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Duke University Law School
Published October 2006, last updated September 2013.
Duke Law School may be best known as the law school that produced Richard Nixon (who famously inspired the ethics requirements for law students) and Tucker Max. Founded in 1930, it is among the handful of the smallest top-14 schools, with a total enrollment of about 630 in 2012-2013. Although it is one of the few elite schools in the Deep South, the top three destinations for its graduates in 2012 were New York; Washington, D.C.; and California.
For the class of 2012, Duke posted an employment score of 85.3%, about the same as Cornell and Berkeley. The total non-discounted cost of attendance is about a quarter-million dollars, according to Law School Transparency. Duke is ranked 11th in the latest U.S. News list, but sixth in the new Above the Law rankings, which focus more on career outcomes and cost than on admissions inputs.
Duke's employment score of 85.3% indicates the percentage of the class of 2012 who obtained long-term, full-time jobs requiring bar passage as of nine months after graduation. Of the traditional top 14 law schools, Duke's underemployment rate of 11.6% is among the highest.
About 51% of 2012 grads got jobs in large firms (more than 100 attorneys). In 2013, Duke ranked seventh in the National Law Journal's list of law schools that feed into the 250 largest law firms in the nation (the NLJ 250). About 48% of the class of 2012 went straight into an NLJ 250 firm. A further 12.9% landed prestigious federal clerkships, which often lead to jobs at large firms or sought-after government agencies and public interest outfits.
Around 9% of the class of 2012 went into government or public interest on a full-time, long-term basis. Duke Law encourages students to get involved in public service and provides guaranteed summer funding for 2Ls working in qualifying public interest internships. Summer funding for 1L positions is competitive.
Duke provides surprisingly little information about its graduates' starting salaries, according to Law School Transparency. TLS urges prospective students to call the admissions office at 919-613-7020 and ask the school to release its most recent NALP reports to the public. The only salary information available is the class of 2011's numbers for judicial clerks and those entering private practice. The median salary for a judicial clerk was $57,408, and $160,000 for a new lawyer joining a private firm. It is worth noting that overall, starting salaries for lawyers tend to be bimodal, with most grads making either between $40,000 and $60,000 (government, public interest, small firms) or $160,000 (market pay for large firms).
Last year, according to the ABA, Duke grads most commonly took the bar exam in New York, California, North Carolina, and Texas, and they tended to exceed the state pass average by a wide margin.
Admissions at Duke are highly selective.
Duke requires applicants to submit a resume, a personal statement, and two letters of recommendation along with the usual LSAC application. Applicants have the option to submit an extra essay, either a "Why Duke" statement or a broad diversity statement. The deadline for a completed application in 2014 is Feb. 15 (Regular Decision).
Duke does offer two rounds of binding Early Decision review. Round I applications are due Nov. 11 (complete by Dec. 2), and decisions arrive by Dec. 31. A less traditional option is Round II, which requires applicants to submit their applications by Jan. 10 and complete them by Jan. 17. Round II decisions are available no later than Jan. 31.
The law school offers many options for dual degrees and says around a quarter of its students participate. Prospective students, however, should be cautious before adding a great deal of expense and time to the already expensive and time-consuming J.D. Traditional legal employers do not necessarily view more degrees as better; in fact, dual degrees may hinder the job-seeking process more than they help. Have a specific, well-thought-out plan before you sign up for a second degree.
Tuition at Duke, like that of most private law schools, is sky-high. For the 2013-2014 school year, classes alone cost $52,620. Other necessary expenses (including room and board during the school year) bring the total to more than $75,000. Assuming no increases, that brings the three-year total to over $225,000—before interest. According to Law School Transparency, the total non-discounted debt-financed cost of a Duke J.D. is almost $253,000, or over $3,000 a month on a 10-year repayment plan.
First-year students focus on core classes, including constitutional law, civil procedure, contracts, criminal law, property, torts, and a yearlong legal research and writing course. Classes are kept relatively small, rarely exceeding 90 students. In the second and third years, students are encouraged to choose from a wide range of electives, seminars, and clinical programs. Upperclassmen are required to complete a substantial writing project, an ethics course, and a professional skills requirement. Clinical programs include topics on children's education, community enterprise, wrongful convictions, Guantanamo defense, and startup ventures.
Within the Duke Law School curriculum, students are allowed to pursue a field of interest. Strong programs include corporate and commercial law, public policy and public interest law, among others. Recent faculty hires have bolstered the academic standings of the intellectual property law, international and comparative law, and tax law departments.
In addition to encouraging international diversity on campus, Duke Law School also encourages students to gain international experience. Duke participates in summer institutes hosted in Geneva and Asia, as well as offering exchange programs with several foreign universities. Students pursuing a joint degree in international and comparative law have the option of starting their studies the summer before their first-year matriculation.
In their free time, Duke Law students have many extracurricular activities from which to choose, including moot court competitions, student government, volunteer work, and nine academic journals. Students can also attend any one of the numerous lectures, seminars, and series hosted by the law school, and by Duke University.
The Duke Law School contains multiple lounge areas, and an outdoor courtyard. Duke University has two fully equipped gyms for student use, swimming pools, student unions, cafes, restaurants, and even a movie theater on campus. The Duke Gardens are located in the center of the university's campus, providing an ideal venue for sunbathing, strolling, or stopping to smell the roses. If students prefer a more untamed outdoors, the university is surrounded by miles of the Duke Forest, in which they can hike, bike, run, or visit the Primate Center.
Located in Durham, N.C., Duke University boasts a gorgeous campus, complete with its own stunning chapel. The weather is temperate and pleasant for most of the year, and sunny weather is the typical forecast in all seasons. Adjacent to Duke's campus are several small streets containing restaurants, bars, and a few shops. Adventurous students can explore the city of Durham, and discover much more beyond the campus confines. A 10-minute drive to Chapel Hill, home to the University of North Carolina, offers an even greater array of all things social.
Duke University School of Law
2013 Above the Law ranking: 6
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