Interview with Donald Tobin, Dean and Professor of Law, the University of Maryland Francis King Carey School of Law
Top Law Schools would like to thank Donald Tobin (DT), Dean and Professor of Law, the University of Maryland Francis King Carey School of Law, for taking the time to answer our questions!
Law School Reputation/Public Perception
TLS: Tell us about the University of Maryland Francis King Carey 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?
DT: This is a school filled with committed and engaged faculty, staff, and students who truly enjoy what they are doing.
TLS: Whether or not they apply to or ultimately attend the University of Maryland Francis King Carey 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?
DT: The most important consideration is whether the school is a place where you can thrive. For different students, that may mean different things-approachability of the faculty, depth of the curriculum, the atmosphere of the school, geography, location, opportunities to get involved in the community. Certainly, cost is a relevant consideration, but I'd caution prospective students not to allow small cost differences to drive the decision.
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 the University of Maryland Francis King Carey School of Law?
DT: My view is that we've come to a very unfortunate place, where rankings are used by too many people as a short-cut to "best school" or even "worthwhile school," with the result that prospective students aren't always making the best decisions for themselves. I'm not sure the rankings are affecting this law school any differently than they are affecting any other school in our range. We all have to work harder to encourage prospective students to focus on what might be more relevant and important.
TLS: Is there value to additional metrics (e.g., new rankings like the ones promulgated by Above the Law)?
DT: Not particularly, in that virtually all of the metrics have a point of view and suggest to those using them that it's not necessary to do any serious research into the factors resulting in the ordering of schools. Rankings are summaries, and they hide the context and what may be very important details.
TLS: Are there any exciting things on the horizon at the University of Maryland Francis King Carey School of Law? Any new developments, programs, or opportunities you'd like to share with our readers?
DT: Both our Immigration Clinic and our Intellectual Property and Entrepreneurship Clinic have recently expanded their capacity. In addition to our certificates in Health Law and Environmental Law, we are one of the only law schools with significant expertise in cybersecurity and crisis management, enabling us to offer a certificate in that field as well. In addition, interested students can pursue a Business Law Track and a Dispute Resolution Track.
TLS: How would you describe the students at the University of Maryland Francis King Carey School of Law?
DT: Engaged in and excited about what they are doing.
TLS: How many students participate in student-run legal journals?
DT: We have 5 student-run journals, and this year there are 198 students participating. The 5 journals are: Maryland Law Review, Journal of Business & Technology Law; Journal of Health Care Policy & Law; Maryland Journal of International Law, and Maryland Journal of Race, Religion, Gender and Class.
TLS: Aside from journals, what are the most popular legal extracurricular activities available to students of the University of Maryland Francis King Carey School of Law?
DT: Trial Team, Moot Court, and ADR Teams attract many students. Among the most active of our student organizations is the Maryland Public Interest Law Project, MPILP, which raises money (matched by the law school) for public interest summer fellowships.
TLS: What sort of clinical opportunities are available for students? Are there any clinics the University of Maryland Francis King Carey School of Law is especially proud of?
DT: Maryland Carey Law is justifiably proud of its clinical law program, which offers upwards of 20 separate clinics each year, touching on litigation, mediation, appellate advocacy, legislative advocacy, and in subject areas ranging from gender violence to consumer bankruptcy, and many other areas. Earlier, I mentioned the newly expanded Immigration Law Clinic, which has done particularly valuable and important work over the last couple of years. In a recent case, one of our second-year students, along with her supervising attorney, won asylum for a client. Our Intellectual Property and Entrepreneurship Clinic combines a more traditional IP clinic with a full range of business law services, making it possible for people with good ideas to get their businesses off the ground. Through our JustAdvice Project, students set up shop every week at a community center to offer brief legal advice to individuals in the community. The Youth, Education and Justice Project works at the intersection of policing practices, public school disciplinary practices, and the juvenile and criminal justice systems in Baltimore.
TLS: What are the best and worst things about going to school in Baltimore?
DT: Baltimore is a quirky, historically significant, city with something for everyone. It's a diverse city, and the downtown area where the law school is located is undergoing a renaissance and revitalization.
TLS: Many law schools have emphasized practical, skills-based learning in recent years. Has the University of Maryland Francis King Carey School of Law taken any steps in this direction?
