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Stanford Law School
Published October 2006, last updated August 2013.
Thanks to the many TLS members attending Stanford Law School (“SLS”) who granted us an insider’s perspective.
"Who could resist a world-class law school in paradise?"
This quip from Kathleen Sullivan, former dean of Stanford Law School, accurately sums up Stanford's combination of architectural beauty, a small student body that fosters a close sense of community, and spectacular job prospects upon graduation. Stanford's world-class academics set among thousands of acres of sunny California rolling hills has helped propel it to become one of the world's finest research universities.
Admission to Stanford is not easy. Although many law schools claim to have a holistic approach to admissions, SLS is one of the few famous as a black box. The admissions committee looks beyond an applicant’s numbers in order to craft an accomplished but balanced incoming class. SLS seeks a diverse student body and encourages underrepresented minorities or those with unique life experiences to apply. With the law school receiving nearly 4,000 applications to fill its class of 180 students. The school’s acceptance rate is about 10%, the median LSAT for matriculating students is a 170, and the median GPA is 3.86.
GPA vs. LSAT
The GPAs of incoming students are similar to those of rivals Harvard and Yale, but Stanford’s LSAT statistics have historically been lower. Like its Bay Area neighbor Berkeley, Stanford has placed more emphasis on an applicant’s GPA than other top law schools in previous years. A few years ago, however, Stanford changed its index formula, the formula it uses to compare applicants. More weight will now be given to the LSAT than in the older formula.
As in other aspects of its admission process, Stanford reserves the right to take a holistic view of multiple LSAT scores. In other words, the admissions staff will evaluate the scores however they see fit depending on the circumstances.
Stanford makes a targeted recommendation form available to applicants who wish to use it. In contrast to the standard LSAC recommendation form, it offers recommenders the chance to rank the applicant’s maturity, intellect, writing skills, and oral communication on a comparative scale. The instructions for applicants say to “[p]lease be aware of the high value Stanford places on school-specific letters of recommendation.” As such, having recommenders use this form for a targeted letter may boost an applicant’s chance of admission.
Now an unusual practice among top law schools, Stanford requires what is known as a Dean’s Statement from an applicant’s undergraduate school before his or her application can be evaluated. It asks the Dean of Students to verify whether or not the applicant is in good standing and whether the applicant has been subject to any disciplinary actions from the school.
Stanford requires a standard two-page personal statement. Applicants may choose any topic they want, but some SLS students have recommended that a statement expressing commitment to public interest work may earn a little extra attention if it is sincere and well-written. Stanford also values applicants’ experiences outside the college classroom.
The application fee is $100. Stanford does not grant merit-based fee waivers. LSAC need-based fee waivers will not be honored either, unlike at most other ABA-approved law schools. Applicants who can demonstrate “extreme personal hardship” and “feel unable to pay” may submit a request to have the fee waived.
Stanford usually accepts around twelve transfer students each year. For the school year starting in 2009, however, the school reportedly took twenty transfers. Stellar grades at a first tier law school are necessary to pull off this feat according to TLS user Arrow’s analysis of the available data. Keep in mind that SLS has an early deadline for transfer applications, June 14.
Class of 2015 admissions statistics
Median LSAT: 170
Class of 2014
Full LSAT range: 161-180
In 2013, The Princeton Review ranked Stanford No. 1 in "Best Classroom Experience." No peer school can boast of higher accessibility of professors. Though two Stanford faculty members were included on the National Law Journal’s most recent list of the nation’s 100 most influential lawyers, students can and do enjoy dinner in their professors’ homes. Students say their professors “truly want to teach,” and they also serve as powerful advocates when a student applies for a clerkship or an academic position. Professors' words of praise will certainly have extra weight since they have the opportunity to know students on a more personal basis.
Student-to-faculty ratio: 7.6 to 1
In recent years, the university and law school have been working hard to prepare for a new century of academic excellence. The university has constructed a graduate residence available to law students, and it has earned rave reviews. The law school is on the quarter system, so it matches up with the rest of the university, allowing students to more easily take courses in other departments. Grades in the law school have also changed to an honors, pass, restricted credit, no credit system to take some of the pressure off students.
