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University of Chicago Law School
Published October 2006, last updated October 2011
Photos courtesy of The University of Chicago LawLauded as one of the most intellectual law schools in the country with one of the most acclaimed faculties, The University of Chicago Law School has long been rooted as one of the true elites. Located in Hyde Park, just south of the heart of Chicago, the school affords its students ready access to one of the country’s most prominent legal markets, but some distance from its hustle and bustle.
“One of the strongest selling points of Chicago is its intellectual institutional culture — the expectation that we’re all here to think and argue and learn and take ideas seriously,” said Professor Brian Leiter, an influential scholar in Law and Philosophy and the author of a popular law school blog. “That’s true of the faculty and it’s true of the students, and there’s a sense that the faculty and the students should be doing this together.”
Chicago Law’s relatively small class size and strong focus on academics fosters a close-knit learning community, students say. Though the school can get a bad rap for its not-so-glitzy south Chicago stomping grounds and the renowned “seriousness” of the student body, many students say the hype is overblown.
“It’s law school. Obviously people are going to be intense and all that. But generally, people who go here really like it overall and if you’re the type of person who is actually interested in what you learn, you’ll love it,” a rising 3L said.
And even if the student life is less than glamorous, students say the professional opportunities upon graduation are worth it.
As the Midwest’s premiere law school, The University of Chicago’s Law School is one of the toughest in the nation at which to be accepted. The median LSAT score is a 171 (about the 98th percentile) and the median undergraduate GPA is a 3.68. The school has only been ranked lower than 6th once by the U.S. News and World Report’s law school rankings, when in 2008 it was ranked 7th. It regained its #6 spot in 2009 and is widely considered to be in the same “tier” as NYU and Columbia’s law schools.
Relative to other law schools, The University of Chicago seems to place more weight on LSAT scores — its 25th to 75th percentile GPA range is among the lowest of the top schools (it has the lowest 75th percentile GPA in the Top 10), whereas its LSAT range is among the highest (only Yale, Harvard and Columbia have higher 75th percentile LSAT scores).
Interestingly, the school’s website specifically states that for personal statements, “[T]he Committee looks for information that gives insight into the non-academic contribution you would make to the class. In general, a statement with a narrow focus on some personal attribute or experience is far more helpful to us than either a broad statement about the law or a restatement of your resume.”
The school doesn’t ask for any optional essays or materials besides a resume. Chicago Dean of Admissions Ann Perry advised students not to send in information that is not requested, but a “Why Chicago?” essay or something of the like can be an asset. She said:
Graduate work can be beneficial to an application (“I’ve never seen it be a disadvantage,” Dean Perry said), but a high graduate GPA won’t count for much, since they tend to be inflated across the board.
Chicago Law is rumored to place a stronger-than-average emphasis on the strength of an applicant’s undergraduate institution — an allegation that Dean Perry denies. “I wouldn’t say we put an overemphasis on the undergrad institution, because we have such a broad range represented. I really feel that there are a lot of good schools out there that can prepare students for law school. The students need to avail themselves to a good education and I feel that that can happen in a lot of good academic settings,” she said. Dean Perry added that while The University of Chicago is one of the law school’s biggest feeders, there’s “no special bonus” given to its undergrads in law school admissions.
What Not To Do:
Though it goes without saying that law school applications should be clear of typos or grammatical errors, Dean Perry said she sees them often — or even people leaving the “Track Changes” onto their edited Word documents. She expanded:
When to Apply:
According to Dean Perry, the earlier one can submit a good application, the better. Like most others, the school employs rolling admissions. She said:
Applying Early Decision:
Those who wish to apply for the binding Early Decision program must have their applications complete (meaning all materials received by the admissions office) by December 1, 2009. Early Decision candidates will be notified of the office’s decision by the end of December.
According to Dean Perry, students who are set on Chicago Law would benefit by applying Early Decision. She said:
Multiple LSAT scores:
Like most other schools, Chicago will report an applicant’s highest LSAT score, but still look at all of them. Dean Perry said that if there is a “big discrepancy” between scores — anything over a seven or eight point jump, she said — it would “behoove the applicant to give us an explanation for that, because we’re going to want to see what happened.”
