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Emory University Law School
Special thanks to Dean David Partlett and to the many TLS students who provided additional insight and details for this profile, published September 2007, last updated April 2010
The Emory University School of Law is one of the strongest law schools in the American South – and, for that matter, the entire country.
By hiring professors with advanced degrees in fields other than law, Emory University School of Law offers students a top-notch legal education with a strong cross-disciplinary backdrop. Students are also heavily exposed to public service opportunities, giving Emory a reputation for excellence in public interest.
With a focus on litigation, Emory produces graduates with highly regarded trial skills. The international law program is also particularly strong, boasting many professors and lecturers from various overseas locations. Although these are some of Emory Law’s best-known programs, students with interests in other areas of law should not be discouraged from applying, as the law school enjoys a solid reputation in all fields of legal studies.
Located in Atlanta, Georgia, Emory offers students access to the vast resources of a vibrant, urban city. Despite Atlanta’s massive size, many students describe the Emory campus environment as having a small town or suburban feel. The relatively small class size (around 225 students), along with stately architecture and abundant greenery, makes for a collegiate atmosphere within the law school. After obtaining their J.D.’s, graduates remain in Atlanta (typically around 40% of the class), but Emory graduates are not necessarily limited to working in Georgia or the South. Emory’s strong alumni network in New York, Florida, and California connects graduates to other major legal markets. However, students seeking to gain employment in the Mountain States should be informed that Emory doesn’t place as many graduates into that region.
TLS, with the assistance of Dean Partlett, has compiled the following information in order to assist potential applicants in deciding if the Emory University School of Law is a good fit for their educational and career goals.
Universally considered a “top 25” law school, Emory’s recent climb in the US News & World Report rankings can be partially attributed to increases in the median GPA and LSAT of recent entering classes. Admission to Emory is competitive, with only around 1,000 out of over 4,000 applicants being granted admission each year. According to Dean Partlett, the number of applications increased by 8% in 2009, and is expected to have increased similarly in 2010. For 2009, the median GPA and LSAT were 3.55 and 165, respectively.
Prospective applicants should note that tuition has risen slightly from 2009, from just under $41,000 to just over $41,000. Dean Partlett assures students that when tuition increases, the law school makes great effort to increase available scholarship funds.
Dean Partlett describes the ideal Emory Law student as having “the capacity to thrive in the rigors of the top quality legal education offered [at Emory].” Furthermore, the admissions committee seeks to ensure that admitted students “have the temperament and character to become outstanding graduates.” Special emphasis is placed on determining an applicant’s level of responsibility and ethics required by the legal practice. This holistic approach to application evaluation entails that while the LSAT and GPA may be primary factors, the personal statement and other “soft” factors are taken into careful consideration. Admissions officers recommend the personal statement give insight into who you are, why you want to go to law school, and why you are interested in Emory in particular. As for letters of recommendation, the admissions committee focuses on what your recommenders write about you, not who your recommenders are or their positions.
Increasing Your Chances
Aside from submitting a well-crafted personal statement and strong letters of recommendation, applicants seeking to increase their chances of admission should submit their application as early as possible. As the application deadline of March 1st approaches, the number of admission offers available steadily declines. While applying at the deadline does not guarantee a rejection, early applicants have a distinct advantage, especially those with median or below median GPA and/or LSAT. Additionally, if Emory is an applicant’s first choice law school or an applicant has been waitlisted, submission of a letter of continued interest expressing strong desire and commitment to attend Emory is highly recommended.
Although tuition has increased moderately over the last few years, the amount of financial aid awarded has also increased. Dean Partlett maintains that the financial aid office will always attempt to increase available aid whenever tuition increases. In 2008, around 57% of students received scholarships, with a median grant amount of $18,000. A recent first-year student reports that some applicants with median LSAT and GPA received $70-$96k scholarships to Emory while being offered only $15-$30k from similarly ranked schools. Emory's large endowment has enabled the law school to commit substantial funds to attracting the best faculty and students. Given the current state of the economy and the saturation of the legal market, Emory is an excellent option for debt-averse applicants with competitive numbers. Transferring
Current law students considering transferring to Emory need to be in the top half of their class to be considered. Although an undergraduate connection to Emory is not an overwhelming factor, it will help. Applicants will need to submit letters of recommendation from professors at their current school.
Law School Culture
Like most law schools, Emory grades on a forced curve. Despite this inherently competitive grading system, the academic atmosphere at Emory is regarded as cooperative, without an attitude of cutthroat competition that can be found at some law schools. Students describe their classmates as dedicated and hard-working, but also friendly, open, and engaging.
Emory also boasts The Dean’s Teaching Fellows program, a unique initiative in which four high-achieving third-year law students are honored and selected to serve as academic counselors for other students in an effort to help them reach their academic potential. Fellows act as mentors, assisting students in choosing classes and developing study habits.
