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Boston College Law School
Published September 2007, last updated June 2011
Boston is one of America’s premier hotspots for higher education, and while rival Boston University and behemoth Harvard give Boston College plenty of law school competition in the immediate area, neither of them can lay claim to the title “The Disneyland of Law Schools.” Located just off the main BC campus in the affluent suburb of Newton, Boston College Law owns a huge share of the Boston legal market, and enjoys a solid reputation nationwide.
The school may pride itself on laidback students, but gaining admission to BC Law is undeniably competitive. Typically, less than one-fifth of applicants are accepted, and the school’s median LSAT score sits well above the 90th percentile. The numbers for undergraduate GPA – the other major culling factor in law school admissions – are similarly high, at a current median of 3.61 for the most recent entering class:
Make no mistake: LSAT and GPA are huge factors in Boston College Law’s admissions process. According to Rita C. Jones, Assistant Dean of Admissions & Financial Aid, BCLS uses the LSAT “not only as a comparative tool but also as a way of determining one’s comfort level with certain skills that are essential to success in law school.” Similarly, while the admissions committee considers grade deflation, major difficulty, and any graduate level work, it also prioritizes undergraduate GPA as an indicator of classroom performance in a broad curriculum. Thus, applicants at or above both medians stand the best chances of admission, as Law School Numbers indicates. The aforementioned graph also suggests that BC does not engage in “yield protection,” the practice of placing applicants with very high numbers on the waitlist, assuming that they will enroll elsewhere even if admitted.
Nevertheless, LSAT and GPA are not the only aspects BC Law considers. According to Jones:
To better understand a candidate’s motivation and personal qualities, the committee reviews an applicant’s list of extracurricular activities (including work study jobs), professional experience (including summer employment), the personal statement, and letters of recommendation (from instructors, employers, and/or mentors).
BCLS also tries to build a diverse class, so those with unique backgrounds and experiences may have more success than their numbers would predict. The admissions committee is made up not just of specialized administrative staff, but also of faculty and even third-year law students. Decisions are made on a rolling basis, meaning that candidates who apply early in the cycle have a probabilistic advantage over later applicants. Boston College Law School does not have an Early Action or Early Decision program.
Personal Statements, Optional Essays, and Addenda
Boston College Law’s application requests a short personal statement “that reflects on your capacity for legal study and your desire to enter the legal profession.”[i] No page limit is given, although two double-spaced pages are standard for law school personal statements. In her interview with TLS, Jones stressed that relevance and sincerity are more important than originality, so candidates should not feel any need to break the mold with their statements.
Letters of Recommendation
BCLS requires two letters of recommendation, and prefers that they be submitted through the Law School Admissions Council (LSAC). Students may send a third recommendation, but doing so may increase processing time.
Transfers and the Waitlist
In a typical year, between 6 and 20 students transfer to Boston College after their 1L years at other institutions. This application is similar to that of regular applicants and is handled through LSAC, but different criteria are emphasized—most significantly, first-year law school grades. Dean Jones describes the process:
The admissions committee expects a thoughtful, detailed, and enthusiastic letter of recommendation from a professor who taught the candidate during the first year of law school. BC Law requires applicants to submit a letter stating their reasons for transferring. In composing the letter, we expect candidates to be clear about their professional objectives and their specific reasons for choosing Boston College Law School. Past professional accomplishments and potential for future professional success are important qualities in a competitive transfer candidate; therefore the admissions committee carefully evaluates the substance of an applicant’s résumé.
Transfer applications must be submitted no later than July 1. Transfer students who have paid their deposits can participate in all recruiting events; transfers can also join a secondary publication by performing well in a special transfer writing competition but are not eligible for the Boston College Law Review.[ii]
BC Law also admits a number of initially waitlisted candidates each year, though this number will vary from year-to-year based on the number of applications and yield on accepted students. Students who are waitlisted but have a strong interest in the school can submit additional letters of recommendation or keep in touch with the admissions office; however, Jones warns that “Waitlist applicants should be judicious about supplemental materials,” adding that while the law school “welcomes letters of continued interest, [BC Law] does not encourage supplemental essays.”
Costs, Scholarships and Financial Aid
Like many top-tier private law schools, BC Law has now raised tuition over the $40,000 mark. As laid out in the table above, the university estimates a total student budget just shy of $60,000, although students who live frugally may be able to shave a few thousand from that total.