According to annual scholarship data, about 56% of students in a Chicago Law class had some sort of scholarship in 2009, putting it in the top five of the Top 14 Law Schools for percentage of students on scholarship. Though about 5% of students receive greater than a half-tuition grant, Chicago Law does not offer a full-tuition scholarship. The median grant amount was $10,800 — the fifth lowest of the Top 14 Law Schools. However, Chicago has been experiencing an upward trend in recent years for both the number of the grants given, along with their sizes.
Upon admittance to the law school, students are automatically considered for merit-based scholarships. However, those who wish their financial need to be placed under consideration must fill out the Need Access candidate and parent questionnaire, found on the school’s website.(back to top)
Law School Culture
At just under 600 students, Chicago Law has one of the smallest student bodies of the top schools (only Stanford, Yale and Cornell are smaller, and the latter two by only a few students), so it’s no surprise that students and faculty describe it as a setting of intimate, “intellectually intense” engagement.
“Everyone’s very friendly. There are people I don’t really know who will just come and start talking to me. But even if you don’t know someone’s name, you know their face. You know everyone,” a rising 2L said.
Professor Leiter said that Chicago Law’s less-than-glamorous Hyde Park location can actually be an advantage, as it creates a greater focus on the Chicago Law community, rather than the city at large.
A rising 3L added, “It’s interesting being on the edge of a city with so many opportunities there, but certainly from a 1L perspective, being at the university is being in a fairly insular community.”
Popular traditions are the weekly “wine messes” and “coffee messes.” Students and faculty mingle in the law school over coffee and bagels on Wednesday mornings and wine on Friday late afternoons.
Chicago has a reputation for its students being more studious and serious than those at other top law schools, and students and faculty say that can be true — to an extent. One student remarked that while it’s a “big step up from the amount of seriousness in undergrad” and that some students “pretty much don’t do anything but study,” the majority of students are serious about schoolwork but still like to have fun.
One student said it was the norm to go out in some capacity — even if just out to dinner with friends — at least a couple nights a week. Another student said that “even the really intense kids aren’t really ‘cut-throat,’ or anything like that.” Several students were also adamant to draw the distinction between the undergraduates at the University of Chicago and the law students. “We’re definitely cooler,” a student said.
Students said that from visiting other campuses, they could tell that students at Chicago seemed like they “actually wanted to be at law school to have careers in law, instead of just because they did well on the LSAT or something and had nothing else to do.”
Professor Leiter said the students are “self-consciously intellectual, ‘let’s argue about ideas all day’ types.” He continued to say,
A rising 2L offered:
The University of Chicago Law attracts prominent and interesting guests and speakers, its urban location a boon to visitors. “We have a lot of interesting speakers who come in. Usually at least four days a week you can go to something decent and get lunch for free. In the winter, it’s more like one or two times a week, because no one wants to come,” a student said.
Another said “the more popular speakers will usually fill up an entire classroom with standing room only.”
Professor Leiter added:
Chicago also has a historical reputation as a more “conservative” law school, but the reality of that tilt has largely dissipated in regards to both students and faculty. Though a rising 2L said that the Federalist Society had a slightly stronger presence and that some conservative students might self-select to go to Chicago Law based on its historic reputation, the school doesn’t noticeably skew one political direction over another. “This place is actually quite politically diverse,” Professor Leiter said. “From the libertarian right to the quasi-Marxist left, it’s all there.”(back to top)
Chicago Law is known for nothing if not its incredible faculty. Students across the board emphasized that not only does the school have a slate of superstar professors, but that they all “love to teach.” Many of the big names teach 1L courses — a far cry from some other schools at which marquee faculty make only rare appearances.
“I think I’ve only had one professor who I didn’t like, and I’ve probably had twenty professors,” said a rising 3L. “It’s not just that they’re okay — they’re all really amazing professors. It’s a little overwhelming to realize how smart all the professors are and how good they are as professors.”
Home to legal big shots David Strauss (Constitutional Law), Martha Nussbaum (Law and Philosophy), Saul Levmore (outgoing Dean of the Law School), Douglas Baird (Bankruptcy and Contract Law), Eric Posner (International Law), Richard Posner (Law and Economics), Brian Leiter (Law and Philosophy), and a host of others who might not have as many citations but are continually raved about by the student body. Even with losses of prominent faculty in recent years (Cass Sunstein to Harvard, Doug Lichtman to UCLA, and Richard Epstein to NYU, though he’ll still teach part-time at Chicago), Chicago continues to boast a faculty strength that exceeds its overall rank.
