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The George Washington University Law School
Published September 2007, last updated February 2011
With almost 150 years of history and an enviable setting in the heart of the nation’s capital, The George Washington University Law School attracts thousands of applicants and hundreds of matriculants each year. Aside from its location in one of the world’s biggest and most competitive legal markets, the school features a solid national reputation and one of the most prominent intellectual property programs in the country.
Although it admits one of the largest 1L classes in the country—among first-tier schools, only Harvard and Georgetown have comparably sized student bodies—GW Law’s admissions process remains selective. In 2009, less than a third of full-time applicants gained acceptance to the law school; in 2008, that percentage was even lower. The GPA and LSAT medians for the Class of 2013 are 3.79 and 167, respectively. However, GW does have a reputation for accepting a large number of “splitters”—applicants with a much better LSAT score than GPA, or vice-versa—so candidates with one so-so metric still stand a decent chance. The law school provides a useful chart detailing the success rates of recent applicants with various GPA/LSAT combinations.
With the exception of the binding Early Decision program (see below), GW Law makes admissions decisions on a rolling basis. The school begins making decisions in December, and continues to do so until after the March 31 application deadline. Although the school’s website states that “applying early does not significantly increase an applicant’s chances of gaining admission,” the logistics of a rolling admissions cycle suggest that candidates should still submit their applications as early as possible.
A complete application file includes the George Washington University Law School application, which can be completed through LSAC or in hard copy, a personal statement, and a resume. Two letters of recommendation are encouraged but not required. Candidates should strive to make all components of their applications as strong as possible; nevertheless, since GW has a large student body to fill and does not even require letters of recommendation, it seems that numbers heavily outweigh other factors.
GW Law’s website also claims that its admission standards for full-time and part-time students are identical. However, a glance at the 25th and 75th percentiles shows that GPA’s and LSAT scores are significantly lower for part-time students, especially at the 25th percentile. These applicants are more likely to boast significant work experience or other “soft” factors, so these differences should be taken with a grain of salt. Still, since part-time students can generally transfer to the full-time program after one year, applying to the evening program may make sense for applicants with marginal numbers employed in the D.C. area.[iii]
The decision by U.S. News and World Report to start counting part-time statistics in the magazine’s rankings index is speculated to have caused George Washington’s eight-spot drop in the 2010 rankings—a drop that corrected itself in the 2011 rankings, when the law school significantly reduced the size of its incoming part-time class. The entering 1L class of 2008 had approximately 125 students, while new students in 2009 included about 50 part-time students and the most recent 1L class has just 34 part-timers.
Perhaps because of this dramatic decrease in the part-time class size, the admissions rate for part-time candidates is actually much lower than for full-time applicants, despite lower GPA and LSAT numbers. In 2009, just 16.8% of part-time applications were successful.
Multiple LSAT Scores
Although the admissions committee will see all LSAT information, GW gives the most weight to the highest score. Per American Bar Association regulations, the law school will also report each matriculating student’s highest score for rankings and other purposes.
Personal Statements and Addenda
Aside from numbers, the personal statement is one of the most important parts of law school admissions. The personal statement, which should be no more than two double-spaced pages, gives J.D. candidates the chance to express themselves and convey any information they would like the admissions committee to consider. GW urges applicants to keep statements positive: if one wants to explain a low LSAT score, GPA, or other weak factor, one should do it in an addendum rather than in the personal statement. According to GW’s website, the statement “should provide information that will help our admissions committee to understand what you will bring to our community and to the practice of law.”
If a candidate would like to offer an explanation for something on their application, like a GPA brought down by serious illness, he or she should submit a short addendum. Likewise, an applicant with a demonstrated history of poor performance on standardized tests but stellar academic performance may want to detail this history.
Letters of Recommendation
GW Law does not require letters of recommendation, but welcomes two from applicants who believe recommendations can strengthen their applications. The law school prefers that letters be sent through LSAC, but will accept recommendations directly from writers.
Binding Early Decision Program
GW Law offers a binding early decision program that extends a full-tuition scholarship to all admitted applicants. Candidates must submit their applications by December 15, and will receive a decision in mid-January. Applicants should be certain that GW is the right school for them, since applying to the early decision program represents a serious commitment: admitted applicants must withdraw all other law school applications and submit a $1,500 seat deposit by the end of January. According to a TLS poster who asked the admissions department, the 2009 medians for accepted ED candidates were 3.83 and 169.
Transfers, Waitlists, and Deferrals
GW Law accepts a significant number of transfers each year: 51 in the most recent year, according to the ABA.[iv] When considering transfer applicants, the school takes into account all of the usual J.D. admissions factors, including undergraduate GPA and LSAT scores. However, performance in the first year of law school weighs most heavily. According to GW’s website, successful transfer applicants are typically in the top 10-15% of their 1L classes. Each candidate’s reasons for transferring to GW Law are also considered, and should be included in the personal statement.
