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University of Virginia School of Law
Published October 2006, last updated August 2013.
Special thanks to Jason Trujillo, formerly the senior assistant dean for admissions at the University of Virginia School of Law, and TLS students who have attended UVA for providing great insight into this profile. All quotations from Dean Trujillo and UVA students are from 2009.
Founded by Thomas Jefferson in 1819, Virginia Law is one of the oldest legal institutions in the United States. Students are able to enjoy both the attractions of Charlottesville and the surrounding Blue Ridge Mountains while attending school near the major legal markets of the East Coast. They also attend a school that has national reach in placing its graduates, with a strong network of alumni in the judicial system and the private sector.
Current students say there is nothing like living in Charlottesville. In fact, it is a big draw for prospective students, as it has been rated as one of the country’s best places to live. The city offers a low cost of living compared to other cities with top schools. This helps make the law school experience less stressful for students, as graduates from Virginia Law carry less debt than graduates from any other top law school.
While the University of Virginia has a reputation for being a “fratty” school, students should not worry too much about this. Current students report that everyone works hard, and while many planned events do have alcohol, the important thing is that students have a sense of solidarity with their classmates.
Apart from the school’s vibe, Virginia Law offers what a top law school ought to offer—an exceptional legal education, outstanding faculty, an intelligent and diverse student body, and many opportunities for employment upon graduation.
GPA and LSAT medians are competitive, at 3.87 and 170 for the class of 2015. In addition to the numbers, several factors determine who gets into Virginia Law. According to the former dean of admissions Jason Trujillo, the ideal students show a commitment to the communities they associate with, display intellectual curiosity, and have done well in their activities or jobs to date.
While the prestige or ranking of one’s undergraduate institution does not seem to matter, Trujillo does look at “the LSAT college mean for the school and the relative grade inflation at that school.” He also admits to using letters of recommendations from professors to assess the relative difficulty of an applicant’s undergraduate major. “If an engineering professor writes that while the overall GPA at the university is 3.4, in the School of Engineering it is a 2.9,” this information will place that applicant’s GPA “into better perspective.”
Prospective students should keep in mind that the University of Virginia is a publicly funded university. Consequently, it reserves 40 percent of its seats for residents and the remaining 60 percent for nonresidents. This leaves nonresidents at a slight disadvantage, which is discussed in more detail below.
The school offers what it calls a Binding Expedited Decision option. Students who opt into this will receive notification in 15 days. Those who send in their completed applications by November will likely receive a response by the middle of December. The first wave of admissions decisions has traditionally started rolling out in mid-November.
What to do to increase your chances
Apply early. Dean Trujillo unequivocally stated, “You want to apply when no offers have been extended [instead of when] several hundred offers have been extended.”
Anticipate and eliminate possible “questions in the file reader’s mind.” If you have a downward GPA trend, you should submit an addendum. If there are any periods when you have been neither in school nor working, you should submit an addendum. Otherwise, Trujillo said, “negative inferences” can be made by the person who reads your file. You do not want a file reader to imagine you lazing around your mom’s house or drug muling when you were legitimately taking time off from school. Addendums will help keep the file reader’s imagination from running wild.
Get only stellar letters of recommendation. If a letter is “lukewarm, or says something along the lines of ‘brilliant, but lazy,’ or ‘has trouble expressing his viewpoint in a non-confrontational manner’—that is going to be a mark against that applicant.” Trujillo wanted students to know that such letters of recommendation could give him pause, and he has waitlisted or even rejected a number of applicants on this basis. To avoid this, he advised, ask only “someone who knows you well” to write a recommendation, not someone with an impressive-sounding title “who doesn’t know you as well.”
Statements are allowed to be “generic,” that is, contain broad explanations or narratives about why or how law became the path for you. However, Trujillo said, “we do have people stating they want to be at Virginia Law for a particular reason, and that can be persuasive. It need not be in the personal statement, though, and can instead be part of an addendum.” Indeed, the admissions office, while it does not require or explicitly ask for one, accepts a "why Virginia" statement.
If you choose to write such a statement, you should definitely double-check the essay to make sure it is addressed to the correct school. Trujillo admits that he gets “a number of ‘Why X Law School’ essays all the time, where X is (accidentally) not Virginia Law. That is a sure way to get yourself waitlisted or rejected.” Nobody wants their application to go up in smoke because of a clerical error.