Professor Leiter said that professors take so much pride in teaching that it would be a “source of embarrassment” if students didn’t like them. “The faculty culture here is such that the Dean reads everybody’s evaluations — every single one. It’s a factor in salary and all that. People take the teaching quite seriously. And that’s a good thing,” he said, adding that “people who don’t care for teaching as much don’t get offers here and don’t get comfortable here.”
Though one would assume that any professor at a top law school would be an expert teacher, because the reputations of schools are based on scholarship rather than classroom experience, teaching skills can often fall by the wayside.
“I think Chicago can claim to be an exception to that tendency,” Professor Leiter said. “People are expected to perform substantial research and produce scholarship, but you’re also expected to discharge your teaching responsibilities well, be available to the student, and so on.”
The New Dean and Faculty Trends:
Dean Levmore will be retiring as dean (and staying at Chicago as a full-time faculty member) of Chicago Law on January 1, 2010. Michael Schill, who had been Dean of UCLA’s Law School since 2004, will take the reins at that time. Dean Schill had previously taught at the University of Pennsylvania’s and NYU’s law schools, and is the author of a prominent property casebook.
From The University of Chicago Law’s press release:
Professor Leiter, who lauded the pick, said an exciting aspect of a new dean is the new hires and developments that come with it. “The next dean does have an exciting opportunity because this is very much a school in the middle of a generational transition,” he said, adding that “roughly half the full-time faculty arrived here in the last few years, which is very unusual. In some ways, it’s a new school in terms of the personnel.”
The school also has a “young faculty,” as Professor Leiter put it, as he estimated that at 46, he’s in the older half of the faculty. Though its student-to-faculty ratio is an intimate 9.7 — the sixth smallest of the Top 14 law schools — Chicago Law’s faculty is quite small. Professor Leiter said he’d like to see more hiring.
“The faculty has grown in size, but it is still relatively small in comparison to other law schools. This year, we have 34 full-time academic faculty, not counting lecturers or clinical faculty. Thirty-four is the largest number in the history of the school.”
Students said that professors at the University of Chicago’s Law School are extremely accessible and are always willing to help. “They go out of their way to make themselves available for office hours. You can tell they put a lot of time in thinking through what they want to do in their classes,” a rising 2L said.
“I’d say that they’re extremely accessible. If you’d like to meet with them any time outside of office, they’re generally pretty accommodating,” said another student. “Most of them are in their offices during the day, and they’re happy to talk.”
Faculty offices are right in the library, creating a built-in intermingling of professors and students.
“There is a lot of student/faculty interaction,” Professor Leiter said. “Some of it is just a consequence of our physical structure here. The offices surround the library stacks and the study areas, so there are a lot of just informal encounters that happen. You just run into people who are in your classes.”
Although the class size is quite small, 1L classes usually have more than 90 students, so students still need to make an effort early on to form connections with professors. Second and third year classes tend to be much smaller, and Chicago is known to have a higher-than-average number of seminars and workshops (including Greenberg Seminars, which are classes hosted in professors’ homes).
Strengths and Needs:
Though reputed for its Law and Economics curriculum, Chicago also has strong offerings in corporate and transactional law, Law and Political Science, Law and Philosophy and Legal History.
The school has also recently beefed up its International Law program, as student interest in the field has grown. “I would say the biggest curricular faculty change in the last couple of years is that the school’s made a very big investment in international and transnational areas of the law,” Professor Leiter said. “We’ve hired six or seven faculty in that area which, considering the size of our faculty, is a big investment.”
Although he said that there is “more variety represented on the faculty than ever before,” Professor Leiter said added that he would like to see Chicago Law “become even more intellectually diverse,” in terms of faculty research areas.
“My sense is we’re doing that. The institutional support is there for it,” he said.(back to top)
Chicago Law employs a unique grading system, quarter system, and even section system. “The curriculum is very intense and academic,” a student said.
Both faculty and students alike stress that one need not be a math or economics all-star to excel and enjoy studying law at Chicago. The curriculum and teaching philosophy applies basic theories of Economics to help explain and understand the law and its effects, while leaving out most of the tricky technical aspects. Most Chicago Law students rave about the logical nature of the Law and Economics curriculum.
