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Gonzaga Law School
Published July 2009, last updated March 2011
Gonzaga Law School, established in 1912 and located in Spokane, WA, recently dropped out of the top 100 law schools (as dictated by U.S. News and World Report). This by itself should not scare applicants; the rankings beyond a certain point (approximately the top 30) are extremely volatile, and schools can change twenty spots in the span of one year. However, other aspects of Gonzaga also seem to be weak. For instance, according to the school's most recent ABA data, only 85.4% of graduating students (with 96.9% reporting their employment status) found jobs within nine months after graduation. Of that 85.4%, only 51.9% found work at law firms, where most of the highest paying jobs are. Furthermore, the school's annual tuition and fees are quite high at approximately $32,780, so students need to find work soon after graduation if they want to pay back their loans in a timely manner. The school does have many positives going for it in terms of atmosphere and student cohesion, but it is questionable that these factors make up for the difficulties that most graduates will have with finding decent-paying employment. If you are not sure about applying to law school or just beginning the application process, then please take the time to read some of the excellent pre-law articles found here.
Tuition and Fees
As mentioned above, students will spend a considerable amount ($32,780) on their annual tuition and fees. With an estimated cost of living of $14,404, students can end up spending $47,184 yearly to attend Gonzaga. The school does offer some financial aid to its students, but not necessarily enough to justify attending:
As one can see from the above, more than two-thirds of students receive some kind of financial aid, and the median grant amount given to students is $12,000. At the same time, very few students receive half tuition scholarships or greater. The school also has a GPA requirement of 2.75 that students must maintain in order to keep their scholarship money from year to year. One former student remarked:
Many schools at Gonzaga's level hold similar practices to these. If students do receive scholarships, they must make sure to stay above median, as receiving a few bad grades will mean the end of your financial aid. One interesting scholarship program at the school is the Thomas More Program. Former Dean Earl Martin had the following to say about the program:
Students who enroll in this program have to maintain the same 2.75 GPA required for other scholarships. To read a TLS article about funding your legal education, click here. Also, if you plan on pursuing a career in public interest, click here to learn about the new program called Public Service Loan Forgiveness (or PSLF). Finally, to read about a new payment option for federal student loans called IBR (or Income-Based Repayment), click here.
Most applicants should not have a great deal of trouble getting into Gonzaga. The chart below compares Gonzaga to the other two law schools in Washington (the University of Washington and Seattle University). To learn more about preparing for the LSAT from some of the highest scorers on TLS, click here.
The University of Washington is clearly the front-runner here, with a much higher ranking and more competitive statistics than the other two schools. We can see that someone who is applying to Gonzaga might not have the raw numbers to obtain an acceptance to the University of Washington. However, the numerical differences between Seattle University and Gonzaga are much less pronounced. Although Seattle's student body boasts slightly higher UGPAs and LSAT scores, it is not clear whether the school is a better bargain. Seattle's tuition is considerably higher ($38,502 versus Gonzaga's $32,640), and Seattle's bar passage rate in the state of Washington is slightly lower than Gonzaga's. According to the latest ABA data, Seattle does have a slightly higher employment rate nine months after graduation (91.7% with 100% of graduates reporting versus 85.4% with 96.9% of graduates reporting), but it is up to the individual applicant to decide whether that difference is worth the higher tuition.
The application fee for Gonzaga is $50 unless one obtains a fee waiver. To read more about how to obtain a fee waiver, click here.
Beyond the Numbers
Dean Susan Lee, Director of Admissions at Gonzaga University School of Law, writes about the school's admissions process:
That being said, applicants should still be within the LSAT and UGPA ranges given above if they want a decent chance of being accepted. Applicants will also be pleased to know that the school does take into account grade deflation and the varying difficulties of different undergraduate degrees:
The school also looks positively upon high grades in graduate school, “especially when a student did not excel in his or her undergraduate work.” Finally, the school is not terribly interested in the prestige of one's undergraduate institution; while Gonzaga does “consider the undergraduate institution,” it is “ultimately the student’s academic achievement” that matters more. Dean Lee sums up what Gonzaga is looking for in its students:
Gonzaga requires that applicants submit a resume with their application. Your resume is a good way of sharing those factors that make you different in a concise and accessible way. To read some advice about creating a professional law school resume, click here.
