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Northwestern Law

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Known as an innovative, business-oriented law school, Northwestern Law offers more to its students than just a prime central Chicago location. With its well-established preference for students with work experience and demonstrated interpersonal skills, the school fosters a professional environment. Employment statistics, though relatively solid, are weaker than most of the traditional top 14 law schools. The total cost of attendance, however, is second-highest, behind only Berkeley for out-of-staters.

One 2L said: "The student body is excellent, most of which has done something interesting before law school. Students tend to bring interesting perspectives into the classroom as a result, and I think this is a major advantage over schools primarily composed of people straight through from undergrad."

Northwestern Law places a heavy emphasis on global enterprises and practical learning and has highly regarded study abroad, clinical, and interdisciplinary programs in the country. The school recently conducted an initiative called "Plan 2008: Preparing Great Leaders for the Changing World," in which it conducted extensive focus groups with law firm, corporate, and government leaders, with assistance by a legal consulting firm, to mold the direction of the law school. In an exclusive interview with TLS, the dean of the law school, David E. Van Zandt, described it as a plan that "emphasizes the foundational competencies that most law schools ignore, but that industry leaders agree are critical for success in today's legal careers."

Probably the most important result of the plan was the accelerated J.D. program, which is a three-year J.D. compressed into two years. The same number of credit hours is required, so it costs the same as a traditional J.D. Its participants enter OCI (the on-campus interview program that is the main source for biglaw jobs) with only one semester of grades.

Students tend to have few complaints besides the cost and the cold. "Northwestern is just a pleasant place to attend law school," a student said. "It has an atmosphere that makes it fun to be in grad school, instead of the hell on earth that 1L is rumored to be."

Cost of attendance, 2013-2014
Base tuition $54,764
Accelerated J.D. tuition $97,614
Law School Transparency total debt-financed cost of attendance $291,900

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Northwestern Law School admissions are very competitive, with about 24% of applicants accepted in 2012. The median LSAT score is 170, and the median undergraduate GPA is a 3.75. Unlike at other law schools where work experience and leaderships skills are perhaps considered small bonuses, here they are nearly requisite. Dean Van Zandt said:

Like all the top law schools, a strong academic record is essential, but we look for more than that. We also evaluate our applicants on things like career focus, teamwork, and project management; I doubt that any other law school really takes those kinds of things very seriously. All of these factors make a huge difference in helping us create and sustain a team-oriented culture. They also help us ensure that our students have the maturity, good judgment, and other abilities that their future employers want.

Admissions stats
Class of: 2015
25th - 50th - 75th percentile LSAT 164 - 170 - 171
25th - 50th - 75th percentile GPA 3.38 - 3.75 - 3.84
Applicants 4,390
Offer 1,040
Matriculations 259

Admissions basics

Applicants should submit a personal statement, with a recommended length of one to three pages. In an exclusive interview with TLS, Dean of Admissions John Lee said introspection is a common theme of great personal statements. He said:

I think the best personal statements that I've read show that the applicant has actually thought about the topic that they're writing about, and they've looked within themselves to write about said topic. They don't read as being formulaic. There's also some emotion in the writing. I think the personal statements that stick out in my mind are the ones that definitely reflected the individual and are distinctive, where I can say that X person wrote this personal statement and I've never read anything like it.

Dean Van Zandt added:

The personal statement should not be generic. It needs to be tailored to Northwestern Law in the same way that you would show interest if you were applying for a job. It's important to show that you have done some research about us, that you understand how we are different, and that you affirmatively want to be a part of our community.

There are also two optional essays: a "Why Northwestern" essay and a diversity statement. Students can choose to write zero, one, or both. Answers should be limited to one or two paragraphs.

The school only requires one letter of recommendation. Unlike most law schools, Northwestern does not automatically prefer academic recommendations. Dean Lee said that especially for those applicants who have taken time off, the office prefers work-related recommendations to those from professors. "What we're looking for is the depth of detail within the letter of recommendation. It's important to us that the recommender really knows the student well, and can really speak to his or her ability as a possible law student, and/or work ability," he said.

The school's website added:

Letters of recommendation helps [sic] the Admissions Committee appraise your character, maturity, motivation, and scholarly ability. The most useful recommendations are from those who can offer sound judgments about your qualifications for the study and practice of law.

Dean Lee also added that students should not blow off the LSAT writing sample, as the office does take it into consideration. "If, let's say, we're reading a personal statement, and it doesn't really display an individual's ability to write, we'll turn to the writing sample to get a second opinion," he said.