“You’re not only learning the law; you’re learning another theory that allows you to anticipate the law,” a rising 3L said. Another student added, “Law and Economics is this thread that underpins all the classes and kind of weaves its way in and out and can be more prevalent in some classes and less in others, but it’s usually always at least there.”
Professor Leiter added:
Classes tend to be small, with more than 60% of classes having fewer than 25 students enrolled.
The Quarter System:
Chicago is the only top law school that employs a quarter system as opposed to semesters. The first quarter starts in late September, the second in early January, and the last in early April. Students are off for the summer come mid-June (2Ls and 3Ls finish at the end of May).
This means that students will usually have three different sets of classes in a year as opposed to two. “In general, I think it’s a very good idea,” said a rising 2L. “The primary impact it has on 1L year is that it allows for a different amount of time to be allotted to different courses. More complicated classes are longer. Easier courses can be truncated down to nine weeks.”
Torts, Property, Civil Procedure, Criminal Law, and Contracts, the standard 1L doctrinal courses, each last two quarters. Chicago’s unique required 1L course, Elements of the Law, and an elective both last one quarter. A graded legal writing class is taken all three quarters.
Students only take two exams after first quarter, which is “definitely a nice way to ease into the toughness of law school,” a student said (and also a way to partially shield a student’s GPA in case of a rough first set of exams). The first year is back-loaded, though, and students say taking three or four exams after the third quarter is “extremely stressful.” Said another student, “If you want an experience that kind of ramps up rather than being the same the whole year, then that’s kind of good.”
Attitudes toward the quarter system all seem to be based on personal preference — some students like having less material to study during exam periods, whereas others think the stress of three finals periods instead of two is a little much. “There’s no down time,” a student said. “Since there are three exam periods, obviously there’s going to be more crunch time for Chicago students.”
One student said that while he prefers the quarter system since you experience more professors, the main problem is that you’re not in sync with other law students and usually have to start your summer job late. According to Chicago’s website, 2Ls usually start their jobs about two weeks after the program begins. “Since our classes start much later in the fall, our students typically stay at their jobs 2-4 weeks after other students leave, often working into late September,” the website says. However, students interviewed said it’s usually a non-issue, and employers are very understanding and accommodating.
A Chicago class of about 190 students is divided into six sections of about 32. Students take every 1L course with this core group of classmates, including legal writing, which is just the one small section. The rest of the courses are composed of three sections, making it about 95 students in each class. The sections rotate for all the classes, so Chicago 1Ls will at some point take a course with every classmate, while still remaining with their small group. Students at other law schools sometimes complain of only getting to know those students in their sections, which makes Chicago’s approach a nice way to acquaint the whole class.
“It’s nice to always have a core group of friends in class with you, but it’s also nice that we’re not divided cleanly in half so we never meet the rest of our class,” a student said.
Since students have three opportunities each school year to take courses instead of two because of the quarter system, Chicago helps mitigate the disadvantage smaller schools often face in having to offer fewer courses than larger law schools. Most 2L and 3L courses last only a quarter, so students can take a broader range of classes.
“The electives are generally pretty good, but they are limited. But I don’t think there was a class I wanted to get into that I didn’t get into,” a student said. Another added, “It’s a smaller school than say Harvard or Georgetown, so where there everything you want will be offered every semester, here you have to plan more. You can find everything you want here, but it’s just not going to be offered every quarter.”
Every student interviewed said there weren’t any practice areas or topics of law in which they wish more classed were offered. Indeed, a student also said that the administration takes very seriously the requests of students in regards to the curriculum.
“My friend wanted an animal law class taught, and he petitioned the dean and suggested who to hire and that’s who they hired as an adjunct,” a rising 2L said.
Laptops in the Classroom:
Chicago Law made moderate waves last year when they decided to turn off the wireless internet in classrooms. “It’s been an adjustment, but probably a good one,” a rising 3L said. A couple students said that they do think class discussion is livelier and appreciate not seeing their classmates peruse gossip websites during class. Students said they value the fact that they can still use their laptops to take notes, as opposed to having a professor flat-out ban the use of laptops.
About a third of students use Macs, a student estimated, and there are no compatibility problems.