Gonzaga's personal statement prompt is broad; applicants are told that their statements should “provide the Admissions Committee with some insight into your desire to attend law school.” Personal statements should be no more than two double-spaced pages. The school gives the following additional advice about writing one's personal statement: “Don't treat your personal statement as a narrative version of your resume or academic background,” and “Information relating to public service and cultural and/or ethnic diversity may be included in your personal statement or in an addendum.” If you’re interested in improving your personal statement or even just looking for ideas to write about, Ken DeLeon, the creator of Top-Law-Schools.com, wrote a fantastic guide to personal statements which can be found here for free. In addition, for more information about writing addenda, click here.
When to Apply
Prospective students applying to Gonzaga should send in their applications sooner rather than later. Dean Lee confirms that applicants benefit from turning in their applications early, and writes, “Yes, and we recommend that students submit their applications by January. Applicants who wait until February are taking their chances.” The school's submission deadline is April 15th, but as Dean Lee says, applying earlier than that is for the best. Unfortunately, Gonzaga does not offer applicants an Early Action (EA) or Early Decision (ED) option.
Letters of Recommendation
Gonzaga's letter of recommendation requirements are similar to most other schools'. Applicants must send in at least two letters of recommendation with their application. The school requests that at least one letter be “written by a college professor or instructor who is familiar with your classroom performance, your writing level, and your analytical and critical thinking skills.” Furthermore, if one has been out of the classroom for several years, “letters from employers and others which effectively assess your abilities, skills, motivation, and sense of responsibility are also helpful.” To get some additional advice on obtaining letters of recommendation, click here.
Students who wish to transfer to Gonzaga might have a difficult time being accepted, as the school does not have many seats open to transfer students. Dean Lee writes:
The school's ABA data confirms that Dean Lee is correct. Only 4 students transferred in (and 13 transferred out) in the school's most recent transfer statistics. Dean Lee describes the transfer process as being “just like applying as a first-year student.” To read a fantastic article about transferring, click here.
URMs (or Underrepresented Minorities)
Because of their disadvantaged histories in the United States, certain minorities enjoy a significant boost in the application process. To read more about this boost and to see whether you classify as an URM, click here. In addition, there are many pre-law programs specifically created to help URM applicants get accepted to top schools. To read more about some of these programs, click here.
Final Words about Admissions
Former Dean Martin gives the following description of the ideal candidate for Gonzaga Law:
Law School Culture
In contrast to Gonzaga's lackluster employment prospects, most students seem to enjoy the social atmosphere in Spokane. Although the city could be slightly more exciting, it offers a relaxing and reasonably stimulating environment for students. One former student remarks, “Spokane isn't everyone's dream city, and I understand that. However, it has the things most of us require (some good restaurants, bars, movie theaters, etc.).” Another student made the decision to attend after visiting the school's campus; he writes, “I think what finally pushed me over the edge on deciding Gonzaga over some higher ranked schools was a campus visit. The campus really is incredible and the town had a nice, laid-back feel to it.” Yet another student elaborates:
There are plenty of different options for those looking to have fun in Spokane. For instance, there are a number of museums and theaters in town; some of the former include the Armed Forces & Aerospace Museum and Carr's One of a Kind in the World Museum. As mentioned above, there are also plenty of restaurants from which to choose; visit the Agave Latin Bistro, Bluz at the Bend, or Perkins Restaurant & Bakery to enjoy some great food. Finally, if you're looking for a more active venture, there are plenty of hiking and biking trails around Spokane, and one can enjoy the beautiful outdoors at parks like Mount Spokane State Park and Riverside State Park. While there are no professional sports teams, Gonzaga always has an exciting basketball team to watch when NCAA Tournament time rolls around.
As stated above, Spokane is not a large city. However, one cannot always rely on walking to different locations, as one Gonzaga undergrad explains:
The same student is not terribly enthusiastic about the public transit system either:
Finally, the same student is hesitant about using bicycles because of theft issues in the area. He or she believes that the only real solution is having access to a car. So, if you own a car, you should most likely bring it to school with you! The law school has a designated parking lot, so parking on campus should not be too much of an issue.
The school does not seem to help much with housing for law students. One current student explains that, “Gonzaga doesn’t do much to help students find housing. Most people live within 10-15 minutes of campus, but the housing in the immediate vicinity is usually snatched up by the undergrads.” A number of useful websites can be found here, but students will be mostly left on their own to find housing in the area.