George Washington Law places a number of applicants on a waitlist each year. The school encourages those on the waitlist to remain engaged with the law school, notifying GW Law of any relevant updates like second semester college grades, honors, or work promotions. Some waitlisted candidates will receive notice of their acceptance as late as August.
The law school grants a limited number of deferrals to admitted students each year, considering requests on a case-by-case basis. One-year requests are more likely to be approved than two-year requests, although multiple-year deferrals will be granted for exceptional circumstances like military duty or well-known public service fellowships.[v]
Scholarships and Financial Aid
George Washington Law’s high tuition and location in one of the country’s most expensive cities make attending costly, but the school provides some merit and need-based aid to help ease this burden. As noted above, all accepted Early Decision candidates garner a full-tuition scholarship. In recent years, GW Law has also awarded large scholarships of about $35,000 of tuition a year plus free first-year housing in the nearby Alston complex. The school also gives out smaller merit-based awards and a limited number of need-based grants of $3,000 to $15,000.[vi]
GW Law provides some additional support to a limited number of students committed to public interest work, including summer funding and fellowships for 3L’s. The school also has a loan repayment assistance program (LRAP) that provides up to $8,000 a year of assistance to graduates working in low-paying public service. For more information about GW’s LRAP—which is not guaranteed for all qualifying students—see the TLS LRAP profile.
Washington, DC is one of the most cosmopolitan cities in America: due to its status as the center of government and policy, the District attracts people from all sorts of locations and backgrounds. Similarly, GW Law’s student body shows diversity along several dimensions: the most recent 1L class represents forty-four states, nine foreign countries, and almost a hundred different colleges and universities, and the law school prides itself on its diversity of ethnicity and life experience as well. Approximate demographic information for the entire student body is reproduced below:
First-year students at George Washington Law take a traditional slate of mandatory classes: Torts, Property, Constitutional Law, Criminal Law, Civil Procedure, and Contracts (the latter two are taken both semesters of 1L year). In addition, GW requires students to take a graded semester of Legal Writing and Research, as well as a related Advocacy class that focuses on pretrial motions and appellate briefs and a course on Professional Responsibility and Ethics.
Owing to its large size, GW Law offers over 200 classroom options for upper-level students, not counting many clinical opportunities. According to the ABA, these classes include 75 seminars. 1L sections are large (at around 100 students), although these are broken up into much smaller groups for Legal Writing and Research.
While the law school does not offer major-like specialty tracks, the school highlights seven “academic focus areas” with strong faculty and resource support, including Environmental Law and Government Procurement Law. GW’s Intellectual Property Law program is especially notable: U.S. News & World Report ranks the school third in the country, trailing only elite Bay Area schools Berkeley and Stanford.[viii]
As one of the nation’s biggest centers of legal teaching and scholarship, GW Law boasts a large and diverse faculty. University of Chicago professor Brian Leiter’s most recent study on scholarly impact as indicated by number of citations ranks George Washington’s faculty eighteenth in the nation, despite the exercise’s admitted bias against larger schools. GW actually placed two spots ahead of nearby Georgetown in this study.[ix]
Prominent faculty members include Naomi Cahn, a well-known expert in family law; Orin Kerr, who has authored or co-authored popular casebooks in criminal procedure and cyberspace law; Richard J. Pierce, Jr., the most commonly cited administrative law scholar in the world; and Jeffrey Rosen, whose legal insights frequently appear in top law reviews and a variety of popular media outlets. Still, one TLS user writes that the value of GW’s professors goes beyond scholarly reputation:
However, George Washington’s large student body does make for bigger class sizes: at roughly 15:1, GW’s student-to-faculty ratio is the highest among top-twenty schools.[xi] Enrollment in some classes tops 75 or even 100 students. While one TLS user complains that this makes for a “diploma mill” atmosphere,[xii] others point out that except for classes taught by the most prominent professors, most 2L and 3L classes are not huge, and claim that “the larger student body is not really ‘felt’ in the classroom.”[xiii]
GW Law offers a general Masters of Law degree for foreign-trained lawyers who wish to take the bar and practice in the United States. The law school also confers LL.M. degrees in nine specialty areas, including Business and Finance Law, Environmental Law, Intellectual Property Law, International and Comparative Law, Litigation and Dispute Resolution Law, and National Security and U.S. Foreign Relations Law. For most of these tracks, LL.M. students take classes alongside J.D. candidates.
