Interview with Jeffrey A. Dodge, Former Associate Dean of Students, Academic Affairs & Administration, University of Idaho College of Law
Top Law Schools would like to thank Jeffrey A. Dodge (JAD), Former Associate Dean of Students, Academic Affairs & Administration at University of Idaho College of Law, for taking the time to answer our questions!
Law School Reputation/Public Perception
TLS: Tell us about the University of Idaho College 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?
JAD: The University of Idaho College of Law is more than a law school for residents of Idaho. Idaho itself is far more than a flyover state. We enroll students from around the country who, in turn, enjoy a high quality education and managed debt into the future. Our state is also very welcoming to non-resident students who want to stay and work here after law school.
TLS: Whether or not they apply to or ultimately attend the University of Idaho College 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?
JAD: What a great question! The decision where to attend law school has so many factors at play - location, program offerings, cost, reputation, employment outcomes, and more. I encourage all applicants to determine what factors matter most to them and look at each school closely in light of them. Do not make a decision simply based on the highest ranked school you got into. You're missing out on the opportunity to decide what's truly best for you.
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 Idaho College of Law?
JAD: Rankings are one metric by which to evaluate a law school. They should not be the only metric used when making a decision. The University of Idaho College of Law has been improving in the rankings over the years, but we've done so by enhancing metrics that are independently important to us, like bar passage, employment outcomes, class credentials and more. We're mindful of our rankings, but don't let them control us.
TLS: Is there value to additional metrics (e.g., new rankings like the ones promulgated by Above the Law)?
JAD: I welcome all types of rankings and additional metrics for students to consider law schools. Above the Law, preLaw magazine and others have done a great job at highlighting the strengths of schools not captured by U.S. News & World Report.
TLS: Are there any exciting things on the horizon at the University of Idaho College of Law? Any new developments, programs, or opportunities you'd like to share with our readers?
JAD: In fall 2017, the University of Idaho College of Law realized a long term vision to deliver the complete Juris Doctor degree curriculum at both our Moscow and Boise locations. While we remain one college, our institution offers students unique programs that complement the locational advantages. In Moscow, we sit on the University main campus and have many academic and professional collaborations as a result. In Boise, we're next to the Idaho Capital, Supreme Court and State Bar. Students benefit from the opportunities that extend from each.
TLS: How would you describe the students at the University of Idaho College of Law?
JAD: I came to the University of Idaho College of Law six years ago from a New York City area law school. I've been amazed by how earnest, kind, and close knit our student body is by comparison. Our students support one another, the law school, and our communities in important ways.
TLS: How many students participate in student-run legal journals?
JAD: We have two journals, the Idaho Law Review and the Idaho Critical Legal Studies. Approximately 75 second and third year law students hold a role between the two each year. That's about 35 to 40% of the upper division students. Due to our small student body, journal experience is available to more students here than at many other schools.
TLS: Aside from journals, what are the most popular legal extracurricular activities available to students of the University of Idaho College of Law?
JAD: Our students are heavily involved in student organizations, moot courts, trial teams, and other competitions. Experiential learning opportunities like semesters in practice and externships are completed by the vast majority of our students. We have more opportunities than students in many of these areas.
TLS: What sort of clinical opportunities are available for students? Are there any clinics the University of Idaho College of Law is especially proud of?
JAD: In Moscow we have our Main Street Law, Immigration, and Mediation Clinics. In Boise we have our Economic Development, Low-Income Taxpayer, and Small Business Legal Clinics. In addition we have clinics like opportunities in bankruptcy and domestic violence work too.
TLS: What are the best and worst things about going to school in Moscow and Boise?
JAD: As one college with two locations we can offer students two unique experiences for their legal education. Moscow is a college town with a vibrant downtown and active campus. Boise is the financial and political capital of the state and offers students a more urban experience. Both locations have opportunity for outdoor recreation like hiking, kayaking, skiing or mountain biking. Each has their strengths and weaknesses as it relates to an individual student's needs.
TLS: Many law schools have emphasized practical, skills-based learning in recent years. Has the University of Idaho College of Law taken any steps in this direction?
JAD: The University of Idaho College of Law has been recognized time and again for our externship, clinical, and practical skills training programs. We truly have more opportunities than students and almost nothing is off limits to a motivated student. We're also very open and responsive to the individual wants of students such that if we don't have something you want to do, we'll do our best to help you find it.
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?
JAD: The University of Idaho College of Law believes it is our duty to provides students the tools needed to succeed on the bar exam. In addition to offering the curriculum required for the exam, we also have a Bar Exam Success Toolkit program that provides students with courses and materials geared toward success on the bar exam as well as a commercial bar review course after you graduate.
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 Idaho College of Law stray from these requirements? Are there any additional classes students are required to take before graduation?
JAD: Our students enroll in a pretty traditional first year curriculum - Torts, Property Contracts, Civil Procedure, Legal Writing, Constitutional Law 1 and Criminal Law. We do break out Legal Research from the Legal Writing and Analysis course though as we found students needed more of those skills.
TLS: Other than the core required classes, what courses would you suggest students take before graduation?
