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UC Hastings Law School
Article and photographs by Stephanie Saenz, Stanford University, published October 2006, last updated by TLS January 2010
Located amidst the District Courthouse, San Francisco City Hall, the California State Supreme Courthouse and the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, the University of California-Hastings Law School puts its students at nearly all levels of state and federal government. Founded in 1878, Hastings is not only the oldest public law school in the western United States, but is also the third largest public law school in America, with 1,250 enrolled students and 400 degrees granted each year. Hastings Law School is a part of the University of California system and was actually its first established law department; however, it does not have an undergraduate counterpart as do all other law schools under the UC system. The school was named after the first Chief Justice of the California Supreme Court, Serranus Clinton Hastings, and in years past has made a very reputable name for itself in the nation and especially within the state of California.
UC-Hastings Law School Admissions and Tuition
As the school is ranked amongst the top 40 law schools in the nation (and even amongst the top 15 law schools in some rankings), admission to Hastings is extremely selective and competitive. The school's selectivity has partly been a product of the fact that the number of applicants has been steadily increasing since 2002. Hastings Law School usually receives over 6,000 applications and only accepts 1,400: an acceptance rate of about 24%.
Admitted students generally have LSAT scores ranging from 161 to 165, for those in the 25th and 75th percentiles respectively. At the median, the LSAT score of admitted students is a 164. In addition, the median undergraduate GPA of admits is a 3.58. While these numbers are given significant weight in the admissions process, other factors are taken into consideration. As with other law schools, applicants who do not fall into the "auto-admit" or "auto-reject" piles based solely on their numerical index are judged on other factors, including letters of recommendation, personal essays, undergraduate major and undergraduate school. Each of these factors has an effect on the acceptance of an applicant. Many students also feel that Hastings is partial to students from Stanford, UCLA and Berkeley. However, many undergraduate campuses are represented at Hastings and for the most part, each of its students displayed excellent undergraduate performances and good LSAT scores.
Because many students who apply to Hastings do fall in the middle, the admissions committee takes the personal essay extremely seriously. The committee, as with other law schools, takes a dim view towards individuals who make grammatical errors (proofread, proofread, proofread!) and looks for those students who make clear why they wish to go to law school, why they desire a law degree, the skills they have that will be useful in a classroom setting and how those skills and their knowledge might lend to the learning of other students. Suffice it to say, the personal essay is an extremely critical component of the application process. Hastings Law School also looks favorably to those students who show prior work experience and who have a solid background in writing. An important thing to know about the admissions process at Hastings is that admissions is rolling, a fact that the school does not necessarily make apparent to future applicants. Therefore, applying early is both essential and imperative, as later applicants are fighting for far fewer available seats than they would if they had applied earlier.
A distinct feature of the Hastings admissions process is its LEOP program, which is offered to disadvantaged applicants, such as minorities. The goal of this program was initially to balance all opportunities in law, meaning that the standard criteria that determines admissions is not necessarily the best way in which to indicate whether or not a person is worthy of admission. Minorities are not the only ones given the opportunity to apply under this program. Applicants that usually qualify are those that have overcome educational, social, physical or economic obstacles. The program begins with the admissions process, during which time the applicant can opt to fill out a LEOP application essay. If an applicant qualifies, he receives additional and free tutoring and training through his law school years whenever needed. This program does appear to be a variation on affirmative action, although it seems to allow for those students who could be regarded as minorities on factors other than race.
Because all UC law schools are public, residency is a huge factor in the amount of money one pays per year to attend. The annual tuition for California residents is $32,468, whereas for a non-resident the out-of-state tuition comes in at over $43,693. Generally, non-residents can become residents after living in California for one year, but the difference in tuition price is clearly big. In addition, San Francisco, while beautiful and a great place to live, is extremely expensive. Because of the property costs to live or even rent in the city, living off-campus, which many students opt to do, can be costly, at around $20,000 a year. The addition of housing to the price of tuition and books makes in-state residents pay the amount they would pay to go to a private school and those out-of-state residents pay far more than they might elsewhere. Luckily, around 80% of Hastings students receive some sort of aid, most of which comes in the form of scholarships based on financial need, as very little merit-based aid is given out. Clearly, financial aid and scholarships vary from person to person, but on average more than 80% of Hastings students receive the Hastings grant of $6,000. Deadlines to file for financial aid and scholarships are strict so the sooner you get in your application, the better.
