Interview with Daniel M. Filler, Dean and Professor of Law, Drexel University, Thomas R. Kline School of Law
Top Law Schools would like to thank Daniel M. Filler (DMF), Dean and Professor of Law, Drexel University, Thomas R. Kline School of Law, for taking the time to answer our questions!
Law School Reputation/Public Perception
TLS: Tell us about Drexel University's Kline School of Law. What would you most like applicants to know that they can't glean so easily from U.S. News rankings or from your law school's website?
DMF: Our students gain hundreds of hours of experience in professional practice through our highly immersive co-op, clinic and pro bono programs, acquiring skills that make them attractive to employers. Having learned from faculty who are leaders in their respective fields and deeply committed to teaching and mentoring, our students are well prepared to shine in professional settings. Our job-placement outcomes are exceptional.
TLS: Whether or not they apply to or ultimately attend Drexel University's Kline School of Law, what do you think applicants should consider when choosing a law school? If you had a son or daughter applying to law school this year, how would you advise them to choose between schools?
DMF: Law school is a very intensive and a very individualistic experience, so it's important to consider the degree to which a school is committed to providing support that will help a student find his or her own path to a career. It's useful to ask current students and alumni about the support they received from faculty and staff throughout their time in law school.
TLS: What is your view on the role the U.S. News and World Report rankings play in the law school recruitment and admissions process? How do the rankings affect Drexel University's Kline School of Law?
DMF: No single ranking system can comprehensively describe the quality of education provided. Factors such as the quality of relationships that students develop with faculty advisers, administrators and even their own peers often have a huge influence on their success. I'm not aware of any rankings that reflect this.
TLS: Is there value to additional metrics (e.g., new rankings like the ones promulgated by Above the Law)?
DMF: Rankings that reflect measurable outcomes for students come the closest to serving a legitimate purpose for prospective students who are deciding between law schools. Rankings that reflect job-placement outcomes or performance in mock trial competitions do serve as indicators of quality.
TLS: Are there any exciting things on the horizon at Drexel University's Kline School of Law? Any new developments, programs, or opportunities you'd like to share with our readers?
DMF: We are building out a comprehensive program in Cyberlaw, including a focus on cybersecurity and data privacy. We are expanding our exceptional program in Compliance, led by one of the nation's pioneers in the arena. Because of the increasingly regulated environment in which businesses and organizations operate, it's growing more important by the day for attorneys and other professionals to understand what companies, government agencies, schools, universities and nonprofit organizations must do to comply with existing and changing regulations.
TLS: How would you describe the students at Drexel University's Kline School of Law?
DMF: Kline students have earned a reputation for being hard-working, risk taking and entrepreneurial individuals. Our students see the prospect of enrolling in a relatively new school an opportunity more than a risk. Employers tell us that our students come especially well prepared to practice law.
TLS: How many students participate in student-run legal journals?
DMF: We currently have one student-run journal, The Drexel Law Review, which typically has about 50 student editors and staff.
TLS: Aside from journals, what are the most popular legal extracurricular activities available to students of Drexel University's Kline School of Law?
DMF: Our Trial Team is as successful as it is popular with students. Our exceptional Trial Advocacy program has allowed our students to be crowned national champions of the most prestigious and most competitive competitions in the country for years, making our Trial Team one of the nation's top performers. Our Moot Court and Marshall-Brennan programs are also very popular.
TLS: What sort of clinical opportunities are available for students? Are there any clinics the Kline School of Law is especially proud of?
DMF: Through our Federal Litigation and Appeals Clinic, students have argued - and won - cases in the U.S. Court of Appeals. Our Entrepreneurial Law Clinic has allowed students to lay strong foundations for startup owners. Our Community Lawyering Clinic secures justice for low-income residents of neighborhoods adjacent to campus.
TLS: What are the best and worst things about going to school in Philadelphia?
DMF: Philadelphia is both affordable and exciting. The legal community is well respected and cohesive, features that our students can capitalize upon through our experiential learning programs. Because there is always so much going on in the city, students sometimes have trouble fitting everything into their schedules.
TLS: Many law schools have emphasized practical, skills-based learning in recent years. Has Drexel University's Kline School of Law taken any steps in this direction?
DMF: From day one, we have put skills-based learning at the center of our curriculum. Our co-op externship program is best-in-class. Our co-op, clinic and pro bono programs ensure that each student will gain extensive experience in professional practice by the time they graduate. Many will have represented a client in court, at an administrative hearing or negotiations.
TLS: What role do you believe law schools should play in preparing students for the bar exam? And how have your graduates fared with bar passage in recent years?
DMF: We believe the law school plays a substantial role, and we offer both for-credit and co-curricular bar preparation classes in-house. Our students typically pass at around state average levels the first time. We have one of the highest pass rates for students over a two-year period.