Applications are accepted starting Sept. 1, and the deadline is Feb. 15. The application fee is $100. Merit-based fee waivers are disbursed via the LSAC's Candidate Referral Service (largely based on LSAT score and GPA), and need-based fee waivers may be granted by submitting documentation of your need.

The interview

Northwestern invites all applicants to interview, either with an alum locally or at the school with an admissions staff member. About 80% of applicants are interviewed. Dean Lee said that evaluation-wise, there is no difference in interviewing either on campus or off:

The write-ups are pretty standardized. We definitely cue the interviewers as to what we're looking for, with regards to leadership, questions regarding career focus, questions regarding project management experience, things like that.

I think it's really important when an applicant schedules an interview to think about the questions they want answered. If they want to have answered questions about how does Northwestern place in the market that they're currently living in, or experiences of alumni, then maybe they should consider doing an off-campus interview, because those questions will probably be readily answered.

If they have never visited the law school, never sat in on a Northwestern Law class, or they want to see what it'd be like to live in Chicago, then maybe doing an on-campus interview would be better to answer those questions.

Students said that interview questions tend to be basic (for example, there are frequently questions about why applicants want to attend law school, what sort of leadership experience they've had, and how their undergraduate and post-undergraduate experiences have prepared them for law school). Dean Lee said the interview serves to provide more information about an applicant and can sometimes markedly influence the office's decision about an applicant. He said:

I would say that the interview tends to act as about a half a step in a process. If, let's say, a person without the interview would have been placed on hold or on the waitlist, a really strong interview can tip them up higher. And by the same token, if a person let's say may have been waitlisted without the interview, a really poor interview will push them into the other range.

Work experience

Work experience is weighted heavily at Northwestern. The vast majority (about 70%) of students have taken two or more years off of undergrad. Dean Lee said that there is a "slight disadvantage" for those applying straight out of undergrad; indeed, only about 10% of the class did not work for at least a year after undergrad. His advice for college seniors:

If you are applying straight from undergrad, I cannot emphasize enough the importance of doing the evaluative interview as part of the application process. When we discuss about work experience, what we are looking for are the things that work experience brings: maturity, strong career focus, good interpersonal skills, and the ability to work in groups in a professional setting. The interview process helps us answer those questions from those who are applying straight from undergrad. I think the one thing that college seniors who apply to Northwestern Law often fail to do in their application is to really convey the message of why they want to go to law school. That's really important to us, especially when evaluating an application of a college senior.

Because Northwestern has aspects that feel like business school, it should be no surprise that the admissions process values work experience just as business schools do as well. Dean Lee noted several times the importance of those applicants who had unorthodox time off doing an interview, since he said that "the general overarching theme is that not all work experiences are created equally" and that he is particularly interested in the substance of the experience. He continued:

We are ideally looking for professional post-graduate work experience. What does that mean? It could mean a variety of different things in a variety of different fields. What we're really looking for is skills that come out of work experience. We are looking for project management experience, advocacy experience, responsibility and leadership within their different roles. It's not really the first line of the resume that's important to us. It's the description of what comes after that first line. I've seen a lot of wonderful looking titles, but then when you drill down deeper, there's really not much there.

When to apply

Dean Lee said that applicants should put much more emphasis on submitting the best application possible than on applying as early as possible and that an applicant has the same shot at admission whether he applies Sept. 1 or Jan. 1. He said that applicants should ideally avoid submitting an application less than a month before the deadline. He said:

In the end, I always feel that a strong application is a strong application. If a person submits a strong application at the deadline, or if he submits it the first day we accept applications, we would admit this person. The only thing is that when it comes to scholarship assistance, we do it on a first-come, first-serve basis. So applying closer to the deadline may put a student at a disadvantage with regards to that. However, if we're talking admission, a strong application is a strong application.

Early decision

Northwestern has a binding Early Decision program. An interview is mandatory, which must be completed by Nov. 15 if done on campus. The deadline for Early Decision applications is Dec. 1. Dean Lee said of evaluating Early Decision candidates:

At Northwestern, the Early Decision pool is the first pool that we review. So, before we read any regular decision applications, before we read Accelerated JD applications, we read binding Early Decision applications. There's a completely clean slate; we haven't admitted anyone at that particular point in time. So they're getting a fresh pair of eyes from the admissions committee with regards to review. One of the things we do look at in the admissions process is whether or not students have done their research about Northwestern and whether or not they're committed to the learning model that we have in place. Nothing says commitment to a law school then a binding early decision contract. So, is there a boost? Probably a feather on a scale, but basically they're the first applications that we read.

