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Michigan Law School
Published October 2006, last updated August 2013. Photos by Benji Dell.
Michigan Law is situated on one of the most attractive campuses in the country and located in the vibrant college town of Ann Arbor. This perennial top-10 law school continues to attract applicants of the highest caliber each year, including students from across the country and around the world who are looking for a top-notch legal education in a collaborative environment. While being quick to point out that law school is a lot of work, students often rave about their experiences at Michigan.
The school does not have one primary legal market that it feeds; it has a national reputation among both employers. Unfortunately, its employment scores have taken a hit in the past few years relative to its peers—at 82.5%, Michigan's Law School Transparency employment score is almost 12 percentage points lower than those of competitors Virginia and Penn.
One 2L said of his visits to other law schools: “What I noticed is that everywhere I went, administrators always said I should either go to their school or go to Michigan, and I thought that spoke volumes. People said it was kind of a special school: that it was very collegial, that people got along.” Upon matriculation, most students say the school lives up to the hype.
It’s no secret that admissions at Michigan Law are highly selective. The median LSAT score for the class of 2015 is 169, and the median undergraduate GPA is 3.73.
The application fee is $75. Merit-based fee waivers are disbursed via the LSAC’s Candidate Referral Service (largely based on LSAT score and GPA), and a limited number of need-based fee waivers may be obtained by emailing the office.
Current students hold almost a reverence for the admissions office, a sentiment perhaps best exemplified by their eagerness to encourage prospective students to attend. “Student involvement in admissions here is ridiculous. Everyone wants to do tours. They have to turn people away,” a 1L said. More than a few students claimed that while a school of around 1,100 will invariably have its schmucks, they’re confident that Michigan has a much smaller percentage of such classmates than other top schools because of the comprehensive application review process.
The admissions process
Dean of Admissions Sarah Zearfoss said in an exclusive interview with TLS that the public nature of Michigan Law’s admissions process ensures that the staff takes a holistic approach. Zearfoss mentioned the landmark 2003 Grutter v. Bollinger case, in which the U.S. Supreme Court upheld Michigan Law’s admissions policy of considering race as one of many factors, and regular Freedom of Information Act requests as “countervailing pressures” against inconsistent admissions policies or simply trying to raise its medians while placing little weight on an applicant’s other qualities.
“Even when we took race into account as a factor in admissions—which we no longer do [in accordance with the 2006 state constitutional amendment that banned race-, gender- and nationality-based affirmative action in Michigan]—but even when we did, we said that it is not the only thing—it wasn’t only race that mattered along with LSAT and GPA. There are many other things that matter,” she said.
In terms of graduate studies, one’s GPA isn’t a real factor in admissions, since it's difficult to compare grades across different graduate programs. “It’s more the fact of your having done the graduate work; that’s what’s important,” Dean Zearfoss said.
When to apply
As admissions are rolling, applicants are encouraged to “apply as early as you can submit a good, careful application,“ Dean Zearfoss said. “For Michigan, I would consider anyone who submits prior to mid-December as being ‘early’ in the process. In contrast, people who submit in late January and beyond are submitting at the tail end, when we have made about 75% of our decisions, and seats are becoming more scarce.”
Michigan offers a binding Early Decision option for those who are sure that Michigan is their first choice. ED applicants must have their applications complete by Nov. 15 and must be ready to start school in the summer term, in late May. With law school applications tanking, however, students would be wise to maximize their opportunities for merit scholarships by avoiding binding ED programs.
Writing the optional essays
Dean Zearfoss encourages applicants to write one or two of the optional essays, as “sometimes people blow it on the personal statement, and that extra essay really gives me an important piece of information.” Students widely recommend writing the “Why Michigan” essay, as admissions offices are interested in students who seem committed to the school. Dean Zearfoss said that students could “absolutely” write that essay on nonacademic factors, like geographical reasons or having family members nearby. She also discouraged regurgitating information from the website, saying that applicants should instead truly consider what draws them to Michigan. “It’s just not worth it to write one if it’s pro forma (as we say in the law). You shouldn’t do it.”
Multiple LSAT scores
Like most other schools, Michigan will report an applicant’s highest LSAT score, but still look at all of them. Dean Zearfoss said each applicant’s situation dictates which scores are weighted more heavily for admissions:
Advice for college students
“You should certainly be doing something every summer,” Dean Zearfoss said. She continued:
Michigan awards scholarships of various sizes, with an applicant’s LSAT score and GPA being the greatest determinants. The median grant amount in 2012 was $15,000. Dean Zearfoss said that “we also pay attention to what the schools that we compete with give out, and we allow people who don’t make our initial criteria to let us know about those offers and sometimes we try to compete with those.”
For the cream of the crop, Michigan awards a very select number of Darrow Scholarships, which can be up to full tuition along with a living stipend. In determining who receives them, Zearfoss said, “LSAT and GPA certainly play a role, but it’s something much more than that. It’s such a small handful of people. They have to be very bright, but there is neither a floor nor a ceiling for the LSAT and GPA on that—it’s really more what will this person bring that is completely different and special.”
Wolverine Scholars Program
Michigan formerly had a controversial program called Wolverine Scholars, which allowed University of Michigan undergraduates with 3.8 GPA or above to apply to Michigan Law without an LSAT score. The program quietly disappeared in 2011 after a scandal broke involving a similar program at the University of Illinois.
Law school culture
As professor Gil Seinfeld said, “Any profile that was written about the University of Michigan Law School that didn’t emphasize its cultural uniqueness would be missing the point on some level, because it’s such a palpable part of the experience of so many people here, in so many different ways.” A plurality of administrators, faculty, and students insist that a—if not the—major draw of Michigan is the laid-back nature of the law school community.
One student said a reason he came to Michigan over other, more prestigious schools is because it had “more culture to it” and didn’t seem so “fake and manufactured.”
“This culture grew up some number of years ago and it perpetuates itself," Seinfeld said. "When new students and faculty enter, they seem to absorb it and—since it agrees with so many of us—continue it."