So, whatever you do, proofread carefully and do not write anything at the last minute. A personal statement that is “poorly written, bland, contains spelling or grammatical errors, or otherwise shows a lack of care” will damage even the best of applications.
In that vein, you should treat your personal statement as a unique piece of the application puzzle. In other words, do not to rehash the material in your resume or addendums. Trujillo says his office wants writing that “gives us something we cannot find elsewhere in your application. We do not conduct interviews, so use the personal statement as a substitute.” He encourages applicants to “tell me something about yourself that you would want me to know if you had 10 minutes with me.”
This advice may not make the personal statement any easier to write, but it is a good prompt for students interested in Virginia Law.
Dean Trujillo said: “There is no particular 'boost' given to residents. But residents have mathematics on their side.” In fact, there are “over nine nonresident applications for every resident application.” So, out of 7,880 applications in 2008, about 7,000 were from nonresidents. The ratio of resident to nonresident admittance is 60 to 40, so “nonresidents get only 1.5 seats for every resident seat in the entering class,” which is a huge boon for resident applicants.
Still, there are no special considerations given to Virginia residents who do not meet the school’s high LSAT and GPA standards. A sizable number of highly qualified applicants live in Virginia, and Trujillo has said that “the medians between the pools are not statistically distinguishable.” This has led him to “joke that getting in … is ridiculously difficult (for nonresidents) rather than just being plain hard (for residents).”
Multiple LSAT scores
When considering an applicant who sat for the LSAT more than once, Trujillo simply said, “We will look at all of an applicant’s LSAT scores.” If you submit an addendum that explains why one score should be weighted more strongly than the other (lower) score, admissions counselors will often take notice and focus on the higher score.
Students who fall below Virginia Law’s medians can increase their chances of admission by applying Early Decision. Trujillo said:
If you fall into this category and are worried about obtaining scholarship money, have no fear. Applying ED does not affect an applicant’s merit scholarship prospects. In fact, Trujillo stated:
According to the ABA, Virginia Law gave grants or scholarships to about 38 percent of its student body in 2012. The median grant amount in 2012 was $25,000. About 7% of the grants were for full tution or more.
The wait list
Dean Trujillo had the following to say on the unpredictable nature of the wait list:
Regarding incoming transfer students, about 200 applications are received each year, and from those, 20 or fewer are accepted. The most important factors, naturally, are “class rank and the relative difficulty of the school.” Trujillo noted: “If you want to transfer to Virginia, you should be working as hard as you can at your present law school. LSAT and undergraduate GPA are discounted in favor of your law school performance. It is a good way for someone to get a fresh start.” In 2012, 10 students transferred into UVA, and three students transferred out.
Prospective students should never enter law school with the expectation of transferring. Keep in mind that there wherever you go, there is a 90% chance you will be outside the top 10%.
Law school culture
While the atmosphere may become intense during exams, one 1L said, “The atmosphere [at UVA] is, in my judgment, about as relaxed as law school can be.” A typical day can look like anything, another 1L said: “I can spend 12 hours working if I have a memo or none at all if I already completed the assigned reading and feel like relaxing.”
The law school has a rigorous curriculum, and all students eventually crack their casebooks open and do their work. Many professors will cold-call, which helps keep classes on their toes.
Two factors help maintain the relaxed atmosphere. Classes are graded on a B+ curve, which is generous, and to keep competition less cutthroat, no class rank is issued. The lack of ranking, a first-semester student said, “means no direct rivalry; you’re not looking at a list and seeing a couple other students directly above [you] and getting an urge to sabotage them to help yourself.” Accordingly, students tend to freely share notes and information, supporting one another wherever possible.
Still, by looking at GPA, students can get a sense of who is at the top of their class (those above a 3.7, or A-) and who is at the median (those with a 3.3, or B+).
Because of the school’s “laid-back nature,” the sociability of the student body, and the alcohol-centric nature of some of its events, the school has been branded as a “party school.” However, many events are purely law-related and meant to enrich every student’s experience. For example, the school offers guest lecturers (in the past, John Grisham and Ronald Dworkin); JAG panels; discussions on issues such as legalizing drugs, women in the judiciary, or diplomatic immunity; and everything else that falls between moot court, law review, and a pie and cookie social.
