Interview with Verna Williams, Interim Dean and Nippert Professor of Law, the University of Cincinnati College of Law
Top Law Schools would like to thank Verna Williams (VW), Interim Dean and Nippert Professor of Law at the University of Cincinnati College of Law, for taking the time to answer our questions!
Law School Reputation/Public Perception
TLS: Tell us about the University of Cincinnati 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?
VW: The University of Cincinnati College of Law is among the nation’s most regarded public law schools and is the fourth-oldest continuously operating law school in the country. Established in 1833, Cincinnati Law is a founding member of the Association of American Law Schools and has a solid reputation as one of the nation’s premier small public law schools. With an enviable 8:1 student-to-faculty ratio, students at the College of Law benefit from an intimate, collegial environment and personal attention from faculty, while having access to groundbreaking centers and institutes. Our programs and centers have earned international acclaim, including the Ohio Innocence Project (founder of the international Innocence Network); the Urban Morgan Institute for Human Rights (editor of the world-renowned Human Rights Quarterly); the Corporate Law Center; the Center for Race, Gender, and Social Justice; the Entrepreneurship and Community Development Clinic; and our new Patent and Trademark Clinic.
The College of Law is part of the University of Cincinnati (UC)—one of America’s top public research institutions. UC has been recognized as a leading up-and-coming university, a research heavyweight, and for having one of the world’s most beautiful campuses. It is also celebrated as one of the most welcoming universities in the world for international students.
Law students enjoy easy access to downtown Cincinnati with over 650 law firms, headquarters to ten Fortune 500 corporations, and state, county, and federal courts, including the US Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit.
TLS: Whether or not they apply to or ultimately attend the University of Cincinnati 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?
VW: Outside of prestige markers, students should pay attention to job placement rates, bar passage rates, and affordability indexes (cost of living/average loan debt upon graduation). Geographic viability for permanent employment is important as well. Finally, class sizes may also be important to some individuals.
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 Cincinnati College of Law?
VW: Rankings, like LSAT scores and GPA averages, are significant to recruitment and admissions, but are only part of the story. Applicants should examine a school’s strengths and whether these strengths match up with their professional and personal goals. For example, are there any particular practice areas in which the school excels, such as social justice or corporate law? How do faculty engage with students outside the classroom? Does the school have the resources to support students through the three years on campus and beyond? Is the school located in the area in which you may want to practice? These are just some questions that can help students make the most informed decision possible.
TLS: Is there value to additional metrics (e.g., new rankings like the ones promulgated by Above the Law)?
VW: Yes. On many levels the additional metrics capture points that matter to prospective students particularly in the area of value.
TLS: Are there any exciting things on the horizon at the University of Cincinnati College of Law? Any new developments, programs, or opportunities you’d like to share with our readers?
VW: The College of Law has launched a new scholarship program in honor of our most prominent alumnus, President and Chief Justice William Howard Taft, called the Taft Legal Scholars. Recipients of this highly competitive award receive not only full tuition scholarships but also have the opportunity to be mentored by faculty and alumni and serve as research assistants, among other things.
This academic year we launched the Patent and Trademark Clinic, a hands-on learning opportunity for students to practice intellectual property law under the supervision of expert attorneys. This clinic is the first Ohio law school clinic to focus on both patents and trademarks. We also launched the Help Center—a joint venture with the Hamilton County Clerk of Courts, Hamilton County Commissioners, and the Hamilton County Municipal Court—to help unrepresented persons with civil cases, such as evictions and consumer matters. The Help Center offers law students experiential opportunities and fills an important community need.
TLS: How would you describe the students at the University of Cincinnati College of Law?
VW: Our students are engaged, active and motivated. On campus, students participate in writing, trial practice and moot court competitions and are active in our 35+ student organizations. Students are also very engaged with the community, with many of them volunteering their time with various organizations that assist and support the greater Cincinnati community.
TLS: How many students participate in student-run legal journals?
VW: Each year we have over 100 students participating in one of our five student-run legal journals.
TLS: Aside from journals, what are the most popular legal extracurricular activities available to students of the University of Cincinnati College of Law?
VW: The most popular activities include participation in moot court and mock trial competitions and involvement in the Student Bar Association and/or one of the 35+ student organizations. Our students also enjoy volunteering within our local community.