TLS: Most law schools have a core 1L curriculum requiring civil procedure, contracts, torts, constitutional law, property, criminal law, and legal writing. Does Drexel University's Kline School of Law stray from these requirements? Are there any additional classes students are required to take before graduation?
DMF: In addition to the courses named above, we require students to take a core course in Legislation and Regulation and a course in Professional Responsibility. We also require students to fulfil requirements in Upper-Level Writing, Professional Practice and one course focused on close reading of statutes.
TLS: Other than the core required classes, what courses would you suggest students take before graduation?
DMF: I believe that most students should have at least basic exposure to Tax Law and Evidence.
TLS: Could you please explain the weight or emphasis given to each part of a student's application, such as GPA, LSAT score, personal statement, and letters of recommendation?
DMF: We take a holistic approach to the admissions process. We read and review everything that is in an applicant's file and no one component is more important than the other. We look for a well-rounded student. An ideal candidate has a strong, but diverse, academic background that prepares them well for the rigors of law school, so we take a close look at their academic profile - their LSAT, GPA and curriculum. However, we're also looking for students who will be active members of our community and thrive in our experiential education opportunities. Therefore, we also take the information shared in the applicant's resume, letters of recommendation and personal statement into consideration. Ideal candidates are leaders in their respective undergraduate institutions and volunteers in their communities or individuals who bring a variety of work experience and advanced degrees. In essence, we are looking for students who are able to handle the academic challenges of law school, while becoming active members of our community.
TLS: The personal statement seems to be the part of the application a prospective student can most independently influence. Can you offer applicants any advice regarding writing the personal statement?
DMF: Applicants should use their personal statement to tell us more about their passions, motivations and goals and try to tie it into how law school can help them achieve these goals. It should tell the admissions committee something about the applicant that we can't gather from the rest of the application. The personal statement does not necessarily have to be tailored to our school. However, if an applicant is interested in a particular aspect of our law school, they could highlight why that program interests them and how it can help them achieve their goals. The personal statement is also used to gauge the applicant's writing skills, so personal statements that are submitted with numerous spelling and grammatical errors do not sit well with the committee. We don't usually limit the applicants to certain topics, but we do suggest being cautious about how they discuss or frame sensitive topics such as politics and religion, since they may not necessarily know exactly who their "audience" might be.
TLS: How often do you find statements that really stick out from the crowd? What do these statements consist of?
DMF: Every year, a dozen or so students stand out for both their creativity and pellucid prose.
TLS: Are there any personal statement topics that applicants should probably steer clear? Any clichés or pitfalls to avoid?
DMF: Any statement that captures an applicant well is good.
TLS: Do you come across personal statements that actually hurt the applicant's chances?
DMF: Statements that hurt an applicant's chances are those with numerous spelling and grammatical errors.
TLS: Some schools allow students to submit a "diversity statement" separate from the personal statement. How does Drexel University's Kline School of Law view such statements? If such statements are potentially helpful, can you discuss when a diversity statement is or is not appropriate?
DMF: We allow for a diversity statement and see them as an opportunity for further insight on the applicant. We suggest trying to make it as different as possible from your personal statement.
TLS: Could an applicant significantly improve his or her chances of admission by drafting a personal statement specifically discussing an interest in Drexel University's Kline School of Law?
DMF: We like to know you share our interests and we might introduce you to faculty and students who share those interests. However, writing about that doesn't necessarily increase your chances.
LSAT and GPA
TLS: Realistically speaking, how large a part of the admissions process are factors other than a candidate's GPA and LSAT?
DMF: An ideal candidate has a strong academic background that prepares them well for the rigors of law school, so we take a close look at their academic profile - their LSAT, GPA and curriculum.
TLS: How does the Kline School of Law view applicants who apply with multiple LSAT scores? Do you only look at the highest score, or do you consider all scores in the aggregate?
DMF: While we do like to see if someone has increased their score, the highest score is the one that matters the most.
TLS: If an applicant cancelled an LSAT score, does the school like to see an addendum explaining why?
DMF: Yes - explaining a cancelled score is a good idea.
TLS: What is the latest LSAT administration an applicant can take and still qualify for admission during the admission cycle? If an applicant is placed on the waitlist, can a new summer LSAT score help his or her chances?
DMF: The latest LSAT that we will accept for the Fall semester start is the June before. Yes, if a waitlisted student receives a higher LSAT score, we will re-evaluate that application.
TLS: Beyond undergraduate performance and LSAT score, what else does the Kline School of Law look at when reviewing applications?
DMF: We're looking for students who will be active members of our community and thrive in our experiential education opportunities. Therefore, we also take the information shared in the applicant's resume, letters of recommendation and personal statement into consideration. Ideal candidates are leaders in their respective undergraduate institutions and volunteers in their communities or individuals who bring a variety of work experience and advanced degrees.
TLS: How much do you value pre-law school work or life experience?
DMF: We value it highly because it often shows something about their work ethic and professionalism.
TLS: What can "K through JD" applicants do to stand out in the application process?