JAD: Beyond the first year, students absolutely should take Constitutional Law 2, Business Associations, Criminal Procedure, Evidence, and Administrative Law. I also think courses that emphasize practical skills through simulation are worth taking in anticipation of practice.
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?
JAD: Like many law schools, the University of Idaho College of Law reviews applicants holistically. An applicant's LSAT score and undergraduate GPA are obviously factors considered heavily by the Admissions Committee. We also look at grades in relevant coursework, work and life experiences, and letters of recommendation. Believe it or not, writing samples from the LSAT testing administration have also been determinative for some applicants!
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?
JAD: When I read a personal statement I'm hoping to gain some perspective about the applicant's motivations in applying to law school. I want to walk away feeling like I know more about the applicant and their potential goals and contributions at my law school.
TLS: How often do you find statements that really stick out from the crowd? What do these statements consist of?
JAD: Unfortunately, there are more personal statements that stick out negatively than positively. The good ones are well written, thoughtful, and inspiring. They make me want to admit an applicant even in spite of other parts of an application. I usually feel persuaded and compelled by the standout personal statement.
TLS: Are there any personal statement topics that applicants should probably steer clear? Any clichés or pitfalls to avoid?
JAD: The clichés usually stem from applicants trying to get too creative in their personal statement. At its core, this is a writing sample about you. Applicants should be authentic with that opportunity and not attempt to pack too much into it.
TLS: Do you come across personal statements that actually hurt the applicant's chances?
JAD: The personal statements that hurt students are the ones full of grammar, spelling, and punctuation errors that somehow went unaddressed before submitting the application. Also, those that, even in error, mention why they want to go to another law school aren't that impressive.
TLS: Some schools allow students to submit a "diversity statement" separate from the personal statement. How does the University of Idaho College of Law view such statements? If such statements are potentially helpful, can you discuss when a diversity statement is or is not appropriate?
JAD: Diversity statements are welcome and read as part of the applicant's file. In those statements we're looking to understand structural and circumstantial hardships that may have contributed negatively to the overall application.
TLS: Could an applicant significantly improve his or her chances of admission by drafting a personal statement specifically discussing an interest in your school?
JAD: The more interest an applicant shows in our law school specifically, the better. Especially for applicants who are applying to lots of schools, our Admissions Committee wants to know why you're interested in us.
LSAT and GPA
TLS: Realistically speaking, how large a part of the admissions process are factors other than a candidate's GPA and LSAT?
JAD: To be honest, the reality in legal education is that an applicant's LSAT score and undergraduate GPA are the most determinative factors on the application. Students can certainly transcend those predictors to gain admission (or vice versa), but the application needs to be convincing that the student will succeed to do so.
TLS: How does the University of Idaho College 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?
JAD: Our law school looks at all of the scores and admires applicants who have taken the LSAT more than once and improved. We make decisions based on the highest score.
TLS: If an applicant cancelled an LSAT score, does the school like to see an addendum explaining why?
JAD: Our Admissions Committee does not ask for an addendum explaining why an applicant cancelled a score.
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?
JAD: Ideally, we prefer applicants take the February LSAT administration at the latest for fall consideration. Summer LSAT scores have been accepted in recent years due to the downturn nationally in applicants. We will reconsider applicants on the waitlist who have improved scores from the summer. We'll also potentially reward previously admitted applicants who improve to the point that he or she qualifies for a scholarship.
TLS: Beyond undergraduate performance and LSAT score, what else does the University of Idaho College of Law look at when reviewing applications?
JAD: Our Admissions Committee looks for applicants who have performed well in predictor classes, even if the student didn't do as well in college overall. We also look for passionate, driven individuals who have the grit to succeed in law school.
TLS: How much do you value pre-law school work or life experience?
JAD: Work and life experience are wonderful indicators of an applicant's ability to succeed in law school and the profession. We value applicants who show maturity in balancing competing demands in life successfully.
TLS: What can "K through JD" applicants do to stand out in the application process?
JAD: Applicants that want to enroll straight from college may not have work experience to include on their application. We value applicants who made good use of their undergraduate experience through study abroad, internships, extracurricular and co-curricular opportunities. Showing engagement goes a long way.
TLS: Applicants often have difficulty choosing and approaching potential recommenders. Can you offer some general advice regarding letters of recommendation?
JAD: My advice is to actively pursue relationships with some of your faculty in college. Those are the people you should go back to for recommendations when applying. Simple things like going to office hours, giving opinions in class, and emailing professors questions and thoughts will show you are engaged. We want to hear from people who can speak to your success academically in law school and professionally in the future.
TLS: Tell us how the University of Idaho College of Law treats transfer applicants. How many transfer students do you take each year? Where do these students come from?
JAD: The University of Idaho College of Law is a small law school and we enroll a handful of transfer applicants each year. Usually these students come from other law schools in the region. Many are residents of Idaho who spent their first year elsewhere. The non-residents usually intend to settle down in the region after law school. We have more capacity for transfer students at our Moscow location over our Boise location.