Michigan’s total enrollment of about 1,100 students makes it the fifth largest of the top 20 schools in the Above the Law ranking, as of the 2012-2013 school year. Unlike peer public schools in which the class is heavily composed of in-state residents (UVA hits about 40%, while Texas can’t legally matriculate more than 35% nonresident students), only about 20% of Michigan Law students hail from the state.
Even if they don’t transform into Michigan football diehards (although “most students go to at least a few games”), law students still say they feel a strong link to Michigan, sometimes even more so than to their undergraduate institutions.
Evan Caminker, the former dean of the law school who was replaced in 2013 by Mark West, conjectured that much of the famed culture of Michigan Law might stem from its locale. He said:
Professor Seinfeld referenced mini-seminars, in which a small group of students meets for class at a professor’s house, as an example of how the law school’s setting adds to its dynamic. “This sort of thing isn’t possible if you have faculty that’s really scattered, whereas a very large fragment of our faculty lives within about a three-minute drive from the law school, and many people live within walking distance. That’s one way in which we’re just able to create a real sense of community and leverage the proximity of the faculty.”
The student body
An oft-heard refrain from current students to prospective ones is to “come here for the people.” The two adjectives most frequently used by students interviewed for this profile to describe their classmates were “smart” and “down-to-earth.” “I was expecting to meet a lot of immature students, but I met a lot of people who are just very, very humble and cool people and mature, who I would like to keep knowing outside of law school when I graduate,” a rising 2L said.
Though Michigan cannot legally employ affirmative action in its admissions (check out the student newspaper’s interview with deans Zearfoss and Caminker shortly after the state ban passed), Michigan is still composed of a heterogeneous student body, diversified by geography, race, educational background, and experiences.
“When Michigan talks about diversity, they’re really serious about it,” a rising 3L said. “I’ve really noticed the diversity at Michigan, and it’s been fantastic. I’ve had great conversations with people across the ideological spectrum and the economic spectrum.”
Typical law school stereotypes seem to dissolve at Michigan, and without a single social group or academic persuasion sticking out amongst the student body, it becomes harder to typecast (as opposed to some law schools, which can have reputations for being particularly studious, business-minded, or fratty). “You see all stripes and kinds," one student said. "I’d find it hard to imagine a type of student who couldn’t succeed here. I guess if you were a jerk. Well actually, we have a few jerks here, too, so maybe that’s not true."
Students said that as often happens with other law schools, the social circles can have a “high-school-ish tinge” to them. Since the law school is so much smaller than most undergraduate colleges, “groups easily form, and they’re more salient.” Though the cliques aren’t exclusive or catty, students said, gossip travels faster, and “people tend to know each other’s business.”
Michigan Law has several policies and practices in place in order to curb the inherent competition that comes with a classwide curve. The school does not publish class rank until graduation, and GPAs aren’t public knowledge, either. Scholarships are not revoked if a certain GPA isn’t attained, and students aren’t selected for Michigan Law Review strictly based on grades.
One student seemed to speak for the rest of his classmates when he said, “People here work really hard, but it’s a difference between working really hard and pushing it in someone’s face.”
A student who transferred to Michigan from a top-50 public law school said: “It’s more competitive at Michigan. The professors are better. It is a more rigorous academic environment. The reasons that I transferred to Michigan were those. People stay way later at the library at night, and they’re all prepared, which is awesome.”
When asked in what sense the school was more competitive, he said that students at his old school would often just do what was needed to be done and then go off to party, whereas people at Michigan were more studious and focused on doing their work and doing well.
Despite the economic downturn's creating a more uncertain job market, one student said, he hasn’t felt an increase in competition to score top grades. “I think that there’s a competition among law students, period. I think Michigan probably does a better job than most in trying to deal with that. The fact that we don’t publish your GPA and don’t publish your class ranking makes the law school a lot better than peer institutions where that information is available. I think that a lot of the competition among students, whatever there is, kind of peters out by the time you’re a second-year or third-year student.”
Another student said, “People are overachieving and work really hard and care about doing well, but not at the expense of others or anything.” Classmates frequently share notes and outlines, and 1L study groups are common.
Dean Caminker weighed in, saying:
Incoming law students are often warned of infamous “gunners,” and Michigan is not immune from them. Most students said they had at most one or two “over-eager” students in their 90-person sections. “We had one,” a student said, “but I never considered her to be cutthroat, in the sense that I never felt she was out to get anyone else. She just participated left and right.”
A rising 2L said:
Like any elite law school, Michigan has a first-rate roster of faculty. Most students said professors were great, with the caveat that “some are more entertaining than others.”
“I like all of them,” a rising 2L said. “Some of them are really cool and down-to-earth, and some are really arrogant, but what do you expect? They’re all the most brilliant persons in their field. They’ve written books and all that stuff. Academics, by their nature, are going to be somewhat pretentious.”
Professor Gil Seinfeld, a popular professor among students, said: “The faculty here is committed to the student body as teachers, and committed to the student body professionally—to help them find the best spot professionally—and committed to them as people, to make sure they’re having a positive experience in a way that I would be surprised if many institutions could match. I think it’s a defining quality of the law school.”
A student who transferred here from a top-50 public school said there was a palpable difference in quality of the professors between the two institutions. “Michigan has, on the whole, a much stronger rock star slate. They’re a little less accessible, but I think that’s to be expected. I think they’re still accessible. If you want to talk to Catharine McKinnon or [others] who are just absolute powerhouses in their fields, you can just walk into their offices.”
When asked in what ways Michigan’s faculty is less accessible, he said: “There’s definitely less office hours and they’re less interested in sticking around and talking after class. At my old school they were always hanging out after class and talking—maybe they’re busier here.”
Nearly every student said that during their 1L year students are usually faces in the crowd, as the majority of classes will have about 90 people. “The distance is already there because of the number of students,” a 2L said. Students did say that professors try very hard to learn each 1L’s name; one professor uses the official student pictures to memorize every person’s name before class starts.