Applicants admitted through the Early Decision program get a merit scholarship of $50,000 a year for three years.


Dean Lee said that applicants should feel free to submit as many addendums as they want, keeping in mind that "the more addendums you write, the more the impact on the reader's eyes tends to diminish." He elaborated:

If there's a significant GPA trend and there's a reason for it, I would definitely like to see an addendum on that, instead of wasting personal statement space. With regards to addendums about LSAT performance, I think if a person took the LSAT once and then is going to submit an addendum regarding their LSAT not being indicative of their actual ability, I tend to discount that a little bit, because frankly, if you take the LSAT once and it's not indicative of your ability, take it again. I think if a person has taken it a couple times, then I can see an addendum regarding that as appropriate.

Like most schools, Northwestern sees all LSAT scores but submits and generally uses the highest score.


At Northwestern, a scholarship committee decides most scholarships on a blended basis of merit and need. Applicants who would like to be considered for a scholarship must submit a separate financial aid application along with a FAFSA. Dean Lee said of the process: "It's based on need-level, based on academic credentials, based on work experience; it's basically another applicant review process. We go ahead and assign scholarships accordingly."

Only about 39.7% of students receive grants every year. The median grant was $20,000 in 2013.

Transfer admissions

Northwestern Law takes in a number of transfer students each year (44 in 2013, with three students transferring out). They are eligible for all law school activities, including journals. Dean Lee said transfer applications are evaluated on a holistic basis. He continued:

I would say it's a combination of where a student is transferring from and how they did at that school. When we're looking at transfer applications, we're looking for students who've demonstrated they can succeed in law school, and also, we're looking for students who will succeed in our learning environment. We're looking at work experience, and at how they did in law school. We're looking to see if how they did in law school is consistent with how they did in undergrad. We're looking to see the rigor of the law school that they went to. It's a combination of a lot of factors. We also ask for a legal writing sample as part of our transfer application, so we're also looking at how well a student can write in a more practical form, outside of a timed or untimed contracts or civil procedure exam.

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Law school culture

Northwestern Law's culture is distinct from many other top schools because of its focus on admitting students with work experience. Students also say self-selection plays a role in attracting students who think they might thrive in the business-school-like culture. Said a student: "We interview for admissions; thus, we get fewer people who are well-qualified on paper but horrible to be around."

Many students said that they treat law school more as a job than as a reprise of college. Some have families or live farther away from the law school, making the school less of a focal point of their lives. A student elaborated:

The fact that most students have been out of school for a few years means that people treat school more like a job. Thus, law school is part of our lives, not all of it. I think that's a point of contrast with some peer schools, at least according to what some people have told me.

At a student body of about 800, Northwestern Law is a small- to medium-sized school. Students say that bodes well both for job prospects and decreased competition among peers. A student said:

I think the school has successfully created a noncompetitive atmosphere. I don't know my friends' grades, and they don't know mine. I don't know where I stand in the class. Without a metric to compare yourself to, it's hard to be competitive. People share notes and outlines pretty freely. I didn't show up to class one day and three people sent me class notes without me asking for them.

Another student said that the overall atmosphere is "pretty relaxed," and echoed other students' observations that the school has an overall "business-like vibe." Because of the school's perception of the integrity of the student body, second- and third-year students are allowed to schedule their own exams, with certain limitations.

The student body

Students say their peers tend to be smart, driven, and mature. A student said:

Greater and varied work experience leads to numerous and interesting perspectives on law. It's a really fascinating mix of people and pretty great to see. Also, the fact that almost everyone has worked means that almost everyone has a pretty strong work ethic. There are very few people who skated through college and arrive here thinking they can skate through law school. The greatest compliment I can pay is that the people in my class are people I'd like to work with and they will make responsible, serious, successful colleagues.

Class Statistics
Class of: 2015
Number enrolled 207
Applicants 4,135
Students of color 35%
Women 49%
States represented 35
Undergraduate institutions represented 130
Mean age 25
Two or more years off undergrad 70%
Advanced degrees 13%

The mean age of Northwestern's entering class tends to be higher than those of its peers. Said a student:

We're definitely the old-people school, but that doesn't necessarily translate to a more boring school. I think the age of the students helps create the noncompetitive atmosphere and the laid back feel at school. I have yet to have a serious gunner in a class (some people talk a lot more than others, but never to make other people look/feel bad, or to waste our time with hypotheticals), which I'm guessing has to do with the work experience making people feel more secure.

