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U.C. Berkeley School of Law (Boalt Hall)
Originally written October 2006 by Ken DeLeon, Boalt Hall class of 1998. Last updated by TLS August 2013.
The University of California at Berkeley Boalt Hall School of Law offers the compelling combination of a world-class education, low tuition, and a beautiful campus located in the San Francisco Bay Area. In April 2008, the law school started an initiative to rebrand itself from "Boalt Hall" to "Berkeley Law," in an effort to tie the law school's name with the campus upon which it resides. Berkeley Law's renowned faculty includes recipients of 15 Fulbright and 20 Guggenheim fellowships, as well as authors of leading casebooks used worldwide. Universally considered a top law school, Berkeley is particularly strong in the fields of intellectual property, environmental, and international law.
Unfortunately, that quality comes at a high price. As of the 2013-2014 school year, in-state resident tuition is at $48,057 per year. Nonresidents pay $52,008 a year, but it is possible to gain California residency after the first year. Law School Transparency estimates that the current total debt-financed cost of a Berkeley J.D. is an astonishing $293,027 for nonresidents and $277,024 for residents.
Boalt admissions and admissions tips
It is very difficult to gain admission to Boalt. In 2012, Boalt admitted approximately 11% of applicants. Half of the 1L class starting in 2012 had an undergraduate GPA between 3.68 and 3.91 and an LSAT score between 163 and 170 (25th and 75th percentiles). Applicants should still consider applying even if their credentials are not within this range, for Berkeley Law takes a holistic approach in its admission process.
Edward Tom, the dean of admissions at UC Berkeley School of Law, granted TLS an extensive interview. What follows are some tips and advice from Berkeley’s dean of admissions.
Boalt is very comprehensive and considers all aspects of a student’s file. While the LSAT score and GPA are important, Boalt is more concerned with prospective students’ individual stories, which better indicate what they bring as a whole to law school. Dean Tom says that putting together an entering class is “like organizing a choir; we want 270 distinct voices. There are hundreds of similar applicants, but only one of you; so take the opportunity provided by the personal statement to let us hear your voice.”
Dean Tom offers some excellent advice regarding the personal statement and why it is particularly important to the Boalt application. He says:
In addition to the four pages for the personal statement, Boalt also allows applicants to submit additional written materials. Dean Tom explains: “You can also send a resume, which I recommend doing. The resumes are generally one page, but that can be exceeded. More information can usually only help your application, so throw in the kitchen sink. There are no interviews, and I want to get to know the human behind the numbers. Also, you can send an addendum, one or two paragraphs on a separate page, dedicated to any particular talking points desired.”
Letters of recommendation
Boalt also allows multiple letters of recommendation. Dean Tom said of letters of recommendation: “You should cultivate two substantive letters, from people who can discuss your academic potential. Usually that is a professor or a teaching assistant. The second best letters come from people at work, supervisors who can comment on your research, analytical skills and writing ability in particular. Letters from famous people whom you met once, friends of the family, or a judge for whom you babysat are not helpful. Three letters of recommendation are okay, even four is fine; however, five is probably pushing it.”
Dean Tom also offers some insight into the admissions process itself:
GPA vs. LSAT: one weighted more?
Many law school applicants feel that they are reduced to the numbers within their LSAT score and GPA, and while at Berkeley Law they take the entire student into consideration, these scores still matter. But does one matter more than the other? Dean Tom addresses this question:
Ideal candidate for Boalt
When asked what would describe an ideal candidate for admissions to Boalt, Dean Tom replied:
One of the most important pieces of information Dean Tom had to offer was that it is very important to apply early. He said:
Read our entire interview with Dean of Admission Edward Tom.
Berkeley Law's curriculum
Berkeley Law's first-year curriculum consists of the foundation classes of civil procedure, contracts, criminal law, property, torts, legal research and writing, and two elective classes taken from the upper-division curriculum. While most classes have 60 to 120 students, at least one class is taught in a small section of 30 students. Generally, the professors of the small sections seek to interact extensively with students and generally have their students over for dinner at their home.
The only requirements in the final two years are that students must take a class in constitutional law and professional responsibility and complete a major writing project. With this great academic freedom, the upper-division curriculum offers numerous seminars and classes, particularly in intellectual property, environmental, corporate, and international law. The Jurisprudence and Social Policy Program, a Ph.D. program offered by the law school, offers theoretical seminars that examine the law from various disciplines such as philosophy, anthropology, and economics. Boalt students can take classes or even receive a joint masters or Ph.D. degree from several graduate departments, including economics, history (legal history), journalism, the Haas School of Business, and the School of Public Policy. Keep in mind, though, that formal joint-degree programs are generally expensive, time-consuming, and seldom useful in obtaining traditional legal employment.