A student who just finished his first year said 1Ls should make the effort in establishing relationships with professors, otherwise it won’t happen. “They’re not opposed to becoming closer with students—in fact, they encourage it. During office hours they’re very helpful; they like to have lunch if you offer it to them. They’ll try to arrange things. But it’s nowhere near the level of collaboration I had when I was an undergraduate, and that’s just the way it’s going to be when you have so many students and until you’re a 2L or 3L.”
Another student added: “It was actually difficult for me coming from a really small liberal arts college where I did know all of my professors on a first-name basis and saw them on campus all the time. I don’t have that kind of relationship with most of my professors here. But there are some where if you make the effort, and go to their office hours, yeah, you get to know them.”
Students maintain the same section of students for all their first-year doctrinal classes: civil procedure, contracts, criminal law, constitutional law, property, and torts. 1Ls take Legal Practice both semesters, and second-semester 1Ls may choose to take an elective (making it three doctrinal classes plus Legal Practice first semester, and 3 doctrinal classes plus Legal Practice plus possible elective second semester).
Class dynamics vary widely by professor. Some are strictly lecture, some are entirely discussion-based, and there’s everything in between. Some professors use PowerPoint in class, yet some don’t even use e-mail. A transfer student said the classes are generally bigger at Michigan (but noted that “in the biggest class I took, which was at least 100 people, [the professor] knew everybody’s name”). Some of the more popular classes, such as Jurisdiction, can be 130 students, whereas others are 15 students.
Up to 12 credit hours from another Michigan graduate program can count toward your J.D. They are mandatory pass/fail, though, which could raise the eyebrows of some interviewers.
There is only one specifically required class outside the core 1L courses—Transnational Law, which can be taken any time, and has mixed reviews from students. “The Trans Nat requirement sucks,” one student said, while others said it’s no big deal. The school also has a broader professional responsibility requirement and a writing requirement.
Several students mentioned that the school is open to adjusting its curriculum to meet student needs. “If you can organize other students, if you think there should be a class on X, they’ve done it. Like, here’s 50 people who will sign up for this course if you teach Advanced Patent Law, would you please do that, and they’re pretty good at roping professors into doing that,” a student said.
A Michigan Law class of roughly 350 students is split up into sixteen sections of about 22, four of which start in late May (the “summer starters,” discussed below). Those small sections are usually clumped together in groups of 4, effectively making four sections of about 90 students. Depending on the year and professors, the six 1L doctrinal classes can be groups of either two sections or four sections, with a four-section clumping (the 90-student class) being more common. Both semesters of Legal Practice involve just one small section.
Sections help the school feel smaller (“You get to know who everyone is in your section," one student said. "Small section you’ll get to know really well."), but if one doesn’t branch out via groups and social events, students can find themselves interacting with the same 90 people all year.
Students say that “overall, most classes are pretty easy to get into.” “I think the number of classes that are hard to get into is not that many,” another student said. Students warn that some classes are offered only occasionally, so if a particular one looks interesting, take it at the first chance, because it might not be offered again.
Michigan employs a system in which each student gets two “priorities” which they can use for any two classes in their law school career in order to increase their likelihood of enrollment. If a student doesn’t get in, her priority is not spent. Students say that though it isn’t a guarantee, you’ll most likely get in with a priority. “I haven’t really heard of people not getting a class with a priority,” a student said.
There are also “prof pick” classes, in which professors get a list of students who want in the class. Some require a statement of interest, and generally those students who express a special interest in the class are more likely to be chosen by the professor.
Students may take an elective their second 1L semester, and all recommend taking a lighter class like a seminar or one that requires a paper instead of a final exam. “You have to be a little bit practical, because it will feel like you have everything you had in the fall, plus you have an extra class on top of it,” a student said.
Laptops in the classroom
About half the professors at Michigan have banned laptops from the classroom, and the practice is becoming increasingly prevalent. “A colleague of mine put it this way: I would sooner allow a troupe of circus performers into my classroom than allow laptop use,” professor Seinfeld said.
A student who uses his laptop when it’s not banned said, “I don’t mind [when they are banned]. I find that it makes classroom more engaging—it definitely keeps me more engaged. Where laptops have been banned, it has been effective.”
A particularly neat section of Michigan’s curriculum is mini-seminars: one-credit pass/fail classes of about ten or so students, which are held at the professor’s house. The subjects are colorful (a couple from last year were “The Greatest Legal Movies” and “Theater and the Moral Foundations of the Law”) and class is held in the evenings over dinner or appetizers.
Professor Seinfeld said the students he has the closest relationships with are often those who take his mini-seminars. Last year, he taught one on Law and Pop Lit. “The setting is very informal. My kids tend to be running around, sometimes in their diapers, and that’s part of the point, is that you’re letting students into your home and just hanging out.”
The Socratic Method
Most all 1L classes at Michigan feature some variation of cold-calling. Though professors try not to skewer people, it certainly happens. A student who transferred from another school said that unlike at his first institution, where students would be asked to simply recite facts, Michigan professors ask more of the students, making a thorough reading of the material a necessity (depending on one’s threshold for embarrassment). “At Michigan, Socratic is more actually testing the bounds of what you know and how you can apply what you’ve read.”
After the first year, most professors abandon the standard model of cold-calling, but still expect and reward participation. “As you go on, I would say the Socratic turns into more of an incentivized speaking method, like if you opt in to participate X amount of times, you get 10 points on your final, or something, but if you don’t opt in you won’t get called on,” a student explained.
All first year classes (not counting Legal Practice, which is largely pass/fail, although a very small number of students can get honors or a C) are subject to the curve, along with upper-level classes that have 40 or more students.
The mean GPA target is a 3.19, which a bit lower than most peer schools that still use a traditional grading scale (Cornell’s max mean is a 3.35 and Duke’s median is a 3.3). A lower mean GPA doesn’t affect OCI, since interviewers get schoolwide grade averages.
Professor Seinfeld said it was a fair system: “I’ve never had a situation where I felt like I want to give this student a better grade but I can’t because I’m not allowed to. Your mean average has to be between two poles. You can be at the very harsh end [3.13] or the forgiving end [3.25].”
