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Cornell Law School: A Center of Excellence in Up-State New York
By Dhruba Mukherjee, Cornell Class of 2009, UVA Law Class of 2012, published October 2006, last updated by TLS November 2009
Applicants seeking an intimate and serene setting in which to attend an elite law school should place Cornell Law School near the very top of their list. Tucked away in beautiful Ithaca, Cornell offers its students an Ivy-League legal education while shielding them from the hassles and worries of life in larger cities. With its highly-regarded programs in the international law field and various study abroad opportunities, Cornell is a relatively small, yet increasingly global, law school that is considered by most to be among the best in the nation.
Cornell Law School is unique since it features a small law school located within a large research university, and provides a high quality of life. Dean Stewart Schwab, Dean of the Law School, comments that students of the law school have numerous interdisciplinary opportunities with the many other graduate schools at Cornell. For example, students interested in labor law can take interdisciplinary courses in labor relations in the School of Industrial and Labor Relations at Cornell, while those interested in African legal systems can take courses in African history at the Africana Studies and Research Center. The other unique feature of Cornell is the high quality of life of its students. The campus is very picturesque overlooking a gorge and close to many biking and hiking trails. The Law School has less than two hundred students in each class which, according to Dean Geiger, fosters a sense of community between law students. Students enjoy one of the lowest students to faculty ratios (10:1) in the nation and have an open access to their faculty which is rare. The Law School faculty and staff encourage students to work together rather than be competitors. The Law School’s small class, low faculty to student ratio, and collegiality combine to provide students with a high quality of life while allowing them access to the resources of a large research university.(back to top)
The Law School’s Future
Cornell Law School’s tradition is “educating lawyers in the best sense.” Dean Schwab wants to continue this tradition of educating students committed to justice in today’s society. Dean Schwab comments that “whether our graduates go into law practice, government service, business, or public interest, our continued goal is to equip each one of them with the education, values, and ideals necessary for leadership in law. We also want to support and encourage legal scholarship and research of the highest caliber. We do this by recruiting and retaining top faculty and by facilitating their ability to work collaboratively. This creates a dynamic classroom experience for our students because at Cornell great scholars are also great teachers.”
New Faculty Hires
According to Dean Schwab, the new faculty hired by the law school “continues our recent success in hiring outstanding faculty in constitutional law, evidence, criminal procedure, and international law.” In terms of recent faculty hires, the Law School has hired Professor Charles Whitehead, an expert in corporate and financial law who will teach courses on business organization and securities regulation, and Professor Aziz Rana who will teach constitutional law and national-security law. The Law School also adds a clinical professor in Professor Lara Freed who will be joining the lawyering program which teaches students how to integrate legal theory into the real-life practice of law.
Cornell Law School is also constantly founding new programs. Two of the Law School’s recent initiatives are the Cornell E-Rulemaking Initiative and the Avon Global Center for Women and Justice. In Dean Schwab’s words, “the Cornell E-Rulemaking Initiative brings together faculty and students from several disciplines to consult with U.S. government agencies about how they research and formulate regulatory policy. Encouraged by the Obama administration’s openness to making governmental decision-making more transparent and accessible, several key government agencies are looking to the Cornell E-Rulemaking Initiative to help transition them into a 21st Century e-government model that will likely incorporate aspects of social networking as tools for gathering input from affected constituencies.” Meanwhile, the Avon Global Center for Women and Justice was founded with the help of a grant from the Avon Foundation. Dean Schwab comments that the Avon Center “will assist judges in enforcing international laws and national protections in order to end violence against women and children. The Center will provide free legal research to judges around the world and provide online access to laws which protect women and children against violence.”
Impact of the Economic Recession
Finally, Dean Schwab promises that Cornell Law School will continue to provide students with a superb legal education in spite of the current economic recession. He points out that the Law School has existed since 1887 and has thus weathered difficult economic conditions in the past. The Dean also promises that while the Law School might have to “tighten its belts,” scholarships and grants for incoming students will not be affected.(back to top)
General Advice to Applicants
Dean Schwab advises prospective applicants to participate in extracurricular activities or volunteer in the community. He comments that “beyond academic achievement, we look for well-rounded students who have pursued life outside the classroom in extracurricular, community, and volunteer activities.” He also believes that when considering law schools, students should “look for those schools whose programs match (your) academic goals and whose philosophy, academic culture, and values are in sync with (your) own. Take time to learn about the academic offerings, programs, faculty, students, and the environment of every law school to which you apply.”