The Socratic Method:
Most all 1L classes at Chicago feature some variation of cold calling. “The way that professors use the Socratic Method is as a very positive force. It’s very constructive,” a student said. “If you don’t do well, people will still be supportive. If you were having a tough time, people would try to slip you answers.”
In 2L and 3L classes, the Socratic Method tends to drop off but participation is still an important factor in classes.
Chicago Law students get to shoot for a 180 (and above!) for three more years after taking the LSAT. The school employs a unique numeral grading methodology from a 155 to a 186. The general rule is that 180+ is an A, 174-179 is a B, and 168-173 is a C.
The curve, which applies to all classes with more than 50 students (meaning all 1L classes except for Legal Research and Writing), dictates that the median should be a 177 and there should be roughly the same number of As as Cs. This tends to create a tight bell curve, consisting of mostly B grades.
Students seem ambivalent about the grading system, offering few rants or raves; one said it “just works out to pretty much be the same as any other.”
Professor Leiter said:
Chicago has a long-held reputation for attracting and fostering students who take their studies quite seriously. “The first two quarters, there were people who would be in the library until midnight every night, and you really don’t need to do that,” a rising 3L said.
Thanks to the benefits of the quarter system, though, students at Chicago can often hammer down their most effective study habits after taking the only two finals after the first quarter. With the obvious qualification that every person studies differently, most students said that on average, people study about a few hours a night, prior to the crunch time of finals where hours are much longer.
Some tips and methods from top students:
Students at Chicago Law seem to rely on commercial supplements like outlines and hornbooks less than at other schools, but they still are quite common.
“I do know some friends who have used commercial outlines and commercial supplements, and I don’t know if it helps because Chicago has its own theory of law. I talk to friends from other law schools and the way they understand torts, as an example, is totally different from our understanding of torts,” a rising 3L said. He continued, “Personally, I don’t think commercial supplements are helpful at all. For exams, professors tailor them to what we talk about in class.”
A couple other students said they use them to check their understanding, and that they asked upperclassmen which supplements were good for which classes.
Some students said they “glanced over some stuff” before law school, but didn’t recommend doing anything rigorous. “I mean I suppose it wouldn’t technically hurt, but it’s not worth it,” a rising 2L said.
Professor Leiter said students could read work written by the faculty to “get some feel for the intellectual style.”
He called An Introduction to Legal Reasoning, by Edward Levi, a “brilliant little book” that is relatively accessible for those who have not yet studied law. He also recommended Judge Richard Posner’s How Judges Think as possible reading material for incoming students.
According to its website, Chicago has a yearly transfer class of about 15 to 25 students, from an application pool of up to 200. Like at most other schools, transfer students are not eligible for scholarship assistance.
Transfer students at Chicago are eligible to participate on all three journals by participating in the main summer write-on competition. There are also spots reserved in the clinical programs for transfer students, and they are encouraged to get involved in student organizations. There is even a student group called the Transfer Student Association.(back to top)
Though Chicago Law does indeed foster a largely theoretical approach to the law, a variety of classes, clinics and opportunities serve to counterbalance the philosophy and focus on the practical. The school offers a large set of established and popular clinical programs, and students are free to take 12 credits in another University of Chicago graduate program, a generous number as compared to other law schools.
It comes as little surprise that Chicago, with the predominantly firm-minded nature of its students, is ranked the #5 law school in the country by Vault’s survey of hiring partners, interviewers and recruiters. A couple students said a large factor in that is that students at Chicago are already used to working very hard — oftentimes more so than their peers at just as competitive schools. “I have several friends at several other law schools, and it definitely seems like we just put in more hours and more prepared for firm life than students at a lot of other places,” a rising 2L said.
Unlike the majority of its peer schools, Chicago does not offer externships or study abroad for credit. “They kind of jealously guard who can grade and teach their students,” a student explained.
Joint Degree Programs:
Chicago Law offers only three established joint degree programs (Business, International Relations and Public Policy), a few less than most of its peer schools. However, students can work toward joint PhDs in the history and economics department or create their own program, though the paths seem uncommon. According to Dean Perry, the school graduates about 10-15 joint degree students a year. The JD/MBA program is the most popular, with the Booth School of Business being one of the best business schools in the country.