About half of all BCLS students receive scholarship or grant assistance, while another 35% of students receive loan aid. The vast majority of students finance at least part of their educations: 83% of the Class of 2010 graduated with some educational debt, averaging $103,765.[iii] All applicants are considered for merit scholarships, while those who want need-based funding consideration must fill out a Need Access form detailing their (and, for most applicants, their parents’) financial situations.
BC’s competitive Public Service Scholarship covers full tuition for strong candidates with a demonstrated interest in low-paying, public-minded careers. In addition to GPA, LSAT, and other academic indicators, a strong record of community service is required. Additionally, scholars must reapply every year with an updated résumé, and must work each law school summer at a qualifying public interest organization. This commitment does not stop at graduation, as Public Interest Scholars are expected to work in the public interest sector for at least five years or pay back some or all of their scholarship support.
Loan Repayment Assistance Program
BC Law maintains a Loan Repayment Assistance Program (LRAP) that lessens the financial burdens of debt-saddled graduates employed in the public interest. The program has grown as of late, and provided $260,000 of assistance to graduates last year. Boston College’s LRAP aims to cover up to 60% of each qualifying individual’s debt payments, and has made awards as large as $7,000 to a candidate in a single year. However, since many students will have much higher yearly payments, and since program funding is not guaranteed, public interest-minded students should carefully consider debt loads and, in addition to researching school-specific loan forgiveness programs, should also look into federal Income Based Repayment.
Almost universally, Boston College Law students rave about their classmates. Says one graduate:
Other students and recent graduates (even some who expressed pessimism about recent employment outcomes) echo the sentiment that the “Disneyland” reputation is well-deserved. Though some have described the student body as “very bro” or pointed out the large Northeastern contingent, the school does try to encourage diversity: recent classes have been more ethnically diverse, with “students of color” totaling 29% of the Class of 2013, and BC Law aims to fill each class with variety along not only racial, but also geographical and experiential dimensions. The average age for this year’s 1Ls was 24.
Technically, Boston College is a Catholic school, and the law school is proud of this distinction: according to the mission statement, “Boston College and its law school are rooted in the Jesuit tradition of service to God and others.” For the average student, however, BC’s religious affiliation is unlikely to make much of a difference unless he or she actively pursues it. As one student writes:
First-year students are fed a predictable diet of core survey classes: Civil Procedure, Constitutional Law, Contracts, Criminal Law, Property, and Torts. BC 1Ls also take a year-long, five-credit Legal Reasoning, Research, and Writing course taught by full-time faculty. Like many top schools, BC Law has eased the rigid structure of 1L year somewhat by allowing one elective in the second semester.
With upper-division standing comes greater freedom in choosing classes: after the first year, Constitutional Law and Professional Responsibility are the only required courses, though students must also complete “Perspectives on Law and Justice,” “Lawyering Skills,” and upper-level writing requirements to graduate. A broad range of courses satisfy the first two, while students may substitute a competition team or journal for an actual class to complete the writing requirement. In all, a Boston College J.D. requires 85 credits—typically 33 in the first year, and roughly 26 each in the second and third years. The median GPA for the most recent graduating class was 3.316,[vi] although first-year classes are curved a bit lower, reportedly at a 3.2.
Faculty reputation—as reflected in the crude measures of peer surveys and citation studies, such as those conducted by Brian Leiter—is one area where Boston College Law may fall a bit short of Boston University. This says nothing, however, about professors’ teaching abilities or enthusiasm, and many TLS forum users report experienced and accessible faculty.
Clinical Education and Externships
BCLS prides itself on its clinical programs, and students have myriad opportunities to take their educations beyond the classroom. Traditional faculty-supervised clinics allow students to help needy clients: for example, the Civil Litigation Clinic provides free legal services on matters like Social Security disputes. A Criminal Justice Clinic lets aspiring lawyers sample trials from either side by working as prosecutors or defenders; specialized offerings like Juvenile Rights Advocacy and the Immigration and Asylum Clinic let upper-division students pursue interesting areas of law while gaining course credit. Clinics on Housing Law and Women and the Law—the latter of which also includes a theoretical, reading-based component—are also offered.
For students who want an even more immersive practical experience, BC Law has several Externship options. These courses cover at least half of a typical semester’s credits, and many make up an entire term’s course load. The Semester in Practice program allows students to spend a term (usually the second semester of 2L year or the first semester of 3L year) honing lawyering skills by working about 30 hours a week with practicing attorneys while also attending a weekly seminar. Placements run the gamut from law firms to government and public interest organizations and even international human rights groups. The London Program allows for a similar praxis-oriented experience while giving students the chance to live in the United Kingdom and take classes at King’s College Law School. The Attorney General Program and Immigration and Asylum Externship Program also provide additional placement options. Some of these programs are competitive: for example, just six students each year are selected by an interview process to participate in the Attorney General Program.