Emory students report that their professors exhibit liveliness and passion for both the law and the success of their students. Dean Partlett teaches a first-year Torts class, indicative of the general reputation of accessibility of the professors. Like faculty at other top law schools, Emory Law professors spend time outside the classroom researching, writing, and working with non-profits, government agencies, and law firms to keep their legal skills sharp and updated. Dean Partlett has said that faculty are “not only superbly credentialed and published but they also are deeply dedicated to our students.” With 98 total faculty, Emory's student-to-faculty ratio an impressive 10.7 to 1. A first-year student reports, “A couple of [current students] mentioned choosing Emory over higher ranked schools because Professor An-Na'im is such a legend in the field of Isamic Law and Witte and Alexander are highly regarded as well.”
Although the teaching methods used varies somewhat with each professor, many employ the Socratic method, which can be intimidating for students. However, students generally describe the class atmosphere as "engaging and fun", reducing the level of intimidation. Class participation expectations can vary. In some cases, students will be asked to prepare for a particular case or topic, whereas other times a student will be called on because their seat or row is up next for participation.
An admissions counselor shares the following about Emory professors and public interest:
Potential applicants interested in any of these areas are encouraged to peruse Emory’s website and contact these professors with any questions.
The workload at Emory Law School has been described by current students as challenging yet manageable. Students observe that the level of school-related stress is based more upon how one approaches the work, not on the work itself or the class atmosphere. As mentioned earlier, students are generally not overtly competitive with each other, but the innately competitive nature of forced curve grading ensures that most students will push themselves regardless. At Emory, like the vast majority of law schools, final exams at the end of each semester determine 100% of a student's grade for most classes. Emory aims to curve introductory courses to a 3.17, but grade distribution for upper level elective classes tend to vary significantly.
First-year students are divided into sections of 35-40 students. Sections combine with one another for classes, but individual sections form a kind of family for students during their first year, brought together by many social events sponsored the Emory Law Student Bar Association.
Emory Law does not require students to own a computer, but students are allowed to take exams on their own laptops if they so desire. For those concerned about compatibility issues, the exams are reported to be both PC and MAC friendly.
First-year law students will take classes on civil procedure, legal methods, contracts, torts, criminal law, property law, Constitutional law, appellate advocacy, and legal research and writing. While first-year curricula are practically equivalent at most law schools, Emory breaks from the pack in its second- and third-year requirements and opportunities. Second-year students take a two week hands-on course on trial techniques, a demanding course with a focus on litigation, a substantial opportunity for applicants interested in trial work.
The majority of Emory students consider the first semester of the second year the most challenging, balancing the intense trial techniques course with preparing for moot court, interviewing for jobs, and applying for law reviews or journals. Second-year students take courses including evidence, business associations, legal professionalism, and a writing component that can be satisfied by a seminar, journal participation, or direct research.
Emory Law's curriculum incorporates a vast range of legal specialities. The school offers concentrations in taxation, business law, human rights law, health law, trial practice, environmental law, Constitutional law, labor law, criminal law, legal theory, and a particularly strong international and comparative law program. An emphasis on public interest work, professionalism, and legal ethics illustrates the school's motto, "More than Practice."
Study Abroad and Joint Degrees
Students have the opportunity to study in Hamburg, Budapest, Seoul, Singapore, Dublin, and Sydney. There is also an exchange program in Mexico City for students fluent in Spanish. As for joint degree programs, students can gain their JD/MBA, JD/MDiv, JD/MTS (Master of Theological Studies), JD/MPH (Master of Public Health), LLM, or SJD (Doctor of Juridical Science).
Clinics, Centers and Field Placements
Emory Law features diverse selection of eleven clinics and field placement centers available to students, a complete list of which can be found here. The clinics and field placements are reserved for second- and third-year students, with over one hundred students participating each year. Students may only participate in one clinic or placement per semester. Field placements scheduled for the upcoming semester include internships with Coca Cola, AT&T, the Federal Aviation Administration, Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, Atlanta Legal Aid, SEC, Georgia Supreme Court, GE Energy, Georgia Attorney General, to name a few. Clinics include the Turner Environment Law Clinic, the Barton Juvenile Defender Clinic, the International Humanitarian Law Clinic, and the Barton Public Policy Clinic.
Given the current state of the economy and its implications for the legal market, Dean Partlett articulates the concerns of many students in a recent statement:
While uncertainly surrounds the future of legal employment, a first-year Emory student reports the following about recent employment trends:
Dean Partlett reports that the Atlanta legal market is strong despite the economy. However, 88.9% of Emory graduates are employed after nine months, whereas graduates of nearby University of Georgia School of Law enjoy a slightly higher rate of 95.1%. Dean Partlett explains this disparity as a result of 76.7% of UGA graduates remain in Georgia, while just 39% of Emory graduates choose to do so, probably because Georgia residents make up around 70% of UGA's class but less than 20% of Emory students.
Dean Partlett assures prospective and current students that Emory is working to expand its national reach and exploring marketing opportunities and professional development programs that will give graduates an advantage in obtaining employment. A recently launched volunteer career advisor program and the Alumni Mentor Program are targeted at providing professional and networking opportunities for current students.
A first year says the following about the Career Services Office:
An admissions counselor posting on the Top-Law-Schools.com forum reports that Emory's national reach has improved steadily over time and is perhaps better than some prospective students are aware. While the highest concentration of graduates is in Georgia, a significant number secure employment in New York, Florida, and California, with contingencies in D.C., Chicago, and Texas.
