JXander wrote:kalvano wrote:
But there are a number of things I like about SMU.
This is a (really obnoxiously long) response to a PM someone sent me a long time ago asking , basically, "is SMU a good school?":
They seem to make no effort to take advantage of the massive Dallas area legal market. It's almost like they pretend the surrounding cities don't exist. I don't know how familiar you are with Dallas, but their are cities that immediately border it that make up the Dallas-area metroplex. Plano, Denton, Addison, etc. Also Southlake, Grapevine, Las Colinas....there are tons of middle-sized law firms in these areas that I know have at least one summer law associate because I've contacted them. But if you were to look at what SMU offers, it downtown Dallas Biglaw or almost nothing else. It's a huge waste of resources.
We had less than 70 total firms for OCI, which is pathetic given how many firms there are around here. But I get tons of emails with opportunities to go work in places like New York City, Chicago, the Santa Barbara DA's office, which all sounds great until you get to the "unpaid" part. If you've got enough money to afford to go to NYC and work for free over the summer, something tells me a job after school isn't high on the priority list.
The explicitly advise against mass mailing firms, which is just mind-boggling to me.
I do not expect Career Services to hold my hand and find me a job. I do expect them to go out and seek out firms and get them make jobs available to SMU students, and after that, it's up to me to impress the firm. But to not even reach out and get them run a Symplicity posting, but to have 15 unpaid internships around the country in some of the most expensive places to live...it seems like their priorities are screwed up to me.
Further, if you want anything other than Biglaw, they are of little use. They almost freeze up completely if you ask about government work or anything other than Jones Day. And, during 1L especially, they will have a lot of "mandatory" meetings which do nothing but tell you to "network." I suppose that some of the stuff might be nice for someone who is 22 and straight from undergrad, but they need to have an exception for people like me who have worked before school and understand how to write a thank-you email, a resume, etc. I felt like a lot of the time they required of me was fairly worthless, and time is a pretty valuable commodity in law school.
As for job prospects, well...I know a few T10%, LR people who have nothing for next summer. The firms are more selective, and there are a lot of UT and T14 candidates applying to the market. I think I have something for next summer, but it's due to my own diligence and not anything from SMU. SMU's name still carries pretty good weight in D/FW, and if you can do well, you'll probably find something, it just may not be what you want.
SMU runs at a glacial pace. For instance, we didn't get a schedule of Spring 2012 classes until the Friday before registration started on Monday. For some reason, they seem to think it's OK to just meander along and take their time with everything. It's not. The top schools give students an answer pretty quickly for the most part. If you apply in October, you'll usually hear back within a couple months.
God help you if you miss SMU's November EA deadline, because you may not hear anything until May.Apparently not true anymore. And when we were waiting on our exam grades from Fall of 1L, it took almost 6 weeks to get them, and meanwhile, some summer stuff was being hired on a rolling basis and you needed grades to apply. For Spring of 1L, they set a deadline for professors to turn in grades, which several missed. If a student missed a deadline, they would fail a course. Professors got an extension. They teach 1-2 classes a year and only have to grade twice a year. It's not much to ask that they do so in a timely manner and respect deadlines. And I say this as certified English teacher who has to read through a couple hundred essays and grade them. It sucks, but suck it up...you're getting paid 6 figures to be a law professor.
The Dean is a complete tool (but who cares now? YAY!). Every time he talks, he spends the first 10-15 minutes talking about his published law review articles, how great he is at Con law, etc. I know this sounds like a weird personal attack, but PM any SMU student and they will probably tell you the same thing. He seems so full of himself that it's a wonder he doesn't burst. And he always cites the same "media guide" facts about SMU...we have 3 or 4 grads that are CEO's in Fortune 50 companies (more than Harvard), the Thai or Bangladeshi (one of them, I can't recall which) Chief Justice of the Supreme Court went to SMU, we have a lot of international students...that's all well and good, but the Chief Justice or the Thai Prime Minister could have gone to Cooley and had guaranteed jobs. SMU has been falling in the rankings and he has articulated no plan at all to correct that. Moreover, he always likes to say that SMU is one of the most selective schools in the country and (I kid you not) compare it to Harvard. I understand it's his job to sell the school, but I want a clear and articulated plan as to how he intends to 1) raise SMU's ranking, and 2) secure jobs for the students there. I am paying for a professional degree, and I expect at least an idea of how the school intends to help me. it's much easier to sell a school ranked in the 30's than one teetering on the edge of the top 50.
