Interview with Faye Shealy, Former Associate Dean for Admission, William & Mary Law School
Top Law Schools would like to thank Faye Shealy (FS), Former Associate Dean for Admission, William & Mary Law School, for taking the time to answer our questions!
Law School Reputation/Public Perception
TLS: Tell us about William & Mary Law School. 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?
FS: William & Mary Law School provides top quality legal education in a supportive and friendly environment. William & Mary has balance. Law school inherently brings pressure and demands different from other jobs or most educational experiences. W&M provides an environment where law students can both succeed and have fun. The experience is competitive without being cutthroat. Professors and classmates motivate students and they work hard; however, they are also willing to help each other as needed. This turns the pressure down significantly and makes our students’ experience generally much more rewarding than at a typical law school. We profess having a strong sense of community and it’s true.
TLS: Whether or not they apply to or ultimately attend William & Mary Law School, 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?
FS: The decision to go to law school should be made for the individual. Do not go because of family pressures or expectations or to fulfill the dreams of others. While the decision to go to law school is a personal one, attending will be facilitated by support from family and friends. Do be thoughtful of those you expect to support your schedule and plans. Have realistic expectations and know what you are getting into. Law school is very intense and three years of your life. If you are interested in spending three years in law school, invest the time to prepare for the LSAT. It is true that candidates may retake the test. However, poor performance on an initial test is a confidence breaker for many and may create a barrier for maximum success. Take each part of the application process seriously. The competition will be putting their best foot forward each step of the way. So should you.
The “right” law school for each applicant is an individual choice and is dependent upon what is important for that individual. There is no one factor or short list applicable to everyone. The curriculum offerings and related programs will be a factor for the few individuals with very narrow and defined legal interests. Geography will be a factor for those with families or responsibilities in a specific area. Total cost (tuition plus living/travel expenses) should be an important factor for students without significant funds, and quality of employment for graduates and bar pass rates should be seriously considered. For most, the “right” law school will offer the caliber of degree they seek from an appealing institution with an experience that clicks for them in terms of comfort level – where they believe they will be happy and most productive and obtain the best education they can receive with their highest performance. Visiting the schools will be helpful in making the “right” and “best” decision for the individual student, as the student will also get the chance to experience a law school’s culture. Law school is a significant investment and three years of one’s life – choose wisely!
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 William & Mary Law School?
FS: The U.S. News rankings have a number of well-known weaknesses, e.g., that those making the peer and judge/lawyer assessments do not have sufficient knowledge about most law schools, or the multiple problems with measuring student quality in only two dimensions (median LSAT and UGPA without consideration for how rigorous the major or institution, or an applicant’s work experience since undergrad). The rankings ‘race’ inhibits the law schools from focusing on the resilience, community impact, maturation, and potential of applicants, as a result of the limiting insights provided by UGPA and LSAT score. The rankings also do not consider cost and debt burden to students when calculating the value of a law school. Despite these (and other) problems, it does contain useful information. We do worry that many applicants seem to base their decision solely on schools’ ranks, and might ignore a marked personal preference for Law School B simply because Law School A has a marginally higher rank.
TLS: Is there value to additional metrics (e.g., new rankings like the ones promulgated by Above the Law)?
FS: Absolutely, William & Mary has achieved the following rankings:
#1 Military Friendly Law School; #5 Military Friendly Graduate School
#2 Lowest tuition among the National Law Journal’s top 30 law schools
#5 Best law schools for government jobs, according to PreLaws’s Best Schools for Public Service
#14 Best law schools for securing federal clerkships, according to National Law Journal
#19 Most cited law review
#25 Bar Passage (91%)
#26 Best student credentials (LSAT and GPA)
#30 Go-To Law School, according to National Law Journal
#30 Elite jobs (Class of ’17 grads in firms of 101+ lawyers and federal clerkships combined)
TLS: Are there any exciting things on the horizon at William & Mary Law School? Any new developments, programs, or opportunities you’d like to share with our readers?
