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Interview with Michelle Rahman, Associate Dean for Admissions at the University of Richmond School of Law

Published January 2010

Top-Law-Schools.com greatly appreciates the time that Michelle Rahman, Associate Dean for Admissions at the University of Richmond School of Law, put forward in this informative interview.

Admissions

TLS: Can you briefly describe the admissions process at the University of Richmond School of Law? How is each component of an application ranked?

We holistically review each applicant file and make admissions decisions based upon numerous factors, including (but not limited to) undergraduate GPA, any graduate work, LSAT, undergraduate institution, undergraduate major, life experience, work experience, extracurricular activities, grade trend, age, geographic location, etc.  Components of an application are not “ranked” but rather are considered in the totality of the application.  While credentials are an important component in our consideration we are also seeking insight into an applicant’s passion, character and commitment to “giving back”.  Because we are a small law school where everyone is thoroughly vested in each student we really want to know a prospective student through the application process.

TLS: Students are often unsure about whether a particular school weighs GPA or LSAT more heavily in an application. Does the law school weigh these two factors equally, or can a high LSAT make up for a lower GPA? Likewise, can a higher GPA make up for a lower LSAT?

GPA and LSAT are both given fairly equal weight in an application file.  An applicant with a low GPA and high LSAT (or vice versa, a low LSAT and high GPA) may present a somewhat more “balanced” file than would an applicant with a low GPA and a low LSAT. 

TLS: How much impact does an upward grade trend have upon the likelihood of admission?

An upward grade trend is a positive factor in a student’s application file, as the most recent grades represent the student’s latest academic achievement.  Grade trend is considered one among many factors in a holistic review of the application file.

TLS: How heavily does the law school take into account the prestige of an applicant's undergraduate institution?

An applicant’s undergraduate institution is considered as one among many factors in the holistic review of the application file.

TLS: Under what circumstances should an applicant write an addendum?

An addendum can be a useful tool for an applicant to expand on an aspect of his/her application file that he/she feels is not adequately covered elsewhere.  An addendum may indicate the circumstances behind a poor academic semester, for example, or highlight diversity factors.  An addendum is particularly relevant if the applicant feels the admissions committee may have a question about a particular aspect of the application file; in such instance, or when in doubt, it is to the applicant’s benefit to write an addendum explaining the issue in his/her own words, rather than leaving the admissions committee to fill in the gaps.

TLS: Many students apply to law school during their senior year of college. Do you think that this is too soon for many students? Should they take more time off before applying for law school?

The answer depends on the student applying.  One or two years off between
college and law school generally does not provide an applicant a distinct advantage over an applicant who did not take time off.  Many students feel mentally prepared to continue their education immediately after college.  Other students choose to take time off for various reasons – some are “burned out” after college and need a break before law school; others take time off for financial reasons; still others elect to work in a law-related field to get a sense of whether law school is right for them.  These reasons, and innumerable others, are good reasons to take time off.  In short, a student should take time off for the right reasons – because he/she wants or needs to – not because he/she feels that one or two years off makes him/her a stronger applicant.

TLS: How does the law school view multiple LSAT scores?

Richmond takes the highest LSAT score.

TLS: Are there any “soft” factors that the law school views especially favorably? For example, Teach for America and the Peace Corps are often given as significant “soft” factors in admissions.

Teach for America, the Peace Corps, and the AmeriCorps are great “softs,” as are prestigious academic achievements such as Fulbrights.

TLS: Could you briefly describe the waitlist process for the law school? Is there anything that students can do while on the waitlist to improve their chances of admission?

Students receive application decisions on a rolling basis; those who are waitlisted are encouraged to contact the admissions office by phone or email to check on the status of the waitlist and to express their continued interest in remaining on the waitlist if they are so interested.  Students are accepted off of the waitlist at any time prior to the first day of classes each August as seats formerly held by deposited students become available in the class.  In some instances, a new higher LSAT score (June) may improve a waitlisted candidate’s chances of admission.  While candidates often feel that the June test is entirely too late, if they are on a waiting list this is the one thing in their control that can make a difference in helping them get off that list – or at least move them up the list.  If the applicant is strongly interested in the law school, keeping in touch with the admissions office may also be of benefit to the applicant.