TLS: What sort of clinical opportunities are available for students? Are there any clinics the University of Cincinnati College of Law is especially proud of?
VW: We have six clinics at our law school, including the Ohio Innocence Project, the Entrepreneurship and Community Development Clinic and the Patent and Trademark Clinic. The Ohio Innocence Project seeks to identify and exonerate inmates in Ohio prisons who are actually innocent of the crimes they were convicted of committing. Since its founding in 2003, OIP has freed 26 wrongly convicted people. We are also proud of our Entrepreneurship and Community Development Clinic (ECDC), which affords students the opportunity to represent local small business owners and aspiring entrepreneurs of limited financial means. Of the 178 small business clients served by the ECDC, over 100 of them have needed intellectual property assistance, which led to the development of the Patent and Trademark Clinic. Addressing an unmet legal need in Cincinnati’s entrepreneurial ecosystem, the PTC is the only law school clinic in the state of Ohio to focus on both patents and trademarks.
Our Indigent Defense Clinic, allows third-year law students to represent clients charged with misdemeanors and felonies in Hamilton County’s court. Through the Domestic Violence and Civil Protection Order Clinic, law students advocate for survivors of domestic violence. Finally, in the Sixth Circuit Clinic law students work closely with and assist attorneys on cases pending before the US Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit.
TLS: What are the best and worst things about going to school in Cincinnati?
VW: Cincinnati is the seat of both the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit and the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Ohio, and home to more than 800 law firms. The opportunities in business and industry are equally rich, as Cincinnati is home to 10 Fortune 500 companies. It’s no wonder that Fortune called Greater Cincinnati one of the top ten places to live and work, that Forbes called the region one of the “Best Places for Business and Careers,” or that Time named Cincinnati one of the “Ten Best Cities to Start a Career.” As the only law school in the city of Cincinnati, our students have the opportunity to consider a wide range of professional experiences and develop a strong network with legal and business professionals.
TLS: Many law schools have emphasized practical, skills-based learning in recent years. Has the University of Cincinnati College of Law taken any steps in this direction?
VW: Yes. We currently have 29 experiential courses listed that we teach on a regular basis. I won’t list all of the courses, but some of the courses include: Alternative Dispute Resolution, Child Protection Advocacy, Client Counseling (short course or semester course), Criminal Defense: Investigation and Discovery, Corporate Transactions, Deposition Skills, Domestic Violence and Civil Protection Order Clinic, Entrepreneurship and Community Development Clinic, Indigent Defense Clinic, Judicial Externship, Legal Drafting, Legal Externship, Negotiations, Ohio Innocence Project, Patent and Trademark Clinic, Practical Applications: Expert Witness at Trial, Public Interest Honors Externship, Pretrial Litigation, Sixth Circuit Clinic, Trial Practice: Competition, Vis International Commercial Arbitration Moot Team, and Witness Preparation.
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?
VW: From the first year through the bar exam, we support and guide our students as they launch their careers. For instance, we have an Academic Success Program that begins during the first year of law school. 1Ls are invited to participate in structured study groups, where they focus on developing and applying skills to navigate law school. Second and third year law students are encouraged to attend subject-specific study groups to help improve their analytical and writing skills and drill law subjects needed for a strong bar performance. During the third year, we offer a semester-long course, “Legal Analysis and Drafting: The Bar Exam,” which focuses drafting essays for the bar exam. 97% of the class of 2015 passed the bar examination within two years of graduation. Starting with our class of 2021, we modified our curriculum to provide targeted help for students whose first year academic performance suggests that they need additional support to pass the bar.
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 Cincinnati College of Law stray from these requirements? Are there any additional classes students are required to take before graduation?
VW: Students must take a two-credit Legal Ethics course and a two-credit Client Counseling course (short course or semester course). Participating in certain clinics can substitute for the Client Counseling course.
TLS: Other than the core required classes, what courses would you suggest students take before graduation?
VW: The five most essential upper-level courses for preparing for the bar examination are: (1) Evidence, (2) Business Associations, (3) Criminal Procedure I or II, (4) Sales, and (5) Wills and Estates. Starting with our class of 2021, we are requiring students who have low grades during their first year to take these five classes to improve their chances of passing the bar examination.
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?