Another student added: "I like the older student body. People seem surer of themselves and less annoying than 22-year-olds. And almost nobody is in law school just because they didn't know what else to do."

Northwestern also has a very diverse student body in terms of race, ideology, and geography. Students have roots across the country, particularly the Midwest and the West. Students say there isn't a distinctive political bent.

Geographic diversity of class entering in 2012
Midwest 34%
Northeast 16%
West 29%
South 18%
International 3%

The law buildings

Northwestern Law students almost universally cite the school's incredible location, including expansive views of Lake Michigan from the library and clinical facilities. One student said the buildings are "extremely nice." A student said:

There are some modern classrooms with tons of outlets, great chairs, and good AV equipment. However, in the older classrooms there are hardly any outlets. I'm not sure if that's fixable, but it's a pain in the butt. The library is nice with lots of places to study and plenty of reservable study rooms.

There's also a large atrium in the middle of the law school with lots of tables and couches, which is a popular meeting place for students and professors.


Northwestern Law has one of the lowest student-faculty ratios in the country at 8.2:1. The school boasts that is has the highest percentage of faculty members with social science Ph.D.s of any law school-about 47% of the research faculty have social science Ph.D.s. It comes as little surprise, then, that the school is known for its strength in law and social sciences. Other notable faculty strengths include tax law, trial advocacy and international law.

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A current 3L said of professors: "The faculty accessibility is incredible. This flows in part from the smaller class size. Faculty are available in their offices (doors open most of the time), via e-mail, or after class more or less constantly. I have been pleasantly surprised by this since I started."

Most students echoed that viewpoint, adding that there are "lots of conversations after class, during office hours, and over e-mail. Northwestern professors will really go the extra mile for students during the clerkship process, too."

Students added that most professors take on research assistants, so for those interested in clerkships and academia especially, there are ample opportunities to form close relationships with professors.

A few of Northwestern Law's star professors include Steven Calabresi (founder of the Federalist Society), Martin Redish (civil procedure, First Amendment), Ronald Allen (leading scholar on evidence and procedure), David Dana (environmental, property, and IP law), and Andrew Koppelman (law and political science).


Northwestern Law's practical orientation is manifested strongly in its curriculum. For starters, all 1Ls are required to take a yearlong Communication and Legal Reasoning class, which focuses on teamwork and analytical exercises. One student said: "NU definitely seems more pragmatic than other law schools. We spend a lot less time on theory and more on how the law can be applied in practice. There is a preponderance of business-y' classes."

Another student said that there is a lack of "academically focused, let's think deeply of the law' classes. But they've been trying to improve this."

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First-year students take the basic law school doctrinal classes: torts, contracts, civil procedure, criminal law, property, and constitutional law, along with the communication class. Students take four of the core classes the first semester, and then two the second semester, with the option to take two electives ("This gives 1Ls a lot of control over their curriculum," a student said. "There were a lot of options for electives; I had a really hard time choosing."). Some students call the first semester "rigorous," especially in comparison to many other law schools at which students take only three doctrinal classes a semester. Further, the communication class is analogous to other law schools' legal practice and writing class and is graded, whereas at many other schools it is not. A student called the fact that it is graded a "common gripe" and a "ton of work for two credits." Another required class is Legal Ethics.

The school uses a bidding system for registering for classes. A student said: "I've had no trouble getting the classes I want. The bidding system lets students prioritize, so it's pretty much assured that if you really, really want something and bid a lot of points on it, you'll get it."

Students have the option of specializing in one of four formal concentrations: Business Enterprise, Civil Litigation and Dispute Resolution, International Law, or Law and Social Policy. Students report that the schedule can be flexible, requiring students to take 16 credit hours of "related course study," along with "at least one substantial research and writing project."

A grading curve is mandatory for all courses with more than 40 students. Most first year classes are held with sections of about 60 students, with some classes being bigger. Class rank isn't recorded or reported.