LL.M. tuition is less expensive than for the J.D. program, at $37,128 for the 2010-2011 school year. Other estimated costs (fees, supplies, and living expenses) are identical to the J.D. program, making the total cost of attendance for one year of LL.M. study approximately $63,000.
J.D. students at GW Law benefit from all the advantages of a national research university, including a variety of joint degree options with four schools at GWU. Law students interested in business or finance can earn an M.B.A. from the George Washington University School of Business. Those with global or political interests can pursue a degree with the Elliot School of International Affairs, and those interested in health issues can earn a Master of Public Health with the School of Public Health and Health Services. The Columbian College of Arts and Sciences also offers joint degrees with the law school, like a Master of Public Policy or an M.A. in legal history or women’s studies.
Joint degree hopefuls must be accepted to each program separately. Once admitted, joint degree candidates take a standard 1L course load before beginning their graduate study. Up to twelve credits from the second degree can generally be counted toward the J.D. credit hours requirement. The university also offers two joint degree options to Master of Laws students: an M.P.H and three M.A. tracks with the Columbian College of Arts and Sciences.
GW Law students have the opportunity to spend a summer studying European and International Law at the University of Augsburg, Intellectual Property Law in Munich, or International Human Rights Law at Oxford University. Through the North American Consortium on Legal Education, students can also spend a semester studying at one of several law schools in Canada or Mexico.[xiv]
George Washington Law publishes seven journals on which students can gain editing experience, and over 400 students generally become involved with at least one publication. The George Washington Law Review is the most competitive of these journals. Students are chosen largely on the basis of first-year grades, but a writing competition also weighs in the selection process, and up to 10% of each year’s new members may be selected solely on a “write-on” basis. The Law Review holds a separate writing competition for transfer students and an editing competition to select members for editorial board positions.
Law Review writing competition results are also used to select members for the George Washington International Law Review, International Law in Domestic Courts, andthe Public Law Contract Journal. Other editing opportunities include the American Intellectual Property Law Association Quarterly Journal, the Federal Circuit Bar Journal, and the Journal of Energy and Environmental Law.
Clinics and Externships
GW Law’s size and location provide a rich diversity of clinical experiences. Twelve different clinics span a range of interests, from immigration law and domestic violence advocacy to small business development and consumer mediation. One of these clinics, D.C. Law Students in Court, is a joint effort between George Washington and four other area law schools. The Vaccine Injury Clinic also offers a unique experience, as it is the only one of its kind.
GW students with a little initiative can pursue faculty-supervised externships in one of the world’s most exciting legal markets. Students in the Outside Placement program must enroll in a co-requisite course. Students participating in the program have had the opportunity to work for federal judges as well as government agencies like the Department of Justice and Securities and Exchange Commission and prestigious public interest organizations such as the American Civil Liberties Union and the World Health Organization.
GW Law students who use the TLS forums consistently rave about the year-round opportunities living in D.C. presents, especially for those who are willing to do some legwork on their own. Says one student:
George Washington Law gives students three opportunities to develop their lawyering skills through competition. The Moot Court Board and Mock Trial Board each hold several internal competitions per year and also send students to compete in interscholastic events. The Alternative Dispute Resolution Board explores non-litigious methods of resolving conflicts, allowing interested students to hone their negotiation and arbitration skills.[xvii]
Over forty student groups represent a variety of interests, ranging from professional niches (the Corporate and Business Law Society and the Cyberlaw Students Association) to the less serious (the GW Law Softball Club and the entertainers’ group, Law Revue). These organizations, along with journals, experiential learning, and the District’s ample opportunities for professional development and recreation, should ensure that no GW Law student becomes bored.
The law school offers the kind of modern amenities one would expect from a well-respected institution, including three moot court rooms, campus-wide wireless access, and “smart” classrooms that integrate recent technology with the traditional teaching of law. Law students also have access to the conveniences of a large research university, including necessities like a well-equipped fitness facility (the Lerner Health and Wellness Center). The Jacob Burns Law Library boasts over 600,000 volumes and a large staff.[xviii]
If students have one complaint about GW Law’s facilities, it seems to be limited space. The library, for example, has seating capacity for 637 students, or about 40% of the student body. One TLS poster who attended GW complains:
Over the past several years, a deep recession and sluggish recovery have drastically reduced employment opportunities at virtually every law school in the country. 31.6% of the class of 2009 found jobs with the 250 largest American law firms,[xx] a marked decrease from 43.5% in 2008.[xxi] Still, 2009 grads faced a much more favorable job market than do current students. While there is a frustrating lack of complete and up-to-date third-source data, it is safe to say that prospective students should seriously weigh diminished job prospects before taking out large educational loans for any law school.
