF LAW If I could go back in time, I would: Attend SMU law school: 77.66 percent Attend a different law school: 15.96 percent Enroll in an MBA program: .53 percent Do something else: 5.85 percent Average total law school student loan debt: $72,665 Most influential professor: Ellen Smith Pryor SOUTH TEXAS COLLEGE OF LAW If I could go back in time, I would: Attend South Texas College of Law: 77.71 percent Attend a different law school: 17.71 percent Enroll in an MBA program: 0 Do something else: 2.86 percent No response: 1.71 percent Average total law school student loan debt: $64,823 Most influential professor: Charles W. “Rocky” Rhodes TEXAS TECH If I could go back in time, I would: Attend Texas Tech law school: 70.79 percent Attend a different law school: 23.6 percent Enroll in an MBA program: 1.12 percent Do something else: 4.49 percent Average total law school student loan debt: $47,596 Most influential professor: Susan Saab Fortney TEXAS WESLEYAN If I could go back in time, I would: Attend Texas Wesleyan law school: 76.47 percent Attend a different law school: 20.92 percent Enroll in an MBA program: 0 Do something else: 1.96 percent No response: .65 percent Average total law school student loan debt: $62,921 Most influential professor: Earl Martin UNIVERSITY OF TEXAS If I could go back in time, I would: Attend UT law school 80.32: percent Attend a different law school: 9.83 percent Enroll in an MBA program: 1.64 percent Do something else: 8.2 percent Average total law school student loan debt: $51,250 Most influential professor: John S. Dzienkowski UNIVERSITY OF HOUSTON LAW CENTER If I could go back in time, I would: Attend UH Law Center: 64.91 percent Attend a different law school: 26.32 percent Enroll in an MBA program: 1.75 percent Do something else: 6.43 percent No response: .58 percent Average total law school student loan debt: $54,350 Most influential professor: Robert Ragazzo ST. MARY’S If I could go back in time, I would: Attend St. Mary’s law school: 57.61 percent Attend a different law school: 34.24 percent Enroll in an MBA program: 1.09 percent Do something else: 4.89 percent No response: 2.17 percent Average total law school student loan debt: $82,266 Most influential professor: Gerry W. Beyer
METHODOLOGY For Texas Lawyer‘s second annual Law School Review Survey, Texas law school students were asked to grade their schools in several areas: helpfulness of placement office; how well they felt they were prepared for practice; their law school’s collegiality; technology; library services; and the quality of instruction. Students also were asked about how competitive their schools are, how accessible faculty members are to students and the diversity of their law schools. The results of these three categories are included, but these scores were not used in determining a school’s overall score and ranking. Students were asked to rank their schools in each category on a scale of 1 to 5; the higher the score, the better the ranking. The lone exception is the “competitiveness” category, in which the higher the score the more competitive the atmosphere at the school is perceived to be. The rankings for each category were tallied and averaged among the responses from each school. Then the averages for each category were averaged again to produce each school’s overall score. We required a minimum of 10 responses about a school for inclusion in the survey, however Texas Lawyer does not disclose the exact number of responses received for each school. Texas Southern University Thurgood Marshall School of Law did not receive enough responses to be included in the report. Incomplete surveys and responses received after Aug. 11 were not included. Comments were edited for grammar, punctuation and style. This year, 1,178 Texas law students responded. Of those, 584 were female, 590 were male and four did not indicate gender.

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