William & Mary is developing a focus on artificial intelligence, exploring the legal development necessary in this new era, as well as the critical areas of national and cybersecurity.
TLS: How would you describe the students at William & Mary Law School?
FS: Students know that their educational experience is enriched by those around them, but what’s remarkable, especially in the context of law school, is the emphasis on collaboration. Students are competitive to be sure, but most of that competition is internal. The culture here emphasizes working hard, doing your best, and getting the most from your educational experience, but not at the expense of others. Instead, the culture is that students look out for one another. Everyone knows that everyone else is working hard, but it’s unspoken. Students manage to have fun as well. There is always something going on and opportunities to participate.
TLS: What’s student life like? When students aren’t studying or taking classes, what types of activities might they engage in?
FS: The answer varies depending on the student, but again, William & Mary Law School is a collegial, collaborative environment, and that applies both to the classroom as well as to student life. New students especially say that everyone at W&M, from the upperclassmen to professors to the administration to the library staff is unbelievably helpful. Many students admit weighing options between higher ranked schools and were swayed towards W&M because unlike the law school stereotype, everyone wants you to succeed and thrive here. It is a highly academic environment, without the intense stress that is often associated with law school. There are a multitude of student organizations to be involved in, whether they relate to an interest area in law or in music, theater, or athletics. We are also lucky to be situated in such a way within the community that students become highly involved in local organizations, service opportunities, and social events where they have both an opportunity to relax and network with area alums and influential community members. In addition to multiple talks each week by invited experts and rich symposia, there are faculty-student events throughout the year that include trivia night, a basketball game, reading groups, a pie-eating contest, and new this year, a Family Feud game based on student surveys. The Law School is located just 2.5 hours from Washington, DC, an hour from Richmond and an hour from Virginia Beach, offering multiple opportunities for externships and recreational activities. Finally, recognizing the importance of health and wellness for the Law School community, programming on “Wellness Wednesdays” offers such activities as mindfulness, meditation, yoga, exercise, and speakers on pertinent topics, and there is a wellness coach available on-site on a weekly basis.
TLS: How many students participate in student-run legal journals?
FS: Scholars and practitioners frequently cite articles from our five student-edited academic journals: the flagship William & Mary Law Review, the William & Mary Bill of Rights Journal, the William & Mary Business Law Review, the William & Mary Environmental Law and Policy Review, and the William & Mary Journal of Race, Gender and Social Justice. In 2017, more than 340 students participated in our journals, and a significant number of those students earn course credit as a board or staff member.
TLS: Aside from journals, what are the most popular legal extracurricular activities available to students of William & Mary Law School?
FS: Alongside our prestigious publications are several competition teams, interest groups, and councils for student participation. A hallmark of the William & Mary culture is the Honor Code, the oldest in the country, which is self-administered to provide a personal and academic environment that reflects the values of the Law School community. Elected chairs work proactively to enforce and educate, creating a community of trust and respect through personal and professional responsibility. Our competition teams, which have competed domestically and overseas, include Moot Court, National Trial, Alternative Dispute Resolution, and Transactional Law. BLSA furthers the academic, social, and professional success of underrepresented minority groups through academic support, service, networking, leadership development, and scholarship opportunities. Students interested in participating in public service summer internships can apply for stipends through the Public Service Fund. This student-lead organization also raises money for various social events throughout the year and contributes to the Loan Repayment Assistance Program. Approximately 50 student organizations reflect the diverse interests of the student body.
TLS: What sort of clinical opportunities are available for students? Are there any clinics William & Mary Law School is especially proud of?
FS: Our students have the opportunity to practice their lawyering skills and professional judgment through nine unique and distinctive clinics and a Center with more than 200 positions for 2L and 3L students. These clinics, which serve the needs of the community while strengthening the skills and sense of responsibility of our students, include the Appellate & Supreme Court Clinic, the Business Law Clinic, the Elder & Disability Law Clinic, the Domestic Violence Clinic, the Family Law Clinic, the Federal Tax Clinic, the Innocence Project Clinic, the Parents Engaged for Learning Equality (PELE) Special Education Advocacy Clinic, the Lewis B. Puller, Jr. Veterans Benefits Clinic, and the Virginia Coastal Policy Center. We are exceptionally proud of the work our students and faculty are able to accomplish for the community, and the foundation for pro bono work and ethical practice these clinics provide.
