A pretty informative guy named unemployednusl posts on JDU about his experiences at Northeastern.
I am the Northeastern School of Law (NUSL) poster in question. Usually vent my frustrations on other websites, but recently joined jdunderground. Here are my thoughts on Dean Spieler's remarks.
I am not surprised at all. It is in the school's self-interest to provide the most positive spin on their $200,000 product. With the debate of UMASS taking over Southern New England School of Law, there has been a lot of condemnation of Northeastern, as well as Suffolk and New England School of Law, for providing a third-rate legal education and career prospects at an Ivy-league cost.
Spieler's comments also do not surprise me because she and the admin unfortunately fall into that minority of liberals who are completely intolerant to views divergent to their own (I say this as a liberal myself). I say this to elucidate the rationale why, if they could, they would force every single student to work in the public interest. They have absolutely no interest in expanding their ties with law firms of any size, business, or anything remotely capitalist in nature or design. The alumni job page is almost exclusively public interest jobs, many of which are prestigious fellowships, federal government positions, or ACLU/Southern Poverty Center positions that NUSL grads have little hope of obtaining. Even though the vast majority of grads take the MA bar, very few jobs, public interest or not, are in MA. Numerous tenured professors expressed disdain at students' desires of working in law firms large or small, in some cases labelling them as sellouts or even (horrors!) "conservative." In fact, the legal writing program is tied into a program where 1L's are forced to perform free legal work for public interest organizations. EVERY SINGLE ORGANIZATION IS EXTREMELY LIBERAL. I do not think they have ever reached out to an organization with nonliberal beliefs/leadership to join the program. Students do not get to choose what org they perform work for, meaning that a good number of students are forced to perform free legal work for organizations whose beliefs are opposite or repugnant to their own. So, if you are conservative or moderate in your political views, you will explicitly feel unwelcome and unvalidated at Northeastern. I would almost go so far as to say that the administration views itself as ecclesiastical - that they feel that it is a "mission" to create public interest attorneys, adnd this belief is so overwhelming that any students who choose other paths are viewed as blasphemous Judases. Which is an issue for the 85% of the school that ultimately does not go into public interest (according to the school's employment surveys),
I also cannot help but notice that the school hasn't updated their salary and employment data in close to a year and a half. I wonder why... Of course, the most recent employment info (no longer available on their website) claimed that my class (2007) had a median $87,500 salary, despite the fact that about 18% of the class got biglaw, a huge number had (state) clerkships, the few midlaw folk started at $60-75k, and many went into shitlaw, bartending, or other nonlegal jobs. But this is no different than any other law school outside of the top 14. What is different is that Northeastern is one of the very few law schools in the first two tiers that refuses to provide % employed at graduation numbers. According to USNWR, if that info is not provided, the magazine takes the 9 months post-grad %, subtracts 35, and uses that number in their calculations. What this means is that employment at graduation is pretty low (below 60%, by my calculations), despite the school's insistent claims that "many" students gain employment from one of their co-op employers (a laughable notion). The co-op program is a giant fraud, but that is really the subject of a separate conversation, so I will refrain.
The school fancies itself living in some bubble or coccoon, separate and apart from the trials and turmoils of other law schools. Instead of grades, we receive written evaluations. These evaluations can be as short as one sentence, or can run for pages. However, there is an unwritten rule that every evaluation must state somewhere that the student was "outstanding," "excellent," "very good," "good," "fair," or "poor." These roughly correlate to A+, A, B+, B / B-, C/C-, and D (it depends on the prof, really). Every employer in Massachusetts is aware of this, and so the evaluations are quickly stripped into a de facto set of grades. This is especially true when most of your professors simply write "This was a _____ exam." For Boston biglaw, one must essentially hit all outstandings or excellents. To my knowledge, there is no class curve, although I suppose individual profs can set their own curves. I have not heard of any, though that certainly doesn't mean they don't exist. Once you head outside of Massachusetts/New England, it is a rare employer indeed who, unfamiliar with the evaluation system, is willing to wade through 27-30 pages of evaluations and then attempt to decipher how that compares to other applicant's x.x GPA score and class rank. The school likes to say that because we have evaluations and no class rank, the school isn't competitive. As a graduate, I will provide the most cogent retort I can, based upon my three years spent in their classrooms: bullshit.