One-fourth of the entering class starts in May, effectively stretching their 1L year into three semesters, and usually graduating a semester early. The summer start program tends to be quite popular with those who do it. “I really enjoyed the summer start. Ann Arbor is so great in the summer,” one student said.
The summer start provides a sort of easing into law school. Students take only legal practice plus two doctrinal classes during their summer semester as opposed to three, allowing students more time to get acquainted with being a law student. Another advantage (or possibly disadvantage) of the summer start is that when applying for 1L summer jobs, students will have an extra semester of grades to show employers.
Since the summer starters are the only students taking classes at the time, “the class tends to be much more closely knit,” a student said. Another agreed, saying that “The summer start class is usually closer,” with the warning that it was “harder for us to make connections with the fall starters.” The summer starters are sometimes referred to as a cult by other students.
She continued: “We were always done with class by noon. We had an IM softball team [and] were able to just go out to restaurants and bars and stuff. It was really laid-back. It was kind of like baby steps into law school. We already knew how the game worked. I think summer starters tend to get involved in the law school a lot more, in terms of student organizations. We get involved earlier. We feel like we can better manage our time.”
Though it has its advantages, three semesters of law school in a row can be hard to handle (“That third semester in a row is the craziest burnout you will ever feel,” a student said) and summer starters can miss out on some classes that are offered only in the winter semester, since they only have two of those semesters instead of three.
It goes without saying that the studying habits and intensity of Michigan students vary across the board. One student (who emphasized that he is “not the normal student”) did about 15-16 hours of law work a day, including classes, during his 1L year. Another said he studied about five hours a day.
“If you want to coast, you can coast,” the first student said, who added that he actually studied more in undergrad than in law school.
“When I was a prospective student, someone told me this, and I’ve actually found it to be pretty true: If you stay on top of your work during the week, you generally have your weekends to you,” another student said. “If I know early enough ahead that I can plan around having a social life, it’s definitely doable. I probably have more of a social life now than I did in undergrad.”
Michigan offers a free tutoring service of upperclassmen who did exceptionally well in 1L classes. While many students endorse the program, they warn that it’s hard to come by one-on-one sessions. “I found that the questions my classmates were asking weren’t useful to me. I wouldn’t blame it on the tutor—it’s hard to cater to different needs when you have 3-4 students in the group,” a student said. Some students sign up for tutors with their existing study groups in order to ask agreed-upon questions, which they say works well.
Upperclassmen are almost always willing to give their old outlines, and while some 1Ls just use those and don’t bother making their own, others say that outlining is their learning process and make fresh ones for each class. Some students don’t make outlines at all.
Some tips and methods from top students:
Professor Seinfeld said students should “work together to make sure they understand materials. Different study groups have different vibes. It should be a collaborative experience.”
He also said professors at Michigan encourage students to come to them for help. “I find it just mystifying that students walk into exams knowing that there are things that they don’t understand,” he said. “It is my job to teach the students the material. Much of that is done through class; some of it is done through office hours, some of it is done by e-mail. I plead with students who know they don’t understand things to ask me to explain it to them. It's very frustrating to discover that you might've helped a particular student understand the material better, if only they had asked for guidance.”
Students recommended using supplements in order to understand broader concepts, and said that most other students use them to at least some extent. In general, casebooks pose questions but don’t provide answers, so commercial supplements can help a student verify that his thinking is on track. Most students added that it’s a bad idea to forgo the casebook completely. One student who got top grades his 1L year said he didn’t use supplements at all, but that that was “probably a mistake.”
Professor Seinfeld on supplements:
Most students interviewed didn’t recommend doing any prep before law school started. A few suggested reading Getting to Maybe: How to Excel on Law School Exams or getting more familiar with basic terms used in torts and contracts. They said while it wouldn’t hurt to read cases or hornbooks, it is likely to be a waste of time.
Professor Seinfeld on reading supplements and other law materials before law school:
In response to perennial criticisms that law schools are too theory-based, Michigan has been focusing on increasing practical offerings across the board. Its already robust clinical program has grown in recent years, with additions that include the International Transactions Clinic and the Innocence Clinic.
Dual degrees and externships
Students interested in other interdisciplinary pursuits will benefit from the University of Michigan’s breadth of opportunities. Known for its top-ranked graduate schools, Michigan offers 14 dual degree programs, along with an ad hoc option to create your own. Students say they hear good things about both the JD/MBA and JD/MPP programs. Even so, be extremely careful before committing an extra year or two of time and tuition money to a dual degree that is more likely to hinder than help you in getting a job as a lawyer.
As far as externships go, 2Ls and 3Ls can earn credits by spending a semester working for a nonprofit or governmental agency of their choosing. Michigan has an extensive list of placement opportunities, including ones in South Africa and Geneva. Students are free to propose their own externship, but in accordance with ABA rules, a Michigan faculty member must do an on-site evaluation, which can be limiting and is an extra hoop to jump through. One student who developed his own externship said, “The proposal process is kind of intense if you do your own thing.” It requires finding a faculty sponsor and writing a proposal discussing why you chose that venue and the topic of the mandatory research paper to be graded after completion of the externship.
Michigan has a remarkably diverse set of clinics, and it’d be tough to not find one that suits your interests. “People rave about clinics, and for many students, it's the highlight of their law school career,” said a student who participated in the Children’s Rights Appellate Practice Clinic. Employers also like to see clinical experience on a resume, and a couple students said that interviewers were very excited to talk about Michigan’s clinics. Michigan court rules allow students to argue motions in court and provide direct representation to clients (with supervision of an attorney) after completing their first year of law school.
Though extremely popular, clinics are not exclusive—as one student said, “I don’t know anyone that’s never gotten a clinic who wanted one. I think anyone that wants to do a clinic will get a clinic at some point in their legal academic career. You might not get it the first time, and you might not get your first choice, but you’ll get a clinic.”
A student who participated in the Innocence Clinic, which seeks to clear prisoners for which there is new, non-DNA evidence that suggests their innocence, said, “It’s definitely been the best experience I’ve had at law school and sort of life-changing.” He had three clients who were all convicted murderers, and he worked with a partner to investigate the new evidence (such as by interviewing witnesses) and argue the case in court.