DMF: Students who have good internships are strong candidates.
TLS: Applicants often have difficulty choosing and approaching potential recommenders. Can you offer some general advice regarding letters of recommendation?
DMF: Most people want to help by writing a recommendation, so do not be intimidated! Give them plenty of time, with a deadline and a copy of your resume. If possible meet with them in person to remind them why they like you so much!
TLS: Tell us how Drexel University's Kline School of Law treats transfer applicants. How many transfer students do you take each year? Where do these students come from?
DMF: Applications are due July 15th and you must have completed one full year of study at another law school. We take a handful each year and they come from all over the country.
TLS: What are the most important criteria for selecting transfer applicants? Is the LSAT score still relevant? How about undergrad performance?
DMF: We are mostly looking at the law school you attended and how you performed there. Your undergrad GPA and LSAT are not as important.
TLS: How many students transfer out of the Kline School of Law after 1L year to attend other institutions?
DMF: A few to none each year.
Career Opportunities and Employment Outcomes
TLS: Describe the legal market in Pennsylvania and New Jersey. What's the outlook for the next few years?
DMF: The current outlook for the Pennsylvania and New Jersey legal markets appears stable. We anticipate a rise in need for corporate associates, particularly at the mid-level.
TLS: What are the most common career paths for graduates of the Kline School of Law?
DMF: The largest cohort of graduates find their first jobs with small and mid-sized firms, as well as judicial clerkships, for which we're highly ranked. Our placement results are among the best in the U.S. for JD-required and preferred jobs.
TLS: On average, how many graduates leave the state for work?
DMF: In a typical year, the overwhelming majority of our graduates find work in Pennsylvania and New Jersey. Between 10-15 students (or about 10 percent) typically obtain legal positions in New York, Florida, Texas and California, among others.
TLS: How many students get paid law firm jobs - ones that turn in to full-time employment after school - through the on-campus interviewing process?
DMF: The OCI process encompasses law firm and government jobs, such as DAs and public defenders. About 20% of the class acquires FT employment through the OCI process. Our co-op program accounts for about 20% of all FT hires, either directly or indirectly. Another strong source of employment comes from state and local judicial clerkships.
TLS: What about a student who graduates in the middle of the class - the true "median" student, so to speak. What sort of work can they realistically expect to have in 2018/2019?
DMF: Full-time employment opportunities for the middle of the class are available through state and local judicial clerkships, with small and mid-sized firms, and through co-op. We emphasize building a strong resume through experience and connections as a gateway to employment, regardless of grades. We view students holistically and emphasize the acquisition of skills and experiences as a means to employment.
TLS: Nearly every law school has recent graduates who cannot find permanent, full-time legal employment. What does the Kline School of Law do to help them get on track?
DMF: Our Career Office takes a very hands-on approach and works closely with students to assist at all junctures. We offer a small class size and a warm and welcoming environment to explore career options. We find that the one-on-one approach enables us to partner with recent graduates to achieve their career goals.
TLS: Do you think transfer students are disadvantaged at all when it comes to seeking employment?
DMF: Transfer students are well-advised to visit the Career Strategies Office as soon as possible, even before setting foot in the building. The sooner we can begin the advising process, the better we can assist transfer students.
TLS: What is the median (not average, but median) debt for a graduate from your law school who finished school this year? Given the employment opportunities for the average graduate, is this debt load tenable?
DMF: Average debt for 2016 graduate (most recent year for which figures are available): $94,415
TLS: Are law schools doing enough to ensure that prospective students get enough information to decide whether to go a quarter-million dollars into debt for a J.D.?
DMF: We take our disclosures very seriously; applicants should too.
TLS: What sort of tuition increase should entering students anticipate over the next three years?
DMF: Most likely an increase of 2% to 4% each year.
TLS: What sort of financial aid opportunities are available for applicants? How does the school allocate these resources between need-based and merit-based awards?
DMF: We have a merit-based scholarship program and, in addition, individual scholarships for Trial Advocacy, Public Interest, and Peace Corps alumni.
TLS: How are students selected to receive scholarships?
DMF: Scholarships are selected based largely on LSAT and GPA, although the specific scholarships also have other requirements.
TLS: Are scholarship packages for entering students ever contingent on academic performance? If so, why impose restrictions like this? Isn't that putting a lot of pressure on scholarship recipients?
DMF: Some are, but not all. We do our best to distribute limited resources fairly.
TLS: Do you offer any additional scholarship awards to retain current students based on their performance during law school?
TLS: What sort of financial aid is available for transfer students?
DMF: The same as for new incoming students.
TLS: Describe any loan repayment programs the Kline School of Law offers. Who is eligible for loan repayment assistance?
DMF: The Kline School of Law has a loan repayment program for qualified JD graduates pursuing public interest careers who apply within the first two years after graduation. Qualified applicants may receive up to $2000 per year for up to five years.
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