Chapman University Fowler School of Law
Chapman University School of Law, more commonly referred to as simply "Chapman Law," is a relatively new law school (established in 1995) located in Orange, California. The school gained full accreditation by the ABA in 2002 and its reputation has been slowly but steadily on the rise ever since.
Admissions & tuition
It should be noted that Chapman's admissions process is slightly more competitive than some other Tier-3 law schools. Over the past 4 years, they have averaged an acceptance rate of only 30% (many similarly ranked schools have acceptance rates in the 40-50% range). This suggests that even applicants with numbers within Chapman's range should pay very close attention to all aspects of their application, including the personal statement and letters of recommendation, and make sure it presents them as effectively as possible.
Speaking of numbers within Chapman's range, the median GPAs and LSAT scores of full-time matriculants in the last cycle were 3.41 and 158. The middle 50% of matriculants sported GPAs ranging from 3.11 to 3.56 and LSAT scores ranging from 156 to 159. Students with numbers well above those 75th percentiles stand a possibility of receiving very substantial scholarships, which is good, because tuition at Chapman Law is far from cheap. Full-time students pay about $38,000 a year, whereas the bill for part-time attendance comes to just over $30,000. These figures do not include books, housing, or a myriad of university fees. Housing in Orange County is by no means a bargain: It is not unrealistic to expect that over $15,000 should be budgeted for each year's food and lodging, bringing the total cost of attendance over $60,000 a year for full-time students.
Employment prospects & bar passage
Bar passage was once a major weak point for Chapman Law but the law school has done an excellent job of improving its bar passage rate in recent years. Most recently, 75.5% of graduates passed the Bar on their first attempt, above the California statewide average of 71.2%. Chapman's bar passage rate has been on the rise and hopefully that trend will continue.
According to the National Law Journal only a small percentage, under 5%, of Chapman Law graduates go on to work for high-paying NLJ250 "biglaw" firms, despite the large number of such firms operating in Southern California, Chapman's home market. This suggests that large, high-paying firms simply aren't interested in hiring Chapman graduates. Additionally, only a very small number of Chapman students are able to go on to judicial clerkships after law school. The good news, however, is that within 9 months of graduation, over 95% find work. The average salary for Chapman grads working in the private sector is $75,000 (54% reporting); Chapman graduates who work in the public sector earn an average salary of $66,500. While these are far from terrible salaries, they do need to be viewed in light of the extremely high cost of living in Orange County specifically and Southern California in general. The average indebtedness of graduates who took loans, 86% of students, is around $108,000.
One bright spot at Chapman is the tax law program, which was ranked 17th nationwide by USNews and World Report. Chapman also offers a number of joint degrees, including a JD/MBA and, more uniquely, a JD/MFA in Film and Television Producing. All of this makes Chapman a potentially very compelling choice for a student with Tier-3 numbers who is interested in either tax law or entertainment law. Students generally consider the atmosphere at Chapman a bit more relaxed and collegial than other, more cutthroat law schools. The student-to-faculty ratio is 12.6, much better than many similarly ranked law schools, and many students report the professors to be accessible and friendly. Consequently, so-called "burnout factor" is relatively low at Chapman: 1L academic attrition is under 10% year to year.
Quality of life
Views on Orange County seem to be quite bipolar. Some people love it and wonder why anyone would ever consider living elsewhere, often citing a high quality of life, great weather, and beautiful beaches and people. Others consider it a shallow bastion of superficiality, McMansions and right-wing politics that should be wiped from the Earth. One should visit the area before committing to Chapman and get a feel for whether they would fit in or not. The cost of living is quite high, but on the other hand, Southern California has essentially all the amenities that one could possibly desire.
All new law schools must initially struggle to find their footing, and Chapman Law is doing just that. Having been ABA-accredited for less than a decade, they have made some impressive strides, including a top-20 specialty ranking by USNews. On the other hand, they have clearly yet to establish a positive reputation with major law firms, even in Southern California, and students should approach VERY cautiously the idea of paying nearly $40,000 a year to attend a school that offers them almost no possibility of a biglaw salary. Still, for individuals looking to live and practice law in Orange County, many far worse options do exist and Chapman Law School does appear to be on the rise with improving bar passage rates and employment prospects quite good for graduates within 9 months after graduation.
Chapman University School of Law
One University Drive
Orange, CA 92866
U.S. News Ranking: Previously Tier 3, Currently #93
LSAT Median: 158 (FT and PT)
GPA Median: 3.41 (FT), 3.46 (PT)
Entering class size: 178 (FT), 3 (PT)
Application Deadlines: Apr. 15th
Application fee: $65
Yearly Tuition: $37,950 (full-time), $30,240 (part-time)
Bar passage rate: 75.5%
Median Private Sector Salary: $75,000 (54% reporting)