Transfer

TLS: Many students are interested in transferring after their first year of law school, but some are afraid of how transferring will affect their job offers. For example, they are worried that leaving established positions on law journals at their old schools will adversely affect their chances. What is your opinion of this? Does transferring ever hurt?

Transferring is always a multifaceted and individualized decision with many factors to weigh.  It may not be the ideal choice for most students who have become involved in the life of their law school, forged relationships with faculty, staff and other students, and who are poised to join and actively participate in the rich offerings of the school.  For example, a student may be at a disadvantage when switching to a large school when they have thrived in the close knit and collegial environment so valued at Richmond Law where faculty maintain a true open-door policy and really know a student.  We often hear from students who transfer to larger schools and discover that close mentors and faculty recommenders are more difficult to find and they feel somewhat isolated from the life of the school.

However, each year, we welcome highly accomplished transfer students who integrate seamlessly into the life of Richmond Law.  They are contacted before their arrival by the Career Services Office (CSO) and are immediately integrated into the on-campus interview process and other CSO offerings, and the Admissions Office includes them in an informative and socially rewarding orientation.  They receive targeted CSO training and counseling to assist with their transition.  They join journals, assume leadership positions in student organizations, and succeed in competitions. As the capital city near the nation’s capital, Richmond offers these students a locus of jurisprudence, a dynamic financial, medical and technology center, and government hub. These students arrive to find a wealth of opportunities for jobs, internships, clinical placements, externships, and coveted judicial clerkships and gain from the academic, experiential learning, and mentoring opportunities as well as its collegial and collaborative student body, faculty, and staff.

TLS: What can a student do to best increase his chances of being accepted in a transfer? Are there any minimum requirements in terms of law school GPA?

The student’s first-year law school grades are the most recent indicator of that student’s academic achievement, and as such the student’s first-year academic record is a significant criterion in determining acceptance as a transfer student.  There are no minimum law school GPA requirements, however transfer applicants are expected to have a fairly strong GPA and class rank if their school ranks.

TLS: Does a transfer applicant’s undergraduate record (LSAT / undergraduate GPA) have any bearing on his/her acceptance?

A transfer applicant’s entire file, including undergraduate record (LSAT/UGPA), is reviewed in determining whether that student will be accepted.

Employment

TLS: The University of Richmond’s law school is one of several in the state of Virginia. Graduates have to compete for jobs with students from UVA, Washington and Lee, and William and Mary, as well as several other schools. What are job prospects like for graduates? Would you say that the University of Richmond has a more regional focus in its job outlook?

University of Richmond law students graduate with academic credentials and practical experience that set them apart in a competitive legal marketplace.  Our graduates secure jobs in private practice (in large, mid-size and small firms); local, state and federal government; public interest organizations; and corporate settings.  The impressive records of our law school alumni result in professional respect for the capabilities and preparedness of our students.  Consequently, graduates can pursue their desired careers with confidence and the support of a dedicated alumni base.  Year after year, they secure among the highest percentages of prestigious judicial clerkships and enjoy great success in attaining positions in private practice, government, and public interest.

Many law students arrive at the University of Richmond with the objective of practicing in a home state or a targeted geographic area but fall in love with the city and region and decide to stay, practice and build their lives in Virginia and nearby D.C., where top firms and agencies are filled with our loyal alumni.  However, many others have developed their careers in geographic locations throughout the U.S. and abroad.  We participate in a number of national interview programs, and our graduates head to places like Alaska, California, New York, Texas, Florida, Europe, etc. to distinguish themselves.  The CSO works with each student to identify and build on relationships wherever the student wants to go.

Additionally, our law students benefit from the cooperative relationships among the strong law schools in the region that work together to attract employers and recruiters to our campuses.  We jointly sponsor job fairs and interview programs and support each other as members of a regional recruiting association which also includes recruiting representatives from most of the large firms in the region who also have offices throughout the United States. 
Much of [our students’] success can also be attributed to their practical experiences as law students.  As the capital of the state, Richmond is the executive, judicial and legislative heart of Virginia; our law students take advantage of the abundance of opportunities offered by securing internships, externships, and clinical placements at Am Law 100 law firms, government agencies, courts, Fortune 500 companies, and with federal and state judges, during the academic year as well as the summers. The experience gained and the relationships established contribute to the success of our graduates.