A brand new academic building opened in 2011. Though it did not replace the older law building, it provides additional seminar and clinic space, as well as new faculty and staff offices. Of course, Stanford strives to maintain the student–faculty interaction that it is famous for. Well-designed meeting spaces are on each the new building’s three floors.
Stanford students work hard. The Princeton Review has called them “closet studiers,” in that many students will not openly admit to spending their time hitting the books. They spend between four and five hours a day studying, on average, which is about average compared to students at most other schools.
Competition at the law school is muted for a number of reasons. “People are competitive with themselves but they're not doing so in order to cut anyone else down,” said one student. Stanford’s small size is one reason. Since everyone knows everyone else, “staying friends with everyone is far more important than personal short-term gain.” Students are apt to help one another out, as they feel that everyone with a Stanford diploma will be able to get the job of their dreams. Those pursuing extremely selective positions such as U.S. Supreme Court clerkships might still feel pressure to compete, but the vast majority of students do not.
The most important reason for the collaborative atmosphere may be the grading system. Instructors assign one of four grades—honors, pass, restricted credit, or no credit. In reality, the lowest two grades are almost never given out. As a result, 30% of the students in a class will receive “honors,” and the rest will receive “pass.” The very best students in each class can receive “book awards,” but this is not technically a grade. The administration moved to this system to improve the educational experience, and it seems to be working. Students have said that they are now less focused on the final exam, and more focused on actually learning the material.
The Robert Crown Law Library is amazing, according to its users. From the “super comfy” Aeron chairs to the ubiquitous power outlets, the library is everything SLS students could ask for. The furnishings are “clean and new” and avoid the 19th-century look of other law libraries. The library has more than enough room for students to study, sleep, or do just about anything else. It boasts a study seating capacity of 508 for SLS’s 575 students. Whether students need a place to collaborate, study in absolute silence, or do some free printing, the library provides an inviting, well-lit place to do it.
As expected for Silicon Valley, students said that wireless access and laptop hookups are “everywhere.” However, some professors “have either banned or advised against laptops [in class]” in order to help students concentrate. Contrary to expectation, one student said that the school’s “web architecture is shockingly user unfriendly” and that practical administrative details like registering for classes can be very “complicated and frustrating.”
Quality of life
Located at the northern end of Silicon Valley, the school is technically in Stanford, Calif. Generally speaking, this means Palo Alto. Palo Alto and Stanford have a combined population of about 75,000 and are wealthy and suburban, with multi-million-dollar homes a common sight. Crime is low, and the surroundings mostly range from pleasant to gorgeous. Nevertheless, not everyone enjoys spending time there. One student likened the city to “a suburban Disneyland for adults,” and is put off by the “endless strip malls, though they are all upscale in nature.”
Stanford students generally live, study, and party on campus, for its 8,000 acres provide enough activities for them. As a result, one student remarked, “SLS exists in a bubble, but it's such a nice bubble it hasn't bothered me too much. “ Downtown Palo Alto and its Caltrain station are roughly two miles away from the law building, and students can drive to the ocean or San Francisco in less than an hour. World-class wine tasting in Napa Valley and great skiing in Squaw Valley are only a few hours away. Closer to home, Stanford students can bike over the sprawling campus and hike in the nearby foothills. The Mediterranean-like climate with its 300 days of sunshine encourages students to stay active and sane. “It's true that the good weather makes me want to go out more, but it also helps me feel good about myself when I'm studying in the library and I look out and see palm trees and mountains. It puts things into perspective,” one student said.
The dearth of public transportation is one sore spot for students. The campus shuttle is convenient for getting around Palo Alto, but to go anywhere else, a car is practically a necessity. Of course, many students do not own cars, so those who do are sure to be popular any time their classmates want to take advantage of the Bay Area’s amenities.
Above the Law reported in 2013 that Stanford ranked fifth in a survey on law school social life (that is, party schools). The admissions office does a stellar job of finding 170 students who can all get along with one another. Students say that getting to know their classmates is “very easy” since they see each other so often. Perhaps as a result, another said that “this place generates the sort of trust and collegiality that makes people feel OK about leaving their laptops in the library unattended for hours.”