TLS: What are the best and worst things about going to school in Williamsburg, Virginia?
FS: William & Mary offers an excellent (some say equal or superior) education at a lower cost. The academics and intellectual rigor are top-notch and the quality of life and community is a breath of fresh air. We honestly believe that most law students will have a more productive and enjoyable law school experience in a small town instead of a big city. Not only is being in a small town very conducive to law school life, but it also means that the students get to know and support each other more than at larger schools or cities, and that faculty are more involved on campus than if it were a commuter school. Classmates become support networks, the social network and your community. Students who decide to come to William & Mary Law School are here because they want the top academic environment within a very special and supportive environment. The practical advantages of William & Mary Law include a grounding in the practical skills that first-year associates at a big firm need to obtain and advance in their jobs, a strong alumni network, and an established and proactive Career Services Office that is highly engaged with our students and employers all over the country. There is also an obvious ethos of working for the greater good, whether through a career in public interest or service, or as a leader in a big law pro bono commitment. Students who join us believe in, and choose to emulate, the ideal of the Citizen Lawyer.
TLS: Many law schools have emphasized practical, skills-based learning in recent years. Has William & Mary Law School taken any steps in this direction?
FS: William & Mary is committed to educating highly skilled and ethical lawyers, and one of the best ways we have found to ensure this commitment is the implementation of our Legal Practice Program. This three-semester course of study is designed to help students gain confidence in their writing, oral communication, and professional skills from the onset of their program. Beginning with Law Week, students meet and network with classmates and professors while building the foundations of case analysis, legal writing, and effective communication through targeted feedback. Our law librarians provide separate sessions on efficient legal research, and 2Ls and 3Ls assist in proper legal citation instruction. Practicing attorneys also provide close guidance on the necessary skills for successful practice that you may not find in textbooks. Beyond the Legal Practice Program, students continue to develop their writing and practice skills through clinics and externships, programs that are experiencing continued growth in opportunities offered and student enrollment. The recent completion of the Hixon Center for Experiential Learning and Leadership provides state-of-the-art space for our Legal Practice Program, clinics, and a new Moot Court room.
Students may choose to take courses in one of four academic concentrations:
- Business Law
- Criminal Law
- Intellectual Property Law
- International Law
Concentrations indicate focused coursework and experiential learning or independent research in a particular area of study beyond the required curriculum.
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?
FS: Law schools have a responsibility to train students to be skilled and ethical attorneys capable of passing the bar exam. W&M is committed to providing a superior education to all students, and to helping those who are at the lower end of the class through opportunities for practice and improvement outside of the classroom through our Academic Success Program, that includes skills and substantive law workshops, as well as individual tutoring and advising. In addition, W&M provides students who may be at risk of failing the bar exam a bar preparation program in the spring of their third year that helps students enter summer commercial courses with a firm foundation and extensive practice, and insight into the areas each student most needs to address for improvement. William & Mary graduates enjoy a strong pass rate for all bar exams taken in a year. Students in a graduating class take exams in more than 15 jurisdictions annually, including some of the most difficult nationwide. The pass rate for first-time exam takers for the 2017 summer bar exams where seven or more students from the Class of 2017 sat for the exam include: 100% in Pennsylvania and Maryland; 96.43% in New York; 84.78% in Virginia; and 75% in North Carolina.
TLS: Most law schools have a core 1L curriculum requiring civil procedure, contracts, torts, constitutional law, property, criminal law, and legal writing. Does William & Mary Law School stray from these requirements? Are there any additional classes students are required to take before graduation?
FS: The core 1L curriculum includes these doctrinal courses, and our unique Legal Practice Program introduces students to the essential analytical skills needed to practice law, while ensuring a solid foundation for the exploration of the elective curriculum to be started in the second year.