TLS: One opinion that I’ve seen often among current students is that the Career Services offices at their respective universities are not extremely useful. Generally, it is thought that the onus of the job search is on the students. What does the University of Richmond do differently in this regard? Do you think that the Career Services office is a vital component of the law school?

Our Career Services Office (CSO) strives to be a welcoming and friendly office for each law student, faculty member, and staff person at the school.  It is the goal of each member of the CSO, from the Associate Dean to the Administrative Assistant, to know each student by name and his or her career objective.  The CSO has distinguished itself in its ability to offer personalized guidance –working closely with students and helping to match them with opportunities that fit their goals. 

The Office takes a very proactive approach, striving to maintain relationships with each student.  Each month, it sponsors an informal breakfast where students can mingle and talk with CSO representatives as well as guests from various law firms, courts, and governmental agencies as well as other legal employers, and each week, it hosts programs of interest on topics such as interviewing, specialized practice areas, loan forgiveness, and opportunities such as the Presidential Management Fellowship Program.  The CSO plans other useful events such as mock interview evenings, roundtable dinners with practitioners, and detailed training sessions that also serve as networking opportunities.

The CSO also offers a great deal of hands-on assistance for all clerkship applicants.  Its goal is to make the process as painless as possible while enabling students to submit the most impressive application packages possible.  Our extensive network of alumni clerks provide invaluable interview information, guidance, and support to clerkship candidates, facilitated by the CSO.

Another priority of the CSO is to nurture existing relationships with employers while cultivating new mutually beneficial ones so that we maximize employment opportunities for our students.  We maintain ties to our extensive alumni base and work to promote the successes of our students among them.  As a result of all of these initiatives, along with the close relationships among CSO representatives and students, the CSO is an integral component of the law school experience at the University of Richmond School of Law. 

TLS: How do you view the current legal market? Do you think the old “big law model” is dead forever, or will it make a resurgence?

The current legal market offers many unknowns.  Nationwide, record changes in the marketplace have left almost everyone questioning and guessing as to how things will look in the future.  Many large employers indicate that they are reassessing their strategies and practices, which lead most prognosticators to believe that things have changed forever.

The University of  Richmond School of Law maintains relationships with a broad range of employers – varied in size, practice focus, and markets.  Because we have fostered relationships with such a diverse group of employers, our students continue to find opportunities that satisfy their objectives.  We will continue to nurture existing relationships with employers while cultivating new mutually beneficial ones so that we maximize employment opportunities for our students no matter how the marketplace looks in the future.
 
TLS: I've seen many students comment that there are too many law schools and that the massive influx of lawyers has lead to a swollen market. Do you think there is any truth in this statement? How can law schools help prevent the market from becoming more bloated?

If students develop an accomplished profile, we believe that they can find their
place in the marketplace.  Richmond Law strives to provide students with the right tools – outstanding academic credentials, excellent critical, analytical, and written communication skills, and practical experience and training – which will lead them to successful careers.  We also advocate a thorough analysis by each student of his or her goals and objectives so that they can align their interest and talents with complementary career paths.  Law students graduate with an impressive array of credentials and skills that will remain valuable and pertinent in numerous fields.

Financial Aid

TLS: The University of Richmond has a multitude of merit based scholarships available for incoming students. In particular, the John Marshall scholarships are the most prestigious. Could you give some more information about the university’s financial aid process? How are the John Marshall scholars picked? Do the scholarships come with any conditions?

Students are automatically considered for merit/need based financial aid when they apply to the law school.  Students are generally notified of scholarship awards by mid-March.  Scholarships are guaranteed for three years provided the student remains in good academic standing.

The John Marshall scholarship (JMS) process is slightly different.  Students are considered for the JMS on the strength of their undergraduate record, and are invited to apply for the scholarship.  Invited students then complete an essay on a topic provided to them.  A JMS committee comprised of Virginia Supremes Court Justices, state court judges, and hiring partners from some of the largest national law firms based in Virginia read the essays and select the winners.  The JMS is $10,000 per year and is guaranteed provided the John Marshall Scholar remains in the top third of his/her class after each academic year.  The John Marshall Scholar receives an additional $15,000 merit-based scholarship, which is guaranteed for three years provided the student remains in good academic standing.