When to submit
Dean Richard Geiger, Dean of Admissions, comments that there is no selection advantage for students applying under the Early Action Program at Cornell. The main benefit of Cornell Law School’s Early Action Program is that it is non-binding but gives students a decision very quickly. Also, as Dean Geiger states, if a student gains admission to their dream school, they can stop worrying about admission and can start figuring out the logistics of attending the law school.
GPA vs. LSAT
Dean Geiger comments that there is no definite hierarchy between GPA and LSAT scores. “If someone has already shown that they are a great student through their work in a rigorous academic setting, the LSAT will be less important to us. On the other hand, if someone wasn’t the greatest student when they went to college ten years ago, we’ll be more interested in other indicia of probable academic success, like success in a job, a major accomplishment, or a high-end LSAT. We’re basically looking at everything that will help us predict an applicant’s ability to thrive academically and as a member of our community.”
GPA and quality of undergrad, rigor of courses
According to Dean Geiger, Cornell does not have a formulaic approach to weight GPAs from undergraduate schools that deflate or inflate students’ GPAs. “The Law School Admission Council gives us information that allows us to see a particular institution’s grading curve for graduates who have applied to law school, so we can usually get a rough imputed institutional “class rank” for applicants. However, when it comes to particular majors, we usually don’t get much hard and reliable information, unless it’s from a department whose grading curve is so out of line with the rest of the institution that its graduates would otherwise be disadvantaged.” Similarly, regarding lesser-known undergraduate colleges, Dean Geiger comments that “we take every applicant on his or her own terms. Our sense is that there are strong students everywhere and our job is to identify them…we resist formulaic approaches.”
According to Dean Geiger, prospective applicants should include an addendum for periods of obvious academic underperformance which is explained by external factors such as an illness. Regarding upward and downward grade trends, while an upward trend is better than a downward trend, Dean Geiger truly values upward trends if they show an applicant’s maturity and harder work rather than showing that an applicant is taking easier classes to boost their GPA.
Cornell Law School’s official policy regarding LSAT scores is to take the higher score if it is at least 3 points higher than the lower score. Dean Geiger adds that “if a person has taken the test multiple times, we look at all the scores and try to assess which is the most representative. If an applicant gives us reason to think a particular score is unreliable, we will take that into account. Remember, an LSAT score (despite appearances) is not some precise radar-like measure of an applicant’s ability to succeed in law school”
Dean Geiger advises students to “treat the personal statement as if they were being offered a half-hour interview. You aren’t going to be able to cover everything, so pick something about yourself that you would want the interviewer to remember and that isn’t obvious from some other part of your application. Also, resist the urge to resort to contrivances that you think will help you stand out from the crowd. For example, don’t write your personal statement in rhyming couplets, or present yourself as a restaurant menu. You never want to make the reader of your application decide whether to admit you in spite of your personal statement.” Applicants that briefly mention the Law School in their personal statement aren’t at any disadvantage, while applicants who write a personal statement specifically for Cornell don’t gain a significant advantage. Cornell also actively looks at diversity statements when making admissions decisions.
Waitlists and Transferring
Dean Geiger mentions that the Law School offers interviews to all students on the waitlist. In recent years, due to high yield on initial offers, Cornell hasn’t delved deeply into its waitlist in order to fill its class. The Law School prefers applicants on the wait list who stay in contact with the Law School via letters of continued interest. Regarding transfer applicants, the main factors to gaining transfers to Cornell are first year academic success and exemplary recommendations.(back to top)
In 2007, the Princeton Review book, 2008 Best 170 Law Schools, ranked Cornell students as the hardest working law students in the United States. According to the book, the students at the Law School study an average of 5.97 hours/day. This is especially unusual considering that students at other top law schools study far fewer hours. However, current Cornell Law students dispute the accuracy of the data that may portray Cornell as an ultra-competitive school. According to these students, students at the law school work hard but there are no horror stories. Students are competitive to an extent. The course load is heavy with students taking a graded legal writing course and 16 credits each semester during their first year. However, the course load does not force students to study 6 hours/day. One student who achieved good results working an average of 3 hours/day stated that Princeton Review’s data may be flawed due to exaggeration by students who may count time getting coffee from the local Starbucks as time spent studying.
The students are very friendly and cooperative at the Law School. According to some current students, it is very easy to get notes from other students though one must also strive to make acquaintances with other students. Some students even offer to e-mail written notes to their peers who have missed classes. Competitive “gunners” are also rare with maybe one gunner being present per section (there are six sections for a law school class of approximately two hundred students). However, as befits a top ranked school such as Cornell, there are many subtle gunners who are relaxed in class but study a lot in private. The mean G.P.A. at the Law School is 3.35 with students in the top 30% being on the Dean’s List. The Dean’s List is not published, but students on the Dean’s List are privately notified of their status. The Law School also indicates the G.P.A. cutoff for the top 10% of the class which, for 2008-2009 was 3.7.