To be fair, I do not believe the administration is as greed-bent as that of other law schools. For the most part, they are ex-1960's radicals. You see, NUSL was closed for nearly twenty years, from the early 1950's until 1969. When it was rebooted, it was purposely made to be the "anti-Harvard." Most of the senior administration and faculty date right back to the reopening of the school, or soon thereafter. The issue is that being the anti-Harvard law school today is to commit suicide. I have no clue whether the admin live in splendor in the western or northern suburbs of Boston, or in Back Bay townhouses, or whatever. The undergrad administration is paid very well indeed, although whether this translates to the law school is a determination I am not willing to make. The Northeastern parking lots are across campus from the law school, so I have no clue if they roll in European luxury cars or Kias. I would wager their compensation is in line with other similarly-ranked law schools. But they are little concerned with raising money, outrageous tutition notwithstanding. I have actually not received one plea for donations in the two and a half years since graduation. Their offices are not lined in burled mahogany or filled with fancy furniture, and the original law school building screams bare-budget 1960's construction (rats and roaches in the basement are common - home to prof offices, lecture halls, the original common area, and the lockers). The 1968/2008 addition is nicer, but still nothing special if one walks over to Suffolk or Harvard. They even like to crow about how the "new" building is sooo green because it is LEED Silver certified, as if having the third-best rating is something really fucking special (it means having scored btw 60 and 80 on a 110 point scale).
Another aspect that does set the admin apart is their complete disregard for school rankings (except for when it suits them). The school has dropped from #77 to #94 over the last four or five years in the USNWR rankings. I would assume the main culprits for this alarming decline are the lack of grades, class rank, or law review, all of which must kill the school in the all-important academic reputation segment. In addition, the school, until 20008, was housed in a horribly shabby, small white-brick building from the 1960's. This building has never been renovated beyond minor A/V enhancements. In 2008, they took over a second 1960's white-brick building, albeit one that had been mildly gutted inside. The insane cost must also be a detriment. The student budget is a tad over $65,000 per year, more expensive than Suffolk, BC, BU, and within about $2500 of Harvard Law School. Given the disparities in financial aid, Northeastern probably is more expensive than Harvard for the average student. There is simply no reason it should cost anywhere near as much, given the limited physical plant, relatively small student body (~650 in the school), and sparse course selection (due to scheduling challenges with the quarterly co-op system, the school only offers about 40% of the number of courses as BU). Many of the courses, particularly transactional/business courses, are taught by adjuncts. As you might expect from what I have written, transactional courses are a small minority of the offerings; a quick scan of the course catalog reveals such gems as Animal Law, Human Rights in the Global Economy, and Law, Policy, and Society. Such fluff (there are many others) probably hurts the academic reputation. The complete venom shown towards anything conservative or even centrist probably is a small contributing factor for the school's low ranking. If you look only at the undergrad GPA and LSAT in USNWR, then Northeastern should be ranked somewhere in the high 40's to mid 50's. The admin is just running things really poorly, and everyone knows it. If the school does drop into the third tier this March with the new rankings (below the goddamn University of Maine Law School!), I will personally launch a campaign to oust every leadership role in the law school.
Of course, when the rankings benefit them, they crow about it from the rooftops. If one were to peruse the law school's website, you would notice a prominent headline discussing how the Princeton Review has named them one of the most outstanding law schools in the country (only 172 law schools are discussed!), and one of "only" forty law schools to place in two categories. What categories, might you ask? "Best environment" for minority students and "most liberal" students. Laudable qualities, I suppose, but neither say anything about the inherent quality of the school. But what, you might ask, of the important benefits for students going into the public interest, like an incredible loan forgiveness program similar to that of Berkeley, Georgetown, and Harvard? No such luck. If you send in reams of paperwork, and earn less than the ridiculously low ceiling of $38k in a public interest job, you might get a couple hundred dollars, maybe even a thousand, in assistance per year. Doesn't really compare, does it? But what does it matter when the oh-so-prestigious Prelaw Magazine determines you are the number one public interest law school in the country?
What makes this really odd is that Northeastern University itself is on a massive drive to shed its image as Boston's commuter college into an important and elite research university. The hired a new president - Joseph Aoun - a few years ago, bought him a $9 million, five-story townhouse on Beacon Hill (several miles from Northeastern's campus), and set things in motion sufficient to bring the school from unranked up 60 spots to somewhere in the 90's of the top National Universities in USNWR. It is very odd, in my eyes, that the university admin lets the law school be so diffident concerning their reputation. I mean, the symbolism of Northeastern - founded in the Boston YMCA to provide an education for the Irish and other undesirables that the wealthy Boston Brahamans considered inhuman during the Gilded Age - buying their president a townhouse in Beacon Hill, home to Boston Brahmans then and now, is almost overwhelming. All the usual rankings-improvement criteria are being implemented: admissions rates are lowered while they simultaneously target students who wouldn't get in, so as to make admittance even lower; shiny new 15-25 story dorms and academic towers are built (using debt instruments, of course), a new gym half a city block in size, etc; big campaign drives, and so on and so forth. All out of the same playbook that BU undertook in the 1990's, and BC undertook in the 1980's. Given this background, the law school's indifference to public opinion is all the more shocking.