The B-school tilt

Northwestern Law has been met with both praise and criticism for approaching the study of law from a business-school angle. Skills like group collaboration, presentations, and practical application are emphasized, whereas at some other law schools they are barely touched upon. Dean Van Zandt explained the approach in an interview with TLS:

In the eyes of employers, our graduates already stand out as better prepared to succeed in an increasingly competitive world. As our graduates continue to differentiate themselves in the workplace, I think that we will begin to see other schools adopting a similar approach. The marketplace has changed, and globalization means that most law school graduates will need to work strategically with lawyers and non-lawyers across organizational, institutional, and global boundaries. Competencies like communication, teamwork, quantitative skills, project management, and leadership-along with traditional case law analysis-will prepare students to better help their future clients and organizations.

Students say that the curriculum at Northwestern Law is "incredibly practical, with a considerable amount of team-based collaborative work built in." Said another student:

I think it would be crazy to pretend a business-school-like vibe doesn't exist, but I don't think it's overbearing. I have no background (academic or work) in business, I have no interest in corporate law, and it has not been a problem for me. If a business-school-like experience means the classes are practical and the administration's focus seems to be on making the students marketable to employers, I don't think that's necessarily a bad thing.

Class offerings

Northwestern Law offers a wide breadth of class offerings, including all the basics along with specialized seminars such as "Free Speech and the McCarthy Era." Students say that offerings in transactional law and litigation are particularly robust. Said a student:

The litigation-oriented curriculum is incredible at Northwestern. We have classes on trial advocacy taught by the chief judge on the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois and by other extremely talented professors. Attorneys from Bartlit Beck, one of the best litigation boutiques in the country, teach a high-tech evidence class that is supposed to be fantastic. Plus, between the Bluhm Legal Clinic (a mini law firm within the school in which students can participate for credit or over the summer) and externship opportunities with the U.S. Attorney's office, the Chicago DA's office, federal judges in Chicago, and other employers, there are a huge number of ways 2Ls and 3Ls can sharpen their litigation-oriented practice skills. These opportunities are a major advantage for Northwestern over, say, Michigan or Cornell, since, by virtue of their remote location, those two schools simply cannot get the kind of interaction we do with large firms, judges, and prosecutors from one of the largest legal markets in the country.

However, several students did say that the more corporate- and business-themed classes command the course listings, with the litigation opportunities often being focused on the clinics and externships.

One of my complaints about the school is that there is an obvious emphasis on business and transactional law. As someone who thinks tax law must be the most boring class ever, I yearn for more litigation-themed offerings. So as I try to choose classes for next semester, I can't help but notice that the offerings for business/corporate people are far more rich and varied. I still have plenty of classes to choose from, but I'm worried that by 3L I might be low on options and have to take Trusts and Estates.


Northwestern maintains a strong biglaw placement rate relative to its U.S. News ranking of 12. In the 2013 National Law Journal ranking of the top feeder schools for the nation's largest 250 law firms, Northwestern placed sixth, with about 51.05% of its class of 2013 going straight into those firms.

Overall, however, NU has one of the most lackluster placement rates among the traditional top 14 law schools. According to Law School Transparency, only about 76% of the class of 2012 got full-time, long-term jobs requiring bar passage nine months after graduation-that's 13th of 14, ahead of only Georgetown.

In addition to the half the class or so that goes straight into large firms, about 6% of the class of 2012 obtained prestigious federal judicial clerkships. A little over 7% went into public interest or government on a full-time, long-term basis. About 12% were "underemployed," which includes unemployment, working part-time or short-term, or seeking further graduate degrees.

Legal employers are not allowed to pre-screen which students they'd like to interview for OCI (only corporate and non-legal employers are allowed to pre-screen). The benefits are twofold: Students with less-than-stellar grades won't be shut out from interviews, and students are less inclined to compete with one another for the highest grades in order to be able to interview in the first place. Northwestern Law doesn't rank its students, which several people said contributes to the "pretty much non-competitive" atmosphere.

Bar passage rates for first-time takers, 2013
State Northwestern's passage rate Jurisdiction's overall passage rate
Illinois 96.12% 87.34%
New York 88.33% 81.55%
California 75.61% 71.43%

According to the school, 35 members of the class of 2012 (about 12%) found positions in the "business/industry" sector, though it is unclear how many of these positions are J.D.-required or -preferred. Almost 4% of the class wound up in school-funded jobs.

Northwestern provides a thorough breakdown of its employment statistics on its website, including salaries and source and timing of jobs for the class of 2012. It also provides a detailed report about the state of the legal hiring market. Even if you're not planning to apply to Northwestern, we highly recommend that you read it to get a sense of recent hiring trends. NU offers a breakdown of its loan repayment assistance program on its website as well.