“Professors are supervisors, but we do all the work,” he said. “They check what goes in and out of the office and they help with motions and writing things, but for the most part we do everything. It gets to a point where we know these cases inside and out.”
Clinics can last either a semester or a year, and range in the amount of credits they’re worth (usually between two and seven credits). Student said the application process is “very simple,” as it requires one basic form for all the clinics. Students rank them by preference and include a 100-word response for why they want their first choice.
Michigan's traditionally strong employment numbers have lagged behind those of its peers in recent years, but the school still has a respectable 82.5% employment score for its class of 2012 from Law School Transparency. This indicates the number of 2012 graduates who obtained full-time, long-term jobs requiring bar passage nine months after graduation.
Dean Caminker has claimed that unlike schools that feed to one major market (e.g., Columbia to New York City), Michigan has an advantage in that for students who wish to work in a firm, there is less competition for jobs since Michigan students are so scattered.
In 2013, the National Law Journal reported that Michigan ranked 12th for placement into the largest 250 law firms in the nation, with 38.4% of the class of 2012 starting as first-year associates in those firms.
Michigan alumni typically perform well on major state bar exams.
Unlike many schools, Michigan made its 2011 NALP report public, which means that prospective students can see detailed salary breakdowns for the class of 2011. This includes breakdowns by geographic area and job sector, and information on how and when jobs were obtained. Of note: Students going into private law practice had as their 25th, 50th, and 75th percentile salaries $145,000, $160,000, and $160,000. Students going into the public sector made $57,408, $61,245, and $62,467 at those same percentiles. However, only 48% of the class of 2011 was employed and reported a salary, which may skew the numbers upward.
One of Michigan Law’s great advantages is its 20,000+ living alumni network. Michigan alums—at the undergraduate and graduate levels—are known for being “extremely loyal.” Another student said alums “really want to hire Michigan students.” Two students interviewed said they were contacted by alums from their hometowns who found out about the students through Law Review or alumni mailings and asked if they were looking for a job.
1L summer placement
Every student interviewed said they did not know a single 1L without summer employment, but that the vast majority were non-paying positions. Most said they sent a flood of applications out to firms and public interest venues and few (even those with stellar grades) got bites back from firms. One rising 2L who is near the top of his class said he sent about 150 resume / cover letter packages to New York City firms in December and got only three interviews and one offer. The Law School hosts seminars and provides an online guide for the 1L job search, but beyond resources like those, the process is “very, very self-led.”
Most 1Ls have no problems finding unpaid public interest work in the state of Michigan. “If you want to work around here, obviously you’re in Michigan and you go to University of Michigan Law School—as long as you apply early, it’s very easy to get a public interest job, and probably a pretty good one," a 2L said. "A lot of Michigan alums work at public interest agencies, and people are usually pretty eager to hire Michigan Law students"
Dean Caminker said that while Michigan enjoys a stellar reputation particularly in its own state (“Some places said ‘generally we only take people after 2L, but since you’re from Michigan we’ll give it to you,’” a student remarked), a goal of his is to get more students exploring public interest and pro bono work across the country. “I don’t want to just rely on the conventional model of having lots of students spend lots of time in our backyard working on local legal services organizations—I want to develop more of a national pro bono [and] public interest network where we can really integrate students into cutting-edge areas of pro bono practice,” Caminker said.
Students stressed that while working in a more regional firm elsewhere in the country is a good option, connections to the firm’s area are often necessary (“They’re not going to invest in you if they know you’re just going to go to New York after that,” a student said).
Students can get paid jobs working at the Law School’s library, for a clinic, or doing research for a professor. “Some [of the professors] are extremely famous and to be able to do research for them and get paid to do it is unbelievable,” a 2L said.
Many student groups at Michigan offer a limited number of fellowships for students pursuing public interest work over the summer. However, the main source of 1L funding comes from Student Funded Fellowships, while 2Ls are guaranteed a $5,000 stipend for working at qualified organizations.
Student Funded Fellowships: This student-run organization provides funding for 1Ls who take unpaid or low-paying public interest jobs during the summer. It provided about 50 grants of $4,000 each for the summer of 2012.
While lauded for its massive fundraising efforts (one of the biggest school-wide events of the year is the SFF auction), SFF has been criticized by students for a lack of transparency and unfair selection process. Although the application review process is blind, students on the selection committee sometimes have no trouble picking out who’s who based on extracurricular activities or other distinguishing factors. “1Ls will go on record saying, ‘We recognize other people’s applications even if we can’t see their names,’” lamented one 1L who applied for the funding and did not receive it. Unsurprisingly, students cite an overall lack of funds as a problem.
Public Service Guarantee: Michigan Law provides automatic $5,000 stipends to all 2Ls who have summer internships at “qualified government or public interest organizations” through its Public Service Guarantee program.
The main OCI process for 2Ls occurs in late August in what Michigan calls Early Interview Week. In 2012, around 500 employer offices from 31 states; Washington, D.C.; and five foreign countries came to campus. “It’s definitely a well-oiled machine,” said one student who went through the process. About 31% the class of 2011 obtained jobs from EIW.
Michigan’s OCI process is GPA-blind, which effectively means that a student at the bottom of the class can interview at the most selective firm. Each student gets 30 bids, where they rank their top 30 employers and—depending on which ones they select—will usually get interviews with at least the their top 10.
All the bids are run through a computer program, and based on the number of days a firm is interviewing and the number of interviews they will give, a student’s interview schedule is determined. One student explained: “For example, everyone wants to interview at Cravath, so they bid on it. If you put Cravath No. 1, you are generally assured of being selected to interview. If you rank Cravath 30th, you likely will not. So, you can sort of game the system to either maximize number of interviews, or to make sure you get in front of an office you really want to interview with.”
While jobless 3Ls who are no-offered after a summer at a firm or do not work for a firm their 2L summer can participate in OCI, they have vastly fewer options than 2Ls. One student said: “As described to me by someone who interviewed for 3L OCI, ‘3L OCI is like interviewing in a graveyard.’ 2L OCI is the gig. That’s where you need to put all your energy, because for 3L OCI, there’s just nothing there.”