Boalt offers a varied curriculum with many classes straying far from typical “bar preparation” classes. Some of the more exotic classes have included Modern Chinese Law, Law and Literature, Race and Law, and Biomedical Law. Class sizes range from seminars with a few students to lecture halls with 150 students. Individual research projects with professors can also be arranged.
Boalt also has a flexible externship program where students can receive as many as 10 credits for working with a judge, government agencies, or public interest firms for a semester. Boalt also allows students to study abroad in law schools in Europe or Asia for a semester. Boalt also has an exchange program with Harvard Law School, where five third-year students from Boalt study at Harvard Law School and vice versa.
Many students receive credit while working on Berkeley Law’s four clinical programs. Students have the option of working for the East Bay Community Law Center, where indigent clients who would otherwise not be able to afford legal counsel are assisted on real cases. Three other clinics offer hands on experience to very academic but real life issues, with the three clinics being the Samuelson Law, Technology & Public Policy Clinic; the International Human Rights Law Clinic; and the Death Penalty Clinic.
Students can also receive course credit for being an editor or assistant editor for one of Berkeley Law’s ten legal journals. The most prestigious law journal is the California Law Review, which generally chooses 35 students from each class to participate. Grades do not play a factor in acceptance to law review. Instead, a writing competition is how members are selected. Boalt’s nine other law journals ensure that any student who desires to be a member of a law journal has this opportunity.
Quality of life
The Berkeley Law administration and faculty seek to foster a relaxed environment where students can focus on learning the law rather than stressing over failing out of school or landing a job after graduation. At orientation, the introductory speaker often asks incoming students to "look to your left and then look to your right; know that you will all see each other again at graduation." Those few who leave Boalt do so of their own accord.
Instead of the hyper-competitive atmosphere that is portrayed in the movie The Paper Chase, the first year of Boalt is a humane introduction to the world of law. Professors generally lead class discussions rather than monotonously lecture or attack students with the Socratic Method. Students, secure that most Boalt graduates get several job opportunities, share outlines and notes and form study groups. While a few "gunners" may speak in class more than others and study incessantly, they are the exception and not the rule.
Dean Tom sees this as a positive aspect of studying law at Berkeley, and he strives to maintain this atmosphere with his admissions procedures:
The Berkeley Law administration encourages student gatherings, and often there is a keg in the courtyard on Thursday afternoons, sponsored by one of the many student journals or groups. Every Thursday night is "bar review," where law students congregate at one of the local pubs to relax.
Boalt's grading system also mitigates student competitiveness by not ranking students and by generally grading students with only three possible grades. The top 10% of students in a class receive a grade of High Honors, with the next 30% getting Honors and the remaining 60% getting Pass. By making the Pass grade so common so that nearly every student has a few P’s, the law school hopes to take away the stigma of this grade. Grades of No Credit or Substandard Pass are rarely given out.
Berkeley Law's grading system has been controversial since its origins over 30 years ago, with opponents stating that it hurts students by being hard for employers to understand and hurts Berkeley Law's best in their hunt for judicial clerkships. The opponents claim that a grade of Honors, which can be given to a student in the top 11% of a class, is much less impressive than the A or A- that most top law schools assign for that same percentile score. However, this grading system is likely to stay since a large effort to modify the grading system recently failed. Several other top schools have switched to a similar system in the past few years.
The prestige of a Berkeley Law degree and strong job prospects for graduates are seen as the strongest counter arguments to changing a grading system that is viewed as the primary reason for Boalt's relaxed environment and is conducive to the sharing of knowledge and student camaraderie.
Read our interview with Boalt's former Dean Robert Berring, offering more about Boalt's great quality of life.
Intellectual property law
Berkeley Law's intellectual property (IP) program has long been regarded as the one of the best in the country, if not the best. Berkeley's continued excellence in IP seems assured in the wake of recent faculty hiring, expanded class and clinical offerings, and the strengthening partnership between the law school and the legal community of Silicon Valley.
The linchpin to Boalt's IP excellence is the Berkeley Center for Law & Technology (BCLT). Founded in 1995, the BCLT was the first organization of its kind and continues to be at the forefront of technology law and policy issues. Some of the esteemed faculty of the BCLT include Robert Merges and Pam Samuelson.
Merges is one of the most respected authorities on patent law, and his casebooks on intellectual property and patent law are used by many law schools around the nation. Professor Merges is a co-founder and co-director of BCLT.