The school gave the following breakdown for its entering class in the fall of 2009:
In addition, according to slightly older ABA data, the overall student body is 60.5% men and 39.5% women, and only 8.4% is made up of minorities. These percentages are noticeably worse than most other schools, so if students are looking for a diverse student body, they should perhaps look elsewhere. Dean Lee emphasizes that the school is trying to increase its diversity:
In addition, a current student remarks that the school's student body is both friendly and quite diverse:
Thus, although the statistics above imply that the school is not terribly diverse, some students think Gonzaga is doing just fine. Another important aspect of the student body is its Jesuit leanings. The school is proud of its Jesuit history and feels that it helps students become more selfless and giving toward others. Dean Lee explains:
However, it should be noted that this aspect of the school is aimed towards people of all faiths. Former Dean Martin further explains:
So, those of any faith should feel comfortable with the atmosphere at Gonzaga.
The quality of Gonzaga's facilities seems to be top notch. One student explains:
In addition, those looking for a gym on campus will be delighted to know that the Kermit Rudolf Fitness Center has state of the art equipment and even an indoor track. The school's website elaborates:
So, applicants looking for up to date facilities will be happy to know that Gonzaga delivers.
Like at most law schools, students at Gonzaga Law can choose from a considerable number (29) of different student organizations. Clubs range from being focused on different countries and ethnicities (Asian Pacific Islander Law Caucus, Canadian Law Caucus, Gonzaga Hispanic Law Caucus) to exploring different areas of the law (Gonzaga Intellectual Property Law Association, International Law Society, Tax Law Society). Overall, students should be able to find something to get involved in while at Gonzaga.
1Ls at Gonzaga follow a prescribed path similar to that of 1Ls just about anywhere. The fall semester includes Civil Procedure, Torts, Perspectives on the Law, Legal Research and Writing, and a Litigation Skills and Professionalism Lab. In the spring semester, 1Ls take Contracts, Property, Criminal Law, Legal Research and Writing II, and a Transactional Skills and Professionalism Lab. Students may elect to enroll in the Early Start Summer Program, which allows them to enroll in one three-credit summer course over the summer prior to 1L. The skills labs mentioned above are a recent change to Gonzaga's curriculum. They were created to “challenge students to struggle with professionalism issues while learning both litigation and transactional practice skills.” The school feels that many law students graduate with a wealth of knowledge about legal research and writing, but little to no experience with dealing with clients and the more practical aspects of the law. Former Dean Martin explains:
Students are assigned a faculty advisor prior to the start of 1L, and this individual theoretically guides the student through the logistics of law school as well as the career search and other important aspects of their legal education and beyond. Gonzaga prides itself on its legal research and writing program, which is ranked 12th nationwide. While specialty rankings are usually not of much importance to employers, it is safe to say that these skills are important to the career of any lawyer. Apart from the required courses mentioned above, students at Gonzaga can choose from many different courses on nearly every legal subject imaginable. Whether you're interested in intellectual property, real estate transactions, or federal Indian law, you'll be able to find a related class at Gonzaga. To see what particular courses one might take for different areas of law, click here. One student believes that Gonzaga's curriculum and academic focus are largely correct, but could use a little bit of tweaking in one area:
The school also has three different dual degrees: JD / MSW, JD / MBA, and JD / MAcc. The latter two degrees are offered in “conjunction with the Gonzaga University Graduate School of Business.” The JD / MSW is reported by the school to be “highly selective,” with only four students each year participating in the program. To read more about joint degrees and why one might pursue one, click here and here. One student remarked on the usefulness of the JD / MBA program:
This student is largely correct; a JD / MBA (and most other joint degrees) is a specialized degree that should only be obtained in special circumstances. As stated above, the amount of money and time invested in pursuing such a degree could be better spent elsewhere in most situations.
Applicants should be glad to know that professors at Gonzaga have a wide variety of different viewpoints. One student remarks:
So, whether you're liberal or conservative, you should be able to find a professor with similar views and interests.