VW: The law school engages in holistic file review to obtain a heterogeneous and diverse student body; however, as a selective law school, we also consider the LSAT and undergraduate GPA as important factors for admission.
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?
VW: We highly encourage students to check out our website (https://www.law.uc.edu/) for advice and tips for how they can write detailed personal statements that are of most interest to admission committee members at the University of Cincinnati College of Law.
TLS: How often do you find statements that really stick out from the crowd? What do these statements consist of?
VW: Well-written personal statements carry a voice that cannot be duplicated. We encourage students to take care and time in crafting a statement that best describes who they are and why they want to go to law school.
TLS: Are there any personal statement topics that applicants should probably steer clear? Any clichés or pitfalls to avoid?
VW: No topic is necessarily taboo, but applicants should be advised to stay within page or word limits.
TLS: Do you come across personal statements that actually hurt the applicant's chances?
VW: For transfer students we ask specifically why the applicant wants to apply to the University of Cincinnati. So our encouragement to applicants is to pay close attention to this question.
TLS: Some schools allow students to submit a “diversity statement” separate from the personal statement. How does the University of Cincinnati College of Law view such statements? If such statements are potentially helpful, can you discuss when a diversity statement is or is not appropriate?
VW: We do have a diversity section on our application. Applicants who provide answers in this portion of the application enable the admissions committee to learn more about their individual circumstances, which enhances our ability to achieve a heterogeneous student body.
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 Cincinnati College of Law?
VW: Yes, of course. We encourage this type of personal statement. Additional details are described on our website: www.law.uc.edu.
LSAT and GPA
TLS: Realistically speaking, how large a part of the admissions process are factors other than a candidate’s GPA and LSAT?
VW: The law school examines each file holistically in order to get a heterogeneous and diverse student body; that said, the LSAT and undergraduate GPA are important factors for admission.
TLS: How does the University of Cincinnati 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?
VW: We use the high score.
TLS: If an applicant cancelled an LSAT score, does the school like to see an addendum explaining why?
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?
VW: Taking the February exam still allows for prospective students to meet our preferred application deadline. We do encourage students on the waiting list to retake the June LSAT, which may help their chances for admission.
TLS: Beyond undergraduate performance and LSAT score, what else does the University of Cincinnati College of Law look at when reviewing applications?
VW: When reviewing applications, we look at the quality of the applicant's previous education, trend of academic performance, participation in community service or significant extracurricular activities, employment experience, graduate work, and thoughtful letters of recommendation.
TLS: How much do you value pre-law school work or life experience?
VW: Professional work experience and life experience can be invaluable to an applicant. We encourage applicants to address these kinds of issues in their personal statement, or include this information on their resumes.
TLS: What can “K through JD” applicants do to stand out in the application process?
VW: Having an outstanding LSAT and academic record is always a plus. In addition, we seek to build a diverse class of students. In that vein, use the application to highlight how you might contribute to the class because of extra-curricular activities demonstrating your intellectual curiosity or leadership abilities, for example. In addition, a thoughtful, well-written personal statement that conveys who you are in ways that go beyond test scores and grade point averages is especially important.
TLS: Applicants often have difficulty choosing and approaching potential recommenders. Can you offer some general advice regarding letters of recommendation?
VW: We encourage traditional college students to use faculty who know the applicant’s academic qualifications well. Law school applicants who have been out of college for some length of time are encouraged to use recommenders who can speak to the applicant’s character, integrity, and work ethic.
TLS: Tell us how the University of Cincinnati College of Law treats transfer applicants. How many transfer students do you take each year? Where do these students come from?
VW: We welcome transfer applications from law students who have completed their first year.
TLS: What are the most important criteria for selecting transfer applicants? Is the LSAT score still relevant? How about undergrad performance?
VW: The most important criteria for a transfer student is academic performance, with applicants in the top 15% of their class having the best opportunity to be admitted.
TLS: How many students transfer out of the University of Cincinnati College of Law after 1L year to attend other institutions?
VW: The number of transfers out of the College of Law is typically low. This past academic year, in fact, we did not have any students transferring to another law school.
Career Opportunities and Employment Outcomes
TLS: Describe the legal market in Ohio. What’s the outlook for the next few years?
VW: Ohio has been among the top 10 states for entry-level employment since 2006, a distinction that continues to be true.