George Washington Law reported approximately 93% of its graduates employed at graduation in 2009, with nearly all graduates employed within nine months of commencement. Like most law schools, GW places a majority of its graduates into law firms. Probably due to its location and student self-selection, the law school sends an above-average fraction of its class into government service.
*3.2% of class placed in Article III federal clerkships
A George Washington Law degree has some national reach, but an overwhelming majority of students stay on the Eastern seaboard. Much of this is undoubtedly due to self-selection, but students who want to work in a non-East Coast market may be better off attending school in that region, even if at a lower-ranked school.
As noted above, most GW Law students will wind up working for firms. Summer associate and full-time positions with large, market-paying firms have been harder to come by in recent years, and students without top grades are increasingly sweating out on-campus interviews or scrambling to find other employment options.
Students with strong intellectual property backgrounds have an easier time than most in securing lucrative firm offers. The strong reputation of the IP program, as well as the limited supply of law students with hard science backgrounds, combines to give these candidates higher employment chances and greater geographic reach, as one TLS poster attests:
A 2L with an engineering background adds:
GW students have clerked for some of the nation’s most prestigious judges: for example, four GW grads have clerked for the Supreme Court in the past five years. A Clerkship Office helps both current students and recent graduates navigate the involved application process. However, clerking is not a particularly common career move for GW students: just a tenth of each graduating class clerks in a given year, and the school typically places fewer Article III clerks on a percentage basis than its ranking and reputation might suggest.
GW Law’s Career Development Office has a staff member dedicated to public interest opportunities, and David Johnson serves as the school’s Assistant Dean for Public Interest and Public Service Law.[xxiv] The school has a limited LRAP program, and the Washington, D.C. area provides public interest-minded students with many opportunities to connect with potential employers. Still, public interest students make up a fairly small percentage of each year’s class, and students who finance a significant fraction of the total cost of attendance may find it extremely difficult to take low-paying public service jobs without relying on federal income-based repayment.
GW Law has recently begun offering law students the option of university-sponsored housing. First-year students have the option of living in the Aston, a West End residence comprised of one-bedroom efficiency apartments. The residential complex is within six blocks of the law school and offers walking access to the fashionable Dupont Circle neighborhood, but comes with a hefty price tag: $15,500 for the current academic year. Law students are also eligible to live in the Hall on Virginia Avenue, a cheaper option at $10,150 a year.
The majority of law students live in non-university apartments. While D.C. is an exciting place for young people to live, it is not cheap: according to www.payscale.com, housing in the District is nearly twice as expensive as the national average. One TLS poster speculates:
In fact, multiple TLS users advise prospective students to consider commuting to school from nearby Arlington, Virginia, where rent is generally cheaper and accommodations more spacious. Neighborhoods like Roslyn, Clarendon, and Ballston are a short metro ride away from Foggy Bottom on the Orange Line.
Quality of Life
Student life at George Washington Law seems defined by two things: size and location. Some love the large and diverse student body, while others complain about a lack of class cohesion. The economic downturn, with its corresponding increase in competition for selective jobs, has no doubt affected quality of life for some. Still, one TLS user happily reports:
The school does its part to help students relax: each “Thirsty Thursday,” the school gives out free beer, and the GW Student Bar Association puts on its version of the law school staple, Bar Review. While Foggy Bottom is not a huge nightlife spot, nearby neighborhoods like Adams Morgan, Dupont Circle, Georgetown, and North Arlington offer fun options for a wide variety of personalities.
Outside of GWU’s immediate environs, Washington’s benefits are not limited to networking opportunities. Students have plenty of options for escaping the stresses of law school. One of the country’s greatest cities for culture, D.C. boasts landmarks like the Smithsonian Institution museums and the Kennedy Center. The city has major league sports and a vibrant music scene, with a variety of neighborhoods and scenes to suit most every taste. A well-organized metro system makes navigating the city and its surrounding suburbs easy even without a car, and national entertainment acts make D.C. a regular stop.
Prospective students should, however, keep the metro area’s high cost-of-living in mind. As mentioned above, rent will run most students $1,000 or more, and other costs like transportation and entertainment are higher than the national metropolitan average.
As the second-best law school with year-round access to the large and diverse D.C. market, George Washington Law School has a lot to offer prospective law students. GW Law students live in a fun, fast-paced city where opportunities to connect with top law firms, government agencies, and non-profit organizations abound; furthermore, they can take advantage of a deep, experienced faculty and the considerable resources afforded by one of the country’s largest law schools. However, those thinking about GW without substantial financial support should look before they leap. Rising tuition and high living expenses make attending the law school a pricey proposition, and the recent recession looks to keep high-paying legal jobs well below peak levels for the foreseeable future.
The George Washington University Law School
U.S. News Ranking: 20
[i] GW Law Tuition and Estimated Costs
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