The "deeply unhappy comment" strike a personal chord with me, because the first time I voiced frustration with the career services office - two years after graduation - I was told that they did not know what they could do to assist me, and that I should speak to the local branch of Lawyers Concerned for Lawyers. As if that would help me procure employment. Again, I think it all falls under their rubric of "people who don't want to work in public interest are wrong; there is something wrong with them." I am quite serious in stating the above. The fact that I am trying to find a law firm or corporate job to service my $200,000 (and climbing) in student loans, interest, and penalties is viewed with disgust by the school. A real Northeastern graduate would be willing to make the financial sacrifice to work pro bono for the rest of their life in Dorchester, Detroit, or preferably some third-world country, because that really makes for a good byline. Nothing cheers up a 1960's hippie-cum-law school administrator like a pretty white kid from Greenwich or Weston telling people in Sub-Saharan Africa or Indonesia how they should be running their societies. God forbid they pull themselves up by their own bootstraps or figure things out by themselves. Where would they be without the support of clean-cut WASPS? What unctuous crap.
This view is enhanced by a consistent and very vocal minority of the student body who parrot the administration's perspective that every single person at the school should work in the public interest. Mind you, only 12-15% of a given graduating class go into the public interest. Interestingly, many of the most vocal public interest folk (in my class, at least) came from pretty serious money, lived in luxury apartments/condos on the waterfront, Beacon Hill, or in Back Bay, and drove to school in BMWs and Audis. In their three years of law school, they spend absolutely no time whatsoever in the poorer neighborhoods of Boston, whose residents they claim to champion. In fact, I rather doubt they incurred any student loans at all...
If I could find an entry-level $30k job at some company somewhere, I would gladly take it, even though my minimum student loan payments are about $26k after taxes. There is not one entry-level position at a MA law firm on the school's job board. NOT ONE. Suffolk and New England School of Law have such positions listed, even if they are at shockingly low wages (think $25k). What they do have listed are a stenographer salesperson listing, a two-year unfunded fellowship in frigging Liberia, an attorney listing for Pangea3 in Mumbai, and an attorney/assistant position for a solo in Tiverton, RI, which is a lower-middle class suburb of Fall River, MA, a destitute mill city of 90,000 at the mouth of Narragansett Bay. Plus an incredibly random smegma of public interest positions in Arizona, Florida, Alaska, DC, and basically anywhere except Massachusetts, where the vast majority of grads take the bar.
Am I deeply unhappy? Fucking hell I am! I had no great shakes before law school - as a graduate of a non-Williams/Amherst/Bowdoin/Middlebury NESCAC institution (the only ones with decent career services and loyal, high-placed alumni), I was in the midst of discovering how useless a liberal arts education really is in a city of research universities like Boston. However, even with the variety of crap retail and sales positions I held, I could make my loan payments. Today, I look at my future, and I need to make about $60k to spend as little as half my after-tax salary to Access and Nelnet. I have literally ten times the student loan debt that I did post-undergrad. I live in my parents' house with no health insurance, no car, and basically no hope. I have no expectation of making even $30k in my first job, whether in the legal profession or not. I feel successful if an employer I have applied to takes the time to send me a rejection letter, which happens maybe one time out of fifty. Informational sessions done as favors aside, I have not had a legitimate job interview in about a year and a half. Given that I took a spate of corporate and transactional courses, cannot afford malpractice insurance, and live in one of the most overlawyered states in the country, the idea that I might set up a virtual law office or troll the county courthouses for DUI's is risible. Every time my parents juggle credit cards or take money from their 401k's so that I can buy food, I want to vomit. I would try to get a job at Best Buy or something, except that I am "overqualified" and my student loan payments would drown me. My running shoes are four years old, and my glasses prescriptions are seven, but I cannot bear to ask my folks to help me get new ones. I screwed up something in my left shoulder really badly this summer, and still have not told them, because they cannot afford to send me to physical therapy, but would anyway. I have trouble sleeping without downing a few drinks - when I don't, I am usually awake until four or five in the morning, doubled over with fear and regret. Living with my parents in the middle of expensive metro-Boston suburbia, I can't even remember the last time I talked to someone of the opposite sex, much less had any sort of relationship. Which is of little consequence, because the salary I need to make to support a home and a family is far more than I ever have a reasonable expectation to make. Call it a buck-fifty, at least.
To sum all of this up, Northeastern admin, Dean Spieler, and career services: go fuck yourselves. Fuck the school. Fuck your families. I hope your next of kin suffer a deabilitating disease and coverage is denied by your insurance provider, so that you can understand the destructive nature and shame and stress of hundreds of thousands of dollars in debt. You have destroyed my future, and have the fucking temerity to dismiss candid profiles of the school on the internet because it might endanger your cushy jobs. Rot in hell.