An impressive 94% of Emory graduates pass the Georgia State Bar Exam on their first attempt, while the state's overall passage rate is about 85%.
Loan Repayment and Public Interest
The Office of Career Services features a dedicated public interest advisor. Dean Partlett says of public interest:
Approximately one third of the class is involved in EPIC, and students have raised well over $100,000 for summer public interest programs. Furthermore, Emory works closely with Atlanta employers to secure internships, providing around thirty public interest field placement opportunities for students each semester. Graduates pursing a career in public interest can take advantage of Emory's Loan Repayment Assistance Program which alleviates the burden of debt for graduates making under a certain salary in public interest jobs.
On-Campus Interviews (OCI)
“As with our peer institutions,” says Dean Partlett, “there is very little good news related to OCI this year. Employer participation was down about 50 percent across our on and off-campus recruitment programs this fall.” This dip in OCI participation can be partially explained by the fact that typically only large firms participate in OCI and have had to scale back the most in this economy. While the law school is reaching out to smaller firms, the future of OCI remains uncertain.
Quality of Life
Emory Law is located in one of the more desirable neighborhoods in Atlanta. The school is beautiful, with plush greenery and gorgeous buildings, and the weather is moderate except for the humid summers, when most students are away.
The small class size means Emory students see each other in class every day, share lockers next to one another, and eat together in one cafeteria. Students attend beer bashes on the lawn and a popular annual spring “prom.” Many students socialize outside of the law school with the business and medical school students, since both graduate schools are on the same block.
Students describe the law school as having a comfortable feel despite its large city location. The surrounding area has a wide variety of cultural restaurants and is very vegetarian friendly.
A first-year student describes the social atmosphere at Emory:
Students generally find the cost of living manageable, especially in comparison to that found in other large cities such as Chicago, DC, and New York.
One student offers this perspective on having a car in Atlanta:
Many of the impressions we have about the law school’s facilities come from visiting students and undergraduates. One undergraduate gives us this basic layout:
A first-year describes the law school building:
The buildings follow the southern architectural traditions of cleanliness and elegance. Many students find this charming, and students have few complaints about the campus.
There is no on-campus housing for law students at Emory; however, the plentiful off-campus apartments that most of the law students live in are large and relatively inexpensive.
According to a first-year student,
Other information and advice on housing from current students:
Atlanta is a bustling city with a strong presence in the legal market of the South as well as an abundant array of bars, restaurants, sporting events, and museums.
Various students offer the following testimonials about their experiences in the city:
Emory Law is a relatively costly school, and though Atlanta does have a low cost of living compared to other large cities, a student can still rack up substantial debt. Some students considering Emory are also considering UGA. One applicant notes, “You can’t beat the price of UGA…and the living is easy in Athens.” Indeed, UGA costs $14,448 for in-state residents and $30,226 for nonresidents.
Therefore, average debt for a student coming out of UGA is $58,438, nearly half of an Emory student’s $109,475 average debt. As one student puts it, the dilemma for many prospective students becomes whether to follow the lower debt or the higher ranking, not to mention the differences between Atlanta and Athens. For more about Emory Law and its employment statistics, refer to the Job Placement discussion above.
Emory Law has dozens of opportunities for students looking to be involved in organizations outside of class. Dean Partlett says, “We have active chapters of the Health Law Society, International Law Society, OUTLaw and the Black Law Students Association.” This is a small sampling of what Emory has to offer. An admissions representative adds:
Journals are another way for students to hone their legal writing and Bluebooking skills. Emory Law has three scholarly law journals - Emory Bankruptcy Developments Journal, Emory International Law Review, and Emory Law Journal.
Students are selected into one of these journals through participation in a joint writing competition consisting of a single casenote in response to a packet of materials provided by the three journals and completing a Bluebook citation quiz. Gaining entry into a journal is competitive, and for those interested, more information can be found here.
As mentioned above, students are generally friendly and cooperative in classes at Emory Law. However, when it comes to tests of intelligence, quick-thinking, and lawyerly spirit, students get serious. Many of the school’s most competitive students participate in the Moot Court Society, representing Emory on a national level. Gaining entry into this society is contingent on completing one intraschool and one interschool moot court competition.
Students have the chance to participate in Emory’s Civil Rights and Liberties Moot Court Competition, which takes place in October each year. If you are interested in moot courts for purely academic reasons, you can sit in to observe while students present their arguments and advance through the competition.
With excellent academics in a city with a superb quality of life, Emory is an excellent choice for students looking to secure employment in Georgia or the South. Overall, students report their time at Emory as challenging, enjoyable, and memorable.
Factors helping Emory to stand out from other comparably-ranked schools include its location in a relatively healthy market and its strengths in litigation and international law. Emory has an unmatched reputation in Georgia and stands as a school on the rise seeking to solidify its national reach, increasingly selective with its applicants and more aggressive in placing its graduates. In all cases, Emory Law prepares graduates with the education and tools for a successful career.
Emory Law may be relatively costly, but in the eyes of many students, it’s worth it.
U.S. News & World Report Ranking: 20th
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