One of the unique features of an education at William & Mary Law School is intensive development of the writing and communication skills necessary for the successful practice of law. As a first-year student in our Legal Practice Program you will take two courses, Legal Research & Writing and Lawyering Skills, which focus on these essential skills. In Legal Research & Writing, you will join a small section taught by a full-time legal writing professor. Your professor will meet one-on-one with every student several times each semester to give individualized feedback to each student on his or her draft work.
In addition, the first-year Lawyering Skills course emphasizes practical lawyering skills and oral communication through simulated client representation. This course, which also meets in small sections, is taught by an adjunct professor who is a current practicing attorney. Students will have the opportunity not only to observe but also actively participate in simulated practice skills such as client interviews, client counseling, oral argument, and negotiations. The Lawyering Skills adjunct professors guide the students and provide each student with individualized feedback on each simulated skill.
In the second year, students choose a program track and continue to develop writing and communication skills focused on appellate practice, criminal law, civil litigation, or transactional practice. Upperclass students also build on the Legal Practice experience in a number of different ways that can be tailored to their specific, individual interests. William & Mary Law offers a wide array of advanced elective courses that further develop the skills taught in Legal Practice. Additionally, students practice their lawyering skills by handling real cases in the community through our more than 200 clinic spots, and gain live client experience and develop professional networks through externships with law firms, judges, public defenders, prosecutors, non-profits, and state and federal government agencies.
Additionally, in the 2L or 3L year, students are required to take a course on professional responsibility, which engages students in more in-depth conversations on the ethical practice of law and the obligations as members of the legal profession. Students at risk of failing the bar exam are provided a directed reading course in spring of their third-year that begins their bar preparation earlier than the traditional commercial courses.
TLS: Other than the core required classes, what courses would you suggest students take before graduation?
FS: Evidence is typically taken in a student’s second year, and required in certain jurisdictions that allow for third-year students to engage in third-year practice under supervision of a licensed attorney. It also opens up additional skill practicing opportunities in clinics and externships when students have a third-year practice certificate. Administrative law is a highly recommended course no matter a student’s post-graduation plans, and students can benefit from taking some of the bar courses, including tax, corporations/business associations, trusts and estates, and those exploring the Uniform Commercial Code. Choosing between available bar courses should be done with a student’s particular bar jurisdiction in mind, as topical testing varies by state. Students should also take something that excites them or interests them and has no bearing on the bar or their potential practice area. While this exploration should be limited to no more than one course each semester, students should take the opportunity while in law school to try out different practice areas and learn more about subjects that get them excited. Courses that relate to the area of practice the student may be targeting to give the student greater knowledge of that practice area are suggested as well as a clinic and/or externship to gain practical legal experience.
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?
FS: All of the information used to complete the application is used in the review and decision process. Factors used in making decisions regarding admission include: (1) the applicant’s general academic ability based upon a careful examination of the undergraduate (and graduate, if any) transcript, including factors such as the grade-point average, the quality of the school attended, the difficulty of the major or department in which the degree was earned, the hours spent on outside employment or other time-consuming extracurricular activities, and the length of time elapsed since graduation; (2) the applicant’s capacity for the academic study of law based largely upon the LSAT score and writing sample; and (3) other relevant personal qualities and characteristics of the applicant, including factors such as the location of the applicant’s permanent residence, the applicant’s career goals, race and ethnicity, cultural, economic, and educational background and experiences, moral character, leadership qualities, commitment to community service, ability to undertake independent and creative research, and communication skills. The applicant should discuss his or her own characteristics and qualities in the personal statement required as part of the admission process and should seek to have those persons writing letters of recommendation discuss such factors. There is no mathematical rating. We have a whole file review process resulting in subjective evaluations.