Keeping with the interdisciplinary spirit that has swept legal education in recent years, Boston College offers law students the opportunity to pursue some dual degrees in less time than it would take them to complete both programs separately. For example, a J.D./M.B.A. with the Carroll School of Management (ranked 34th in the most recent U.S. News & World Report graduate business school rankings, curiously enough tied with Boston University) takes four years to complete. Students can also shave a year off of what would otherwise be a five-year course of study by pursuing a J.D. alongside a Master of Social Work or Master of Arts in Urban and Environmental Policy and Planning. A J.D./M.Ed. can be earned in just three years with the well-regarded Lynch Graduate School of Education.
Finally, those with an interest in legal philosophy or jurisprudence can pursue either an M.A. or a Ph.D. The master’s degree adds one additional year, while the J.D./Ph.D. can be completed in just six years. Generally, dual degree candidates must apply to and be accepted to both schools separately. According to Boston College’s website, law students can—and often do—pursue dual degrees on an ad hoc basis with other BC graduate schools or even other Boston area universities.[vii]
Generally, LL.M. programs target foreign-trained lawyers who want to learn about common law systems or the American legal system in particular. It should be noted that earning an LL.M. degree does not qualify candidates to sit for the bar in most states, and that BC’s own website recommends that foreign lawyers who want to practice in the U.S. long-term pursue a J.D. LL.M. students at B.C. only have one required course—“The United States Legal System”—and are generally free to shape their own courses of study, though they must also complete a major writing project or writing-intensive course.[viii]
Despite their campus’s suburban location, BC Law students find plenty of ways to keep busy while not studying—from serious endeavors that pad résumés and build valuable skills to more frivolous matters that help law students get some much-needed relaxation.
Student-edited publications, which help 2Ls and 3Ls hone editing and citation skills and even offer the opportunity to publish notes while in law school, have traditionally been valued by prospective employers. BC Law’s size encourages journal participation: as one recent graduate writes, “[One] good thing about BC is that most people get to be on a law review, as there are five of them for a very small student body.”[ix]
Law review membership decisions are based on first-year grades, a writing competition that involves writing a short memo and completing a citation exercise based on the “Bluebook,” or a combination of both. Five students each are invited join whatever publication they choose based solely on grades or writing competition scores; remaining spots are offered based on a combination of grades and writing score as well as a personal statement that addresses preferences and skill sets for specific journals. Students can also earn journal membership in their second or third years by writing and publishing a note of sufficient quality.[x]
The Boston College Law Review is the most difficult publication on which to gain membership, the most general in subject matter, and the most highly valued by judges and law firms. Three other journals explore specific areas of law: the Environmental Affairs Law Review, the International and Comparative Law Review, and the Third World Law Journal. These reviews are supervised by faculty, and students receive course credit for their work. Finally, the Uniform Commercial Code Reporter-Digest, published by a division of research database Lexis/Nexis, attempts to annotate all contemporary cases related to the Uniform Commercial Code. This publication offers students a different experience from traditional law reviews: instead of spending most of their time cite-checking and occasionally composing a lengthy note, each 2L writes up one case a week. 3Ls train these second-year staff writers and edit the pieces. Members of the Reporter-Digest must enroll in Secured Transactions in the first semester of journal participation.[xi]
Simulated advocacy programs for each year of law school help interested BC Law students build skills and self-confidence. 1Ls can compete in Negotiation and Client Counseling competitions at the intramural level and, if they are successful enough, in regional and national competitions sponsored by the American Bar Association. Second-year students argue appellate cases as part of the Wendell F. Grimes Moot Court Competition, which involves both written briefs and oral arguments and is required for those who want to take part in external competitions as 3Ls.
3Ls (or at least those who show promise during the Grimes competition) can participate in a wide array of competitions. In addition to National Moot Court and The Mock Trial Competition, students with more specialized interests can argue international human rights cases (The Phillip C. Jessup Moot Court competition) or environmental law (The National Environmental Moot Court). Other specialized moot courts focus on criminal procedure, civil rights, intellectual property, minority issues, religious freedom, immigration law, First Amendment law, and even European Union law, the last of which requires arguments in both French and English.[xii]
BC Law students tend to be involved on campus, a trend encouraged by the school’s relatively small size, friendly feel, and suburban location. The Law Student Association (similar to many schools’ Student Bar Associations) governs many aspects of student life and also manages social events and intramural sports. 40 other student organizations contribute to life at BCLS, and reflect a diversity of backgrounds and interests: they range from affinity groups to awareness and professional interest organizations. A full list can be found here.