For studying, the law school has an online archive of old exams with hard copies of the exams in the library. However, some professors refuse to release old exams. The students also agreed that it was very important to always attend class and to take good notes. While Hornbooks may explain the material, they are not a substitute for going to class. Another student commented that when prioritizing study habits, students should focus on understanding the black letter law from study aids than try to closely read the casebook. The casebook will only save you from embarrassment in class but the study aids will help you do well on the exams. The law school has many clandestine study groups often formed by “gunners.” The study groups are most effective when there are differing points of view that lead to discussion and arguments. Teaching assistants are very helpful, but only exist for one course, legal writing.
The Law School Library combines outstanding collections with professional expertise and access to worldwide electronic information sources for Anglo-American and foreign and international law. Students have access to a full array of Internet services. The Law School’s multiple-node network, wireless network, and computer terminals are available to students for word processing, legal research, statistical analysis, and database management. Students also have access to the many satellite computer clusters and mainframe facilities located on the university campus.
Cornell Law School boasts one of the top faculties in the nation. Almost all of the professors allow computers in class. According to law school students, most of the professors are liberal and have a sense of humor in the classroom. The professors are also approachable outside of class. Current students recommend that future students should not pester professors or live in the professor’s office since then the students are wasting the professors’ time. Rather, these students should attempt to work through problems on their own and use the professors as a last resort. Many students may visit the professor to build rapport with future recommenders. The professors use the Socratic Method, but don’t call upon a single student for an entire class. If a student has difficulty with a certain question, the professor will move on to other students. According to first year students, all the classes were good but the courses in criminal law and torts were the most lively and interesting.(back to top)
Quality of Life
There are law school students everywhere on campus. The Cornell Law School Students Association sponsors mixers and bar tabs at five different bars and law students host a number of house parties. Current law students admit that some of their classmates may be heavy drinkers, but believe that the undergraduate fraternity culture does not carry over to the law school. Students at the law school seem to hold a middle ground between studying and partying. While many students work hard, they also attend house parties or casual get-togethers. Another student remarks that the students at the law school are mostly liberal but few students are “megaphone-toting” liberals. The Federalist Society is very small, and some conservative students may be teased by liberal professors in class. Overall, however, many conservatives enjoy the Law School.
Culture of Ithaca
In contrast to big cities such as New York, Chicago, Boston or Washington, D.C. that house some of the top law school in the nation, Ithaca is a small sleepy college town. The town and city of Ithaca lie within Tompkins County. The Cornell University Campus extends to almost all parts of Ithaca. Aside from the Main Campus, one can see off-shoots of the University in places such as the Ornithology Center (close to Tompkins County airport) and the equestrian center (alongside East Hill Plaza). The floating student population of Cornell and Ithaca College make up about one third of Ithaca’s total population during the school years.
Many magazines have acclaimed Ithaca’s high quality of life. Bike Magazine described Ithaca as one of America’s top five mountain biking towns and Money Magazine described it as one of the best places for a vacation. Between the summer and fall seasons, Ithaca is “gorges.” Gorges and creeks run throughout Ithaca; there are four bridges on the main campus over magnificent gorges, two of which are next to the Law School. Many people also sail boats on Cayuga Lake, take part in an annual kayaking competition in the Finger Lakes or swim in Butter-Milk Falls. One can also tour the scenic Cornell apple orchards or one of the numerous wineries in Ithaca.