An A+ effort for each part of the process is needed when applying to top law schools. Competing applicants are putting their best foot forward. This is not a time to be modest. Admission officers need to know all the strengths the applicant can bring to the school and it behooves you to be detailed and proactive. Highlight your strengths and provide evidence that you should be one of those selected for success in law school and contributions in the legal workforce. You can always add to your file while you are awaiting your decision. Spring semester’s grades, a substantive recommendation, a significant honor, additional employment responsibilities, etc., will be considered.
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?
FS: Personal statements should be just that - personal! This is an opportunity to help admission officers know who you are from a unique perspective, and give thought to what that perspective should be. Consider the topics that students are most likely to write about that showcase leadership, perseverance, adaptability, etc., and evaluate if that is the best way to make your application stand out among the masses. Poor writing skills, grammar, spelling and typographical errors affect the review of one’s personal statement. For the reviewer, it is difficult to get beyond these deficiencies when evaluating an application for admission to a professional school. Remember that applicants have multiple proofreading opportunities prior to submission of their personal statement and writing samples. It is necessary to take time to identify what you wish to communicate in your personal statement and it is critical to focus on format and structure in addition to content.
TLS: How often do you find statements that really stick out from the crowd? What do these statements consist of?
FS: Good writing will always stand out. Statements that show passion, introspection, and depth are the most effective. Help the reader learn something about you that isn’t expressed in the rest of your application. The best statements are focused and concise – this isn’t the time to ramble or you’ll risk losing the reviewer’s attention. The most important thing is to be your true, authentic self, and to express that through a well-crafted essay.
TLS: Are there any personal statement topics that applicants should probably steer clear? Any clichés or pitfalls to avoid?
FS: Evaluating thousands of applications in an admission cycle often leads to the development of themes in personal statements. There is no wrong topic to write about, but there are certainly themes that are inappropriate. Addressing lapses in judgement or situations where you perhaps made an incorrect decision are acceptable, especially if there is a lesson learned that can be related to the desire or exceptional ability to pursue law. However, simply telling a story that lacks context or connection is not an appropriate use of the personal statement. Develop your ideas or theme well and do not try to be something or someone you are not. This is not the place to try to be funny or a poet unless you are naturally so.
TLS: Do you come across personal statements that actually hurt the applicant's chances?
FS: Unfortunately, some applicants fail to take the personal statement seriously and submit poor efforts. A few candidates make the mistake of using the personal statement to repeat information located in other parts of the application. A few statements are obviously insincere or contain false information. Some candidates are creative. Over the years I have received personal statements in the form of music, poetry, obituaries, collages, and puzzles. My advice is not to do anything in the application process for admission to professional schools that should not be done in the application process for professional employment.
TLS: Some schools allow students to submit a “diversity statement” separate from the personal statement. How does William & Mary Law School view such statements? If such statements are potentially helpful, can you discuss when a diversity statement is or is not appropriate?
FS: Students have the opportunity to provide optional addenda with whatever additional information they wish to have considered in their application. Some students will use this opportunity to provide a diversity statement separate from that of their personal statement. There are many experiences that develop an individual in ways that allow diverse and interesting additions to educational experiences both in the classroom and as members of the student body and larger community. Applicants should give thought to their personal experiences and share what is uniquely their experience.
TLS: Could an applicant significantly improve his or her chances of admission by drafting a personal statement specifically discussing an interest in William & Mary Law School?
FS: Yes, and many do! In fact, we have a question in our application that encourages responses specific to William & Mary that is in addition to the personal statement. All law schools seek explanations of why their law school is of special interest to an applicant. Identify programs that interest you and how you can contribute to those programs.
LSAT and GPA
TLS: Realistically speaking, how large a part of the admissions process are factors other than a candidate’s GPA and LSAT?
FS: The reasons why some candidates are selected over others and the weight that appears associated with the factors varies from application to application. Some candidates find success in the admission process because of outstanding public or military service, some have impressive experience with a record of success in the workplace, others may have been selected from a group with similar UGPA and LSAT because they were president of their student body or received national recognition for achievement in debate or a community project. The reasons for selection are thus numerous and intertwined. We remain mindful that law school is an academic environment and prior performance in an academic setting is relevant and important.