Boston College has three campuses: Chestnut Hill (the main campus), Brighton, and Newton, which includes the law school. The East Wing holds faculty offices, several classrooms, and space for both Career Services and the John J. and Mary Daly Curtin Public Interest Center. The nearby Law Library holds over 400,000 volumes as well as electronic resources and enough seats to accommodate four-fifths of the student body. Stuart House, the oldest main law school building, holds most administrative offices as well as classrooms, the moot courtroom, journal offices, and a dining hall. All buildings feature wireless connectivity, and there are also many plug-in ports for student use.
BC Law students enjoy access to of all of the resources of a major research university. Some do gripe that using the best gym or other campus amenities requires going to Chestnut Hill, although there are some workout and dining options on the Newton Campus.
Anyone who has followed the legal industry over the last few years has become acquainted with a familiar narrative: high demand for legal services during boom times in the mid-2000s drove up law school applications and tuition, while law firms paying six-figure starting salaries absorbed a majority of graduates from top schools across the country; suddenly, the worst recession in decades shocks legal employment but does little to reduce the number of people applying to law school and taking on skyrocketing debt. Although legal hiring has shown signs of improvement with the fragile recovery, Boston College Law students still face a tough job market that any prospective applicant should consider.
The charts below, which come from Boston College Law's website, paint a picture of what kinds of jobs recent BCLS grads have found, and where. It should be noted that the Class of 2009 did On-Campus Interviews in 2007 (during a better economic climate), but also faced recession-induced deferrals and no-offers. While self-selection no doubt plays a role in the geographical statistics, it should be clear that the power of a Boston College J.D. diminishes somewhat outside of the Northeastern corridor.
*It is unclear what the term “academia” means in this context. The nature of academic hiring makes it very unlikely that a dozen or so 2009 grads are pursuing teaching positions, so this percentage may include many pursuing further advanced degrees.
BC Law reports a Class of 2009 median private sector salary of $160,000, a median government salary of $57,000, and a median public sector salary of $35,000. In general, these self-reported figures are considered to paint an incomplete picture for multiple reasons. First, medians can be deceptive measures of center in bimodal distributions like starting legal salaries. Second, the data are fully self reported and based on unaudited surveys with often unsatisfactory response rates. For more detailed salary information on the Classes of 2007 and 2008, visit the Law School Transparency Data Clearinghouse.
Law firms are the first stop for the majority of law students, and BC grads are no exception: in the Class of 2009, over 68% of newly-minted lawyers went to firms, with just over half of all graduates landing at outfits with 100 or more lawyers (it should be noted that law firms vary widely in compensation, type of work, and billable hours expectations). In addition to each fall’s On Campus Interview program, in which employers interview BC students at Boston area hotels for 2L summer internships that usually turn into full-time offers, students participate in off-campus interviewing programs in major markets: New York, Philadelphia, D.C., Chicago, Miami, Los Angeles, San Francisco, and Atlanta.[xiv]
For better or worse, “Biglaw”—large firms that pay first-year associates the “market rate,” which is $160,000 a year in Boston, New York, D.C., and a few other large cities—is the goal of most private sector-oriented students at top law schools. Although crude, the Vault 100, AmLaw 100, and National Legal Journal 250 are the most looked-to lists of major Biglaw firms. In terms of placing students into firms appearing on the latter, BC has done well in comparison to its peers, but has seen its placement rates slip in recent years. In 2008, 45.8% of graduates landed at NLJ 250 firms, 15th among law schools nationwide.[xv] A year later, after the recession set in, this percentage dropped to 34.6% (19th nationally and tied with Boston University).[xvi] In 2010, 33.6% went to NLJ 250 firms, 16th among all law schools.[xvii] While this metric has limited value and is affected by BC’s urban, Northeastern location, it suggests that students at BC have as good a chance of landing Biglaw as those at most any non-Top 14 school, but that making $160,000 as a first-year lawyer is a riskier bet than it was a few years ago.