DT: Absolutely. Our longstanding Cardin requirement (through which students must provide legal services to people who are poor or otherwise lack access to justice) means that every full time student engages in a clinic or similar offering. In addition, many non-clinic courses provide experiential opportunities through simulations and skills based learning. In addition, we offer a robust externship program, with externship opportunities in 11 different subject areas.
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?
DT: Our first-time bar pass rate is typically 7 or 8 points above the state-wide average in Maryland. We have opportunities for interested students to engage in bar preparation activities at school. Given the structure of bar exams, I don't see an alternative to the intensive studying for a couple of months prior to the exam itself. But certainly, it's the role of the law school to give students the necessary background and baseline knowledge and the confidence to know how to approach bar exam questions. The intensive studying should be a review of concepts that students learned in law school.
TLS: Most law schools have a core 1L curriculum requiring civil procedure, contracts, torts, constitutional law, property, criminal law, and legal writing. Does the University of Maryland Francis King Carey School of Law stray from these requirements? Are there any additional classes students are required to take before graduation?
DT: In addition to the traditional core, our first-year students take one elective during the spring semester, chosen from a list of about 12 courses. At Maryland Carey Law, we also require Advanced Legal Research sometime before graduation, and we have an Advanced Writing Requirement that every student must fulfill. This requires each student to produce a scholarly research paper, taking into account the feedback of the supervising faculty member.
TLS: Other than the core required classes, what courses would you suggest students take before graduation?
DT: Certainly, students should consider taking at least some of the courses that cover subjects that will be tested on bar exams. Beyond that, it depends what they hope to do and/or what they're interested in. Obviously, future litigators should be taking evidence and trial skills. Students wishing to work on environmental issues should take some environmental law courses. Personally, I think everyone should take Business Associations and Income Taxation, but I am a tax professor.
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?
DT: Different applicants may be admitted for different reasons. There is no formula, no uniform weight for the different parts of the application. For us at Maryland Carey Law, it's imperative that we see persuasive evidence that the applicant is likely to succeed in law school. Most of our applicants provide that evidence. At that point, the personal statement, a letter of recommendation, or a student's extracurricular activities might signal that the student will be a great member 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?
DT: Again, there is no formula that will work for everyone. I like to remind applicants that it's called a personal statement because it's supposed to be personal. It needs to be in the applicant's voice, and it needs to convey what is important to that applicant. While the personal statement need not focus on "why I want to go to law school," I should have some idea of why by the time I finish reading it.
TLS: How often do you find statements that really stick out from the crowd? What do these statements consist of?
DT: About two dozen times each year, we see a personal statement that makes you think, "That was good." Maybe two or three times a year, there will be one you want to print and keep as an example of a great personal statement. Almost always, the best personal statements tell a story. You can hear the writer's voice, and know the story is true. These personal statements aren't overwritten, they are straightforward, and when you finish, you feel that you know something about the applicant, and understand why the applicant wants to go to law school.
TLS: Are there any personal statement topics that applicants should probably steer clear of? Any clichés or pitfalls to avoid?
DT: A successful personal statement shouldn't tell me about my own school, and it shouldn't purport to explain an area of law. The personal statement written as a last will and testament usually isn't successful. Nor are poems or plays or personal statements written in the third person or creative writing exercises. Just be yourself!
TLS: Do you come across personal statements that actually hurt the applicant's chances?
DT: Sadly, yes-mainly the obvious errors like misspellings and typos and improper grammar. And occasionally, a personal statement that screams "you would be lucky to have me at your school".
TLS: Some schools allow students to submit a "diversity statement" separate from the personal statement. How does the University of Maryland Francis King Carey School of Law view such statements? If such statements are potentially helpful, can you discuss when a diversity statement is or is not appropriate?
DT: I think these statements are almost always helpful and appropriate. At the very least, it's an opportunity to talk about something that didn't fit into the personal statement, and in many cases, the diversity statement really does tell us something that helps us understand the applicant and what she will bring to our law school community. On the other hand, I'd discourage an applicant who really doesn't have anything to say on this subject from forcing it.
TLS: Could an applicant significantly improve his or her chances of admission by drafting a personal statement specifically discussing an interest in the University of Maryland Francis King Carey School of Law?
DT: It can definitely help. It shows that the applicant has done some research and has thought about why he or she might be a good fit.
TLS: Realistically speaking, how large a part of the admissions process are factors other than a candidate's GPA and LSAT?