TLS: Is the law school’s distribution and amount of aid going to be affected by the downturn in the economy?

We do not expect the recession to affect the distribution or amount of aid that we offer and we have, in fact, for the last two years (and will again this year) increased the amount of aid we will be awarding.  While university endowments are no doubt down nationwide, University of Richmond’s endowments have fared better than most, and we expect to remain as competitive as ever in our scholarship offerings.

Life at UR Law

TLS: Richmond is a sizable city with a lot to offer its patrons. However, more specifically, what kind of events does University of Richmond hold for its students? Would you say that the University of Richmond has a vibrant social life? What are some of the more popular student organizations at the law school?

Prospective students will find Richmond Law to be a welcoming, collegial, and yes, social environment.  A highlight of our small-school atmosphere is the ability of students to form close-knit relationships in and out of the classroom.  Our students find social outlets through a variety of student organizations, Student Bar Association-sponsored happy hours (to which faculty and staff are often invited), and sports teams such as intramural softball and flag football.  Popular annual events include the Phi Alpha Delta auction, which raises money for summer public interest stipends, the student-sponsored Halloween party, and the Barrister’s Ball. 

TLS: What are some of the housing options that the law school offers incoming students?

A limited amount of on-campus housing in “dorm-style” houses is available to all law students on a first-come, first-served basis.  In the immediate vicinity of the law school, within a 3-4 mile radius, Richmond offers an abundance of good, affordable housing in the form of apartment complexes and single-family homes.  The law school provides housing guides, current law student feedback on various apartment complexes and areas of the city, and an online community where incoming law students can “find” each other and make arrangements to live together.

TLS: How well is the law school incorporated with the rest of the Richmond campus? Some law students at other schools report feeling cut off from the rest of the student body due to location or other factors.

A strength of the law school is its location in the heart of the main campus, within easy walking distance to the dining hall, student union, main sports complex, state-of-the-art recreational center, and a beautiful on-campus lake.  The university administration takes pride in integrating all departments into a cohesive environment – referring to the university as “five schools, one university.” 

TLS: What is the primary critique that current students have about the University of Richmond? What is being done to address this issue?

By far the primary critique that our current students have about the University of Richmond is that they believe their law school is vastly under-ranked by US News & World Report.  They know the value of the education and experience they are getting and find it frustrating that this value is not reflected in this ranking or in your Top Law Schools .com perspective.  To address this issue we continue to focus on our students’ success and strive to be the very best law school possible.  Our resources are devoted to those areas that most benefit our students rather than simply to aggrandize the law school.   We hire faculty who are “stars” in their field and foster an environment that helps students to reach their goals.  Decisions by the Dean and faculty are made with the best interest of our students being the most paramount factor and in doing so we anticipate our ranking will ultimately catch up with the reality that is Richmond Law.

TLS: I noticed on your website that the University of Richmond is proud of its honor code. How do you think an honor code helps to shape the student body?

Character counts at Richmond Law.  Our students are proud to be part of an institution that honors its strong history and foundations as it strives to be a leader in the community.  Each student at Richmond Law is assigned an individual study carrel in the library which functions as a personal “office” or work environment.  Our students are permitted to take their final examinations in their personal study carrels rather than in a classroom alongside their classmates.  The students value the flexibility and independence offered to them through the honor code and, accordingly, they treat the code with vast respect.

TLS: What renovations is the University of Richmond currently undertaking to ensure that the law school will remain up to date in these fast moving times?

The Law School has undergone several renovations in the last two years.  Our classrooms have been remodeled to state-of-the-art status.  The library has added several gorgeous group study areas to complement the private individual study carrels for those who wish to study in their own “office”.  The faculty study has been turned into a student commons with free coffee available to our students at any time.  Our Atrium area has been refurnished for casual student use and several of our restrooms have been totally renovated.  A brand new International Education building is under construction next to the law school where many facilities will available for our student use.

Academics at University of Richmond School of Law

TLS: What are some clinics that University of Richmond is most proud of?