The grade-blind process is generally seen as a plus over schools that allow employers to pre-screen who they interview, but students must exercise caution in how they use their bids. It would be unwise for a student with a low GPA to bid on all the most selective firms, for example. Career Services provides extensive resources about the type of experience and grades each firm looks for.
One rising 3L said he “question[ed]” the process, saying that it “gives people an ability to select an employer that would really want to get in front of and try to sell, and I know people who have done that. I also know people blow their bids on firms they shouldn’t be using them on, and I can understand why employers might be pissed."
Dean Caminker defended the process, saying that it usually produces successful matches and, most important, keeps students in control. “At the end of the day, the person you want making the decision about which firm will interview which student is the student,” he said.
For the most part, students are happy with Michigan’s Office of Career Planning. One student raved that “Career Services here is amazing—just flat-out amazing.” Like professor accessibility, it seemed as though students’ opinions of Career Services were determined by how much they took advantage of it. (Not all reports in the past few years have been glowing, however.)
A student said:
Public interest and clerkships
The school also has a dedicated director of public interest, with whom students can schedule appointments. About 16% of Michigan alumni from the class of 2012 took long-term, full-time jobs in government or with public interest employers.
A further 8.5% obtained federal judicial clerkships. One student who transferred from a top-50 public school and who is applying for clerkships said the clerkship advisers are “really knowledgeable and connected. They send out a weekly newsletter, like hey, here’s what’s open.” He said:
The school provides resources and charts, highlighting historical data on which judges and courts hire which types of students. Even those students with sub-par GPAs “are still getting clerkships in non-competitive federal district courts,” students said.
Professor Seinfeld, who himself was a law clerk for Justice Antonin Scalia on the U.S. Supreme Court, said Michigan helps students not only become excellent clerks, but also decide whether clerking is right for them and, if so, where to do it.
He said that like most schools, Michigan offers many courses perfect for future law clerks. One example he gave was Supreme Court Litigation, in which a small class of students researches cases that the Supreme Court is hearing during that particular year. Students cycle through groups of writing briefs for each side of a case, or acting as the justices and writing opinions.
Beyond the curriculum, though, Seinfeld said:
Like so many other housing markets, Ann Arbor’s certainly has the good and the bad. Ample off-campus housing exists that’s as close as a three-minute walk to the law school, but it’s often either expensive, grungy, or surrounded by rambunctious undergrads. Exceptions, of course, exist, but they can be hard to come by. Some students—often those who are a few years older—opt to live farther from campus, buying or renting higher-quality housing for cheaper. Unique to Michigan is the Lawyers Club, a residential hall located right in the law quad, and the “Phid house,” the Phi Delta Phi professional fraternity’s house located blocks from the law quad.
The Lawyers Club
Established in 1924 (and recently renovated), the Lawyers Club is cited as a selling point for Michigan Law by some incoming students because of its convenience and “built-in friend group.” More than half the incoming 1L class chooses to live there; it houses around 230 students total. There’s a sense that it’s more concentrated with students less than a few years out of undergrad and that it’s a quick way to get to know students outside your section. The contract includes 12 meals a week in the dining hall, and all rooms are single, private rooms costing between $11,660 and $13,260 for the 2013-2014 academic year.
The Lawyers Club is generally pretty quiet, but on weekends residents can often hear people stumbling in from a night out. One student who said he doesn’t often go out said, “The walls are very porous. I hear a lot of what people are talking about. I hear crying, screaming, running around—people who don’t know how to shut the hell up.”
Those students whose rooms face the (somewhat busy) road as opposed to the courtyard are also in for some street noise, especially on weekend nights. If you require absolute silence to study or sleep, the Lawyers Club might not be for you.
Some students remark that living in the Lawyers Club and constantly being surrounded by 1Ls can heighten the anxiety and stress of law school—particularly around exam time. A 2L who lived there said: “It wasn’t living in the dorm that was the problem; I think the bigger problem was the dining hall, because everyone’s in there and everyone’s stressed out and everyone’s talking about exams. I don’t think it amplifies it that much more than class, though. I would never not live here because of added stress.”
The apparent consensus on the food is that it’s not bad, but can get old after a while. “The dining hall sucks—the food is decent but it gets repetitive. Sometimes it’s just an epic fail,” said a 1L. Another student said: “There are cultural eating habits that differ from parts of the country. At Berkeley, we had a dining hall and there was an organic salad bar. There isn’t as big of an appreciation for that here, which is fine. There’s more fried food and comfort food.” Other students were less grim, calling it “pretty good.”
There’s no parking at the Lawyers Club—residents with cars must either purchase a space nearby (which can run between $75 a month, if you're lucky, and $150 a month) or street park it in nearby neighborhoods.
The Phid house
Twenty-five 1L, 2L, and 3L students live in this house every year. Rent is remarkably cheap ($400 a month as of 2012-2013) and it’s a block away from the law quad. For the most part, the tenants are evenly divided between males and females and all three class years. Oftentimes, those who live in the house their 1L year continue to live there through 3L. “I love the Phid house; I’m so happy I decided to live there,” one resident said.
The mixing of class years carries an advantage for 1Ls who live there, as otherwise it can be hard for 1Ls to make connections with older students. Older students in the Phid house frequently pass down their notes and outlines, 2Ls and 3Ls will look over resumes and cover letters, and sometimes 1Ls will e-mail the house to ask questions about class topics. “The connections that I’ve made there when I was a 1L with 2Ls and 3Ls have been totally invaluable,” one resident said. She also described it as “friendly, open environment” where “people are really willing to help each other.”
Everyone has their own furnished bedroom, and everyone has a relatively tame “house job” like sorting the mail or making sure no cars are illegally parked. A cleaning person takes care of the bathrooms and emptying the trash.
Though the house isn’t that loud, it still is what it is—a fraternity house with about 25 students living in it. “It’s a really old house and the rent is cheap. For someone who’s a neat freak, it probably won’t live up to their standards.” The house throws one big party each semester, along with smaller events throughout the year just for house members.