DT: Like most things, it depends. While we must be confident that an applicant is likely to succeed here, we have more applicants in that category than we will admit. I can think of many times when a personal statement or even a letter of recommendation resulted in a decision to offer admission.
TLS: How does the University of Maryland Francis King Carey 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?
DT: We look at all of the scores, but the highest score is the one that gets the most weight.
TLS: If an applicant cancelled an LSAT score, does the school like to see an addendum explaining why?
DT: If it just happened once, an explanation isn't necessary. If it happened two or more times, an explanation can be helpful.
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?
DT: We are usually able to consider applicants who take the summer (currently June, eventually July) LSAT. And yes, a new LSAT score can help a wait-listed applicant's chances.
TLS: Beyond undergraduate performance and LSAT score, what else does the University of Maryland Francis King Carey School of Law look at when reviewing applications?
DT: We look at everything we have available to us. The personal statement, the diversity statement if provided, any explanations or clarifications provided, and letters of recommendation.
TLS: How much do you value pre-law school work or life experience?
DT: No question-we value it. We don't require it, but students with experience beyond undergraduate school often find that they have context within which to view what can be a very theoretical education during the first year. They may also have better time management skills and might be less easily rattled.
TLS: What can "K through JD" applicants do to stand out in the application process?
DT: For any applicant, follow directions, don't leave "holes" in what you submit, and be responsive to any follow-up questions. Think about your strengths and highlight them.
TLS: Applicants often have difficulty choosing and approaching potential recommenders. Can you offer some general advice regarding letters of recommendation?
DT: Think about your strengths, and then think about who could best speak to them. This may mean that different recommenders would address different strengths-maybe a professor who supervised your honors thesis could write about your research skills or your ability to respond to constructive criticism; perhaps an employer could write about your work ethic; perhaps another professor could write about your creativity.
Equally important is that you talk with your potential recommenders first-bring your resume, be prepared to explain why you think they are well-positioned to write a letter, and be sure to ask if they're comfortable writing a strong letter of recommendation. If they aren't, thank them, and move on. And for anyone who DOES write a letter for you, be sure to get back to them after you know where you've been admitted and where you haven't. Recommenders really appreciate feedback.
TLS: Tell us how the University of Maryland Francis King Carey School of Law treats transfer applicants. How many transfer students do you take each year? Where do these students come from?
DT: In recent years, we've enrolled between 6 and 10 transfer students each year. Some come from other schools in the region, others from schools farther away, often for family reasons.
TLS: What are the most important criteria for selecting transfer applicants? Is the LSAT score still relevant? How about undergrad performance?
DT: The most important criterion for transfer applicants is their performance during the first year of law school.
TLS: How many students transfer out of the University of Maryland Francis King Carey School of Law after 1L year to attend other institutions?
DT: In recent years, between 10 and 12.
Career Opportunities and Employment Outcomes
TLS: Describe the legal market in Maryland. What's the outlook for the next few years?
DT: We benefit from the fact that Maryland Carey Law is located in a Mid-Atlantic legal market that is remarkably diverse, especially in the in the Baltimore-Washington, DC area. Our legal market is comprised of both national and regional law firms and an abundance of local, state and federal government employers, as well as multiple court systems and corporations that are headquartered in and near the nation's capital.
Law firm hiring has increased over the past year while hiring by employers in other sectors continued at a level pace. We are cautiously optimistic that employment prospects for our graduates will continue to grow with the economy based on Maryland Carey Law's proximity to major centers of government and a broad spectrum of other legal employers. In addition, we are seeing growth of business and industries in this region related to health care, intellectual property, cyber security/data privacy, and environmental law-all areas in which Maryland Carey Law and its graduates have particular strength.
TLS: What are the most common career paths for graduates of the University of Maryland Francis King Carey School of Law?
DT: Private sector law firms, state and federal government, judicial clerkships, business, state's attorney/prosecutors; public defenders, legal aid attorneys, policy analysts, and state/federal legislative directors. It is worth noting that a significant number of our graduates serve as judicial clerks immediately after graduation, subsequently moving into one of the areas noted above.
TLS: On average, how many graduates leave the state for work?
DT: About 30%.
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?
DT: 32% of the members of the class of 2017 accepted employment by private practice law firms. Of those, 48% originated from the on-campus interviewing process. Approximately 30% of our students clerk and many of those students enter private practice after their 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?