Some people compare Ithaca unfavorably to New York City exclaiming that “there is nothing to do in Ithaca.” However, that is far from the truth. As Dean Geiger remarks, “Cornell University has 19,000 students, a very large number of whom are graduate and professional students from around the world. In that kind of environment, there is always something to do and/or a group you can relate to. More importantly, our “city people” graduates routinely end up telling us that since law is essentially an urban profession, they really appreciate the opportunity they’ve had to spend several years enjoying Ithaca’s non-urban lifestyle before re-engaging urban life as a lawyer.” There are plenty of things to do in Ithaca, just not “big city stuff.” The Cornell Hockey Team is Ithaca’s most popular sports team. A raucous crowd attends each of the Hockey Team’s game bearing insulting slogans towards opposing teams. I remember seeing one girl waving a sign during a Cornell-Brown game that read “poop is Brown.” And for the yearly Harvard-Cornell rivalry game, fans sneak fish into the stands and chuck them onto the ice rink (note- do not throw an octopus into the ice-rink, it will get stuck). There are four movie theaters in Ithaca. Regal Cinemas is a new multiplex that shows all the mainstream movies immediately upon release. Cinemapolis and Fall Creek Cinema show many acclaimed foreign films. Willard Straight Hall in the middle of Cornell campus shows both mainstream movies and foreign films in a quaint old fashioned theater on the ground floor. There are three theaters that show plays- the Hangar Theater, the State Theater, and the Schwartz Center for Performing Arts in Collegetown. The Ithaca Commons contain many used book-stores and small family run stores. The Commons also runs the farmer’s market, used book sales, and grass-roots music festivals (the signature Grass Roots Festival takes place near Ithaca in Trumansburg). It is usual to walk down the Commons and see people selling a variety of items in stalls or see people preaching world peace, playing guitars or playing chess. Some small fairs such as the Ellis Hollow Fair also run in Ithaca where the cooks may be Cornell professors. Restaurants in Ithaca contain a variety of Chinese, Vietnamese, Thai, and Indian cuisine to go along with pizza and sandwiches. The lunch buffet at Sangam Indian Cuisine is a favorite of engineering graduate students while the Nines Pizza restaurant is probably the best pizza restaurant in Collegetown. Current students also enjoy hiking or biking on one of Ithaca’s many trails, and they agree with Dean Geiger that Ithaca is a welcome prelude to living in a big city after law school.
One current Cornell Law student spoke about his reasons for choosing Cornell Law School over Columbia Law and NYU Law. He commented “Columbia Law and NYU Law are vast law schools while in Cornell Law School everyone knows each other- you walk in to campus and you know the first person you see, my best friends are students at the law school.” He also added that Cornell Law has great corporate law placement and that while Ithaca has fewer attractions than New York City, students tend to do activities together far more than students in New York City.
In terms of political leanings, most Ithaca residents are very liberal. Residents angrily protested the opening of a new Burger King in the Eastern Heights community which had previously been devoid of fast food restaurants. Residents did not want a corporate chain to intrude on their peaceful surroundings. A few years ago, the parks at Ithaca Commons were famous (or infamous) for a group of women who protested American laws that mandated that women cover their upper bodies with clothing. Occasionally stop signs will have a sign attached at the bottom protesting the Iraq War.
One of the few negatives of Ithaca is the Ithaca winter. The winter extends from October to March. Some students have remarked that the winter season is very long but not harsh. Another student, while conceding the winter is unpleasant, believes that Ithaca winters are not any worse than winters in Ann Arbor or New Haven. As long as one takes proper precautions against the winter, one can avoid colds or the flu. The main hazard during the winter may be the icy pavements in and around Collegetown which slope steeply downward. Another negative, or positive depending on one’s perspective, is the predominance of the fraternity and drinking culture at the undergraduate level. The drinking culture seems to be diminished at the graduate level; graduate gatherings take place at Collegetown Bagels, Stella’s or the Chapter House which frequently hosts local bands.
In terms of housing options, Hughes Hall is right next to the Law School making it a very convenient option for law students. Hughes Hall has its own dining hall that serves breakfast and lunch and is connected to the Law School classrooms and the library. There are also a few graduate student apartment complexes or houses for rent in Collegetown. Graduate students may choose to live away from the campus in Eastern Heights or in the Downtown Commons. Living in the Commons means students are close by a plethora of restaurants and bars. Meanwhile, renting a house in Eastern Heights ensures that students will have a yard and a garden for pets. However, graduate students who wish to rent houses in Collegetown would be wise to investigate the houses beforehand. Some of the houses, especially on Williams Street, have malfunctioning boilers or mice infestations.(back to top)
Total JD Enrollment: 583
Total LL.M. Enrollment: 65
Faculty/Student Ratio: 1:10
The table above lists the employment areas of two different classes, the class of 2010 and the class of 2009. However, if we assume that the two classes are roughly representative of the first and second summers of Cornell Law students, then it is clear that while students engage in a wide variety of jobs in their first summer, they overwhelmingly engage in private practice jobs their second summer, probably in preparation for a Big Law career.
Employment 9 Months After Graduation Classes of 2005-2009 (09 figures are of student employment at graduation)
The table above lists the employment of law school graduates from 2005-2009 nine months after graduation. As shown from the table, most graduates work in very large firms with a few working in large firms. Very few work in business, government or academia. An average of twenty graduates gets judicial clerkships each year. Geographically, a majority of the graduates work in New York while an overwhelming 78% of graduates work in the North-East. Few work in the West, and very few work in the Mid-West and South-East.