TLS: What are the most important criteria for selecting transfer applicants? Is the LSAT score still relevant? How about undergrad performance?
JAD: The LSAT score is not as relevant to us with transfer applicants. We are primarily looking at your performance in the first year of law school.
TLS: How many students transfer out of the University of Idaho College of Law after 1L year to attend other institutions?
JAD: We have a very small transfer out attrition number. Usually only one or two at most each year.
Career Opportunities and Employment Outcomes
TLS: Describe the legal market in Idaho. What's the outlook for the next few years?
JAD: The outlook is very bright in Idaho and has been strong for some time. Unlike most of the rest of the country, attorney positions in Idaho are available for recent graduates and we did not see a huge decline in opportunities. The bar is also aging and there's a need for more attorneys in the state as well as the region.
TLS: What are the most common career paths for graduates of the University of Idaho College of Law?
JAD: Recent graduates usually go into private practice, state clerkships, and public interest work. There are always some graduates who decide to use their degree in alternative ways, but for the most part many go on to take a bar exam and seek practicing positions.
TLS: On average, how many graduates leave the state for work?
JAD: Approximately 30 to 40% of our graduates leave Idaho for employment with Washington being the second biggest location. Our Moscow location actually sits 8 miles away from the Washington border and we attract students from the state as a result.
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?
JAD: On-campus interviews are generally on the decline nationwide, though we still have employers who use them to find candidates. Employers that have the luxury of planning ahead for their needs usually use on-campus interviews while many post positions when they know they need to fill them.
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?
JAD: A true median student will have a great chance at a private practice or public service position in the region. Our employers tend to look for candidates that work in their small offices and who will contribute positively to the team as a whole. A true median student is still quite marketable to employers.
TLS: Nearly every law school has recent graduates who cannot find permanent, full-time legal employment. What does the University of Idaho College of Law do to help them get on track?
JAD: Being a small law school we keep in close contact with recent graduates to understand what they're doing after graduation and beyond. The legal community is small in the region and we're able to help those seeking employment with informational interviews, mentors, career counseling and conversations on what they're seeking.
TLS: Do you think transfer students are disadvantaged at all when it comes to seeking employment?
JAD: Transfer students are not disadvantaged when seeking employment so long as they engage with the Career Development Office quickly. We assign transfer students to our Assistant Dean for Career Development as an advisor so they're required to know about the office's resources.
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?
JAD: Our median indebtedness for the class of 2016 is $89K. That's been as low as $82K recently. A managed debt load is an important consideration for all law students. For an average graduate, this amount is tenable to manage with the employment opportunities available. That said, it fully depends on the nature of the position, location, and the graduate's future goals.
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.?
JAD: What an interesting question! Our law school has been holding required programs for students on managing their debt load for a financially healthy future. We are now working with AccessLex to bring their curriculum in the area to all of our students. I feel confident that our students are at least thinking about this issue, but they are also on the lower side of indebtedness nationwide.
TLS: What sort of tuition increase should entering students anticipate over the next three years?
JAD: It is fair to expect that law schools will increase tuition each year somewhere between 4 and 6%. In my experience that's a common range.
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?
JAD: The University of Idaho College of Law allocates scholarships to applicants based on LSAT score and undergraduate GPA. Our resources are limited and we want to ensure each entering class is highly credentialed and diverse.
TLS: How are students selected to receive scholarships?
JAD: We look at an applicant's LSAT score and undergraduate GPA. Some consideration is given to how much we may want to attract an applicant based on other known or perceived options they're considering.
TLS: Is there anything prospective students can do to increase their chances of receiving aid?
JAD: The higher the LSAT score or undergraduate GPA, the better your chances of receiving a scholarship! I think that's sound advice for applicants to all law schools.
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?
JAD: Our scholarships require students to maintain a 2.7 GPA at the end of each year. The hope with this standard is to continue rewarding applicants who showed high potential that was realized. The GPA requirement is at our median GPA for 1Ls which is very attainable if an applicant becomes a student who's realized their full potential.
TLS: Do you offer any additional scholarship awards to retain current students based on their performance during law school?
JAD: We do not have the resources to offer scholarships to retain students after the first year. We do have some scholarships that are awarded to second and third year law students in conjunction with outside partnerships though.
TLS: What sort of financial aid is available for transfer students?
JAD: We do not have the resources to award scholarships to transfer students.
TLS: Describe any loan repayment programs the University of Idaho College of Law offers. Who is eligible for loan repayment assistance?
JAD: We do not currently have a loan repayment plan.
TLS: Thanks for taking the time to speak with us. Any parting thoughts for applicants considering the University of Idaho College of Law?
JAD: We want our students to succeed and will do our best to make sure our students are able to walk away from their law school experience with knowledge, a manageable debt load, friendships and confidence. Faculty offices are often open and our staff are friendly. Our two location model makes us a great choice for any applicant, for they can really tailor their education to their interests i.e. emphasis areas like Natural Resources and Environmental Law, Native American Law or Business Law and Entrepreneurship.
Idaho isn't all potatoes - there is a thriving and growing legal community and we would be more than happy for any applicant to join.
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