UC-Hastings Law School Curriculum and Academics
At UC-Hastings Law School, students feel as though they are being taught how to be great lawyers and not how to be great theorists. The school stresses the importance of not only learning material, but also being able to apply it in practical settings. That having been said, the academic standards at Hastings are extremely high and the school can be rigorous and demanding. In addition, the pass rate of Hastings graduates in the rigorous California Bar is remarkable: 80%, a figure the school is constantly striving to raise. All in all, most students agree that the academics at Hastings are excellent and the quality of education they receive meets all the expectations they had about attending law school. This can partially be attributed to the fact that the academic dean works with student requests regarding curriculum and is always trying to respond to their questions and suggestions.
As with most law schools, first-year classes are assigned to students, although they are given one elective course, of which they have five options to choose from. For 2Ls and 3Ls, there are no required classes and students can take any class they choose. The only downfall to this system is that classes are given based on a lottery system so students may get a class they want, but not necessarily when they want to take it. Because students are given the option to take electives after their first year, many students choose to take prep classes for the bar exam in addition to electives. However, the faculty strongly discourages students from vying to take a class simply because the material is prevalent on the bar exam. There are very few classes that require prerequisites. An upside to taking classes at Hastings Law School is in the fact that its board is separate from the rest of the UC system and therefore registering for classes is a simple, smooth and easy process, something that is not the case at other UC law schools.
Professors and faculty at Hastings are well-known and knowledgeable in their fields. In addition, they have bonds with the students and are not only approachable but willing to help students. They may be tough but they care about what they are teaching and about their students. Many of the professors choose to incorporate the typical Socratic method way of teaching in their classrooms, but most use this method as a way in which to spark questions, making for a discussion based lecture.
Hastings Law School classes are tough, without a doubt. Much of the stress from classes however comes from the harsh grading system that neither the students nor faculty like or wish to maintain. Hastings enforces a low grade curve, which is tougher than that of any other Bay Area law school. Consequently, the average GPA while attending Hastings stands at 2.9 or a 3.0, a far cry from the average GPA of students entering the school, which usually hovers around a 3.6. Therefore, the A's and high B's that were once taken for granted in college are numbers worth celebrating at Hastings. Because of the curve, many of Hastings students become more competitive in their work and in nature.
Students want to succeed and that can only be done if other students are not. Because Hastings Law School's students feel that they are competing against the higher-ranked Stanford and UC-Berkeley's Boalt Hall for local jobs, a tense atmosphere of success-seeking pervades students' mindsets. Classes are also made more difficult with the full workload given to students, which increases steadily for the first two years and then slowly decreases for 3Ls. While the reading may be shorter in comparison to other law schools, the intellectually stimulating material can be hard to grasp.
The location of the law school offers students great judicial externships, where they get to work with judges in a very academically stimulating experience with both judicial internships and clerkships available. Certainly, Hastings students enjoy many benefits from their Bay Area location that are denied to other law students in comparable institutions. In addition, some of these externships, in which students actually spend part of a semester assisting a judge, may also be used for class credit, another incentive to take advantage of this opportunity aside from the fact that it is one of the best experiences for students.
UC-Hastings Law School Legal Specialties
Hastings has many strong academic specialties. Students often find that they are strongly supported in pursuit of careers in public interest law, as clinical programs are offered in that area and there is a large amount of faculty and students who are interested in that type of law as well. In addition to public interest law, Hastings has outstanding concentrations in family law, international law, taxation and civil litigation.
UC-Hastings Law School Quality of Life
It seems that the majority of students are content with the quality of life at Hastings. However, compared to Hastings' other strengths, quality of life is one of its weaker components. The Hastings campus is comprised of just three buildings and is located in a poor and rough neighborhood in San Francisco, the Tenderloin. While this may not be particularly visible at all times, with nice surroundings like City Hall, the Asian Art Museum, the Opera House and the public library all within blocks, the area does have its share of homeless people and drugs. The homelessness that is extremely prevalent in the area is one of the larger concerns among students and at many times can put their safety in danger. To its credit, the school deals with this issue by providing escorts during the nighttime. It is generally safer during the day. Aside from this, the campus facilities have modern designs and are relatively new, with many renovations having been effected in a number of the buildings. Each classroom has high-speed wireless Internet and electrical outlets for computer jacks. The school is even in the process of upgrading the technology communications in the school. In addition, there is a cafeteria available to the students during the day until 4 p.m., as well as a full gym and basketball court available for use in the tower next door to the campus facilities. Overall, the campus facilities are extremely adequate for their uses.
