My impressions from visiting for the Day in the Life program:
First, Hyde Park was much nicer than I was expecting. You have the UChicago buildings and then tons of little quiet residential side streets--that's about it--but I must emphasize (1) it didn't seem the least bit sketchy or dangerous and (2) it's incredibly easy to get elsewhere in the city. There are two express bus lines running during commuter hours that pick up and drop off right at the UChicago midway (one of which pulls right up to the law school) and then run directly into downtown Chicago. The whole ride takes about 20 minutes, though it might be slightly longer in rush hour, and the buses are free for UChicago students. There's also a CTA train line a few blocks away for other times of day, and a commuter rail line right near the campus, which might be useful if you were going to suburbs further south. So while Hyde Park pretty much completely lacked a commercial/cultural scene, it's not really an issue. I could easily imagine myself popping into downtown Chicago for dinner or a movie and then coming straight back because the commute just really isn't an issue at all. Conversely, you could easily live downtown and commute to class.
Second, the professors seemed highly engaging and interested in teaching. Part of my experience might be biased by the fact that the admissions office has been putting on the hard sell for the Rubenstein folks, but I think UChicago has absolutely had the best 0L-faculty interaction of any of the schools I've looked at. Also, the class they had us sit in on, torts with Levmore, was a standout. I'm sure most top schools have some superb lecturers on their faculties, but I got the feeling that at UChicago this is the universal norm. I gathered that the expectation is that no one gets hired at UChicago unless they know how to teach, regardless of their scholarship.
Finally for the pro side, I thought the building was great. It's a bit dated and quite a bit smaller than I had imagined (the photos somehow make it seem bigger), but it has amazing natural light and a very open, collegial feel. The entire first floor is just a big open community space, and most of the remainder of the square footage is devoted to the library and offices. Then there are also two other buildings (which, to be honest, look like sad afterthoughts) for the classrooms and the small clinical offices.
On the con side, the discussions we had with admins reinforced my belief that Chicago is very, very late to the PI party--and modern legal education in general. They do the old-school things very well, but they seem to be struggling (or perhaps reluctant) to update their ways. They kept stressing new PI initiatives, but it all felt very underwhelming in comparison to what I've seen at other schools. For example, they acted as though they had done something revolutionary in hiring a public interest coordinator (just last year, I might add), while several law schools have had entire PI offices with 3+ staffers for several years. Likewise, the explosion in clinics and student journals that has taken place in law schools over the last couple decades seems to have largely missed UChicago. To be fair, the clinics seem to be getting better every day, and actually one of the kindest, most engaging professors I've spoken with is a clinical faculty member. Still, when you compare them to places like Harvard, which has a dazzling array of clinical options, and Stanford, which is pioneering full-time clinics, it just seems very uninspired. Another area of lagging policy is cross-enrollment, especially compared to Stanford: apparently only 4 (which is even smaller when you consider that it's on the quarter system) classes can be taken at any other UChicago school.
And I would stress that the attitude towards things like externships, clinics, journals, PI, cross-enrollment, etc. is hard to glean from their website/published materials or even their official pitch to prospective students. Of course they're going to claim to be solid in everything, but I think if you do a little digging and a little reading between the lines, you'll find some shortcomings in these areas. However, as I've said, they really do seem to excel at traditional classroom education, and I realize that for many people, things like journals and cross-enrollment might not even be particularly attractive or important.
I think the culture is worthy of discussion, with the acknowledgment that my impressions are subjective and personal. My sense, in speaking personally with 5 professors and a handful of students is that UChicago, drawn in broad strokes, is a place for simple, nerdy, goofy types (and I mean the professors too, haha). No one had the polished professionalism you see at schools like Harvard, and while I would certainly say that people were ambitious, they weren't big-picture people who have a 10-year plan for making the world a better place. Rather, they're mainly just smart, somewhat aimless people who are really good at reading, writing, and reasoning, and want to make a career out of that.
More specifically, I will say that the hyper-competitive, un-fun stereotype was not visible at all--though, of course, who knows what goes on when admits aren't on campus? People seemed happy, well-adjusted, and very normal. On the other hand, I was repeatedly beat over the head with the same (wait for it...) rigor mantra. I felt a very particular sort of inferiority complex among many on campus, including and especially the admins. Essentially, the prevailing attitude is that all of UChicago's peer schools coddle their students, and meanwhile UChicago students are being prepared to practice law like no other students in the country--it's just that the rest of the world doesn't sufficiently appreciate this fact. I cannot overemphasize the insane number of repetitions of that same claim I heard: "Chicago will teach you the law better than any other school." While I don't doubt that UChicago's model might work really well for certain people, I think it's arrogant and inaccurate to believe that other schools don't also work for some people. Also, I've had several lawyers tell me in no uncertain terms that law school classes are horrible preparation for legal practice, leaving most of the burden for on-the-job training. If that's the case, what exactly is the long-term benefit of a more "rigorous" education? Incidentally, I actually had an admin say almost directly to me that law school isn't meant to be fun; I'm not sure I like that attitude. Some of us aren't masochists and actually want to enjoy law school. If someone enjoys UChicago, great, but if not, I don't think the rigor of the education is a great replacement for happiness/sanity while you're there. Again, this is all my own personal opinion.
Ok, there's a lot more I could talk about, but I'll stop here. If anyone has further questions, go ahead and ask.
Overall, I'd say that people who are worried about QOL stuff like life in Hyde Park and the un-fun rep of UChicago shouldn't be worried; people who want brilliant classroom lecturers should be excited; people who want a more diverse set of learning environments and/or a more relaxed atmosphere should take a very critical eye to the claims UChicago has been making lately.