In terms of placement into academia, in the last five years only one Cornell student has become a faulty or staff member of a law school nine months after graduation. Another way to asses Cornell’s academic placement is by looking at the law school’s placement into appellate court clerkships, generally a feeder into careers in legal academia. The Federal Appellate Clerkship Blog published the number of graduates per law school that were able to secure circuit court clerkships for 2008-2009. Cornell Law School was not one of the top twenty-five law schools in placing graduates into circuit clerkships. The Blog also published the percentage of each class that was able to secure circuit clerkships. In this ranking, Cornell Law School was ranked 23rd placing 1.6% of its graduates into appellate clerkships. The blog is available at http://lawclerkaddict2008.blogspot.com/2007/09/total-clerks-by-school.html
However, this disparity between the Law School’s overall rank and its relatively poor placement into clerkships may be explained by a self-selection bias. According to some current Cornell Law students, most of the students are not interested in clerkships or academia. In addition, they pointed out that the law school’s placement into academia is not much worse than its peers; the only schools that have far higher placement into academia than Cornell are Yale, Harvard, Stanford and Chicago. These students (who admittedly were interested in public interest careers) also felt that they were encouraged to pursue careers in corporate law, partially due to the number of corporate law firms represented at the school’s career fairs.(back to top)
Cost of Attendance 2009-2010
According to the Cornell Chronicle, historically tuition at the law school has been multi-tiered “in order to protect current students from large increases while, at the same time, maintaining entering student tuition rates at levels comparable with peer institutions. While Cornell’s tuition is quite high, this is balanced somewhat by Ithaca’s low cost of living, far lower than the cost of living of city schools.”
Cornell offers an institutional-based financial aid program to its law students. According to LSAC data, about half of the law school students receive scholarship aid (awards averaging more than $15,000 per year) with a higher percentage receiving government-backed loans. The Law School also has a number of specific scholarships for students focusing in certain studies such as land use, environmental, public interest or business law, handicapped students, and students who did their undergraduate studies at specific universities. For example, the Abbey Scholarship is a full tuition scholarship for students who did their undergraduate studies at the University of Rochester. There is also a $105,000 scholarship, the Dean’s International Fellowship, to attract students with exemplary statistics. The information on these scholarships can be found at http://www.lawschool.cornell.edu/alumni/giving/endowed_funds/scholarships_a-f.cfm The Law School also awards a number of prizes for students who excel in specific areas of law such as bankruptcy law, land use law, labor law, intellectual property law, etc.(back to top)
Clinics, Projects and Journals
First-year students at the Law School take a group of required courses and an intensive lawyering course stressing a variety of legal research, writing, and advocacy techniques. After the first year, students may choose from a wide range of elective courses. The Cornell Legal Aid Clinic offers legal services to those unable to afford an attorney and allows students to engage in the practice of law under the supervision of experienced attorneys. The other clinics offered by the Law School include the Public Interest Clinic (three different levels), the Asylum and Convention against Torture Appellate Clinic, the Child Advocacy Clinic, the Post-Conviction Litigation Clinic (part of the Cornell Death Penalty Project), the Criminal Defense Trial Clinic, the International Human Rights Clinic, the Labor Law Clinic, the Land Use, Development, and Natural Resources Protection Clinic, the Prosecution Trial Clinic, the Securities Law Clinic, the Water Law Clinic and the US Attorney’s Office Clinic.
The Law School also offers a number of special programs. The Clarke Scholars Program brings visiting scholars to the law school while the Clarke Business Law Institute offers seminars and organizes conferences on business law. The Legal Information Institute investigates new methods of electronic legal research and the Keck Focus on Legal Ethics Program maintains an online ethics library. The Law School also has a journal that solely concentrates on empirical legal scholarship (the Journal of Empirical Legal Studies) and organizes the Empirical Studies Project to analytically study court cases.