TLS: How does William & Mary Law School 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?
FS: William & Mary uses the high LSAT for multiple test-takers when computing class medians, etc., as directed by the ABA. We review and consider everything in the applicant file and that includes each individual score. We encourage applicants to prepare and to retake the test if initial efforts are not representative of their ability.
TLS: If an applicant cancelled an LSAT score, does the school like to see an addendum explaining why?
FS: Addendums are helpful in addressing any deficiencies and aberrations in academic performance and test results. Statements on reasons the candidate chose to retake the LSAT and their view of the test results can be helpful. Cancellation may be due to many factors including health of the applicant or family member, schedule conflicts, etc. The applicant should use their judgment.
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?
FS: William & Mary’s regular application deadline is March 1, and February test takers meet that deadline. Yes, improvement on the test in June may help applicants initially placed on the waitlist.
TLS: Beyond undergraduate performance and LSAT score, what else does William & Mary Law School look at when reviewing applications?
FS: Students have the option to provide a resume of work experiences, leadership opportunities, community service, and any other pieces of information they may feel is relevant and useful during the application review process. Additionally, we require at least two letters of recommendation from individuals who the applicant feels may know them on a personal or professional level and can attest to their aptitude and readiness for a law program.
TLS: How much do you value pre-law school work or life experience?
FS: We are very interested in work experience and other accomplishments of each applicant. Life experiences enhance every aspect of the experience. They define why someone seeks legal education and how they choose to use the degree.
TLS: What can “K through JD” applicants do to stand out in the application process?
FS: “K through JD” applicants should work to build their resumes while in undergrad through internships and summer work. All work experience is valuable, so don’t neglect to include part-time work on your resume. Be sure to submit a professional resume that is formatted properly, and work with your undergraduate career services office to be sure you are highlighting your work experience effectively. Of course, it’s also very important to demonstrate that you are capable of strong academic performance, so focus on finishing your undergraduate career strong.
TLS: Applicants often have difficulty choosing and approaching potential recommenders. Can you offer some general advice regarding letters of recommendation?
FS: I encourage young students to make a goal of maintaining relationships with at least two individuals throughout their adult life that can serve as recommenders. Admission officers tend to give greater weight to recommendations from professors who have some knowledge of an applicant’s academic skills and potential. Make personal contact when in need of a reference or letter of recommendation and communicate the exact purpose, details for submission, and date needed. Assist the recommender in providing a substantive recommendation by providing an updated copy of your resume and transcript(s). Be sure to thank recommenders for providing an important favor.
TLS: Tell us how William & Mary Law School treats transfer applicants. How many transfer students do you take each year? Where do these students come from?
FS: Over the last three years, William & Mary Law School received 106 applications for transfer admission. Thirteen percent of these transfer applicants were offered admission. Each transfer applicant is reviewed as holistically and carefully as our initial applicants for our 1L class.
TLS: What are the most important criteria for selecting transfer applicants? Is the LSAT score still relevant? How about undergrad performance?
FS: Academic performance during their first-year of law school is a very important factor. The other information required to complete the transfer application is also used in making transfer admission decisions, including the LSAT score and UGPA.
TLS: How many students transfer out of William & Mary Law School after 1L year to attend other institutions?
FS: The number of William & Mary students that have transferred away during 2015, 2016 and 2017 is 6, 9, and 5, respectively.
Career Opportunities and Employment Outcomes
TLS: Describe the legal market in Virginia. What’s the outlook for the next few years?
FS: The legal job market in Virginia is not unlike the legal job market in most other areas of the country. The National Association for Law Placement (NALP) conducts extensive research on the legal job market based on entry-level employment data reported by all law schools. NALP has indicated that graduates nationally are benefitting from slightly less competition for the jobs that exist because of the decrease in law school class sizes. This trend will hopefully continue for the next several years. We anticipate growth in the number of “JD Advantage” jobs available to law school graduates (positions for which bar passage or an active law license is not required but possessing a JD provided a demonstrable advantage in obtaining or performing the job). Within the JD Advantage category, some areas for potential growth include, but are not limited to, data privacy, cybersecurity, legal operations and legal project management, and compliance.