Finally, one student said that though “the sections regularly have play dates … that involve copious amounts of liquor,” there is a “path less traveled” available to all students, “which is traveled surprisingly frequently”:
Virginia Law, in its materials, claims to have professors that “build intellectual and personal relationships with students.” Indeed, one recent graduate described professors with an overwhelmingly positive range of adjectives: “one of the funniest [Cushman] … absolutely amazing … charismatic [O’Connell] … very intimidating, but entertaining if you can stand the heat [Kraus] … incredible [Coughlin].” Many students have similar praise for their professors.
Studying at the University of Virginia puts students in front of some of the most active members of the Charlottesville community. Professors may be accomplished in academic circles—such as Frederick Schauer, one of the most influential legal educators in America. Others may spend their time directing a legal clinic or hosting a fundraiser for students interested in summer public interest work. Faculty members are often more than just professors—they are philanthropists, legal scholars, policy experts, career advisers, and mentors. Above all, they are clearly dedicated to their students and to a rigorous study of the law. The student–faculty ratio in 2012 was 11 to 1.
Virginia Law splits its students into small sections of about 30 students each. The larger lectures range from 60 to 120 students. Total class size usually ends up at around 370.
Required first-year courses include civil procedure, contracts, criminal law, torts, constitutional law, property, and legal writing. Students must also choose two electives, so there is some leeway in the first year.
1Ls take all of their first semester courses with the members of their smaller section, fostering a sense of community within the larger class. Sections will often form softball teams. According to one 1L, there is “lots and lots of softball … I understand there's some kind of tournament [at the end of the year] where we compete for bragging rights. That kind of thing also helps bring us together to bond, as a section and a team.”
The sense of camaraderie among students is helped by the “generous and level grading curve” that “nearly negates competition.” The only exception to the B+ curve is a pass/fail legal writing course in the first year. Otherwise, the curve is curriculum-wide, unlike some other programs that limit it to primary courses (and not those offered for clinical or seminar credit). Although students regard Virginia's curriculum as challenging, they are quick to point out the good intra-section vibes and strong teaching abilities of the faculty.
The Socratic Method
Students report various things about the use of cold calling—that is, picking out students at random to answer questions—and the prevalence of the Socratic Method, a more dialectical, back-and-forth method of inquiry:
The law school requires incoming students to own a laptop computer with a wireless card. The school has put together computer "bundles" that it recommends that incoming students purchase. The Financial Aid Office can grant a one-time allotment of $2,500 in additional loan money for students who wish to purchase a laptop. This is granted only after a written request and supporting documentation are provided to the office.
The law school has eighteen different concentration areas that cover just about everything. If you want to focus on business, constitutional, criminal justice, environmental, family, health, intellectual property, public policy or tax law, Virginia will allow you to do so.
UVA's faculty have helped to build strong focuses in commercial, constitutional, corporate, securities, and labor law. Tax and intellectual property are also highlights of the Virginia Law program. The law school also offers a significant basis for study in human rights and environmental law for those less geared to the private sector. Virginia Law enjoys a strong reputation for public service work, and many meet the Pro Bono Program’s “Virginia Law Challenge,” which asks each student “to provide at least 25 hours of free legal work annually.”
Joint degree programs
A complete listing of Virginia Law’s combined-degree programs can be found here. If you are absolutely sure you need a joint degree for your career, you can obtain one in accounting, business, English, government, public health, or urban and environmental planning. The law school also has partnerships with Princeton (for public affairs), Tufts (for Law and Diplomacy), and Johns Hopkins (for international relations).
It should be noted that joint degrees are generally expensive, time-consuming, and rarely necessary (in fact, often a hindrance) to getting a job as a lawyer.
Virginia Law highlights a few of its clinics on promotional materials, including the Innocence Project, a yearlong clinic that investigates “three potential wrongful convictions of incarcerated individuals in Virginia.” Other notable offerings include the Family Mediation Clinic, another yearlong clinic where students represent clients in negotiations or, if those fail, in litigation, and the Supreme Court Litigation Clinic, in which students identify recently decided state supreme court or U.S. Court of Appeals cases for SCOTUS review, research them, draft petitions, and send them to the Supreme Court.
The law school also has clinics that involve students in Advocacy for the Elderly, Child Advocacy, First Amendment Law, and Mental Health Law. Some clinics, such as the Immigration Law Clinic, are only a semester long. A full list (with links to a description and, in many cases, a short video) is available here.