Since classmates form close bonds, students feel that they will have a very powerful network once they graduate, despite the relatively small number of Stanford alumni. Students collaborate and share notes and volunteer to help sick classmates catch up on the class material. In fact, one student who fell ill said, “They picked up groceries for me, drove me to doctor’s appointments, and just came by to visit and cheer me up when I was having a really hard time.” The one downside of this closeness is that gossip spreads quickly and “everyone knows everyone else’s business.”
Because it is difficult to get into and around San Francisco without a car, students spend much of their free time on campus and in town, especially during their 1L year. To relax and socialize students often host apartment parties or head to Bar Review in downtown Palo Alto. Students are encouraged by their peers to find an appropriate balance of work and play. “Studying all the time is not an acceptable way to be here, but neither is out all night, never come to class,” said one. Most students are satisfied with the nearby options for cutting loose, but 2Ls and 3Ls do head to San Francisco in increasing numbers, suggesting that they exhaust Palo Alto’s fun after a while.
1Ls are guaranteed housing on campus so long as they are willing to accept what the school assigns to them. Many students will likely be assigned to the brand-new Munger Graduate Residence, a short walk from the law school. Named for donors Charles and Nancy Munger, the new residence has won universal praise from SLS students, with many calling it “the most beautiful student housing I’ve ever seen,” or declaring that it is “like living in a hotel.” The buildings feature studio, 1-, 2-, and 4-bedroom apartments. Prospective tenants will be glad to know that each spacious bedroom in the building has its own private bathroom. The 4-bedroom apartments have two refrigerators and four and a half bathrooms in their 1,800 square feet, so everyone should have enough room to spread out.
One bedroom apartments are available in Munger for those with a spouse or domestic partner, but the number of spaces is extremely limited. Students with children will have to explore other options such as the older on campus housing at Escondido Village, located about a mile away. Escondido Village is a collection of low-rises and larger apartment buildings. As for the quality of the other on campus options, one student said that, “aside from Munger, the student housing isn't particularly nice, even if it is convenient.” Yet, another student said, “Housing is phenomenal, especially for couples and people with children.” Admitted students are encouraged to visit and decide for themselves.
The Stanford J.D. has national reach, but about half of graduates stay in California for their first job. New York City and Washington, D.C., take about 10% of the class each, and the rest spread out around the country and internationally.
Impact of the recession
The recession affects the entire legal profession, including the very top. The number of jobs in large law firms has decreased, and those who pursue that route will have fewer options than they would have had a few years ago. Nevertheless, Stanford students still feel secure in their employment prospects. Despite the state of the economy, Stanford students take comfort in the fact that they attend the best law school on the West Coast and one of the best in the nation. As one student put it, “anyone who really wants to make $160,000 coming out of school will probably be able to do it. “
Furthermore, around 50% of SLS’s graduating class does not pursue large law firm jobs, opting instead for judicial clerkships (which often lead to large firm jobs), government, or public interest work. Stanford’s generous need-based financial aid and its Loan Repayment Assistance Program make it easier to pursue these options.
Stanford students have their pick of firm jobs. Around 50% of the graduating class chooses this route each year, and those who go into the private sector currently earn a median salary of $160,000, as of the class of 2011. (Stanford has not released full salary information for its graduates as of 2012, so TLS encourages prospective students to call the admissions office at 650-723-4985 and ask SLS to release this information, along with its full NALP report.) Thanks also to Stanford’s strength in intellectual property law, graduates often choose smaller firms with an IP bent.
The grading system can be a concern during firm interviews. Firms are not always sure how to interpret the honors and pass grades. Since those who earn honors grades tend to earn them in most of their classes, that leaves everyone else with nothing but “pass” on their transcript. “You actually can be doing pretty well and have straight P's apparently. But there's no way for an outsider to tell if that's the case just from the transcript and firms are resisting actually evaluating people as individuals,” one student said. Because of Stanford’s place in legal education, firms will adapt to it, so this should become less of a worry as time goes on.
