Stanford Law Names Mary Elizabeth Magill Dean

Stanford Law Dean

“She is an expert in the field of administrative and constitutional law.”

On Tuesday, Mary Elizabeth Magill, the vice dean of the UVA School of Law, was named dean of the Stanford Law school.

Magill is described as creative, insightful and engaging as a lawyer, scholar, and admissions leader. She is an expert in the field of administrative and constitutional law. She has served on the faculty at UVA since 1997 and served as a fellow in Princeton’s Program in Law and Public Affairs. She holds a B.A. in History from Yale and a J.D. from UVA.

Magill will be succeeding Larry Kramer, Stanford Law’s dean since 2004.

In a Stanford news release, Kramer says:

Liz will bring to her deanship an enthusiasm that inspires students and colleagues and a capacity to help everyone around her realize their academic and professional ambitions, whatever those may be. On top of that, she perfectly fits Stanford Law School’s unique commitment to interdisciplinary work and its embrace of innovative change in legal education.

Magill will assume her position as dean on September 1st.

For more on Magill’s new appointment, please see AboveTheLaw.com’s article, “Stanford Law School Has A New Dean.”

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Law School Admissions News Roundup

  • New Law School in Savannah- The ABA has approved the opening of Savannah Law School next fall, a branch of Atlanta’s John Marshall Law School, The National Law Journal reports. The nearest law schools from this new campus are over 90 minutes away by car, and there are more than 20 colleges and universities nearby. The school aims to admit 60 full-time and 35 part-time students next year, with a total of 96 students. Plus, “administrators are touting a ‘noncompetitive’ environment intended to encourage teamwork.” Despite the approval from the ABA, Savannah Law will still need provisional accreditation.
  • Top Schools for Public Service- The National Jurist has listed the best law schools in preparing its students for public service in five categories: public interest, prosecutor/public defender, Federal clerks, state judicial clerks, and government. There are 15 law schools in each category besides government—which has 20—and they are unranked. For clerkships, the magazine just used employment placement data; whereas, for the other three categories, curricula, employment data, and standard of living were considered. The only law school in three out of five lists is Penn State University. A number of schools made two categories, including Brooklyn Law, Northeastern, University of Arizona, and Yale. The complete lists are not published yet, but check here for some of the categories.
  • UC Irvine Edges Out Harvard- Another solid contender when it comes to public service is the new UC Irvine School of Law. As Above the Law reports, the school continues to impress, now with one of the “highest federal clerkship placement rates in the country.” Nearly a fifth of UC Irvine’s 2012 class has been placed with district and circuit court judges, a rate which would place the school just behind Yale and Stanford, and ahead of Harvard, in clerkship placement. Unfortunately, the school isn’t even ranked yet, since it’s still waiting on the ABA for full accreditation. Reuters attributes Irvine’s success to “money and influence”—the majority of the school’s funding comes from high-profile donors, which has also allowed the school to “attract top-notch students.” And with all this, its inaugural class hasn’t even graduated yet.
  • February LSAT is Just Like All Other LSATs- Contrary to what you may have heard, the February LSAT is not any tougher than the other LSATs. As Most Strongly Supported points out, fewer people tend to take the February LSAT, besides retakers who are trying to get off waitlists. Others more likely to take it in February are either procrastinating and sending in their applications for that year, or “over-achiev[ing]” and starting their application process for the next year super early. The main aspect that sets the February LSAT apart is that it’s undisclosed. You only get to see your score, without the opportunity to review the test and your mistakes. Perhaps for this reason people assume the February test is somehow tougher than the others, but these tests are standardized, and all have the same level of difficulty.
  • A Law School Alternative- Although not very popular, ‘reading the law’ is still an option for those who can’t or don’t want to attend law school. According to The National Law Journal, some states still allow this alternative: Virginia, California, Washington, and Vermont allow people to learn the law in an experienced attorney’s office for three or four years—instead of going to law school—before taking the bar. Those in New York, Maine, or Wyoming can attend one or two years of law school and then do a legal apprenticeship to supplement the missing years. Avoiding exorbitant tuition may seem tempting, but not many people have taken this route. To be specific, only 59 people across the country (0.08 percent of all test takers) took a 2010 state bar exam after finishing a law office study program instead of law school. And of those 59 people, only 17 percent passed, versus the 74 percent of grads from ABA-approved law schools. This low passage rate can contribute to the small number of participants in these programs. Plus, they’d have to contend with the lack of mobility, since generally “the only state that recognizes the law license is the state in which it was obtained.” And while each program’s specifics vary depending on the state, they are usually very demanding and require a lot of discipline—only for the real Lincolns and Marshalls among us.