Chicago’s clinical offerings are extremely well-received by students, and several have said that they actually made the decision to come to Chicago over other schools because of a specific clinic. “It’s sort of the reason why I came to Chicago,” said a rising 3L of the Institute for Justice Clinic on Entrepreneurship. That clinic, which helps guide burgeoning small businesses through their legal issues in order to hit the ground running, is one of the most popular, along with the Criminal and Juvenile Justice Clinic, the Appellate Advocacy Clinic and the Mental Health Project.
There is a lottery for 2Ls and 3Ls to get into clinics (“There’s always a waiting list; there’s a lot of people who want to do clinics,” a student said), but students can apply to work for a clinic over their 1L summer and are then guaranteed a spot on their selected clinic. This is an attractive option for many who have their heart set on a specific clinic, because students say that though most people who want to do a clinic can eventually get on, it might not be one of their top choices. The summer program is 10 weeks long and pays about $5,000 total.(back to top)
Chicago students enjoy some of the best career prospects for law students in the country. About 650 employers usually recruit at the On-Campus Interview Program, held the two weeks prior to fall quarter. Known for its students’ focus on private practice, Chicago Law sent 68.6% of its students to National Law Journal Top-250 law firms last year — the second highest percentage of all law schools (Columbia Law reigned supreme, at 70.5%).
According to Brian Leiter’s law school rankings, The University of Chicago Law is ranked second in law schools from which the nation’s most prestigious firms hire. Students say the reasons for its success are twofold: students place extremely well in the Chicago area since it is the law top school in the city; students also place well in other cities, like New York, since firms look to hire graduates from each top school. Because of Chicago’s small class size, students have a leg up against bigger law schools, since they are competing against significantly fewer classmates for those coveted slots.
The school traditionally has very high peer and judge assessment scores, bested only by Yale, Harvard and Stanford. According to ABA data, 97% of Chicago Law students are employed within nine months of graduation, with 2% pursuing graduate degrees and 0.5% unemployed. Compared to peer schools, Chicago Law tends to have a greater than average percentage of students in academia and private practice, a lower than average percentage of students in government and public interest, and a similar percentage of students in judicial clerkships.
Though Chicago is reputed to be less public interest-friendly than its peer schools, a current student said that “Chicago is a very supportive place to come for the public interest-minded.” The Loan forgiveness program — which traditionally has been heavily criticized — has been improved and there are many student organizations and clinics for those with an inclination toward public interest. That said, there certainly are fewer students at Chicago who ultimately pursue public interest work than at other top law schools.
Known as a top producer of law professors, the school was the fourth highest producer (as a percentage of total professors placed divided by class size) of newly hired professors between 2003 and 2007, according to Brian Leiter’s rankings. Students say that the school’s reputation as a top feeder of new professors, along with mentorships from current professors, perpetuate Chicago’s propensity for generating new professors.
Students say that the Office of Career Services is very helpful and provides ample resources for securing employment. “They do go out of their way to try to make sure that we’re taken care of. Because it is a small school, there are fewer of us and it’s very personalized. They know all of us — maybe not by name, but they know our faces,” a rising 3L said.
Chicago Law also tends to achieve some of the highest aggregate bar passage rates in the country.
1L Summer Placement:
Students said that securing jobs after their 1L year is “really easy,” with most students finding unpaid public interest or judicial work. Students said that paid firm work is tough to come by, but does exist for a small percentage of students.
Students usually either stay in the Chicago area or return to their hometowns over the summer. Said a student, “A decent number of people stay in Chicago — especially people with Midwest connections. It’s also fairly common for people to leave Chicago and go wherever they intend to practice.” There are also a select number of international internships, including those established in India, Australia, and South Africa.
The Office of Career Services is “very hands on” about helping 1Ls find summer jobs. There are several meetings throughout the quarters and the office sends frequent e-mails with job listings. “They really want to be involved and help us and put a lot of emphasis on helping us with our resume,” a student said.
Loan Repayment Assistance:
The University of Chicago revised its loan repayment program in 2007, which had faced much criticism for being far too restrictive. Under the new Hormel Public Interest Program, graduates working in qualified public interest jobs will receive an interest-free loan of up to $10,000, which will be fully forgiven a year after it is made, provided the graduate remains in the public interest job. The job’s salary must be below $72,000. The Hormel program continues for seven of the eight years after graduation, for a potential total of $70,000.
Though traditionally criticized as not providing enough support for public interest-minded students, Chicago has beefed up its summer funding for students committed to non-profit, government or public interest work.