Stanford students do extraordinarily well at securing clerkships. In the class of 2012, 28.2% of the class landed a federal clerkship. As for the holy grail of clerking, 28 students secured U.S. Supreme Court clerkships from 2000 to 2010. During that time, Stanford sent the fourth most students to clerk in the Supreme Court.
Those who dream of making students sweat with the Socratic Method stand a good chance of doing so with an SLS diploma. Brian Leiter in 2011 ranked Stanford third among the top producers of law faculty at 43 top schools.
Law School Transparency employment score: 91.2% (percentage of class of 2012 employed in long-term, full-time jobs requiring bar passage)
For more complete statistics, go to Law School Transparency.
Tuition and expenses
Paradise comes at a price. With annual tuition now at $50,580 (set to rise again in 2014-2015) and the Bay Area's high cost of living, attending Stanford Law School sets students back an unbelievable $80,340 per year. On-campus housing is subsidized, and SLS estimates that living on campus will cost around $21,000 per year for a single student. On or off campus, living expenses in Palo Alto are high.
As at rivals Harvard and Yale, financial aid at Stanford is based entirely on need, not on merit. Roughly 80% of students borrow money, and those who do, on average, owe about $110,000 at graduation, before interest.
Curriculum and specialties
The law school is on the quarter system, with autumn, winter, and spring terms each academic year. The rest of Stanford University was already on it, so now the two are in sync. This should make it easier for students to take classes outside of the law school and joint degrees easier to schedule. Most students are excited about the schedule in part because they will be at the law school for more days each year on the new system. Additionally, students will have the opportunity to take a far greater number of classes over their nine academic quarters. If they participate in a clinic, they will not need to take any other classes during that quarter, allowing them to focus their complete attention on it.
Public interest program
Many students are quick to mention the emphasis the administration puts on public interest. Beginning in a student’s first year, pro bono opportunities abound, and over 80% of students take part in pro bono and public interest opportunities in one way or another through the Levin Center for Public Service and Public Interest Law. Students may put their new legal skills to work assisting survivors of domestic violence, at-risk youth, or senior citizens, among others. Students point out, though, that public interest is not pushed on the class. Students who choose not to participate or who are dead-set on private practice are not stigmatized. Rather, the administration merely gives students “ample opportunity to try both and see what they are like.”
Business and corporate law
While the cooling economy has lessened the demand for corporate lawyers, Stanford Law School still excels in producing lawyers expert at representing technology companies and venture capitalists. For those with strong work experience prior to law school, the combined JD/MBA degree may open some doors and has been the launching pad for many entrepreneurs.
Many students at SLS gravitate toward business law, but it does not dominate the school’s atmosphere. As one student explained, “Most people expect to go to a firm, but the ‘I have to make partner’ mindset is absent. A lot of people see firms as a stop on the way to the in-house job of their dreams, or are just going public interest after graduation.“
Stanford has multiple programs dedicated to corporate law, including the Rock Center for Corporate Governance. Students especially interested in business law may wish to join the Stanford Journal of Law, Business & Finance.
Intellectual property law
Stanford Law School's proximity to Silicon Valley helps explain its expertise in intellectual property law. In 2000, SLS founded the Center for Internet and Society, which examines the interrelationships between the Internet and our society and the many constitutional and public policy legal issues that are being raised by the Internet. In the same vein, students may participate in the Cyberlaw Clinic.
Environmental conservation is a top priority in beautiful Northern California. As a result, Stanford has built a solid reputation and course offerings in environmental law. Students interested in environmental law may participate in the Environmental Law Clinic or join the Stanford Environmental Law Journal.
Because of the great amount of exports and imports that flow out of the Silicon Valley/San Francisco Bay area, Stanford Law School is well-positioned to be among the top law schools for international law. Students interested in human rights or immigrant issues may participate in the International Human Rights and Conflict Resolution Clinic, or the Immigrants’ Rights Clinic. They may also wish to join the Stanford Journal of International Law.
Office of Admissions:
2013 Above the Law ranking: 2
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