Cornell Law School also has a number of student-edited law journals. The Cornell Law Review has been published continuously since 1916. Forty students are chosen for Law Review; sixteen students are chosen based on grades as long as they have passable writing scores in the writing competition, twelve students are chosen based on their writing competition scores while the final twelve are chosen based on a combination of writing scores and grades. The other two journals are the Cornell International Law Journal and the Cornell Journal of Law and Public Policy. These two other journals select thirty students each year on the basis of writing competition scores. Student organizations include theAmerican Constitution Society, the Asian Pacific American Law Students Association, the Black Law Students Association, the Briggs Society of International Law, the Business Law Society, the Christian Legal Society, Cornell Advocates for Human Rights, the Cornell Animal Legal Defense Fund, the Cornell Sports and EntertainmentLaw Consortium, the Cornell Law Student Association, the CornellLaw Yearbook Club, the Cornell Law Democrats, the Cornell Law Republicans, the Environmental Law Society, the Federalist Society, the J. Reuben Clark Law Society, the Jewish Law Student Association, the Latino American Law Students Association, the LLM Association, the MS JD Board, the Moot Court Board, the National LawyersGuild, the Native American Law Students Association, the legal fraternities of Phi Alpha Delta and Phi Delta Phi, the Public Interest Law Union, the South Asian Law Students Association, the Students for Marriage Equality, the Transfer Network Association; and the Women’s Law Coalition.(back to top)
Professor Angela Cornell is the Director of the Labor Law Clinic at Cornell. The following are her comments regarding Cornell’s strong labor law program, and the relationship between labor law and human rights law.
“Cornell Law School contains the only Labor Law Clinic in the nation with full-time faculty (not adjunct faculty) teaching domestic labor law and international labor law courses. Students have the opportunity to represent workers and their unions from the public and private sectors with a myriad of traditional labor law issues involving organizing, collective bargaining, grievance arbitration, statutory employment claims, among others topics. We routinely represent unions in termination arbitration, seeking reinstatement and other relief for those who have been discharged without just cause. Students in the Labor Law Clinic are often lead counsel in union cases, and develop functional skills such as preparing witnesses, researching, practical writing, etc.”
Professor Cornell continues to say “one of the strengths of studying labor law at Cornell Law School is our focus on practice and experiential learning. The course, Labor Law, Practice and Policy integrates timely labor law topics with presentations by practitioners, labor board representatives and arbitrators. Students are invited to attend panel discussions or observe oral argument in important cases. Last fall students studied an important case pending in the U.S. Supreme Court, 14 Penn Plaza v.Pyett. Counsel for the Petitioners discussed the case in class, along with his client and interested students traveled to D.C. to attend the oral argument. Studying labor law at Cornell is multidimensional and students are introduced to practice through substantially more than the case book method; students are exposed to the treatises and electronic research tools used by practitioners, hear directly from leaders in the field and are invited to take their learning to another level through practice in the Labor Law Clinic. Most of the cases that we accept are from unions in the vicinity, but every semester we select a few international labor law projects as well. Last semester, a law student traveled to Honduras with a non-profit organization to help evaluate compliance with international labor law norms. Last year, three students traveled to North Carolina to interview public-sector workers, who are prohibited from bargaining collectively, and helped draft affidavits to support a NAALC (NAFTA Labor Side Agreement) complaint. Other international work has involved research on attacks against journalists in the Americas on behalf of the International Federation of Journalists and its Uruguayan office, which had filed a complaint with the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights. Most importantly, students get the opportunity to take what they have learned in class and make a difference for a terminated worker or union negotiating on behalf of hundreds or thousands of workers in a bargaining unit.”
According to Professor Cornell, the only improvement regarding Cornell’s labor law program would be allowing first year students to take labor law courses. She believes that labor law courses integrate administrative law, constitutional law, property law and human rights law, and thus should be an option for first year students. Cornell Law School has a proud tradition in labor rights. Myron Taylor, for whom the Law School is named, was the first president of US Steel, one of the first companies to accept unions. Many Cornell Law School alumni practice labor law and two former students are members of the National Labor Relations Board. The Law School also collaborates with the School of Industrial and Labor Relations (“ILR”) where Law students can take courses in collective bargaining or public sector law, or become teaching assistants for ILR professors. ILR professors sometimes teach at the Law School and sponsor joint panel discussions with the Labor Law Clinic.
Finally, Professor Cornell points out that it is important to realize that labor rights is one facet of human rights law. While the United States focuses on political rights, the rest of the world focuses also on economic rights. The right to bargain collectively, known in labor law as freedom of association, is a core human right. Economic justice is the underlying theme of all of the work that is done in the Labor Law Clinic and labor law provides students with the opportunity to pursue basic human rights. Students who practice labor law with a non-profit agency, government or union qualify for the Public Interest Low Income Protection Plan since Cornell recognizes that labor law helps the public interest.