Public Interest and Clinics
As mentioned above, Gonzaga is very interested in providing legal aid to the public. The school's Jesuit principles are shown through its 30 hour pro bono requirement for graduation. Former Dean Martin explains the type of work that students can pursue for this requirement:
A current student confirms that public interest is a focus for quite a few students at Gonzaga; he writes, “There is a significant group of students who are interested in public interest law. This is probably one of the biggest draws of Gonzaga. The popularity of the clinic evidences this.” In addition, the Thomas More scholarship mentioned above is for students looking to enter public interest work. In fact, students in the program must work at least three years of full-time public service work within the five years after graduation. The school also has a program called University Legal Assistance, which is the source of all of the clinical programs at Gonzaga. Different clinics offered include a General Practice Clinic, a Consumer Law Clinic, a Federal Tax Clinic, an Environmental Law Clinic, an Indian Law Clinic, an Elder Law Clinic, and a Business Law Clinic. Just as an example, the Federal Tax Clinic allows students to “represent low-income clients in IRS examination and collection matters, including audits, offers in compromise, penalty abatements, innocent spouse claims, appeals, Tax Court cases, etc.” In addition, “Students also provide community outreach and education regarding tax obligations and benefits to persons with limited English proficiency, especially during tax season each year.” As another example, the General Practice Clinic covers a larger variety of cases, ranging from family law to housing to prisoners' rights. Students learn to “interview and counsel clients, research the legal basis for clients’ claims,” and “investigate the factual basis for clients’ claims.” Suffice it to say, students will get plenty of real-world experience in the clinics offered at Gonzaga.
Students at Gonzaga have to complete an experiential learning requirement during their three years of law school. This can be accomplished in two different ways: participating in one of the clinics described above, or enrolling in the school's externship program. As an extern, you will “work in courts and public law offices, such as prosecutors’ offices, public defenders’ offices, or in public law firms serving people without resources to afford legal assistance.” To see where previous students have found work, click here.
There are four different centers/institutes/programs at Gonzaga: the Commercial Law Center, the Indian Law Program, the Institute for Law Teaching and Learning, and the Thomas More Scholarship Program. The Thomas More Scholarship Program was already discussed in some detail above, but if you are interested in learning more, please click the link above and read former Dean Martin's informative interview found here. One of the ways in which the Commercial Law Center affects students at Gonzaga is through its continuing research on creating a curriculum that emphasizes law from a transactional perspective. The center is working on courses that are “simulations that require students to apply knowledge that crosses the traditional segmentation of commercial and business law to solve realistic problems in a transactional setting.” In addition, the center offers a continuing legal education program that gives attorneys the chance to learn more about “recent commercial law developments and their impact on how commercial transactions should be structured and documented.” Another important project at Gonzaga Law is the Indian Law Program. The Indian Law Program “tackles the issues of sovereignty and sustainability through a pair of tightly interwoven programs”: the Indian Law Program (ILP) and the Institute for Development of Economic Policy for Indigenous People. The former is a curriculum comprised of a “series of courses -- both theoretical and practical -- that will introduce you to the academic practice of law.” Courses include offerings like Federal Indian Law, Law of the Plateau Tribes, and Indian Child Welfare Act of 1978. In addition, the IDEPIG's mission is to “help indigenous leaders develop policies and the rule of law that will lead to sustainable economic systems in Indian Country.” The institute does this by “assisting indigenous leaders to formulate and disseminate policies and laws to resolve issues of public importance that promote the sovereign interests of indigenous peoples” and by “providing the tools for indigenous people to build a 'bridge of trust' within their communities that can serve as a pathway to self-determination that works for that community.” In essence, the institute seeks to teach leaders of indigenous communities to uphold a policy of self governance and to embrace a sustainable economic system. Finally, the Institute for Law Teaching and Learning aims to improve the “quality of education in law school” by serving as a “clearinghouse for ideas.” The program is a joint venture between Gonzaga Law and Washburn University School of Law; the institute supports “student-centered curriculum reform” and has a list of ideas to improve legal education. One can also read the institute's publication,The Law Teacher, to get the program's latest brainstorming efforts. One student had the following opinion about the centers at Gonzaga:
Gonzaga Law has two different journals in which students can participate: the Gonzaga Law Review and the Gonzaga Journal of International Law. Former Dean Martin explains the process behind applying:
The minimum GPA requirement for both journals is 2.70; students must maintain a GPA above this for the entirety of their participation on either journal or they will be put on probation and eventually dismissed. It is stated that applicants to the Law Review must receive a “minimum average score of 70 out of 100 [in the write-on competition] as outlined by the editorial board in accordance with the Gonzaga Law Review bylaws.” The requirements are slightly murkier for the Journal of International Law; it is simply stated that, “election of new GJIL members shall be limited to a number that the Executive Editorial Board feels is necessary for the optimum operation of the Journal.” One should note that the Journal of International Law is an online journal published here. Interestingly, one student remarks that the majority of students don't seem very interested in the journals at Gonzaga. He explains further:
That being said, if one wants a better chance of finding a job, working on one of the journals is never a bad idea.