DT: We enroll talented students who obtain an excellent legal education. Thus, it is no surprise to us that every year, we have students who graduate in the middle of the class and are successful landing jobs in mid-sized and small law firms, an array of government agencies, courts, companies, and public interest organizations. Regardless of where they graduate in the class, students who persevere in the employment search and take advantage of our job search resources tend to secure employment.
TLS: Nearly every law school has recent graduates who cannot find permanent, full-time legal employment. What does the University of Maryland Francis King Carey School of Law do to help them get on track?
DT: Maryland Carey Law's Career Development team includes a Director of Alumni Counseling who is dedicated to providing job search assistance to graduates. In addition to alerting graduates to job listings that we identify, we also work with alumni, deans, faculty and other contacts to connect unemployed graduates with networking and informational interviewing opportunities that can lead to permanent long-term legal employment.
TLS: Do you think transfer students are disadvantaged at all when it comes to seeking employment?
DT: No, I don't. We get our transfer students linked up with our career development office at the earliest possible time (as soon as they've decided that they're enrolling here). Each incoming transfer student is assigned to a career counselor. Transfer students are eligible to participate in our various interview programs. Transfer students are also eligible to participate in the writing competition for journals, and they're eligible to try out for moot court and other teams.
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?
DT: Median debt is $119,000.
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.?
DT: Very few, if any of our students incur a quarter-million dollars of debt. In general, investing in your education pays off. You have to think seriously about why you want to attend law school, and your goals and objectives. Law schools provide significant information about employment outcomes and provide far more detailed reports than most graduate programs.
TLS: Some schools have adjusted class size in recent years to mediate the difficulties of un- and under-employment for recent law school graduates. Has the University of Maryland Francis King Carey School of Law taken any steps to adjust class size?
DT: We reduced the size of our entering class by about 30%. In 2009, we enrolled about 300 in the incoming class. Since Fall 2013, we have enrolled about 200 in the incoming class.
TLS: What sort of tuition increase should entering students anticipate over the next three years?
DT: Between 3 and 4 percent.
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?
DT: In addition to the usual loan programs and federal work-study funding, we offer both merit-based and need-based scholarship aid. About 20% of the total available scholarship funds are awarded on the basis of need, although in fact, a very high percentage of all funds go to students who demonstrate financial need.
TLS: How are students selected to receive scholarships?
DT: Need-based funds are awarded to students who file the FAFSA by March 1 and whose EFC is under $10,000. Merit-based funds are awarded to students whose applications demonstrate the qualities we want to attract.
TLS: Is there anything prospective students can do to increase their chances of receiving aid?
DT: Submit the FAFSA on time, submit the admissions application as early as possible.
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?
DT: No, we do not offer conditional scholarships. All scholarships awarded to incoming students are renewed so long as the student remains enrolled in good standing.
TLS: Do you offer any additional scholarship awards to retain current students based on their performance during law school?
DT: To the extent that funds are available, we try to award scholarships to students who perform very well but who were not already receiving scholarships.
TLS: What sort of financial aid is available for transfer students?
DT: Loans and work-study for eligible students.
TLS: Describe any loan repayment programs the University of Maryland Francis King Carey School of Law offers. Who is eligible for loan repayment assistance?
DT: The law school offers loan repayment assistance, as does the State of Maryland. The School's eligibility criteria are: any graduate employed in public interest/public service work who has federal loan debt from law school and whose salary does not exceed $65,000. Between 16 and 22 graduates receive loan repayment awards or approximately $3,000 each year; awards may be renewed for up to two additional years.
TLS: Thanks for taking the time to speak with us. Any parting thoughts for applicants considering the University of Maryland Francis King Carey School of Law?
DT: This is an amazing profession, and you are embarking on a rewarding and sometimes difficult journey. I truly believe that lawyers change the world. Except with regard to medical advances, if you look at the world and see people making positive change, lawyers will almost always be at the forefront. Wherever you go to school, you will learn skills that will make you look at the world in a different way. You will be able to look at complicated information and organize it in a way that makes sense, thus seeing the best way to move forward. In the end, go to law school because you are interested in the law and how you can use the law to benefit society (whether that is in business, in practice or in public interest). Pick a law school that is both a good fit for you, and helps you achieve your goals. But most importantly, know that the skills you learn in law school will forever make you a better thinker, a better leader, and a better change agent.
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