Students who undertake qualifying (low-paying, with a not-for-profit or government unit) public interest work their first summer are eligible for a $6,000 partially forgivable loan, called the Heerey Fellowship. If a student works at least four full-time weeks in such a position during their first summer of law school, up to $3,000 of the loan can be forgiven.
Students who plan to work at a firm their second summer may use those earnings to pay off the balance, or they can simply choose to only accept a $3,000 loan for their first summer, so there will be no balance to be paid. If a student works at a qualifying public interest position their second summer as well, the entire $6,000 loan will be forgiven.
There is an application process to attain the loan, but a rising 2L said that “everyone I know who applied for the money got it.”
Chicago is an excellent law school to attend for those interested in clerking for a judge. Not only does the school foster close relationships between students and faculty — key for procuring strong letters of recommendation — but it is known for its consistently high rates of prominent placements. According to Brian Leiter’s rankings, Chicago is ranked third in placing students in Supreme Court clerkships, based on percentage of students.
According to the school’s website, almost a quarter of each class has clerked for a federal or state judge (either immediately after law school or after spending some time in practice).(back to top)
Quality of Life
When asked what they would want to change about their law school experience, most Chicago students said not much at all.
“I hate Chicago weather in the winter, but I guess that’s not anything that the school can do anything about,” a rising 2L said.
Though the school is not in the best part of town, students say they love the University’s campus (“It’s sort of an oasis in the middle of a high-crime area,” a student called it), and that being a bus or train-ride away from the heart of the city can’t be discounted.
Some students called the safety issue of Hyde Park “overblown,” whereas others said “it definitely doesn’t exude feelings of safeness and comfort.” However, students say particularly rough areas are off the beaten track for students, and free transportation services like Safe Ride shuttles students to nearby locations at night.
A majority of the students own cars, and it takes about 25-minutes to drive from the Lincoln Park area, where many 2Ls and 3Ls live, to the law school. For those who won’t have cars, many students carpool (and, of course, public transportation is easy to come by).
Dean Perry said that while students unquestionably do work hard, they also “play hard.” She cited the Law School Musical, in which about 70 students participate every year, and the weekly bar reviews as examples.
Of course, students don’t choose Chicago Law for the bar scene. “I think on the whole we’re probably geekier than other schools, since we have that reputation and since campus life is not so great,” a rising 3L said.
The Law Building:
The law school’s building is modern, with recent renovations throughout and a clean feel to it inside. There are very large common areas for students to gather and socialize (and even play a game of foosball, which students say is pretty popular) and most say they really like the library.
There’s a small café right in the law school building, and students often head to the nearby business school which has “better dining options.”
Reviews of Chicago Law’s social life are mixed. Said a rising 2L, “There are a lot of people out, especially fall quarter, getting to know each other. It may be less socially active than other law schools, but if you make an effort to go out, you usually can get people to go out somewhere.”
Another postulated that 1Ls are more likely to hang out around apartments rather than go to bars since the immediate area doesn’t offer much nightlife. “The problem with Hyde Park is there’s only a couple places to go out, so you need to go further North, and sometimes that’s hard to do,” a student said. Another added, “If you’re going out, it’s not in Hyde Park.”
One student said that social life actually expands quite a bit after the first year, since most students live further north and “everyone goes to the same places,” noting that the Fullerton, Diversey and Clark areas tend to be the most popular. He also said that “The first year, you’re spending more time studying.”
Graduate school mixers are hosted periodically throughout the year, and law school events and bar nights are well-attended.
One student said he went out almost every Friday and Saturday, and then one other night of the week to do something more low-key. “Up until maybe two weeks before exams, there’s enough time to socialize most nights, if you’re interested in doing that,” he said. “I would say people do generally go out.”
Convenient and safe housing options are located relatively close to the law school, along with more vibrant areas further up north. Generally speaking, 1Ls stick around the Hyde Park area, and then head north (the Lincoln Park and Lake View areas are particularly popular) for their second and third years.
“Everyone moves to the north side,” a 3L said, who advised that students do live in Hyde Park for their first year, for the “community feel.”
A large number of 1Ls live in the Regent’s Park apartment complex, located about a 15-minute free shuttle ride away from the law school. It’s about ten blocks north of the law school. Though it is dominated by 1Ls, a fair amount of upperclassmen live there, too.
