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University of Montana School of Law
Published April 2010, last updated September 2011
The University of Montana is located in Missoula, which lies on Interstate 90 in the western part of the state. The law school has been accredited since 1923 and is among the smallest in the country, limiting each incoming class to a maximum of 84 students.
Admissions and Tuition
In 2009, the University of Montana School of Law had an acceptance rate of 36% and an impressive yield rate of 48%. The median LSAT score was 154, with a 25th percentile of 151 and a 75th percentile of 157. The median GPA was 3.44, the 25th percentile GPA was 3.26, and the 75th percentile GPA was 3.69. Because it is a public school, the school limits the enrollment of out-of-state students to around one-third of each class. The school notes that the admissions committee does consider an applicant's racial background and the obstacles s/he has overcome, and it makes special mention of the American Indian population. There is a significant American Indian population in the state: when the 2000 census was conducted, Montana's population had the 5th highest percentage of American Indians in the United States, at 6.2%. The admissions office further informs prospective applicants that, in addition to the LSAT score and overall GPA, it does look at factors such as a trend in grades over time, the difficulty of courses, and diversity of life experiences.
As a public university, the University of Montana offers different tuition rates for Montana residents and out-of-state students. In the 2009-2010 academic year, tuition and fees for an in-state 1L student came to $10,946, while out-of-state students paid $24,304. There is no part-time program. Generally, students who matriculate as non-residents maintain their non-resident status throughout their law school careers.
Academics and Curriculum
The first two weeks of a student's 1L year at the University of Montana are devoted to the Introductory Program, where students study the basics of the American legal system, legal analysis, and legal research, as well as participating in a mock trial. After the conclusion of this program, the 1L curriculum is fairly standard. During the first semester, students take Contracts, Torts, Civil Procedure, Legal Research and Analysis, and Criminal Law and Procedure. They also take a less common course called Pretrial Advocacy, which teaches students practical skills involved in drafting documents, interacting with clients, and alternative dispute resolution. During the second semester, students continue with Contracts, Torts, Civil Procedure, Criminal Law and Procedure, and Pretrial Advocacy, but Legal Research and Analysis is replaced with Legal Writing.
Like a few other lesser-known law schools, the University of Montana deviates from the traditional law school curriculum structure of a pre-set 1L courseload and freedom for electives during the 2L and 3L years, as the 2L curriculum at the School of Law is also tightly circumscribed. During the first semester of 2L year, the University of Montana student takes Business Organizations, Property, Evidence, and Constitutional Law. They may also take Federal Tax during this semester; if they chose to take an elective instead, they must take Federal Tax during the 3L year. During the spring semester, students continue with Property and begin Trial Practice, Business Transactions, Professional Responsibility, and an elective. The 3L year, however, is more open. Aside from participating in a clinic and fulfilling the writing requirement, students are free to fill their schedules with electives. 90 credits are required for graduation. For the classes entering in 2007 and 2008, the school boasts a 0% 1L attrition rate.
The University of Montana School of Law offers three joint degrees, all in cooperation with other departments of the university: a J.D./M.B.A., which takes three years to complete, a J.D./M.P.A. program, which can be earned in four years, and a joint degree in law and environmental studies, the J.D./E.V.S.T., which can be earned in four years. Students who wish to pursue a dual degree must be admitted to both programs separately, which means they may have to take the GMAT or the GRE in addition to the LSAT.
The law school offers students the opportunity to concentrate their studies in specific areas of law. Four concentrations are available: Environmental and Natural Resource Law, American Indian Law, Trial Advocacy, and Dispute Resolution. Alternatively, students may opt to pursue a certificate program. Certificates are available in Environmental and Natural Resource Law, American Indian Law, and Dispute Resolution. Students may participate in one of two journals: the Montana Law Review, and the Public Land and Resources Law Review.
Career Placement and Bar Passage
For the class graduating in 2008, 91% of graduates reported employment at six months after graduation. With surprising candor, the school explains that it arrives at this figure by “assuming the graduates who did not respond are unemployed.” The response rate to the survey was 96.2% (76 out of 79 students). If the school calculated the employment rate as most other schools do, by giving the percentage of respondents who reported employment and making no conjectures about the status of non-responding students, the rate of students employed at six months after graduation would be 94.7%.