TLS: What are the most common career paths for graduates of the University of Cincinnati College of Law?
VW: Almost half of our graduates enter private practice and the remaining graduates pursue public interest and public sector work equally.
TLS: On average, how many graduates leave the state for work?
VW: Like most law schools about 25% of our graduates obtain entry-level employment outside of Ohio with strong representation on both coasts, with NYC, D.C. and Chicago remaining top destinations. Texas, California and the Southeast are also popular.
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?
VW: Nationally the primary source of entry-level law firm jobs are offices with 2-25 attorneys. Those firms do not typically participate in the traditional on-campus interviewing program. Rather, they hire as the result of self-initiated contact, through resume collects and through informal job fairs.
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?
VW: There is no such student when it comes to careers! Succeeding in the market is part experience and part network. We cultivate both for all students. In addition to employment opportunities our office manages volunteer activities and externships. All of these experiences increase a student’s competitiveness in the market. Six attorneys staff our Office of Career and Professional Development. They leverage their professional networks to benefit students daily. These efforts help students create a compelling resume that gets employers’ attention.
TLS: Nearly every law school has recent graduates who cannot find permanent, full-time legal employment. What does the University of Cincinnati College of Law do to help them get on track?
VW: We actively support graduates every step along the path to employment. We target opportunities that align with their career focus, assist with document preparation and facilitate networking with prospective employers and alumni. We also host employment roundtables specifically designed for them.
TLS: Do you think transfer students are disadvantaged at all when it comes to seeking employment?
VW: Transfer students are not disadvantaged in the employment arena because they, like all of our students, are required to engage in professional planning and create a professional development plan. Planning levels the playing field and allows transfer students to be as successful as with any other job-seeking student.
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?
VW: The average law school debt at the College of Law was $67,028 for the Class of 2017, which is well below the national average.
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 Cincinnati College of Law taken any steps to adjust class size?
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.?
VW: The average law school debt at the College of Law was $67,028 for the Class of 2017, which is much lower than the quarter-million dollar debt posed. We have an individualized admissions process where faculty and staff try to answer all questions asked by prospective students about the value of the degree. No law school can guarantee future long-term employment outcomes, however, we have strong support systems in place so that our students are prepared for the legal market upon graduation.
TLS: What sort of tuition increase should entering students anticipate over the next three years?
VW: No tuition increases are planned at this time.
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?
VW: The College of Law has scholarship and student loan programs available. In addition, several of our academic research centers provide fellowships and or work experiences for first-year students. And we provide extensive summer paid work experiences using federal college work-study dollars.
TLS: How are students selected to receive scholarships?
VW: Similar to the admissions process, we review applicant files holistically, considering the LSAT/GPA and other relevant factors. Additionally, applicants are asked to complete a scholarship application as part of the admission application. The Scholarship Committee attempts to fund as many students as possible with as generous a scholarship as possible each year.
TLS: Is there anything prospective students can do to increase their chances of receiving aid?
VW: Applicants are encouraged to apply for admission early, submit a complete scholarship application at the time they are applying, and have the most complete academic profile possible (updated LSAT scores, transcripts, etc.)
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?
VW: No. All scholarship offers are continued as long as the student maintains good academic standing, which means earning at least a 2.0 GPA.
TLS: Do you offer any additional scholarship awards to retain current students based on their performance during law school?
TLS: What sort of financial aid is available for transfer students?
VW: Scholarships are handled on a case-by-case basis, but student loans are available to all transfer students.
TLS: Describe any loan repayment programs the University of Cincinnati College of Law offers. Who is eligible for loan repayment assistance?
VW: We do not offer any loan repayment programs.
TLS: Thanks for taking the time to speak with us. Any parting thoughts for applicants considering the University of Cincinnati College of Law?
VW: As one of the nation’s oldest law schools, the College of Law has a proven track record and history of producing leaders who pursue justice and advance the role of law in society. Our faculty are thought leaders, for whom bridging theory and practice is second nature. Students have countless opportunities to connect classroom learning to real-life experiences in our home city. These attributes help explain why we remain a nationally recognized institution. We look forward to welcoming you in person to the College of Law. If you have any questions about our program or would like to speak further, feel free to reach out to me at email@example.com; or, connect with our Admissions department at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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