Students appreciate being surrounded by their classmates, as it is often the focal point of social activities or just meeting up, but that it’s also not like a dorm situation where it’s impossible to “get away.” Although there are other apartment complexes closer to campus and cheaper, students said that they like the amenities of Regents (24-hour doorman, convenience store, restaurants, fitness center) and the social aspect of it.
“If there’s one piece of advice to give to incoming students, it’s to consider the value of living at Regents — not for the amenities, but because a lot of people live there and it’s really the social hub,” a rising 2L said.
Others agreed that it is wise to stay in Hyde Park the first year because of its convenience and closeness to school and classmates. Another common 1L housing option is to live in the University of Chicago graduate housing, which can be closer than Regents, but could be in a sketchier area and the facilities might not be as nice.
Bordered by Lake Michigan, Hyde Park is famous for housing the University of Chicago’s campus — and not much else. Dean Perry said a main reason why the Law School building is located in Hyde Park — as opposed to downtown Chicago — is to remain closely tied to the rest of the campus and facilitate interdisciplinary learning among the graduate departments.
The area immediately surrounding the school includes coffee shops and cafes, perfect for snacks or studying between classes. Though there are scattered bars near the law building, several students said that the only one usually frequented is The University of Chicago Pub, an on-campus bar located in the basement of Ida Noyes Hall. A student said it is usually “teeming with undergrads,” but that the beer is good and cheap.
The University operates two gyms nearby, both free to students. For those commuting from other parts of Chicago, parking can be a bear, and it’s recommended to purchase a pass (which usually run between $80-$150 a month, depending on location).
For more extensive and detailed information on the Hyde Park locale, check out: http://www.top-law-schools.com/forums/viewtopic.php?f=22&t=84243(back to top)
Students at the University of Chicago have a breadth of opportunities to get engaged in whatever sort of projects and practices of law might strike their interest. The school has about fifty student organizations, including those associated with identity, those associated with legal fields, and those associated with service or social goals.
“I’d say students are pretty involved here,” a rising 3L said. “I got very involved in my clinic, which was sort of my ‘thing,’ and most other students have their ‘thing,’ too. I’d say to incoming 1Ls to try lots of stuff at first but then sort of hone it down to just a couple activities tops by the time you’re a 2L.”
Chicago Law offers three student-edited journals, on which about eighty students of each class participate. Anyone who wants to work for a journal must participate in a write-on competition the summer after the first year. “The write-on can be exhausting, but being on a journal makes a bigger difference than you’d think for interviews,” a rising 3L said.
About 15% of students in the first-year class are invited to join The University of Chicago Law Review each year. All students must participate in the writing competition in order to be selected. About 18 students are selected on the basis of top grades, and about 10 students are selected through the basis of their writing competition performance.
The other two journals are the Chicago Journal of International Law, which is published biannually and involves about 32 students, and The University of Chicago Legal Forum, the smallest of the three which publishes just one volume a year. Admission to both these journals is determined by the write-on.
Additionally, any student may write a comment of publishable quality through “Topic Access,” and if it is selected by any of the three journals, the student is automatically admitted as a member of that publication.
The University of Chicago Law School operates one main inner-school moot court, named the Hinton Moot Court Competition. It is open to 2Ls and 3Ls and consists of three rounds — one each quarter.
The preliminary round in the fall focuses on an oral argument. Without submitting briefs, competitors review all the materials and argue both sides of the case to a panel of attorneys. About 12-14 students will advance to the next round.
In the winter, the remaining competitors brief and argue a new case. Four people from this second round will advance to the final round in the spring, in which they will work in teams of two on a new case. Oftentimes federal appellate judges preside over the final argument in front of the rest of the law school to determine the winner of the Hinton Cup.
The reverence for Chicago Law graduates in the legal community is both apparent and deserved. Students are exposed to a plethora of legal concepts, and the school’s emphasis on teaching quality is manifested through student’s admitted engagement in class and, consequently, in their work. Employers know of Chicago Law students’ dedication and in turn reward them with consistently promising career prospects.
As outgoing Dean Saul Levmore says in his welcome statement to prospective students, “The University of Chicago Law School is a perfect place—but it may not be for you.” Those students tend to be smart, interested and impassioned, and seem to agree with Dean Levmore’s sentiment.
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