First, according to Gonzaga's most recent ABA data, the school's bar passage rate in Washington (81.73%) is significantly higher than the state average of 74.40%. Furthermore, the school actually has a higher passage rate in Washington than the higher-ranked Seattle University; the latter only had a passage rate of 78.97%. Even the much higher-ranked University of Washington only has a slightly higher passage rate (84.68%).
All of that being said, the school's job prospects leave something to be desired. The school reported the following distribution of jobs for its Class of 2009:
One might note that the above percentages add up to 99%; this is no doubt due to the school rounding to the ones' place. Unfortunately, the school does not report what percentage of graduates were employed, or even what percentage of graduates reported their employment status at all. The best we can do is use the numbers from the Class of 2008 for these two categories: with 96.9% of graduates reporting their employment status, only 85.4% were employed after nine months.
Only 55% of employed graduates managed to find work at law firms. These are the kinds of jobs that can help students get rid of their law school debt quickly, but Gonzaga placed barely over half of its employed graduates at firms (and this was in better economic times). Furthermore, one should note that only those who find work at “large firms” of 101 attorneys or more receive impressive salaries; Gonzaga does not report how many of its graduates found work at this prestigious level, but it is undoubtedly not too many. This is further confirmed by the school's reported median private sector salary of $58,250 in 2007 (with only 43% of graduates reporting). Because this percentage of graduates reporting is so low, it is almost certainly true that the median salary is inflated somewhat. So, even if one manages to be one of the graduates that secures a job in the private sector, one cannot count on a high salary.
Opinions from recent graduates seem to confirm that finding a job can be difficult. One person writing in late April of 2007 comments that, “If any of you honestly asked people what they make after graduation, you'd probably be shocked to know that the average starting salary (this combines ALL students in every state) is 42K from GU.” The same person continues:
Another student from the Class of 2008 expressed similar sentiments about the job prospects at Gonzaga:
Yet another student reaffirms that finding a job can be difficult, especially outside of the school's immediate region:
This same student claims that the school's alumni network is unhelpful and practically nonexistent:
Keep in mind that it is likely that alumni would be more helpful in Washington, as it is Gonzaga's home state. Finally, another current student emphasizes that students need to put a great deal of effort into their job search. He suggests that Gonzaga students start looking as early as possible in order to give themselves the best possible chance of finding a decent job:
Of course, these are just a few students' views, and graduates with a positive perspective on Gonzaga exist. One father of a Gonzaga Law graduate writes that his daughter had “several job prospects with a starting salary far above the 42k per year” mentioned above, and another graduate writes:
All of that being said, a graduate counters the above comments by writing, “These people are quite accomplished, however, overall they represent a tiny fraction of alumni and in my personal opinion their personal accomplishments should not be taken to represent the career track of everyone who has attended GU.” Overall, applicants should do their own research into Gonzaga before signing up to pay its pricy $32,640 yearly tuition. Ask current students and recent graduates about their job prospects, and then make a decision. One student has an interesting perspective on how the school's basketball team can help open doors for law graduates:
As mentioned above, while Gonzaga does have a Career Services Office, its usefulness is questionable. One graduate from the Class of 2008 is rather scathing about the school's ineptitude with helping students find jobs:
Another law student confirms that the CSO is “limited”:
In other words, be prepared to start your job search early if you decide to become a Zag.
While Gonzaga undoubtedly has a pleasant social atmosphere, job prospects for most graduates are questionable. The school is attempting to improve its national and regional status, but the economy has certainly hurt its chances of becoming a Washington powerhouse. As a Tier 3 school with a pricey tuition, Gonzaga should only be considered by those who receive a significant amount of financial aid (and are confident that they can keep their GPA above the minimum requirement) and wish to stay in the Washington area. Unless one is near the top of one's class, the Gonzaga degree will most likely have no portability, and students will be lucky to find decent jobs in Washington. There are certainly worse places to spend three years of your life, but one should always consider one's job prospects first and foremost, as finding a good job will be important for many years to come. One student describes the school's current position as both its greatest strength and biggest weakness:
If you wish to be a pioneer and help shape Gonzaga's future, then consider attending. However, it must be pointed out that, for your own sake, attending a different school with better job prospects might be a wiser decision.
U.S. News Ranking: Unranked (Tier 3)
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