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1L summer placement

Northwestern Law students enjoy an advantage over students from law schools that aren't located in the center of huge legal markets. "We have pretty much everything already here," a student said.

The main advice that the school's career services office gives to 1Ls is: apply everywhere. "Most of the things you'll get through connections," a 2L said. "Apply to your home regions. Send out letters to every DA office. All the government agencies will take people for free. In the past we had like 25% / 30% of 1Ls in firm jobs, that's probably gone way down." There's also a very small 1L OCI, but it's mostly small IP firms.

For their 1L summers, most students either stick around Chicago or return to their hometowns. "I don't know anyone who is unhappy with their 1L job," a student said. "I know a lot of people who got judicial externships (like mini-clerkships) and firm jobs. Other students are doing research for professors and working in the clinic. A couple of people have government internships."

The Student Funded Public Interest Fellowship Program, run by Northwestern students, provides a limited number of summer stipends.

Career services

Student opinions on Northwestern Law's career services office, which it calls the Center for Career Strategy:

- They're great. They offer constant advice and personal services (resume review, personal meetings), meetings with career consultants that they bring in from outside the school, mock interviews, etiquette dinners, lunchtime panels featuring different types of employers, etc.

- The career office is good, and my counselor in particular is great, but I have heard some complaints. There is one counselor who has trouble remembering her students. Other counselors (and even mine) seem to be a little too positive about our job prospects. They're trying to keep our morale up, but it's a jungle out there. I'd prefer honesty.

- One weakness is that I think we need more career advisers. We have three for a class of about 250. A couple of more counselors would help the career office offer more personalized advice, which is very needed in this economy especially.

- The Career Center is great. They provide a lot of personalized services and have been very open during all the turmoil in this economy with what is going on, what is likely to get worse, and what we can do to try to ride it out.


Northwestern is not known for its production of legal scholars. The Law Scholars program, however, is an initiative for students who do wish to pursue academic careers. Students participate in a faculty-student research project during their first summer and are assigned faculty mentors.

Quality of life

The Northwestern Law School building is located right along Lake Michigan, separate from the school's main campus in Evanston, and just north of the bustling Chicago "Loop" area. One student called the area "clean, pretty, safe, and with every amenity imaginable. It's also very close to public transportation and great shopping. It is, however, one of the most expensive areas in the city."

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There are several apartment buildings close to the area that are very popular with law and medical students (whose campus is directly next to the law school's), and several 2Ls and 3Ls live more north in the Lincoln Park, Lake View, or Old Town neighborhoods.

Students said that on nice days they can cross the street to study on the Lake Michigan beach. There are many restaurants nearby, and popular bars are a short cab ride or long walk away. Millennium Park and Grant Park, where events are often hosted, are right near the law school as well. Said a student:

I really like the Streeterville area. The area has a number of restaurants, many of which fit a student budget well, all the services you need as a student (a few grocery stores, dry cleaners, hardware store, etc.), some nice places to go running along Lake Michigan, and a few other good things like that. The area is safe, the apartment buildings have nice views, and you simply cannot beat a five-minute walk to school. On the downside, I think the bars in the immediate area around school are pretty substandard - but that's what the rest of Chicago is for, I guess. Also, rents are a little higher than I'd prefer; but you can save a few hundred dollars per month if you move about a mile away from school.

There are perks and drawbacks to the school's separate location from the rest of the school. On the one hand, most students would probably rather be in the law school's prime downtown Chicago location, as opposed to the main campus's more suburban Evanston locale. However, some students cite the inaccessibility of the rest of the campus as a downside in terms of taking other classes or participating in events hosted by various Northwestern University programs.

Social life

A student said that people go out "fairly often. I'd say less than the UVA stereotype but a lot more than the UChicago stereotype. Bar Reviews are usually pretty well attended." Said another student:

Most students seem to have social lives, which is pretty hard during 1L. The 2Ls and 3L seem more active. There's Bar Review every Thursday night during the year (different bar every week), and at least half of the people I know attended that. The girls in my section got together a couple of times outside of class during the year (chocolate tasting and a musical). There's a lot to do in Chicago, and most of my classmates took time out to go out to dinner or to a club on the weekends.

Popular areas to grab a drink seem to be the Old Town, Lincoln Park, and the Wrigleyville areas, all of which are quite accessible by either public transportation or short cab rides.

Students said that because there is a "slightly more mature student body," there is a "larger percentage" of people who don't go out, but there are also "a lot of people who get drunk all the time." Another student said, "People tend to do their thing. There's not necessarily school-organized social events. This isn't UVA with the softball tournaments."