According to Law School Transparency, UVA's class of 2012 had an employment score of 94.5%. That is the percentage of graduates who, nine months after graduation, found long-term, full-time jobs requiring bar passage. Almost 48% of those graduates wound up in large firms (more than 100 attorneys). About 20% went into the public sector, including government and public interest. A further 14% or so took federal judicial clerkships, which often lead to biglaw jobs. In the 2013 National Law Journal ranking of the law schools that are feeders for the nation's largest 250 law firms, UVA ranked 11th, with about 42% of the class starting at those firms after graduation.
Salary information for the class of 2012 was not available at the time of this writing, but limited information for the class of 2011 was available. As LST notes, UVA did not release all the information in its NALP report. TLS urges prospective students to call the admissions office at 434-924-7351 and encourage the university to release its complete NALP report, in the interest of transparency.
Of the class of 2011, about 86% of employed graduates reported their starting salaries. The 25th, 50th, and 75th percentile numbers for the whole class were $48,875, $105,000, and $160,000. For the private sector, the numbers were $125,000, $160,000, and $160,000. The government and public interest numbers were much lower, at $27,000, $36,000, and $57,000.
The top geographic destination for UVA Law grads in 2012 was Washington, D.C., with 22% of the class. Many alumni also end up in New York (14%), Virginia (13.2%), and Texas (5.8%). The university's career services office provides a map showing the destinations for the classes of 2009, 2010, and 2011. The map also has information on the small number of students who work abroad (six students from the class of 2012).
UVA grads usually fare well on the bar exam, no matter what state.
Loan Repayment Assistance Program (LRAP)Virginia recently updated its LRAP, which it calls the Virginia Loan Forgiveness Program, for the class of 2013 and beyond. In the school's words:
For the Classes of 2013 and later, the Law School’s revised loan forgiveness program (VLFP II) helps repay the loans of graduates who earn less than $75,000 annually in public service positions. Participants in the program who earn less than $55,000 annually receive benefits covering 100 percent of their qualifying law school loans. Those earning between $55,000 and $75,000 receive benefits prorated based on income.
1L summer placement
Most students will work in Charlottesville, Washington, or Richmond for their summer job. A select few will find summer work in another big city such as New York City or Chicago. Some of the jobs are academic, though most students work in a law firm, in the federal government, or in a judicial capacity.
The Public Interest Law Association (PILA) awards fellowships to about 100 students who choose to work in low-paying summer jobs or service internships. A full list of where these students worked can be found here, though a quick glance shows many positions in the federal, state, and local government as well as in nonprofits and public interest organizations.
Quality of life
UVA is situated in what can, by all measures, be called a college town. Charlottesville is small and packed with greenery. Chances are high that while walking around the city or shopping at the mall, you will see someone you know. The law school is a short drive from the airport and not too far from the Appalachian Trail. Many find the intimate surroundings a welcome relief from the bustle of a big city lifestyle.
One exuberant 1L offered the following assessment of Charlottesville:
The weather is pleasant and there is nothing like watching the campus change color with the seasons. Charlottesville itself offers a variety of dining and nightlife options. Students also report the high quality of the facilities is a major selling point for the school.
The law school moved from the iconic rotunda to its current location in 1974. Accordingly, the main building is relatively new, which gives it a distinctively modern Jeffersonian look in direct contrast to the classic gothic towers of other top schools. Some students are not that impressed with the stony, blank facade, though others are inspired by the sense of grandness invoked when walking through the pillars of its main entrance.
The locus of school-wide activity is Caplin Pavilion, where lectures and other events or receptions are held. Otherwise, most students will spend their time in the law library, a state-of-the-art facility which has several quiet study areas and a coffee bar where students can get a quick caffeine fix.
The Student–Faculty Center, opened in 2002, has a light-filled lobby, a student study lounge and informal and formal dining areas where students and faculty have been known to congregate. In addition, there is an outdoor terrace where students can sit and eat. It is one of many study areas available to students. The grounds of University of Virginia also allow students plenty of room to meander, find a quiet spot, and catch up on schoolwork.
As far as options near or on campus go, one helpful law student provided the following information:
A recent graduate offered the following:
Cost of housing is low in the city, with one-bedroom apartments near campus running as low as $700 and two-bedroom apartments as cheap as $400 per person. Students will find little stress from the city itself, a boon for those who cannot stand the heightened pace and high prices of the likes of New York City, Los Angeles, or Chicago.