Public Interest Program
Cornell Law’s Public Interest Low Income Protection Plan helps those choosing qualifying public interest law jobs through the use of a moderated loan repayment plan and loan forgiveness. The Public Interest Low Income Protection Plan has no salary cap. Grant levels are determined by a formula that takes into account the applicant’s salary, annual student loan payments, geographic location, spouse’s income/loan debt, and number of dependents. Current grants range from $570 to over $19,000; the average grant being $7,600. The Sarah Betsy Fuller Social Justice Fund funds one PILIPP grant annually.
Every first and second year student who chooses qualifying unpaid public interest or government employment receives a summer Public Interest Fellowship (PIF). More than 70 PIF grants were awarded for summer 2007. The majority of students combine their PIF grant with a summer work-study award for a total summer stipend of $5,000 for 2Ls ($2,400 work-study, $2,600 PIF) and $4,000 for 1Ls ($2,400 work-study, $1,600 PIF). Students pursuing summer internships with overseas government agencies or non-profits may not utilize work-study funds. Additionally, five $2,400 Public International PIF grants are awarded each year. These grants are combined with the PIF grants thus allowing overseas interns access to full summer stipends. Recently, the office of the Assistant Dean for Public Service arranged for internships with international NGOs such as The United Nations International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda, the International Labour Organization, and the Special Court for Sierra Leone.
The Assistant Dean for Public Service connects law students with pro bono opportunities. During fall orientation the Assistant Dean organizes a "Public Service Fair" where representatives from local legal aid and other public interest organizations speak to law students about term-time pro bono opportunities in their offices. She also organizes the Promotion of the Law Students in Action Project (LSAP) which collaborates with local legal service providers and the Law School to create projects designed to increase the delivery of legal services to low-income communities. The Assistant Dean also advises and assists a new student group, Cornell Advocates for Human Rights, where students are connected with alumni working in the human rights sector.
Third-year students may concentrate in a particular field of law. To encourage such focus, the school grants certificates to students who complete the requirements of one of four concentrations. Two of these concentrations are public interest in nature: Advocacy and Public Law. Each concentration program requires the completion, before graduation, of 14 credit hours, including a writing course in the designated area. Cornell also offers many public interest clinics: the Asylum and Convention Against Torture Appellate Clinic, the Capital Punishment Clinic, the Capital Trial Clinic, the Criminal Defense Trial Clinic, the International War Crimes Research Clinic, Women and the Law Clinic, etc.
The Law School also offers full-time externships. These externships allow students to earn 12 credit hours as externs working full-time for at least 65 days at an approved non-profit or governmental placement site off campus during the fall semester of their third year. In the Judicial Externship, students work with a trial court judge. Students observe trials, research and write memoranda, and draft decisions. In the Law Guardian Externship, students learn about the representation of children in abuse and neglect cases, juvenile delinquency proceedings, and PINS (Persons in Need of Supervision) cases through their placement at the Tompkins County Law Guardian office. Students may interview clients, draft memoranda, and help lawyers prepare for trial. In the Legislative Externship, students work with Assemblywoman Barbara Lifton to draft legislation, track legislation for constituents, and respond to constituent requests that require legal research or an explanation of law. In the Neighborhood Legal Services Externship, students represent clients through the Ithaca office of Neighborhood Legal Services (NLS).
International law- Europe
Professor John Barcelo joined the Cornell Law School faculty forty years ago. He is the founder of the Cornell-University of Paris I Summer Institute and the Director of the Berger International Law Program. The following are his thoughts on international law at Cornell:“Cornell Law School has historically had a strong focus in international law. I joined the school 40 years ago because I was interested in its international program. One of the Law School’s former professors, Rudolf Schlesinger, can be considered the father of comparative law in the American law curriculum. The Law School currently has a broad based student oriented program and also focuses on research. Faculty members are interested in a wide range of topics such as comparative law, foreign law, public international law, private international law, etc. We have programs in Europe, East Asia (under Professor Annelise Riles), in China (under Professor and Vice Dean Barbara Holden-Smith), in Africa (under Professor Muna Ndulo) and in the Middle East (under Professor Chantal Thomas, the former Acting Dean of the American University in Cairo). The Law School has joint degree programs with universities in France and Germany, a human rights clinic, guest speakers, an international moot court program, an international law journal, visiting faculty and the endowed Berger Program that sponsors conferences. We also have an outstanding international and comparative law library. The head of the Law Library, Professor Claire Germain, was educated in law first in Paris, and then in the U.S., and she is one of the leading law librarians in the country. For example she was recently on a trip to Africa as a consultant on legal research and library collections. She is also Director of our Dual Degree programs with Paris 1 and with Humboldt in Berlin. In addition we have outstanding reference librarians at Cornell who are expert in international and comparative law research. The Law School has an excellent program; the only way to make it better would be to make more faculty appointments in different subject areas. However, the Law School does not have a presence in Latin American, the only region of the world where the Law School does not have a presence. The Law School recently started an exploratory program in Latin America.”