Another student said that people will often hang out in the Streeterville area during the week informally. The city of Chicago has much more to offer than law schools that aren't in the heart of big cities. For example, students can and do attend Cubs games, comedy shows, and musical events throughout the year. A student added:

One of the small things I appreciate most is the Student Funded Public Interest Fellowship auction in the fall, where the student body gets together over drinks and bids on great stuff that people have donated, like a vacation in the Rockies, a night of drinks and bowling with a well-regarded professor, or things like that.


Streeterville offers several high-rise apartment buildings in the area immediately surrounding the law school. However, several of these buildings are expensive for a student budget. "People will complain about affordable housing," a student said, with some of the most popular apartment buildings offering one-bedroom apartments at upwards of $1,300 a month.

Some of the most popular buildings are McClurg Court Center, the Grand Ohio, The Streeter, and the Onterie, all of which are within a few blocks of the law school. "A huge chunk of students will live in the area directly south of the law school, and then a number of people sort of sprinkled in the 1 to 2 mile range" a student said. Several other students are spread out through the entire Chicagoland area.

Students say that transportation between the law school and Lincoln Park, Lakeview, and Old Town-three of the most popular areas for students who are not living in Streeterville-is relatively easy and quick, often less than a 15-minute bus ride away. Students advised living near express bus stops.

Degree programs

Northwestern has made waves in the legal community twice by being the first university to offer a three-year J.D.-MBA program, and then again in summer of 2008 when it announced a two-year J.D. program.

Each year more than 100 law students take courses in the Kellogg School of Management or a course taught jointly by law and business school faculty. The school also has an integrated J.D.-Ph.D. program for those students interested in entering the world of academia. However, unlike most schools, Northwestern University generally does not grant terminal masters degrees. Therefore, students who want to pursue such a joint degree would have to do so at another school. Northwestern Law grants a one-year leave for this, but needless to say, it is not a very popular option.

J.D.-MBA program

For those interested in pursuing a J.D.-MBA, Northwestern is arguably one of the top schools to attend. In the 2014 U.S. News rankings, the Kellogg School of Management had the country's fourth-best MBA (tied with MIT's Sloan School of Management), and students can finish the dual degree in three years instead of the usual four.

This joint degree option is one of the most popular, with J.D.-MBA students making up about 10 percent of the total J.D. student body. The admission rate is comparable to the J.D. program, and dual degree students on average have 4.5 years of full-time work experience. Students spend their first full year of the program taking classes at the law school and their second taking classes at Kellogg. The third year is generally at the law school, but students may take classes at Kellogg. The LSAT is not required for admission, though the GMAT is. Students need only submit one application to be considered for the program.

Keep in mind that tuition alone for this program is a jaw-dropping $74,572 per year.

Accelerated JD program

Northwestern University School of Law's Accelerated J.D. (AJD) program, in its fifth year as of May 2013, became a permanent fixture of the law school by unanimous faculty approval in February 2012. Students enrolled in the AJD program complete the same number of credit hours as traditional J.D. students in five semesters instead of six. Accelerated J.D. students begin classes in May, completing six courses during the first summer. They join the three-year J.D. students during the fall and spring semesters, and work during their second summer. They then return to the law school for two more semesters and graduate in May, two calendar years after they begin. This faster pace means AJD students must take, on average, one additional class per semester, though AJDs have the opportunity to select from the full range of electives offered by the law school, as well as participate in all extracurricular and co-curricular activities, including journals, trial team, moot court, clinics, and student organizations.

AJD students participate in the Fall On-Campus Interview (OCI) process upon completion of their first term, with one semester of grades. AJDs thus receive the same 2L summer employment and permanent employment opportunities and benefits as three-year J.D. students. In terms of the percentage of students acquiring jobs through OCI, AJDs have been at least as successful as students in the three-year J.D. program.

Prospective students are required to complete either an on-campus or an off-campus interview as part of the application process. Applicants must have at least two years of substantive post-undergraduate work experience, preferably in a non-legal setting, and ideally have demonstrated managerial and leadership experience to qualify for the program. Prior classes have consisted of students with diverse professional backgrounds.

A student in the program said most people are pleased with it so far. He noted that "almost all of our class has a strong business background," with many students coming from investment banking or consulting fields. He described the program as composed of "extremely driven people who are very driven to learn the law, but they're also keen on helping their classmates." He called his class a "cohesive group" and said that there are regular bar reviews.