Further, they love to talk about how bad UT's legal writing program is and how it doesn't prepare students for the real world. Fine and dandy, but UT is rising in the rankings and has at least double the potential employers SMU has. SMU's legal writing program sucks, it's graded, and it's ridiculously hard. I don't mind putting in hard work, but it's almost specifically designed to give you as much work as possible with as little feedback or actual teaching as possible.
There just seems to be some institutional blockage about joining in the modern era. Everything is still run like SMU runs the Dallas legal market, and it doesn't. I want SMU to do things like have an online exam bank for students to study from, not have a secret book in the library that they won't let anyone see until November, and professors are not required to submit sample exams. It's absurd. If I want to study recent exams before November, for $40K a year, I damn well ought to be able to. And I want Career Services to keep track of what class rank gets interviewed by whom. I asked them about the listed cutoffs for firms from OCI and all they could tell me was that firms hire outside their cutoffs. That's very helpful, thanks....to what extent? It seems to me that part of being an effective Career Services office would be the ability to track what class rank got which interview, so when a firm says that they only want the top 25%, Career Services can tell students that they may say that, but that 90% of their interviews come from the top 10%, or that about half the students they interviewed were below top 25% but above top 50%.
It just seems like there are a lot of "best practices" out there that they willfully ignore, yet tout themselves as the equal of Harvard, etc. If everything were humming along like it was 2005, that would be fine. But when you aren't actually Harvard, stop telling people you are just as selective and get off your ass and start implementing practices that will maximize your student's chances of finding employment
I know this is a ton of writing, and I probably sound super bitchy. I'm really not, I just have very little patience for posturing and sticking your head in the sand. If there is a problem, fix it. Don't pretend it doesn't exist. Make a plan and clearly articulate it to students as to how and why their degree will not lose value because "Here are the steps we are going to take to not only keep SMU in the top 50 schools, but raise its ranking..." Maybe I am being too sensitive and bitchy, I don't know. But these are some of the problems I see in dealing with the school on a daily basis. What bothers me most is not that there are problems, but there seems to be no clear plan or direction to fix them.
The Good Stuff
Before you think I hate everything and am just being bitchy for the sake of being bitchy, there are a lot of things I really love about SMU. The students, on the whole, are very friendly and willing to help each other. I know a lot of the top people in my class, and they are very willing to help out anyone and not snide at all. Everyone seems to want to do well, but not at the expense of others. There is much more willingness to help a fellow student out than to try and screw them. No one will deliberately send you bad notes if you missed class, or tear pages out of books in the library. People are genuinely nice to each other.
As much as I dislike the Dean, I will give him credit for bringing in some excellent young professors. People not only at the top of their field in the practice of law, but they also are actually good teachers, which is refreshing. They seem to really enjoy teaching and are a pleasure to learn from. And they, by and large, extremely smart and fairly young. They could probably be at most any law school, but here they are. I can think of at least half a dozen that I want to take every class they offer just to be able to learn more from them. A lot of times professors are chosen based on their skill as lawyers, not teachers. It's nice to have both. I really can't say enough about the quality of professors they've brought in.
The Partner to Practice program is really great, and I can't give them enough credit for that. They find small / medium firms / business around the city that would like legal help for the summer, but can't afford to pay $1500 a week or something like that. The employer pays you, somewhere between $450 and $750 a week, and the school matches that in tuition reduction for the following year. Is it ideal? Nope. But it beats the hell out of working for free, and it's a genuinely creative solution to a problem. It's not supposed to lead to full time employment, but it does for several people.
I'm not really sure how to sum this up. There are aspects of SMU that drive me absolutely crazy, and aspects I really love. On the whole, I am happy at SMU. Would I recommend it over UT? Not unless there was a very, very, very compelling reason. Is it a good law school? I think so. But it could be much, much better. It seems like they waste a lot of opportunity, since they are the only law school in Dallas, and it seems like they should be a much higher-ranked school. They are making missteps along the way somewhere.