University of San Francisco School of Law
Tied with the University of Louisville for the rank of 98 in the USNews and World Report rankings, the University of San Francisco School of Law presents a compelling option for those looking to stay and practice law in the vibrant Bay Area. Applicants should be warned, however, about the high cost of attendance and the relatively low possibility of working for a major law firm.
Admissions & tuition
While there are no strict requirements to gain admission to USF Law (at least not in the form of GPA or LSAT minimums), the numbers required to gain admission are roughly commensurate with those of other schools at the bottom end of the top-100. The middle 50% of matriculants had GPAs and LSAT scores ranging from 2.98 to 3.51 and 156 to 161, respectively. Median numbers for matriculants were 3.32 and 159. These numbers, while generally in line with other law schools of similar rank, suggest that USF is at least somewhat willing to overlook a less-than-stellar GPA in favor of a stronger LSAT score, making it a good choice for "splitter" applicants.
The admissions process at USF is a relatively competitive one, especially when compared with schools of similar ranking. Most recently, they accepted 38% of all full-time applicants, but over the past seven years they have averaged an acceptance rate of 34.5%. As recently as 2004, the acceptance rate at USF dropped to as low as 24.2%.
Just as nothing in San Francisco is cheap, neither is the tuition at USF. For the present academic year, the cost is $18,615 a semester (or $37,230 for the full academic year) for full-time students, and $1,330 per credit hour for part-time students. The school reports on their website that 85% of their students receive some sort of financial aid, but further investigation reveals that this includes not only grants and scholarships, but also federal and private loans. The overall cost of attendance at USF is much higher than the $37,000 for tuition; not only does that figure not include books and university fees, but rent in San Francisco often runs well north of $1,000 a month, and at least $18,000 should be budgeted annually for living expenses.
1Ls at USF follow a course of study that is comparable to 1Ls just about anywhere. The standard courses (torts, civil procedure, etc.) are required, and students also take a legal writing class. Legal writing is taught in sections of about 20, with the goal being to insure that students get a maximal amount of personal attention from professors as they develop this essential skill. Still, if personal attention from professors is a priority, then one might want to look elsewhere for a place to go to law school. USF's student-to-faculty ratio of 15.8-to-1 is not impressive compared with other schools in the top-100.
USF offers a number of joint degrees, including the J.D./M.B.A. They also have a number of journals and student publications, including a Maritime Law Review, one of only two journals devoted to that subject in the nation. Their library, The Dorraine Zief Law Library, opened in 2000 and is said to be both substantial in size and very usable.
Employment prospects & bar passage
The California Bar Exam (the state in which, unsurprisingly, the vast majority of USF graduates opt to take the Bar) proves to be a serious impediment for USF graduates. According to the most recent statistics, the school's passage rate was 83.0%. Between 2001 and the present time, however, USF graduates have averaged a first-time Bar passage rate of just over 70%, although it has in some years been as low as 64.4%. Although USF graduates have outperformed the state's overall bar passage rate every year, that should not be interpreted as a huge vote of confidence in USF. California allows graduates of non-ABA-accredited schools to sit for the Bar, and the California Bar is notoriously difficult to pass-both of these things lead to an overall passage rate much lower than that of other states. Students would be advised to very seriously consider whether spending over $37,000 a year on tuition for a school with a Bar passage rate of often less than 4/5ths is a good idea.
When it comes to employment prospects, the news for USF graduates is both good and bad. The good news is that, according to statistics released by the National Law Journal, roughly 5% of USF grads end up in high-paying "biglaw" jobs at NLJ250 firms. This is on par with higher-ranked California schools such as Pepperdine, Loyola and the University of San Diego. It is safe to assume, however, that all of these graduates likely finished at or near the top of their classes, grade-wise. Additional good news is that the average salary for USF graduates working in the private sector is $93,000, a figure considerably higher than that found in similarly-ranked law schools. Still, it is advisable to take salary data with a grain of salt, as it tends to be self-reported data from a small sample size.
The bad news for USF grads is that only 5% or so will end up in biglaw, and the rest will have to find a way to pay off their loans on a lower salary. Worse news still is that 9 months after graduation, more than 4% of the class is not employed in any capacity. Additionally, USF grads face considerable competition for Bay Area jobs. The high quality of life in the region draws graduates from top law schools all over the nation, not to mention the competition from graduates of other regional law schools in Northern California (UC Hastings, UC Davis, Santa Clara, McGeorge and Golden Gate, to name a few).
Quality of life
One point strongly in USF's favor is the quality of life in San Francisco. It is one of the finest cities in the US, usually mentioned in the same breath as New York, LA, Chicago or Washington, DC. The legal market is huge, and there is almost nothing that can't be done somewhere in the Bay Area. The area features an almost unparalleled art and music scene, as well as every kind of professional sports team. While the cost of living is high, the quality of life could not be higher.
While USF has many appealing qualities, students intending to finance their legal education with loans should weigh very carefully the high cost of attendance against the relatively low probability of securing a high-paying biglaw job after graduation. Still, for many students who wish to live and work in or near San Francisco, USF is a very solid choice.
U.S. News Ranking: 98
LSAT Median: full-time 159, part-time 157
GPA Median: full-time 3.34, part-time 3.10
Application Deadlines: Feb. 1
Application fee: $60
2009-2010 Tuition: $37,230 (full-time), $1,330/credit hr (part-time)
Bar passage rate: 83%
Median Private Sector Salary: $93,000 (Class of 2007, 54% reporting)