The law school provides a diverse atmosphere for its students with half men and half women and numerous minority groups represented in the student body population. For the most part, the campus is extremely liberal when it comes to the political arena although this is not an accurate portrayal of students' political leanings, as there are several conservative organizations. Hastings provides a stimulating academic environment as well as six scholarly journals. In addition, Hastings provides numerous volunteering opportunities including general assistance advocacy project, public interest programs and public interest clearinghouse. The campus also offers one of the best clinical programs in Northern California.
While campus housing is provided for students, only a third of the student population lives in the on-campus apartments, located in the 26-story Hotel San Francisco, next door to the law school. These apartments offer the best rate available for housing in San Francisco as they are offered at below their market price value. Nonetheless, while there are advantages to living in "The Tower", which it is often referred to, many students choose to live off-campus. Because of the extremely high cost of living in San Francisco, many students commute from the East Bay area and use the BART, an acronym for Bay Area Rapid Transit, a transportation service that takes students directly to the school as it is on a BART line and one that is very reliable. In addition, students who live off-campus are allowed to park in the parking lot nearby, although at a high price.
While the area that Hastings is located in may not be the safest or greatest of places, it does give students access to some of the greatest legal trials in the state of California. Furthermore, San Francisco provides Hastings students with innumerable activities to choose from. San Francisco is an amazing town, with a great nightlife, lots of clubs and bars, some of the best shopping in northern California, restaurants galore and outdoor recreational activities available every few blocks.
UC-Hastings Law School Social Life
The social life at Hastings is what students make of it. The school is full of interesting and diverse people, who give the school much of its character, and offers a plus to 1Ls who will spend most of their first year with students in their entering class. While the school doesn't necessarily have a strong community-type feeling, as it is a law school with no undergraduate college counterpart, it does provide many ways for its students to interact with fellow classmates. The student services department hosts many enjoyable social events throughout the course of the year as well as beer functions every Thursday. Intramurals are available for those students looking for athletic recreational activities and the school is home to clubs for just about everything imaginable. 2Ls and 3Ls tend to participate on moot court teams or on law journals as a way to socialize with other students.
Hastings makes an active effort to provide a very social atmosphere for its students. However, due to its location in San Francisco, many more social opportunities await students in the Bay Area. While there are no particular spots where Hastings students congregate, the city is full of opportunity and most people can find something they love in the city. In addition to that, San Francisco provides students with numerous outdoor activities with skiing being the farthest, but even that is only 3 hours away by car. Hence, the intense competition that students feel in the academic aspect of their lives can be tabled, if temporarily, with these excursions.
UC-Hastings Law School Employment Prospects
Employment prospects for Hastings graduates are plentiful and on average there is a 92% job placement rate for its students, with most going into private practice and government jobs. The bar passage rate for first-time takers from Hastings Law School comes in at approximately 80%. For the most part, the best job opportunities provided to Hastings students are in northern California and it takes more work on the student's part to find jobs outside that area (and even more so in other states). This can be attributed to a multitude of factors including the fact that Hastings is not as competitive as many of the top-tiered law schools and the fact that most of its alumni are residents of California. On the other hand, the top 25% of Hastings graduates are nationally competitive in the more selective job markets, but once again particularly on the West Coast. Therefore, it is safe to say that most of Hastings graduates work in the Bay Area with some venturing throughout the rest of California and a select few out of the state.
The career center on Hastings campus has one of the best career services programs in the country and fortunately is both extremely helpful and accessible to its students. It works hard in its job placement of students and assists in findings jobs, resume review and mock interviews. Most of the better jobs and internships go to people at the top of the class, usually up to the top fourth, but the career center still does a great job at placement for its students. In addition, it sponsors and hosts the largest public sector and public interest law fairs in the country and a small-firm fair as well. This gives students the opportunity to talk with individuals who work in these types of environments and allows them to talk with them regarding that type of work as their career prospect. On campus interviewing by employers, usually more than 300 a year, occurs in fall of the second year and is organized by the career center.
In conclusion, Hastings Law School is a great choice for potential law school applicants. It is very competitive in nature but provides a great legal education to its students. While the quality of life is not its greatest attraction, the social life of the city of San Francisco does provide for an excellent outlet for Hastings Law School students. For those students wishing to live in the city and practice law in the Bay Area, Hastings provides a rigorous education and excellent post-graduation career prospects.
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