Like the Lawyers Club, leases are only nine months—a huge plus for those who have summer jobs out of the area. Parking is $50 a month. There are 16 spaces, with priority going to 3Ls and 2Ls and then a lottery for 1Ls. Residents say other residents are very generous with giving rides and sharing their cars.
The most popular housing area for law students is located south of the law school; walk times can range from three to 30 minutes. Ann Arbor has a well-regarded bus system, and students who live farther out say that so long as you’re near a bus line or don’t mind a trek, there are no issues getting to school.
Housing directly south of the law school is renowned for being either cheap and old (one could find a one-bedroom apartment for about $700 a month, or a house or apartment with roommates for as little as $400 a month) or expensive and nicer ($1,000 a month or more for a one-bedroom). Regardless of the price point, though, it’s also dominated by undergrads and can get loud on weekend nights, especially in the nicer months. Past Granger Avenue, though, it’s almost exclusively graduate students and Ann Arbor residents, making for a quieter living experience with cheaper rents.
Students who live farther off campus say that it doesn’t have to be a detriment to your social life. Most events are well-publicized and cabs are easy to call and relatively inexpensive (likely between $5 and $10). However, some say that especially in the winter months, it can be easier to just stay in instead of forking over cab money. Also, if you’re getting together with friends or for a study group, nobody will want to come to you—you’ll have to go to them.
Quality of life
Generally speaking, Ann Arbor is an excellent place to be a student. “[T]his is not a sleepy Midwestern town. Ann Arbor is world-famous in part because it’s highly intellectual, it’s intellectually vibrant, it’s culturally rich, and it’s a wonderful town to live in. People who have spent time here all uniformly say that,” Dean Caminker said.
A 2L from Los Angeles agreed, saying, “I came and visited and that sealed the deal for me. To be perfectly honest with you, this is the school I thought I wouldn’t come to, because I’m from a big city and I like big cities and I thought I would want to go to school in a big city. Ultimately, having visited schools in big cities, I thought this would be a better place to be a student, which I think couldn’t be any more true.”
The Law Quad is in a prime location in Ann Arbor, bordered by two of Central Campus’s main arteries: State Street and South University. Both are filled with lunch spots and coffee shops less than a five-minute walk away. The Main Street area, which is about a 20-minute walk or (more commonly) a $6 cab ride west of the law school, is much more quaint and features an array of nicer bars and restaurants.
For many prospective students, Ann Arbor’s quality of life is closely tied to its weather, which is usually snowy and cold for half the school year. Some say it’s really not that bad, and some say it’s tortuous, but by and large the attitude toward the weather is: You get used to it, but it sucks.
Like anywhere else, Michigan has a spectrum of people who go out often (one girl said she went out three nights a week during first semester until exam time hit) and those who don’t. The Law School Student Senate sponsors bar nights about a couple times a month, which are heavily attended. There is also a schoolwide Halloween Party, Prom, and male pageant show, to name a few events.
“Lots of people go out to bars and there are a lot of parties and it’s really easy to go to things,” a student said. For those who aren’t into the bar scene, several students said they organize wine nights and dinner parties with friends.
During the nicer months, students often meet at law and business student haven Dominick’s, a bar and restaurant located across the street from the law school and known for its (rather potent) jars of sangria and thin-crust pizza.
On nights out, law students (particularly young 1Ls) frequent Charley’s, The Blue Leprechaun, The Brown Jug, and Rick’s, all clustered three blocks away from the law school, along with Scorekeeper’s, which is less than a 10-minute walk away. Drinks are incredibly cheap (at Charley’s, for example, pitchers and long islands are $4.50 from 10 p.m. to close every night; well drinks at Rick’s are sometimes as cheap as $2 each) and the food tends to be both mediocre and inexpensive.
Charley’s and The Brown Jug are more popular for low-key nights (there’s no dancing at either) of grabbing a table with friends. Rick’s—the closest thing campus has to a club—is in a league of its own: One student referred to it as “STD-central,” and not without cause. It’s as dive as it gets, and usually crammed with drunk undergrads, who by 12:30 a.m. are all on the packed dance floor and stage. For their part, though, law students are often in the crowd.
Other “classier” bars can be found around the Main Street area, including Live, Café Habana, and Conor O’Neills.
The city is lively and packed with bars, restaurants, parks, and things to do. One student sums it up by saying, “Inevitably people will gripe about Ann Arbor, but I think when it comes down to it, most people are satisfied with what we have here.” Much more so than in a big city, students find themselves going to the same few bars and restaurants every time they go out. There’s plenty to do and see, but the fact remains: It’s a college town, not an urban center. Said a rising 3L: “I definitely didn’t feel any negative things as a 1L because I just felt so busy. But as a 2L, I think you feel a little bit stifled sometimes because you have more time to explore, and I feel like I’ve tapped most of Ann Arbor. I still see new things all the time, but I feel a little limited.”
The historic Hill Auditorium, just a few blocks from the law school, routinely hosts world-famous musicians and performers, along with mainstream musical groups. Ann Arbor is home to award-winning art fairs and the classic Michigan Theater, which often screens independent films. The university’s Museum of Art also recently reopened after three years of expansion and renovation, and the University always seems to have some speaker, dance group or cultural event going on.
And of course, if students get bored, it’s a 45-minute drive to Detroit for a game or show, a 50-minute drive to Windsor for a night out or to hit the casinos, and a five-hour drive to Chicago.
There’s no actual need for a car—the mall and grocery store are easily accessible by bus—but it’s very convenient to have one, and makes trips like those mentioned above possible. Traffic and parking isn’t too bad except during peak hours. Basically, you can get by without a car, but it’s nice to have one (or a good friend who does).
Michigan Law has a wide range of activities for students, including eight student-run journals, eight moot court competitions, and more than 50 student organizations. Students love to point out that they can eat lunch for free nearly every weekday because some organization is sponsoring a speaker and serving pizza or sandwiches.