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Yale Law May Have the Toughest Admissions, But Baylor is Most Competitive

As reported by the National Jurist, The Princeton Review’s new law school rankings are in, and while some listed are generally found at the top, other names might surprise you. The rankings mostly draw from student surveys from 167 law schools, with a few also stemming from statistical data, and result in 11 top 10 lists in different categories.

Here are the law school winners in each category:

  • Best Professors – Boston University
  • Best Career Prospects – Northwestern University
  • Best Classroom Experience – Stanford University
  • Most Competitive Students – Baylor University
  • Toughest to Get Into – Yale University
  • Best Quality of Life – Duke University
  • Most Chosen by Older Students – University of New Mexico
  • Most Diverse Faculty – Southern University
  • Best Environment for Minority Students – University of Hawaii at Manoa
  • Most Conservative Students – Ave Maria University
  • Most Liberal Students – Northeastern University

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Law Schools Adopting New Grading Policies

In order to fairly depict student achievement, law schools across the country are reviewing their grading systems and implementing changes. For example, Harvard and Stanford Law Schools are switching from the letter grade system to a pass/fail system. Stanford Law School Dean, Larry Kramer explains the benefits of the new system:

One, the new system conveys more accurate information to employers without diminishing student incentive to work; two, it reduces needless grading anxiety; and three, it encourages faculty to experiment more with evaluative things they do in their classes.

Columbia which combines the letter grade system with a credit/fail standard is reviewing its grading policies as well. NYU has already implemented changes, allowing professors to give more A’s. Some schools, such as Chicago, Northwestern, Penn and Berkeley have no intentions of changing their grading systems.

Although the grading systems vary greatly, ranging from pass/fail to traditional letter grades to a combination of the two, University of Pennsylvania Law School Dean Michael A. Fitts emphasizes that whatever system law schools choose, it must be useful to potential employers. “When you have a less refined grading system, people who are employing your graduates are going to make distinctions, but they’ll make them on their grounds.”

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Best Public Interest Law Schools

In its latest edition, The National Jurist releases its rankings of the Best Law Schools for Public Interest Law. The National Jurist bases its rankings on three equally weighted categories: student involvement, curriculum, and financial factors. The top ten are:

  1. Northeastern University School of Law
  2. Loyola Law School in Los Angeles
  3. Lewis and Clark College of Law
  4. American University Washington College of Law
  5. Stanford Law School
  6. Mercer University School of Law
  7. University of Maryland School of Law
  8. University of Washington School of Law
  9. University of North Carolina School of Law
  10. City University of New York School of Law

Over the last fifteen years students have become increasingly more interested in pursuing careers in public interest law, as opposed to private practice. Students are seeking a balanced, fulfilling profession that will enable them to “make a difference.” The stereotype of someone working in public interest law because he “can’t make it in a big firm” is no longer true, and instead competition for such positions is fierce.

One critical drawback for those students seeking legal careers in the public sector is the high cost of law school. Dean Emily Spieler of Northwestern School of Law (#1 in this ranking) explains that public sector salaries simply cannot compete with those of the private sector. “That’s really a core challenge at this point…When I went to law school you could graduate with debt and work it off, and not it’s difficult for students to do.” Therefore, Spieler says that student financial support in the form of scholarships, stipends and loan repayment are essential to the future success of public interest law programs.  

Law School Admissions Lowdown

  • Inside Higher Ed reports this week that Stanford Law will soon stop using traditional letter grades in favor of a new system recognizing just four levels of achievement: honors, pass, restricted credit, and no credit. This new system closely resembles Yale’s grading system and is more distantly related to Boalt’s two grade/level non-traditional system.
  • Still on the waitlist? You can find a few insights in "Potential grad students can find success at waiting game," which quotes Rob Schwartz, the assistant dean of admissions for UCLA School of Law on what law school applicants can do if on the waitlist. "The most helpful thing (students) can do is express their interest (in) coming here in writing, so we can get it in their file and our admissions committee can see it,” and do so without being a pest.
  • This is a summer of discontent or at least uncertainly for summer associates. While still being wined and dined and paid handsomely, they are concerned about full-time positions next year or the lack thereof.  Law.com explores these fears in "Summer Associates Face a Future That’s Less Certain."
  • Law. com reports that the Peking University School of Transnational Law seeks to become the first foreign law school with ABA accreditation. The former president of Cornell University and dean of University of Michigan Law School who is the founding dean of Peking University School of Transnational Law, Jeffrey Lehman, wants graduates of the school to be able to take the US bar. The school will open its doors in the fall with an inaugural class of 55.

