Boalt v. Michigan was my crucial choice to make this cycle, so I did a lot of thinking about it. About a week ago I mentioned to some TLSers making a similar decision that I would post a comparison. Here is the first part of that comparison, which focuses comparing the tangible qualities of both schools - student body demographics, career placement, extracurriculars, etc. I got this info mostly from the schools' websites but putting it side-by-side was really useful for me. I've included only those issues that were interesting or relevant to me, so it won't be helpful for all of you. I hope it's of some benefit to anyone still making this decision (or a similar one). In the next day or two, I hope to add my impressions of the schools' less tangible characteristics, as I experienced them at ASW.
Sorry this is long! Just skip it if you're not interested
Table of Contents:
- Career Placement by Sector (from LST)
- Career Placement by Location (from LST)
- Breadth of Curricula/Availability as a 1L
- Class Size, Organization and Demographics
- Grading Systems
- International Programs and Curricula
- Interdisciplinary OpportunitiesIntro
Berkeley and Michigan ended up being the two law schools between which I was deciding. As soon as I got the feel for Michigan at their ASW, I concluded it was a much better fit for me than Penn had been, so Penn got thrown out. That left Berkeley. I was not quite as wowed by my Boalt visit as I had been expecting, but because I had been expecting to prefer it over Michigan, it took a little thinking and time for me to shift my mind. As part of my thought process, I wrote some charts comparing the two schools on their more quantitative aspects – for instance, the number of journals offered, the number of classes offered in a given subject of interest to me, etc. In the end, these factors didn’t determine my decision, but they helped me to clarify the choice I was making, so I’ve included them here – with the caveat that sometimes I just couldn’t find much info about certain programs or curricula on Berkeley’s website. Below that, I will try to compare the two school’s more qualitative aspects.Journals
Berkeley has 12 journals, 5 of which appealed to me a lot. Their Law Review (according to someone from the staff – I didn’t verify this independently – is one of six subscribed to by the U.S. Supreme Court. According to wikipedia, it was ranked in the top ten law journals in America in a survey taken in the 60s, 70s and 80s, and was the 6th most cited law review in the States – it was unclear whether the journal has lost that pre-eminence or the survey is no longer taken, etc. I’m not sure what all of that means in effect, but it’s impressive nonetheless. Every journal except LR has open admission and you can join right away. For CLR, grades play no role in selection – it’s entirely through a write-on competition and a personal statement. On a less important note, Boalt’s journal offices are very nice looking, I thought.
Mich has six journals, 2 or 3 of which are interesting to me. All except Law Review are open admission, and you can join two of them in your first year. I couldn’t (easily) find any commentary on MLR’s level of regard among law reviews. (Again, I have no idea how much that matters – I assume that being on LR at a top law school is equally challenging and impressive whether or not the review itself is exceptionally highly regarded.) Michigan’s journal offices are in the library and looked pretty cramped and/or uninspiring, from the outside. I wondered if they might be planning to relocate them to the new building under construction, but according to the website on the new building that is not part of the plan.Clinics
By my count, Berkeley has 18 clinics or clinic-like things. It looks like WAY fewer on the clinics page of the website and I added these up from a couple of different sources, so I may be off in my count. But the basic point holds – there are a lot of clinic-like things to do at Boalt. One reason why the count is higher than it appears is that several projects are known as SLIPs (Student Initiated Legal Projects or something – they appear to have reversed the I and L in the acronym). As I understand it, SLIPs are Boalt’s way of getting around California’s requirement that students must be 2Ls before they practice – they are organized with a different degree of oversight (sorry, I’m not exactly clear on how that works). But they still allow you to work directly with clients to some degree in your first year of law school, which is really great (you can actually start a few weeks into your first semester). The other reason why there are so many more clinic opportunities it than first appears is that one of the clinics, the East Bay Community Law Center, actually contains several clinics within it – separate projects with separate foci. Of the 18 clinic-like things that I counted, eight appealed to me based on the name alone. One of these was the international human rights clinic, but I could not find an overview of this clinic (or of most of the others). I’m not sure of the physical location of most of the clinics, but the ones that are contained within EBLC are held at a location 1.3 miles away from campus (which is perhaps inconvenient but also cool, assuming that that is a location with easy access for the community at large.
Michigan has 12 clinics, of which six are immediately interesting to me. There is a decent overview of each clinic available online. I am not sure on this, but I believe you can’t join a clinic until your 2L year. I can’t find explicit confirmation of this online though. One student on TLS said that it’s difficult to get into the clinic you want and you might be shut out if you don’t request clinics strategically. Of course that is anecdotal, and I have only a hunch, not data to support, that it wouldn’t be difficult at Boalt, both because they have fewer students and more clinics and because the focus at Boalt seems so much about real-life experiences. Michigan’s clinics will soon (Jan 2012, supposedly) be housed in the new building they’re working on, so I assume it will be nice.Career Placement (Sector)
Boalt career placement sectors for 2008 grads, according to the Law School Transparency Project:
- Private Sector: 76%
- Article III clerkship: 7%
- Public interest: 10%
- Government: 5%
- Other clerkship: 2%
- Unemployed: 1.4%
- Academia: 0%
Michigan’s career placement sectors for 2008 grads, according to the Law School Transparency Project:
- Private Sector: 78%
- Article III clerkships: 9%
- Public interest: 5.3%
- Other clerkship: 4.6%
- Government: 2.6%
- Academia: 0.8%
- Unemployed: 0.2%
Positives for Mich here (for me):
- The lower unemployment rate. I could be wrong, but the difference between 0.2% and 1.4% seems significant. (For what it’s worth, in the last days it looks like Law School Transparency has posted new numbers from those who graduated in 2009. Unemployment stats are up at both schools, but the spread of 1.2% holds exactly (Mich at 1.5%, Boalt at 2.7%).
