Michelle J. Anderson
Q: Is a law school education a good buy in the current economic environment?
A: CUNY School of Law is a great buy. CUNY Law offers an excellent education at an affordable price. PreLaw magazine reports that CUNY had the sixth lowest increase in tuition among all U.S. law schools from 2000 to 2010. In-state tuition is just $12,090.
CUNY Law is the perfect place for students who want to use the law as a tool for social justice. Our students graduate without the crushing debt of the average law student, able to pursue a future in public interest law.
CUNY Law’s program is unmatched for its commitment to social justice combined with practical lawyering skills. U.S. News & World Report ranks CUNY Law fourth in the nation for “Best Clinical Programs.” The Princeton Review ranks CUNY Law in the top 10 in the nation for “Best Law Professors.” As a result of the school’s exceptional quality and affordability, the National Jurist names CUNY Law one of the “Best Value” law schools in the country.
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: CUNY Law students want jobs in which they will make a difference in people’s lives and help make the world a better place. The financial crisis and the crash in the real estate market, coupled with budget cuts in government assistance, have meant that the need for the legal skills CUNY Law graduates have could not be greater. The troubled economy has hit moderate- and low-income people the hardest. Our graduates have long been committed to and continue to excel in legal services, nonprofit organizations, solo and small-firm practice, and government work that helps moderate- and low-income people.
Q: What changes have been made to the curriculum to ensure students are well prepared for a career?
A: Since its founding in 1983, CUNY Law has offered an innovative curriculum to ensure students are well prepared for careers in public interest law and public service. CUNY pioneered the model of integrating a lawyering curriculum with traditional doctrinal study. The Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching, in its comprehensive analysis of legal education titled Educating Lawyers: Preparation for the Profession of Law, praises CUNY Law for preparing students for practice through instruction in theory, skills, and ethics.
Our lawyering and clinical programs provide students with extensive feedback to guide them as they transition from law student to legal practitioner. Our sequenced curriculum ensures that students engage in thoughtful reflection, strengthen their practical skills, and develop a strong and ethical professional identity. The capstone experience, a clinic in the third year, is particularly strong at CUNY School of Law. Our clinics are ranked fourth in the nation for excellence.
More recently, we have developed the LaunchPad to Justice program to give recent CUNY Law graduates the opportunity to represent clients before being admitted to the New York State Bar. Under the supervision of alums in our Community Legal Resource Network, graduates provide essential legal services for low-income New Yorkers who are facing landlord-tenant issues in Housing Court. They gain critical courtroom experience and enhanced skills in an area of great need. The LaunchPad was developed in partnership with the New York State Courts and the Fern Fisher, New York City Deputy Chief Administrative Judge and Director of the New York State Courts Access to Justice Program.
Q: What does your school do to make it stand out among the state’s 15 law schools?
A: CUNY Law School’s mission is unique. First, we aim to graduate excellent public interest and public service attorneys. Most law schools have a public interest program of one sort or another. At CUNY, the entire Law School is a public interest program. As a result, we send a greater percentage of our graduates into public interest and public service practice than any other law school in the country. Our alums seek to live out the motto, “Law in the service of human needs.”
CUNY Law students are required to practice in our clinical program before they graduate. We don’t think it makes sense for a student to graduate law school today without real world experience in practice. At many schools, students compete for slots in clinical programs. At CUNY Law, we make sure that there are more available slots in our clinical programs than students. Clinical experience means stronger young attorneys who are ready for public interest practice.
The second part of our mission is just as important as our commitment to the public interest. We aim to enhance the diversity of the practicing Bar, and to provide the keys to the profession for those who have historically been locked out.
CUNY Law School attracts a very diverse population. The current CUNY Law 1L class is 49 percent students of color. More than 40 percent of our students are first- or second-generation immigrants, often the first in their families to attend college or a graduate program. Our faculty is also diverse: we have 44 percent professors of color, well over the national law school average of 15 percent.
Diversity doesn’t stop there. Our community varies across sex, religion, gender identity, sexual orientation, and socio-economic status. This kind of diversity means richer dialogs about justice, with more complex and nuanced perspectives voiced about what justice means to different people. We think our diversity greatly enhances our students’ ability to practice public interest and public service law.
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 privileged at CUNY Law School in that our students already exceed the 50-hour pro bono requirement through their in-depth clinical work. All of our students participate in one of 10 clinics or concentrations focused on public interest practice. During the course of those clinical courses, students complete anywhere from 200 to 500 hours of pro bono service. Most of our students also complete summer internships at nonprofit, government, or legal services agencies, which adds to their pro bono hours before graduation.
Q: What advice would you offer students about how to make the most of their law school experience?
A: Remember why you came to law school. Many students are inspired to come to law school because they want to use the law to make a positive difference in the world, but the hard work of learning the complexity of the law can feel overwhelming. Students can become disconnected to the ideals that initially inspired their interest in law. Taking a clinical course and representing real clients under the supervision of an experienced lawyer can reconnect students to their own ideals.
Being a lawyer is an extraordinary social privilege. I would urge law students to acknowledge that privilege and the responsibility that comes with it. Some of the most important decisions about people’s lives are made in courts: decisions regarding individual rights, access to children, to this country, to a job, housing, physical safety, health care, food, etc. The need for representation in these areas is very high. Making a commitment to engage in this work either full time or through a substantial pro bono practice when you graduate can help you get through law school with your ideals intact.