TLS: What are the most common career paths for graduates of William & Mary Law School?
FS: William & Mary Law School graduates successfully pursue a variety of career paths upon graduation. Many of them obtain positions with the largest national and regional law firms in the country; for our Class of 2017, more than 20% of our graduates took positions with firms of 100 or more lawyers. We also have tremendous success with our graduates obtaining judicial clerkships on both the federal and state level. For the Class of 2017, almost 25% of our graduates secured clerkships, which is among the highest percentages among all law schools. Our graduates also obtain positions with federal, state and local government agencies; with mid-size and small law firms; and with public interest and not-for-profit employers. For more detailed information regarding the employment success for our Class of 2017, please visit https://law.wm.edu/careerservices/documents/class_of_2017_employment_highlights_final.pdf
TLS: On average, how many graduates leave the state for work?
FS: On average, approximately 60-65% of our graduates leave Virginia for work. Our largest markets outside of Virginia are Washington, DC and New York. In a typical year, our graduates will obtain post-graduate employment in approximately 25 states and DC.
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?
FS: Depending on the year and the size of the class, approximately 18-22% of our students will obtain paid law firm jobs through our on-campus interviewing process. For purposes of this question, we are including students who obtain paid law firm jobs through one of the several off-campus interview programs we host for our students (some in partnership with other law schools) in Washington, DC; New York; Atlanta; Boston; and Dallas. We also participate in – and have had students obtain employment through – a variety of national and regional consortia interview programs that involve some of the country’s largest law firms including the Southeastern Minority Job Fair, the Loyola Patent Law Interview Program, and the Southeastern Intellectual Property Job Fair. That said, there are many other ways to obtain paid law firm jobs beyond participation in on-and-off campus interview programs, and we work with our students to identify and engage in a variety of job search-related activities in addition to participating in interview programs.
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?
FS: Students who graduate in the middle of the class should realistically expect to be considered for a wide range of job opportunities with employers that do not focus exclusively on hiring decisions based on grades or class rank. For example, students in the middle of the class are competitive for trial-level state court judicial clerkships; associate positions with small and mid-size law firms; attorney positions with state and local government agencies (including positions with prosecutor and public defender offices); and positions with public interest organizations and not-for-profits.
TLS: Nearly every law school has recent graduates who cannot find permanent, full-time legal employment. What does William & Mary Law School do to help them get on track?
FS: The Law School’s Office of Career Services (OCS) provides regular career advising services to all of its graduates, regardless of employment status. OCS is available to provide graduates with one-on-one career counseling sessions; mock interviews; and resume and cover letter reviews. We make available a wide range of resources, including, but not limited to, a Recent Graduate Career Planning Manual; a Judicial Clerkship Guide; an online Alumni Directory; a list of outside online career development and job search resources; and reciprocity with the career services offices of non-Virginia law schools to help graduates who are seeking employment outside of Virginia. Recent graduates seeking employment are also given the opportunity to have their resumes included in resume books that are periodically sent to certain employers and alumni, and may also receive support from faculty who can provide additional suggestions and recommendations for their job search. Finally, the Law School has also, in the past, funded a limited number of short-term post-graduate fellowships to recent graduates who plan to pursue careers in government or public service.
TLS: Do you think transfer students are disadvantaged at all when it comes to seeking employment?
FS: No, they are not disadvantaged. Immediately upon admission to William & Mary Law School, each incoming transfer student is contacted by an advisor in OCS to arrange for a one-on-one career advising session as well as a resume and cover letter review. And depending on the timing of the student’s admission, the student may be eligible to participate in the Law School’s on- and off-campus interview programs, and will otherwise receive the same services and have access to the same job opportunities as students who began their law school careers at William & Mary.
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?