In regard to the Law School’s connection to Europe, Professor Barcelo commented that the Law School has a special relationship with French and German universities, especially French universities. Cornell Law School’s summer program with France recently completed its 16th year. The Law School offers a JD/Master en Droit joint degree program with the University of Paris I (Sorbonne). This four year program prepares students for gaining admission to the bars in both America and France. The Law School also offers a J.D./ Masters in Global Business Law program in conjunction with the Paris Institute of Political Studies and a J.D./ Masters of German and European Law and Practice in conjunction with the Humboldt University of Berlin. The Law School has an extensive alumni network in Europe with students working in Europe, clerking for the European Court of Justice, or clerking in Constitutional Courts in France.
International Law- East Asia
The Clarke Program focuses on the study of law in East Asia. The Program sponsors fellowships, conferences, lectures, collaborative research projects, scholarly exchanges, and student exchanges. The Clarke Program’s stated mission is to “foster collaboration—across disciplines, across cultures, and between established scholars and innovative young researchers—that brings to light new questions, and new answers on subjects of pressing contemporary concern.”
Cornell Law is an excellent place to study Asian law due to the number of faculty with research interests in Asian law. Professor Anneliese Riles, the Director of the Clarke Program, specializes in Japanese and Chinese property law, and the Dean of the Law School, Dean Stewart Schwab, has research interests in Japanese employment law. Other professors specialize in Japanese civil procedure, bankruptcy, contract, and corporate law, Chinese contract, corporate and financial law, and Japanese and Korean legal professions. There are six professors who have research interests in Japanese law and four professors who have research interests in Chinese law. The Law School offers about five courses each year in Asian law with a core course in Asian law being taught by Professor Anneliese Riles.
The Law School also has exchange programs with Chinese universities (Peking University Law School, the University of Hong Kong) and Japanese universities (Waseda Graduate School of Law and Keio University Law School). The Law School also organizes a summer law institute in Suzhou, China, in partnership with the Kenneth Wang School of Law in Suzhou. In December 2007, Cornell University and the University of Tokyo’s Institute of Social Science formally signed an agreement for cross-cultural research. This agreement has allowed the Clarke Program in East Asia Law and Culture at Cornell to partner with the Institute of Social Science (ISS) at the University of Tokyo to create a network of scholars that will sponsor joint research, conferences, and short- and long-term faculty exchanges tied to workshops in Ithaca and Tokyo. The initial focus of this collaboration between Cornell and the University of Tokyo will be on law, labor and the economy, and publishing the resulting research in both the US and Japan.
International Law- Africa
Cornell University contains many resources and programs devoted exclusively to the study of African culture and African history. The Africana Studies and Research Center has a number of professors of African history, and also contains the John Henrik Clarke Africana Studies Library. The university also contains an Institute for African Development that sponsors visiting scholars of African studies, hosts symposiums and lecture series, and maintains online resources regarding African history and culture. The institute encourages graduate students from one school (such as the law school) to explore the resources of other graduate schools at Cornell. This institute is headed by Professor of Law Muna Ndulo who teaches at the Cornell Law School. Professor Ndulo was the former public prosecutor for the Zambian ministry of Legal Affairs and the former Dean of the University of Zambia School of Law. Professor Ndulo’s research interests include the promotion of intra-African trade, and constitution making in Africa. Professor Ndulo was present at a recent meeting regarding the drafting of the code of contract law for Rwanda (Cornell Law Professor Robert Summers was the primary drafter of the contract law for Rwanda). This year, Professor Ndulo joined a discussion on BBC radio concerning limits on African presidential terms. Unfortunately, the Law School only offers a single course in African Law. However, interested students participate in the African Institute (last year 5 law students took part in the Institute), the exchange program with Cape Town University in South Africa (last year 3 law students went to Cape Town University), or research African law under the guidance of Professor Ndulo or other law professors.
For applicants wishing to attend an elite law school at which they can tend to their studies with minimum distraction, Cornell is undoubtedly of one of the best options. Graduates of the school can expect top-notch job placement in New York City and throughout the country, and with the school’s global joint degree programs, can even look beyond the United States for employment. Those willing to stand the rigorous academics of Cornell Law School will certainly reap the fruit of their labor for many years to come.
U.S. News Ranking: 13th
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