Beyond the classroom

Northwestern Law students have ample opportunities to apply their interests outside of their classes, such as clinics, journals, and other activities. Said a student:

Most students are members in at least two to three organizations. Many students, although definitely a minority, are very active and have leadership positions in more than one organization. Overall, though, everyone has some involvement outside of classes and it is unusual to find students who are interested only in the academic aspects of law school. NU has some very popular sports including basketball during the year and kickball during the summer. The med school is right down the street, and the competition between medicine and law can get pretty fierce. The minority groups are very active and have a lot of resources such as outlines, for example.

Northwestern Law has about 50 student organizations, including the standard affinity groups and service organizations and more eclectic clubs, such as Habeas Chorus, the student a cappella group, and a Scotch-drinking club. The school also offers a plethora of team-building activities and workshops. Every year the students put on the "Wigmore Follies," a parody of life in law school.


About 90% of NU students participate in clinical courses before they graduate. The clinical programs moved into a new space in 2007, which has beautiful views of Lake Michigan.

Students say that some of the most popular clinics are the Center on Wrongful Convictions of Youth, the Children and Family Justice Center, the Civil Litigation Center, and the Entrepreneurship Law Center (a transactional clinic that, a student notes, is "not nearly as much work as the litigation ones").

Clinics can sometimes be tough to get into, since they can cost a large number of "points" of the school's class bidding system. (Students are allotted a number of points, and different classes go for different amounts of points.) A student said, "If you want to get into it, you can, but you'll be using most of your points so you won't be able to get into other things."


Northwestern has six student-edited scholarly journals: the Northwestern University Law Review, the Journal of Criminal Law and Criminology, the Journal of International Law and Business, the Northwestern Journal of Technology and Intellectual Property, the Journal of International Human Rights, and the Journal of Law and Social Policy.

The Journal of Criminal Law and Criminology is one of the most widely read and widely cited criminal law publications in the world; it is the second most widely subscribed journal published by any law school in the country, according to the journal's website.

The Law Review publishes four issues a year. According to its website, students are selected for Law Review on the basis of grades and a writing competition. It says:

We offer membership to 26 students evaluated equally on first-year grades and on the quality of their writing competition entries. An additional 10 offers are extended to students based solely on their writing competition, as long as they are within the top two-thirds of student GPAs in the writing competition. The fall write-on competition takes place during the fall of the second year and is open only to transfer students. The journal extends approximately 4-6 offers per year to participants in this competition.

Most of the other journals also select their members via a combination of applicants' writing competition scores and grades.

Moot courts

Moot court competitions are particularly popular at Northwestern Law, with one program even required for all first-year students (in it, students present briefs and argue cases against other students in front of a court of alumni and faculty). There is also a law school-wide moot court competition for second year students.

Northwestern Law has seen recent success competing in the Jessup International Moot Court Competition, which is the biggest moot court competition in the world. The school has traditionally had strong moot court teams across the board.


Northwestern offers a plethora of practicum seminars in which students take subject matter-based seminars (such as criminal law, civil government, and corporate counsel) which meet once a week in conjunction with working about 12-15 hours a week at a corresponding Chicago institution. For example, those participating in the Public Interest Practicum often secure externships with the ACLU or Legal Assistance Foundation, whereas those in the Judicial Practicum might work for district court or court of appeals judges.

Study abroad

Northwestern Law stays true to its stated focus on globalized education by offering both school year and summer study abroad programs. Popular Northwestern programs are in Australia, Belgium, Amsterdam, Israel, Argentina, and Singapore, but students can participate and earn credit for summer study abroad programs offered by other American Bar Association-approved institutions.

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Contact information

Northwestern Law School
Admissions Office
Rubloff 130
375 East Chicago Ave.
Chicago, IL 60611-3069

Quick reference

2013 Above the Law ranking: [1]
2014 U.S. News ranking: 12
LSAT scores at 25th, 50th, and 75th percentiles: 164 - 170 - 171
GPA at 25th, 50th, and 75th percentiles: 3.38 - 3.75 - 3.84
Application deadline: Feb. 15 (RD), Dec. 1 (ED)
Application fee: $100
Law School Transparency employment score, class of 2012: 75.9%
LST total debt-financed cost of attendance: $291,900

Forum: Northwestern 3Ls Taking Questions and Challenges
News: Above the Law

Interview: Dean David E. Van Zandt of Northwestern University School of Law
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