Law School Admissions: Application Decline, Choosing Schools, Diversity

A few articles of interest to law school applicants have come across my desk in the last few days, and I wanted to share them with you.

  • CollegeJournal has an excellent article on choosing law school, especially if you are not headed towards the top 10.  Touching on several of the points that I have raised in the past, "How to Get a Better Job,Reduce Law-School Debt" takes a strategic, long-term view of choosing a school.
  • UCLA’s Daily Bruin gives stats in "Number of law school applicants on the decline" a topic that I have also written about here previously. The article predicts that this will be the third straight year of decline in law school applicant numbers. Ironically, however, that decline has not led to reduced numbers of applications submitted to most law schools. According to the Bruin, "79 percent of the law schools surveyed by Kaplan reported that the shrinking applicant pool has no effect upon the competitiveness of their admissions process." In fact the UCLA School of Law reports "an increase of 11.5 percent in its number of applicants," a one point increase in the median LSAT score of students who enrolled  to 167, and also a hike in its median GPA to 3.72.
  • The New York Times reports in "In Students’ Eyes, Look-Alike Lawyers Don’t Make the Grade" that a group of Stanford law students has set up a site ranking and grading law firms for diversity in both associate and partner ranks.  The site, building a better legal profession, allows you to compare firms on geographic, diversity, and quality of life criteria. The group, which has an annoying preference for all lower case in its copy, is "a national grassroots movement that seeks market-based workplace reforms in large private law firms. by publicizing firms’ self-reported data on billable hours, pro bono participation, and demographic diversity, we draw attention to the differences between these employers. we encourage those choosing between firms — students deciding who to work for after graduation, corporate clients deciding who to hire, and universities deciding who to allow on campus for interviews — to exercise their market power and engage only with the firms that demonstrate a genuine commitment to these issues."
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Stanford Law Dean Anticipates Changes in Curriculum for 2Ls and 3Ls

In "Beyond the First Year" Insider Higher Ed explores the changes that Dean Larry D. Kramer would like to initiate at Stanford Law. He already has garnered the support of the Stanford Law faculty for most of his curriculum reforms for the second and third year of Stanford Law School.

  1.  More joint degree programs. Kramer would like to see more options for students enrolled in JD programs so they can earn a masters along with their JD. Suggested fields for the joint programs: earth sciences, biomedical ethics and engineering.
  2. Facilitating study outside the law school and an increased emphasis on problem solving. Stanford Law is aligning its calendar and weekly schedule with that of the rest of the university to enable its students to take more classes outside the law school.
  3. More clinical opportunities.

The goal for all these reforms: graduates with broader skill sets and an enhanced ability to work with non-lawyers.

Law School Items of Interest

Two articles of interest for law school applicants or students to be:

  • A proposed ban on wireless at Harvard Law is generating controversy. Apparently students prefer to instant message than pay attention to classroom discussion. The school is considering a ban on wireless in the classroom. Socrates is probably rolling over in his grave. Other law schools may be tempted to follow HLS’ lead.
  • According to The Wall St. Journal, another controversy is brewing in legal academia: To have an undergrad major in the law or not.  A group of professors advocate having a law major focused on broader concerns than are typically considered in law school, such as the place of law in society. This group does not believe that this should replace law school (Heaven forbid!) or that it would become the automatic pre-law major. Opponents, like Professor Robert Weisberg of Stanford Law School, fear these undergrad majors may degenerate into "a Cliffs Notes version of law school."

 

California Bar Bites

Law school is only a prelude to legal practice for most pre-laws. And on the way is the bar exam, a hurdle that has to be surmounted. The Wall St. Journal reports today that California’s bar frequently bars the way to legal practice, or at least causes even the talented to stumble. According to today’s article, "Raising the Bar:Even Top Lawyers Fail California Exam," former Stanford Law Dean and constitutional law expert, Kathleen Sullivan, recently flunked the California bar exam. She is only one of a long list of notables that failed it, at least initially.

And the stats should give all those miserable flunking legal stars confidence that they have a lot of company: According to the National Conference of Bar Examiners, just 44% of those who took the California bar in 2004 passed, the lowest percentage in the country, versus a national average of 64%.