Of the class of 2008, 41% reported employment in private practice, 22% in clerkships, 9% in business and industry, 9% in public interest, 6% pursuing advanced degrees, and 4% in government. The average starting salary for 2008 graduates was $45,386 in Montana and $63,121 for all other states.
Prospective students should not take the University of Montana's impressively high rate of clerkship placement as evidence that the degree carries more national prestige or portability than those of similarly ranked schools, as employment opportunities are highly regional. 82% of the 2008 graduates in clerkships (14 out of 17) were employed in the state of Montana, as were 78% of the students in private practice (25 out of 32). These statistics uphold a trend that is visible in the employment outcomes of previous graduating classes; for example, 79.4% of the class of 2007 was employed in Montana. Those 2007 graduates who were not employed in Montana were employed in only nine other states and no foreign countries. During on-campus interviewing for the 2007-2008 academic year, 10 law firms attended, none of which were from the major legal markets New York, Washington D.C., or California.
It should also be noted that, because the school is so small, career placement statistics can vary significantly from year to year. For example, while only 4% of the class of 2008 went into government work, 17% of the class of 2007 did so. In terms of numbers of graduates, however, this difference represents just four students.
Montana is the most common state for which the school's graduates sit the bar exam. In 2007, the University of Montana School of Law had a bar passage rate of 84.75%, slightly lower than the state average of 88.37%. By 2009, the school's passage rate had risen to 94.9%, higher than the state average of 92%. As with employment statistics, it is important to remember that these percentages represent very small numbers of students, so what might seem like a drastic gain at a larger school may not reflect any significant difference in the school's quality or bar review program.
Quality of Life
The town of Missoula has pronounced strengths and weaknesses, so individual preferences are very important when evaluating Missoula as a place to live. The area is extremely scenic, and opportunities for outdoor recreation abound; hiking and mountain biking are popular. Cost of living is very cheap. A standard 1-bedroom apartment can be found for between $500 and $600, and going up to $700 will buy you a deck or patio. The university also offers on-campus housing to law students. Most students choose to live off-campus, although this might be difficult without a car: the area has a very low density of apartment complexes, and few are within walking distance of the university. Finally, considering its northerly location, Missoula's weather is surprisingly mild. High temperatures average in the 80s during the summer and in the 30s during the winter.
Although the area is undoubtedly very beautiful and very cheap, life in Missoula will be a change of pace for students who are used to large or medium-sized cities, or even suburbs or rural areas that are near a city. Ironically, nowhere is this more evident than in the university's attempts to characterize Missoula as having all the advantages of a more urban area. The School of Law website boasts that, among museums and restaurants, the town features “first-run movies” - that is, movies are released in Missoula at the same time as they are released in the rest of the country. The website also offers a picture of “downtown Missoula” in which a total of three buildings are visible – one mostly obscured by a tree. The nearest out-of-town attractions listed are Glacier National Park, three hours to the north, and Yellowstone National Park, a whopping five hours south.
For prospective students not from the area, a visit to Missoula is essential. Students from more urban areas must ensure that Missoula's small-town atmosphere does not translate into a grim prognosis for fun, but they should also experience firsthand the beauty and excitement offered by the university's wild surroundings.
Montana residents and/or applicants intent on practicing law in the state of Montana should give the University of Montana School of Law some serious consideration. However, students who do not plan to work in or near Montana after law school should probably steer clear of the school. Similarly, students who will pay out-of-state tuition should question whether there is a cheaper option that will offer the same employment opportunities. However, the school is admirable for its small class sizes, 0% 1L attrition rate, willingness to provide straightforward career placement statistics, and ultra-low in-state tuition. For Montana residents who plan to staying in Montana to practice law, the University of Montana could be a much better choice than many higher-ranked schools.
School of Law
2009-2010 Tuition: $10,946 in-state; $24,304 out-of-state
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