- The higher clerkship stats, both for Article III and overall. (In 2009 the gap held steady for Art III, but narrowed for other clerkships).
- I was going to say “the better academic placement,” but the 2009 numbers had Mich and Boalt pretty much reversed from 2008 on this statistic. Perhaps the sample size is so small that year-to-year variations even themselves out of time. My anecdotal understanding has been that Michigan is better for academia in general, but I have no data for that at all.
Positives for Boalt:
- Higher PI and government placement. It’s hard to say what Michigan’s clerks do after their clerkships, but conventional wisdom would have most of them going to firms (I believe). If every clerk at both schools goes to the private sector afterward (for simplicity’s sake), then private/public placement at Mich becomes 89.6% / 9.9%, while Boalt’s becomes 85% / 15%. This would mean that Boalt has 50% more students who end up going into PI, which seems significant. By 2009’s numbers Michigan’s private/public placement would be 85.7% / 10.2% and Boalt’s would be 77.5% / 17.2%, so the relationship holds. So a significantly greater percentage of Boalt grads go on to some form of public service, which is important to me, because I don’t want to go to a school where the pressure to go to a firm will be unbearable.Career Placement (Geographic Region)
- New England: 3.5%
- Mid-Atlantic: 29%
- South Atlantic: 12%
- Pacific: 17%
- Midwest: 28%
- International: 2%
- New England: 2.5%
- Mid-Atlantic: 11%
- South Atlantic: 7%
- Pacific: 71%
- Midwest: 2.5%
- International: 2%
These pretty much speak for themselves. I understand that Boalt’s Pacific Coast placement has a lot to do with self-selection, but I like the fact that Michigan grads go everywhere. (NB: I skipped the regions without much placement from either school.)Breadth of Curricula/Availability as a 1L
I looked at (non-1L) course listings at both schools for a current or future semester. I counted 105 offered at Boalt and 106 at Michigan – impressive for Berkeley since they have a smaller student body. Both schools allow you to take a non-1L course in the second semester of your first year. Michigan’s list of allowable courses was 40 or 50 deep; I couldn’t find Boalt’s list, but the website did imply that your choice of course is limited.Class Size, Organization and Demographics
At 287 students, Berkeley’s class is significantly smaller than Michigan’s 361-376 (range over the last couple years). Both schools divide their 1L classes into 90-student sections. At Boalt, 3 of your classes are with your 90-student section, one is with a smaller 30-student group (drawn entirely from the 90-student group), and your LRW class has 20-something students. At Michigan two of your classes are with the 90-student section, one is with a 45-student subsection (drawn from the larger) and your LRW is with a 22 or 23-student subsection (drawn from the larger). So while the size of each enrolled class is larger at Michigan, the number of students who will be in the classroom with you at any given time is comparable/a little smaller at Mich.
Berkeley’s gender ratio is tilted toward women (59% women; 41% men), while Michigan’s is about even. Berkeley’s student body is much more diverse – 54% are people of color and the student body is drawn from 27 countries, versus 21% and 11 countries at Michigan. Boalt’s mean age is 25; Michigan’s is 24.2.Grading Systems
While both school’s grading systems seem to discourage competition relative to most of the T-14, Boalt goes further. Under their grading system, 60% of students in every class get a Pass grade. 30% get Honors and 10% get High Honors. It is almost impossible to fail a class (and thereby, it’s also almost impossible to do worse than median). Boalt students never learn their rank unless the apply for a clerkship, in which case they are sworn to secrecy.x By contrast, Michigan has an ABCD grading system. I haven’t looked into what the curve is. There is no employer pre-screening at OCI. Students learn their rank only after graduation.International Programs and Curricula
(something that interests me generally)
I was under the impression that Berkeley was great for international stuff (especially int’l human rights work), and that may be the case. But I couldn’t find a ton of information on Boalt’s website about opportunities to work or study abroad. Boalt lets you find your own field placement abroad for an externship, but I’m under the impression that that is not unusual. The Hague takes a lot of Boalt kids, and from the ASW I got the impression that a lot of the reason for that is that Boalt students who have worked there use their connections to help younger Boalt kids get placed there, rather than being the work of the administration – though again, this was just an anecdotal impression that was not contradicted on the website. Boalt has an International Human Rights Clinic that appears to travel overseas at times, though it’s not clear to me what it is that the clinic’s students do.
By comparison, Michigan seems to have more structured international opportunities. They have study abroad programs set up at seven different schools (in seven different countries), and the school has two formal externship programs. One is in Geneva and includes a host of NGOs, including the Hague; the other is in South Africa (working with either a governmental body or an NGO). There is also a summer fellowship abroad in refugee and asylum law, in a number of locations if I recall correctly, and some amount of funding is available for post-graduate externships abroad. In addition to the formal programs, Michigan recently made it mandatory for every student to take Transnational Law at some point. They also claim to have “one of the foremost centers of student on law and legal issues in India,” which I noted because that subject interests me.
Michigan says they offer 25-30 courses related to international legal issues each year. I counted up Berkeley’s offerings in a sample semester and found 13 (so about the same number per year as Michigan, except I guess there would be some repeats).Interdisciplinary Opportunities
Berkeley allows you to take “7-8 credits” of coursework for credit outside the law school (this info per a faculty member at the ASW). Michigan lets you take 12 credits. Neither school’s websites had well-arranged, accessible info about certificate programs, although I’ve heard a little about the certificates at both schools and they sound appealing.