Richmond offers five “in-house” clinics in the Family/Children’s Law area; these clinics include Family Law, Children’s Law and Disability, Children’s Law and Delinquency, Juvenile Law and Policy, and Advanced Children’s Law.  The recent addition of “UR Downtown,” a 4,500 square-foot facility in the heart of the city, further expands Richmond Law’s outreach and opportunities for students by collaborating with non-profit and government partners to address pressing community needs in part through pro bono legal services.

Additionally, Richmond’s location as the capital city provides a wealth of clinical opportunities for law students in their second and third years of law school.  Students can select clinical placements in civil, criminal, judicial, litigation, and in-house counsel fields.  Sample clinical placements include the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of Virginia, Virginia Supreme Court justices, ProctorSilex, and the Department of Environmental Quality.

TLS: Is University of Richmond particularly strong in any specializations of the law?

Richmond Law has several outstanding specializations.  For more than twenty years, the law school’s Robert R. Merhige Center for Environmental Studies (http://law.richmond.edu/) has engaged in research, instruction, and public outreach on energy and environmental issues.  In 2004, the school founded the Intellectual Property Institute (http://law.richmond.edu/ipi/), with four full-time professors, a clinic, a certificate of concentration in intellectual property, and a variety of engaging programs that focus on important intellectual property and cyberlaw issues.  And our most recent specialization is The National Center for Family Law (http://law.richmond.edu/ncfl/), which offers a wide variety of courses, a certificate in Family Law, a pro bono initiative, and numerous annual events.  The law school has other specializations as well—indeed, too many to mention here—but you can refer to http://law.richmond.edu/centers/index.php for a complete list.

TLS: Professor Yelnosky at Roger Williams University recently compiled a list of the most scholarly productive schools (based on per capita productivity of articles in top journals) outside of the U.S. News top 50. The University of Richmond ranked an impressive 4 on this list. How do you think that this culture of academic productivity helps the University of Richmond's students? (Source: http://law.rwu.edu/facultyproductivity/)

Great scholars make great teachers.  Empirical studies bear this out, but the real proof is in the classrooms of Richmond Law.  Our professors are on the cutting edge of legal scholarship with a record of productivity and achievement that would make any law school proud.  And when they bring their scholarly insights into the classroom, the experience is better for everyone.  Our professors know that the law is dynamic; it is constantly adapting to changes in society, technology, and demography.  And they know that only by studying those changes can they truly impart to their students an understanding of what the law is.

U.S. News and Brian Leiter

TLS: For better or worse, it seems that the U.S. News rankings have a significant effect on students’ perceptions of different law schools. What is your opinion of these rankings? Do you think they do more harm than good?

Choosing a law school based on ranking is a bit like choosing among an apple, a pear and an orange based on an opinion poll of favorite fruits.  It makes a lot more sense to look closely at schools, get a taste of each by visiting them, sitting in on a class, meeting students and professors, and talking to alumni.  The “race for the ranks” has been a significant cause of the rising cost of a law school education.  Need-based scholarships have been diverted to “merit” scholarships often rewarding those whose LSAT score will most benefit the law school in the pursuit of enhanced rankings.  Rankings are a fine guide but they should never be considered the “bible”. 

TLS: How actively does the law school care about the U. S. News rankings? Do the rankings ever affect the law school’s decision on a particular applicant?

The law school cares about the U.S. News rankings in that we realize the rankings are a significant factor in the world we live in.  We are quite willing to take a “risk” in admitting an applicant that doesn’t have the highest LSAT or GPA based on our value for things other than those objective criteria.  We are always looking for the “diamond in the rough” and some of our proudest admits (and the alumni we’re most proud of) have been those we’ve admitted without basing our decision on how it may “play” in the rankings.

TLS: What is your opinion of Brian Leiter's rankings? Do you feel that they are more accurate than the U.S. News rankings?

Brian Leiter has provided a valuable alternative to the U.S. News rankings and are based on factors that perhaps are more valid in ranking law schools.

TLS: Finally, do you have any parting words of wisdom for students applying this cycle?

Absolutely – please visit our website to read our advice on how to take the frustration and the “unknown” out of applying to law school!  The article can be found here: http://law.richmond.edu/admissions/applyingadvice.php 

Top-Law-Schools.com greatly appreciates the time Associate Dean Michelle Rahman spent in providing this interview.







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