Though some 1Ls focus exclusively on their coursework, a majority of students get involved in at least one activity. “The type of student who wants to come to a school like Michigan is somebody who cares about getting involved,” a student said. Several current students emphasized that though 1L year can seem overwhelming in and of itself, engaging in other law school activities helps to prevent burn-out, facilitate meeting older students who have valuable advice, and keep law school and career goals in perspective.
A couple students, who are active members of one or more groups, edit a journal and compete on moot court competitions said they didn’t feel like they had too much on their plates. “You have really stressful weeks and really not stressful weeks,” said a 2L who is the membership coordinator of a journal and an active member of Students for Reproductive Justice.
As with most things in life, groups and organizations at Michigan are what you make of them. “For a lot of these groups, you can sort of have a cursory role or play a big role,” a 3L said. Student groups will often bring in speakers, host job panels for 1Ls, throw social events at bars, and engage members in legal issues. (One student who was involved with the Environmental Law Society helped develop an environmental report card on the Detroit River.)
Most students said that depending on the group, it’s fairly easy to gain a leadership role if one is active from the get-go. “The way that it works in is that 1Ls tend to join a lot of clubs and are encouraged to be very active, the bulk of the running of the clubs is done by 2Ls, and then 3Ls are sort of along for the ride,” a student said.
About 470 students work for a journal. Each journal has its own application process that can include a write-on competition, a writing sample, a personal essay, or other criteria; only the Michigan Law Review takes grades into account when selecting students.
Though the work isn’t always riveting, students said they enjoy being on journal, as it exposes them to facets of the law they wouldn’t otherwise explore. One girl said she was looking through a book to cite it and ended up reading the entire thing. And, of course, employers loved to ask the students about their journal work.
To get on MLR, simply having top grades or just being a master cite-checker is not enough. Directly after 1L exams, students engage in a write-on competition, in which they sift through about 300 pages of scholarly material to cite sources and then write about a seven-page note. “The really big thing about it is just doing it, because they’re really good at making it grueling,” a student said. Some students quit halfway through because they’re still so burnt-out from finals.
To get on MLR is “extremely competitive,” as only about 45 students are selected each year. The selection process is done in stages. First, students who score in the bottom 25% of the write-on competition are automatically thrown out—meaning you could have all As and no shot at law review. Of the remaining pool, up to 25% of the 45 to be selected who had the highest write-on scores are chosen, with no consideration of GPA. At the same time, up to 25% of those spots remaining are filled by those who have the highest GPAs. In the third stage, applicants are assigned a weighted score considering both GPA and the write-on score, with the top ones being selected for another 25%. In the last stage, GPA, the write-on score, and the two short essays are taken into account, by which the last 25% is chosen.
The system fosters a well-rounded law review and also helps ease 1L competition, as a couple bad grades won’t preclude you from getting on the journal. “I think it’s run really well and I think it works a lot better than just straight grade-on or straight write-on,” a student said.
Once you're on the journal, the work can be long and tedious. 2Ls can expect to do about five hours a week of cite-checking and source-gathering work. Each member also must write a 25- to 50-page note of publishable quality. The goal is to “publish all notes that are publishable,” and about 12 will be published each year. As 3Ls, students have opportunities to do other work, such as selecting articles for publication and editing and proofreading articles.
Students who do moot court generally would agree with this 2L who said it “required quite a bit of time, but was pretty rewarding.” Michigan participates in enough competitions that “if you want to do moot court, you can.” Some require a tryout.
One of Michigan Law’s greatest traditions is the annual Campbell Competition, an intramural moot court competition. All interested 2Ls and 3Ls work in teams of two (about 66 teams registered in the last competition) on a hypothetical case.
Even advancing in the competition is said to be “highly prestigious”; one student said a few interviewers who were Michigan grads asked whether he was going to compete.
Every year, Michigan accepts about 30 transfer students who were at the top of their class at varying institutions. Applications are accepted between May 1 and July 21, for the fall term only. As at most other law schools, transfer students are not eligible for merit aid, but may qualify for need-based aid.
Transfer students at Michigan are eligible to participate on all journals and encouraged to get involved in student organizations. Indeed, several transfer students score leadership roles in their activities soon after coming to Ann Arbor. Said a student who just finished his first year at Michigan, and second year of law school:
Students from other law schools sometimes say there is a “stigma” to transfer students, as the rest of the class has already formed social circles, and the transfer students are simply a bunch of new people looking for jobs at OCI. The transfer student said that while he is better friends with his transfer class than the others, since there are so few and since they are so quickly integrated, there isn’t a negative vibe from the rest of the class.
As far as OCI went, transfer status is usually brought up at every interview. Be prepared to give good reasons why you transferred from your first school.
Walking into Michigan’s Law Quad for the first time is almost arresting, with gothic-style law buildings and ancient trees encompassing the grassy lawns (which, depending on the season, are either covered with students or covered with snow). Though the Law School has undergone several renovations of the building’s interiors, they maintain a “historic” feel—which, depending on your preferences, can be seen as a positive or negative.
Law School Building Project
The school recently completed multiple building and renovation projects. The new buildings contain "classrooms, clinics, student services, multipurpose spaces, and faculty and staff offices." The Law School set up a website with information about and photos of the new buildings.
Students say the technology here is “really good,” with the whole Law School wireless and outlets everywhere. Most all professors use CTools, a University of Michigan class page site that puts all online resources for all classes in one place. There are printers throughout the law school to which students can print remotely. Each student has a print quota of 1,000 pages (600 to be used at any law school printer, and 400 at any University of Michigan printer).
Students say there are no issues with Macs and all exam software is Mac-compatible. “More people have Macs than PCs,” one student said.
Students rave about Michigan’s almost majestic reading room (think: Hogwarts) which recently underwent a $3 million lighting renovation. The more modern underground library houses study carrels and group study tables.
“The library, I think, is great," one student said. "Most things are electronic now, so you don’t use the library very much for going and getting books. It’s more of a study space, and it’s pretty fantastic as a study space.” Said another student, “I’ve never had nowhere to study.”
The University of Michigan Law School
2013 Above the Law ranking: 12
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