One current student gives the following breakdown for prices:
Despite its small population (43,475 in the city, 203,882 in the metro area), Charlottesville packs a lot of punch for a city its size.
Located in central Virginia, the city has been ranked by Frommer’s as one of the best places to live in America. The ranking was in part inspired by its low cost of living, strong sense of history, high amount of cultural and intellectual activity (the city’s website boasts of a good public school system and “more newspaper readers per capita than anywhere else in the nation”), gorgeous weather, and four colorful seasons that blend into each other in characteristic mid-Atlantic fashion.
The range of dining options is wide, as Charlottesville has some of the finer restaurants on the East Coast. It is not as much of a gustatory center as New York City or Los Angeles, but it does have some upscale options. As it is a college town, you can expect a motley assortment of bars, sandwich shops, pizza joints, cafes, and movie theaters. The movie theaters apparently leave something to be desired, according to a current 1L who offered this critique from a film major’s standpoint:
Despite the aging movie theaters, Charlottesville has a new downtown performance space called the Charlottesville Pavilion and a new John Paul Jones arena, the home of UVA’s basketball team. College basketball is a big draw for residents, and, like all of the university’s sporting events, games are free for students. The arena is not limited to basketball games, however, and has had acts as diverse as Jon Stewart, WWE, John Mayer, and the World Famous Lipizzaner Stallions.
For those looking to leave town, the law school is about 20 minutes from the airport and an hour from the state’s capital, Richmond. Washington, D.C., is a bit of a drive, at two hours away, and for those who want to see the Atlantic and dip their toes into sand or salty water, Virginia Beach is a three-hour drive.
Most students spend their spare time in or near the city, and will volunteer for activities such as trail maintenance, community theater, city revitalization projects or whatever catches their interest. Charlottesville is a thriving cultural, artistic, and entertainment hub for Virginia, so chances are, if you search for a creative outlet, others will be there to greet you with open arms.
Overall, students seem to enjoy living in the city and attending UVA. Three more opinions from current and past students are below:
The average indebtedness of UVA Law grads has gone up significantly in the past few years. According to U.S. News, about 85% of the class of 2012 borrowed to finance their education, and they left with an average of almost $123,000 in debt—that's before interest begins to accumulate, typically at a rate of between 6% and 9%. Law School Transparency estimates the total debt-financed cost of a UVA J.D. to be over $264,000, with a monthly payment of over $3,000 on a 10-year repayment plan.
When it comes to what students get together to do outside of the classroom, one thing comes to mind: softball. “Each section forms a softball team, and then sections play each other,” according to one first-year. Each April, the law school hosts a softball tournament that draws law students from about 50 different law schools.
Events like this give Virginia Law its reputation as a school that values camaraderie and fun. Law school is stressful, but tournaments and the like give students outlets to have a good time and let loose.
Virginia Law's Libel Show is an annual variety show held by students that makes light of just about everything related to law. The following advice is given to attending students:
Pro bono work
There are 19 student-led organizations devoted to public service. Students take seriously the challenge to serve their community, and the entire city benefits from the activities of law students. Volunteers have represented veterans to help them receive disability claims, performed legal intake with families at the UVA Children’s Hospital, and represented indigent clients for issues related to divorce, domestic violence, family law, and immigration or asylum law.
Some of the legal work takes place in the iconic Rock House, where the Richmond-based firm Hunton & Williams LLP and UVA have established a pro bono partnership.
A recent graduate had this to say:
Virginia Law is home to two noted specialty journals: the Journal of Law and Politics, described by the school as “the first and only nonpartisan publication devoted exclusively to examining the interaction between law and politics,” and Virginia Journal of International Law, “the oldest continuously published, student-edited law review in the United States devoted exclusively to the fields of public and private international law.”
A full list of journals can be found here. The website also includes a video on the process for journal selection.
Moot court competitions
Virginia Law, like every top law school, offers moot court and trial advocacy competitions. The law school’s website has a video that gives some insight into the moot court competition.
About 150 2Ls participate in two-person teams for Virginia Law’s most famous event, the William Minor Lile Moot Court Competition. According to Above the Law, the moot court board has been a source of embarassment to the school in the recent past.
Interview: Dean Jason Trujillo of UVA Law
2013 Above the Law ranking: 7
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