Getting a more current image of the hiring market is difficult, although there seems to be a consensus that students below median have a hard time getting callbacks from the type of law firm that comes to OCI. Says one current student:
It's a mixed bag. There are people with good GPAs and solid journal credentials who still don't have jobs. Conversely, there are kids who, God knows how, got great SAs. Beyond this general impression, no one really knows what the job picture looks like because we don't ask about it or brag that we have jobs...it would make people uncomfortable and BC is not that kind of place.[xviii]
Another BC student, a 2L who recently went through and got an offer through OCI, warns that Biglaw hiring is still depressed:
Many law students and recent graduates apply for judicial clerkships, positions in which young lawyers research cases, proofread and cite-check opinions, and perform other duties under the close supervision of a judge. Day-to-day responsibilities vary greatly from court to court and judge to judge: someone working as one of four clerks to a federal Court of Appeals judge will have a much different experience than someone working at a state trial court, for example. The vast majority of those who clerk do so for just one or two years, and the job is considered a valuable learning experience and résumé boost (to the extent that top law firms pay signing bonuses of up to $50,000 for federal clerks). Federal “Article III” clerkships are generally considered most prestigious, followed by state Supreme Court clerkships. Top clerkships have always been extremely competitive, and have been getting even tougher as the bad economy encourages experienced lawyers to apply and more judges hire “off-plan.” In addition to excellent grades, law review membership and writing ability have traditionally been desirable factors for clerkship hiring.
In both 2008 and 2009, about 8% of BC Law grads went to work as clerks. In 2008, about half of these (4.3% of the class) found employment with Article III judges. Since 2000, just one Boston College grad has landed a Supreme Court clerkship, an immensely competitive post dominated by superstars from a small handful of elite law schools and with prior federal clerking experience.[xx]
Government and Public Interest
In addition to the financial support offered by the Public Service Scholarship, a number of third-year fellowships, and BC’s LRAP, the law school attempts to aid public interest-minded students by guiding them through the job search process, which is much less structured and predictable than that of the private sector. BCLS participates in two Boston public interest fairs per year: one on-campus, and one at nearby Suffolk Law Schoool. Some government agencies participate in these fairs and in national job fairs attended by BC Law students. No matter what the particular interest is, most public service job-seekers will have to take a more active role in the job search than their law firm-focused friends. In 2009, about 10% of BCLS grads took jobs in the public interest or government sectors.
While Boston College offers limited accommodations for graduate and professional students, the majority of BC Law students choose to live off-campus. Many live in Newton itself; some villages, like Newton Centre, are within walking distance of the law school, but a car is still recommended because of the relative inaccessibility of public transportation. Brighton and Allston are more convenient to the T (public transportation) and offer more of an urban feel. While some students live in Brighton, Brookline or Boston proper, these options present significant commutes.
Quality of Life
As hinted at above, most BC students find little to complain about in terms of campus culture and quality of life. While the school does not offer as urban an environment as Boston University, Boston’s cultural offerings and drinking establishments are still relatively convenient.
Newton itself is home to about 85,000 people and sits about seven miles from downtown Boston. The affluent suburb consists of 13 villages, giving it a decentralized feel. Crime rates are among the lowest in the country for a metro area. The “D” and “B” branches of the Green Line light rail services run through Newton; the former runs right by the main Chestnut Hill Campus, while the latter’s Newton Center stop is near the law school campus. Commuter rail and bus services also run periodically from Newton to Boston.
The Greater Boston area has a population of about 4.5 million, and the hundreds of thousands of students that attend its 43 colleges and universities contribute to a vibrant youth culture. Theaters, museums, and musical venues abound, as do professional sports teams: the Celtics, Red Sox, and Bruins are three of the most storied franchises in basketball, baseball, and hockey, respectively, and the New England Patriots (who play in Foxborough) have been one of the most dominant NFL teams in recent years.
One area of life about which BC students do not rave is weather. As one TLS poster puts it, “Boston is beautiful from May to mid-October. The rest of the year...not so much.” Average low temperatures are below freezing for the snowy winter months, and highs generally do not reach the 60s until May.
Boston College Law School offers a quality education, the chance to get to know bright and surprisingly noncompetitive classmates, and a suburban location minutes from one of America’s youngest big cities. Situated in a legal market with a large and influential alumni base, BC Law also boasts some of the best employment statistics outside of the “Top 14.” High unemployment and a shaky recovery make attending any law school at close to sticker price a daunting proposition these days, but Boston College remains an attractive law school option, especially for those with scholarships or other resources to reduce educational debt.
U.S. News Ranking: 27
[i] Boston College Law School First-Year JD Application
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