Samuelson was recently awarded the MacArthur Fellowship, or "Genius Award," for her scholarship that advanced intellectual property policy. Professor Samuelson used most of these proceeds for a $2 million gift to form the Samuelson Law, Technology & Public Policy Clinic at Berkeley. Having personally worked with Professor Samuelson for my writing requirement in Cyberlaw, I can say that she is an excellent professor who is very concerned about her students as well as her research.
The BCLT is also instrumental in the publication of the Berkeley Technology Law Journal (BTLJ). The BTLJ is considered the leading technology law journal in America and is operated and edited by Berkeley Law students.
The prestige of Berkeley Law's IP program has led many students to focus on IP law and to receive the Law and Technology Certification upon graduation. Completion of the Law and Technology Certification requires a total of six IP courses, participation in law and technology organizations, and a research paper focused on IP legal issues.
The demand for Boalt's IP graduates is still strong. Most graduates work in Silicon Valley law firms, but some also get jobs in other technology hubs such as Boston, San Diego, Seattle, and Austin.
Boalt's renowned environmental law program offers a rich and diverse curriculum taught by nationally recognized faculty members. At Boalt, environmental law is taught within the broader context of the social, economic, and political policies that shape the creation and interpretation of environmental statutes. As a result, students are encouraged to take classes in other graduate departments including the departments of Environmental Science, Forestry, and City and Regional Planning, and the Energy and Resource Group. Many students enroll in concurrent degree programs and can earn both a law degree and master's degree from one of the above departments in four years.
A certificate of specialization in environmental law is granted to students who complete six classes on or related to environmental law and write a research paper on an environmental topic. Many students participate on the Ecology Law Quarterly, one of the nation's premier environmental law journals.
Law School Transparency gave Boalt's class of 2012 an employment score of 85.9%, which indicates the percentage of graduates who, nine months after graduation, found long-term, full-time jobs requiring bar passage. A little over half the class (53.8%) started off in large law firms (more than 100 attorneys). A further 6.7% obtained federal judicial clerkships, which often lead to biglaw jobs. About 15% of the class pursued government or public interest work.
Generally, a majority of Boalt students are employed in California (58.3% of the class of 2012), reflecting both the California origins of around half of the student body plus the attractions of California sunshine and lifestyles that attract the many out-of-state students to stay. Dean Tom gave some insights into the job placement of Boalt graduates: “…the perception among the pre-law world nationwide [is] that if you go to Berkeley you can’t get a job outside of California. People believe this because our placement statistics are skewed to the West Coast even though we do have many graduates in big market areas -- New York, Boston, and Washington D.C. But unlike a school, say, in the Midwest, that may send its students to the two coasts, people who come to Berkeley usually don’t want to leave the Bay Area or the West Coast.” The second and third most popular destinations for the Boalt class of 2012 are Washington, D.C. (8.3%), and New York (7.7%).
According to the ABA, in 2012, the passage rate for Boalt alumni on the notoriously difficult California bar exam was 86.8%, compared to a statewide average of 72.2%.
As of this writing, starting-salary data were not available for the class of 2012. Fortunately, Berkeley did make its 2011 NALP report public. The report breaks down the employment and salary statistics in several interesting and meaningful ways, including by timing of offers, source of offers, and salaries by region. Of particular note is that the 25th, 50th, and 75th percentile starting salaries for those going into private practice were $145,000, $160,000, and $160,000; for the public sector and public interest they were $50,000, $56,000, and $65,000.
Quality of life
Berkeley is almost as renowned for being an area of social unrest and individual exploration as for its distinguished academic programs. Both the town and campus of Berkeley thrive on the community’s sweeping encouragement of individual expression and joyfully embrace all that is unique, outrageous, and extraordinary. What is most intoxicating about "Berzerkeley" is its liberating spirit, which allows for creative and artistic expression in every form. Life is lived more intensely and freely in "The People's Republic of Berkeley" than anywhere else.
For those looking for a change from the unique atmosphere of "Berzerkely," San Francisco is only a half hour away by car or public transportation, and within a few hours drive are the many attractions of Northern California, including Napa Valley wine country, Santa Cruz beaches, Carmel art galleries, and Tahoe skiing. Also, innumerable outdoor attractions and great hiking are available in the scenic Berkeley hills.
Housing is scarce in Berkeley and students are wise to begin their search for apartments in early August. Graduate dorm housing is an option for first-year students. Those seeking cheaper rents often rent in nearby Oakland or Albany. Several third-year students choose to enjoy their last year getting to know San Francisco, one of the best cities in America.
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