FS: The median debt for the 159 student borrowers in the Class of 2017 was $109,700. Historically, W&M charges a lower tuition than equally ranked schools, and one reason is our goal of graduating students with the least amount of debt possible while still providing an exceptional legal education. While we would like graduates to have a lower debt burden, William & Mary graduates have managed the level of debt well with their employment success. College of William & Mary student loan defaults have historically been minuscule or non-existent. Default rates were specifically requested for our last ABA site inspection and the most recent list of defaulters identified seven for the College and none were law students.
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 William & Mary Law School taken any steps to adjust class size?
FS: The Law School has made the decision to reduce class sizes going forward. Entering class size had been over 200 between 2013 and 2016. The entering class size was 187 in 2017 and the plan is to have smaller classes going forward. That said, yield rate varies from year to year and predicting the number of admits that ultimately enroll in a given admission year is increasingly challenging.
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 JD?
FS: As noted, W&M works hard to keep tuition costs as low as possible, and is generous with its financial aid and scholarship packages. We are transparent when it comes to these costs, and the potential debt burden. W&M cannot speak to whether other law schools are providing enough information in this regard.
TLS: What sort of tuition increase should entering students anticipate over the next three years?
FS: Our tuition typically increases a modest $1,000, inclusive of fees, annually.
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?
FS: William & Mary offers a range of merit and need-based scholarships. For the 2017-18 academic year, 88% of the Law School student body received some form of financial assistance from the Law School. Academic achievement is a primary consideration along with the many other factors used in our admission selection process. The FAFSA is required to determine need, and the majority of our students have documented financial need.
TLS: How are students selected to receive scholarships?
FS: Donor criteria are used in awarding endowed scholarship funds. For instance, we have prior editors-in-chief of the William & Mary Law Review who created a scholarship to be awarded each year to the editor-in-chief of that scholarly publication. We have alumni who created a scholarship for students raising a family while in law school, for a student with military service, and other special criteria.
TLS: Is there anything prospective students can do to increase their chances of receiving aid?
FS: Filing the FAFSA is a must for need-based financial aid. For merit-based aid, the award process is more closely tied to LSAT score and cumulative undergraduate GPA than for admission generally, although it is still a holistic process. Retaking the LSAT and receiving a higher score or increasing the undergraduate GPA in the final year can sometimes increase the chances of receiving merit aid. Awards or promotions/additional work responsibilities are additional ways to strengthen your application and aid award.
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?
FS: Scholarships awarded on the “front-end” associated with admission are awarded for each of three years as long as the student is eligible to enroll; they are not contingent on academic performance.
TLS: Do you offer any additional scholarship awards to retain current students based on their performance during law school?
FS: We have a few scholarships designated for 2L and 3L students, but the majority are those awarded in a 1L year and that continue for all three years.
TLS: What sort of financial aid is available for transfer students?
FS: Scholarship assistance for transfer students is very limited. While we have no policy on the matter and transfer students are eligible, we commit most of our scholarship resources on the “front-end” as part of the first-year admission program.
TLS: Describe any loan repayment programs William & Mary Law School offers. Who is eligible for loan repayment assistance?
FS: William & Mary Law School’s Loan Repayment Assistance Program assists graduates who work for government agencies, 501(c)(3) organizations, or other nonprofit organizations. Annual, interest-bearing loans are forgiven if the recipient satisfies all program requirements such as minimum salary and remains within qualifying employment. Loan forgiveness amounts vary based on the application, and selection criteria include type of work, total debt, personal statement, financial circumstances, etc. Alumni are eligible for a maximum of $5,000 in loan forgiveness annually and a total of up to $15,000 ($5,000 per year for three calendar years).
TLS: Thanks for taking the time to speak with us. Any parting thoughts for applicants considering William & Mary Law School?
FS: Start building your case for law school in your mind and in your life as early as possible. Build a record of involvement. Volunteer service, employment and internships are helpful evidence of well-rounded experiences and preparation for legal education and the legal profession. Of course, remember that law school is an academic experience and that legal jobs are cerebral. Building an academic record to be proud of and investing preparation time ahead of the LSAT to perform at your highest level will be assets in the application process and in life. Good Luck!
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