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Dean's Message

Dean's Message

On August 28, the four-day orientation program for the class of 2015 got under way. Room 25 was filled with 205 eager J.D. candidates from 36 states plus Washington D.C., Puerto Rico, and seven foreign countries.

If its LSAT scores (median, 167) and GPAs (median, 3.8) are any indication, the Class of 2015 is well equipped for a successful Law School experience. The class includes actors, authors, entrepreneurs, musicians, veterans, an All-American swimmer, a national fencing champion, a screenwriter, and an Olympic weightlifter. They range in age from 18 (no, that's not a typo) to 44 (average age, 24), and 7% have already completed an advanced degree.

The Law School also welcomed 47 LL.M. students from 18 countries and 14 Humphrey Fellows from around the world. They got a jump-start on their orientation in a program that began in late August.

Over the last two years, applications to the Law School have fallen nearly 17% (nationally, applications during the same period fell 22%). The decline reflects student concern about high tuition and continued weakness in the job market. In response, the Law School decided to decrease its acceptance rate (to 23% of applicants) and increase financial aid (now approximately $4.3 million for 1Ls and $12 million overall) rather than modify its high admission standards. Most other law schools have also reduced the size of their entering classes, in some cases dramatically.

This change is past due. For most of the post-World War II era, legal services took up a growing share of a growing GDP. Unfortunately, that couldn't continue forever. There were signs of slowing demand for legal services even earlier, but the 2008 recession put sharp new pressure on clients to control costs. Outsourcing and down-sourcing of legal work increased; so did alternative fee arrangements. Undaunted, law schools continued to grow in size and number, putting some 42,000 new lawyers on the market in 2006 and more than 44,000 in 2012.

With law schools now shrinking and employment prospects improving, if only modestly, it seems likely that we will find a new equilibrium in the next few years. The law schools that provide students with the best value will continue to do well. We aim to be at the front of the pack.

We continue to update our curriculum to keep pace with market trends and to provide our students with the best legal education possible. As law firms cut back on associate training, we've ramped up our practical training with new skills courses, disciplinary concentrations, simulation and policy-based capstone courses, clinics, externships, and field placements to ensure that our students hit the ground running when they graduate.

In our new Law in Practice course (formerly, Practice and Professionalism), for example, we divide the 1L class into six "law firms," then subdivide those firms into practice groups of seven or eight students and pair them with an opposing practice group. With 6 faculty, 28 adjuncts, and 56 volunteer district court judges and qualified neutrals, we give highly individualized instruction to each student in managing both a litigation file and a transactional file from first meeting with the client through possible resolution. Every student conducts an interview, takes a deposition, and either represents a party before a district court judge in the judge's chambers or in a mediation before a qualified neutral mediator. It’s an extraordinary course.

The Leadership Foundations program that the Corporate Institute offered free to all J.D. students last January offers another example of cutting-edge practical programming. It introduces students to fundamental leadership skills and concepts, enables them to test their aptitudes and strengths, and provides them with a certificate of completion. The program was very popular and will be offered again in January 2013.

As always, the Career Center is working hard to help students and alumni reach their career goals. Every student is assigned a career counselor who offers guidance on career choices, clerkships, externships, and resume building—from the first semester of law school through graduation. The Career Center also offers ongoing career guidance for alumni.

The GENERATIONS campaign now has reached 64% of its $70 million goal. The start of a new academic year may be a good time to reflect on our own law school experiences and the importance of support for future generations.

Best wishes for a fruitful fall.

David Wippman
Dean and William S. Pattee Professor of Law