University of Chicago Law vs. Northwestern University Law School
The University of Chicago Law School
1111 East 60th Street
Chicago, Illinois 60637
Application Deadline: Feb. 1, 2014
Annual Tuition: $52,368
Class of 2015 Stats:
Median LSAT: 171
LSAT Scores (25th-75th percentile): 167-173
Median GPA: 3.90
GPA Scores (25th-75th percentile): 3.65-3.96
Employed at Graduation*: 90.6%
Employed Nine Months Later*: 95.1%
Bar Passage*: 96.4%
“There’s no glory in being the fastest hamster on the wheel,” said Ed Walters, an alumnus of the University of Chicago Law School who graduated in 1996. He was speaking at the commencement of another Illinois law school earlier this year. Though Walters is now the CEO of Fastcase, a legal research service, he first heard the hamster line as a newly minted lawyer. The judge he was clerking for pulled him aside and told him that although he was a great worker, he was kind of overdoing it. “I wasn’t quite a gunner, but let’s just say that people couldn’t put a hoop in front of me without me wanting to jump through it,” Walters recalled. That attitude helped him get into Chicago, get good grades, and make law review, but the judge’s advice made him realize that it wouldn’t lead him to a happy life. He urged the graduates to define success on their own terms instead of looking for affirmation elsewhere.
Though nearly two decades have passed since Walters attended Chicago, his experience matches the school’s reputation for valuing knowledge for the sake of knowledge. Still, Walters admits he took things exceptionally far; Chicago’s rigor doesn’t necessarily make it an unfriendly place. For one, the school—which is already on the smaller side—goes beyond paying lip service to the idea of group bonding. The structure of the first-year curriculum ensures that all the 1Ls mix. The entering class is split into six sections of about thirty students, and required classes are made up of groups of three sections. The sections rotate, which means 1Ls stick with a core group while taking at least one class with everyone else. “It’s a pretty neat system in that it allows you to have a group of friends you can always rely on being there, but also get the chance to meet and get to know everyone in your first year,” the site explains.
There is one required class that’s structured differently: the writing class, which students take as part of the Harry A. Bigelow Legal Research and Writing Program. Chicago values writing very highly, taking pride in the fact that the school has a reputation for producing excellent legal writers. The class consists of just one section and lasts for the entire first year—all three quarters.
As much as Chicago values traditional academic inquiry, the school also allows students to gain legal skills outside the usual classroom framework. In fact, Chicago’s Edwin F. Mandel Legal Aid Clinic was the first clinic affiliated with a law school. The Institute for Justice Clinic on Entrepreneurship might be of particular interest to law students who enjoy business. It allows participants to provide transactional legal services to local entrepreneurs, many of them based in the inner city. Students with a more theoretical interest in business can take advantage of the university’s stellar graduate program in economics, ranked No. 1 by U.S. News; the law school is well-known for collaborating with that department.
What do students do once they step out of the classroom and into the so-called real world? According to employment statistics from the class of 2011, 4% turned right back around and entered academia. Another 7.5% entered the business world. The rest of the graduates took more traditional paths: 58.8% took jobs at private law firms, 19.6% went into government or public interest law, and 10.1% took clerkships.
It should be noted that just under half the graduates stayed in the Midwest. For those who can stomach brutal winters, Chicago’s not a bad choice. After all, Baker & McKenzie is headquartered there.
*Derived from school-reported U.S. News data
Academics & Programs: The rigorous and ultra-prestigious Law School at The University of Chicago offers “an incredibly dynamic educational environment full of quirky but brilliant professors and an eclectic mix of students.” “Expectations are high” and a unique trimester system means “There is little rest for the weary.” Even so, students report, “There is no other place like The University of Chicago when it comes to intellectual curiosity.” Course work is cerebral and highly analytical. Classes “have a strong theoretical bent” and are “geared to those who like thinking about the law.” Chicago is virtually synonymous with the interdisciplinary combination of law and economics. The humanities, the social sciences, and the natural sciences are all integrated into the curriculum as well.
Students swear that their school has, “without a doubt, the best faculty in the country.” The professors are “unquestionably the greatest part of this school.” Somehow “they manage to produce brilliant work” while maintaining “a real emphasis on teaching” and making students “feel like top priority.” “It’s incredible to take classes from…Richard Epstein, and numerous others as a 1L, and to find out how accessible they are,” beams one satisfied student. These “rock stars of legal academia” “treat students with respect,” “are often in the common areas, and readily have lunch with students.” “I have been amazed by the accessibility of my professors, particularly considering who they are,” says a 3L. “They are always available for office hours.” “The professors can help you get amazing jobs, can impart unparalleled wisdom, and are the people who write the books you use,” explains another student. “I don’t know where they find the time.”
The administration “makes the experience seamless” and is quite popular with most students. “I would call the administration extremely overqualified if it weren’t for the negative implications of that label,” says a 1L. “I can’t imagine a more enthusiastic and at-your-service administration.” “The law school tries harder than any other school I’ve heard of to make its students happy,” declares another student. Career Services does a good job too. There are “no worries about jobs.” “Over 400 employers compete for only 190 students in each class,” so “everyone will get a great job (public or private) making top dollar.” There are some complaints, though.
“The grading system is a little bizarre. It’s tough on the ego because nearly everyone gets the same grade.” Students must “lottery” into many seminars and clinical programs. Once in, however, students say the law school’s fifteen clinics are “great” for real-world experience. Though the recent introduction of a summer public interest program has guaranteed funding for public interest jobs, the majority of students become corporate lawyers.<p>“The facilities are state of the art” at the U of C, though the “boringly modern” architecture won’t exactly elevate your soul—unless, of course, a floating-cube-of-glass design is your idea of beautiful. Inside the law school, “The 1L classrooms are gorgeous but cramped.” The library has undergone extensive renovation recently and boasts “a great number of resources and a willing and helpful staff.”
Chicago is “small” and home to “an intense intellectual environment.” “It’s quite an experience to know that some of my friends will clerk for the Supreme Court and work at the highest level in the field,” relates one student. Debates are “constant and vibrant.” “Our faculty and student body has many liberals, libertarians, moderates, and conservatives,” explains a 2L. “The political views…range from ultra-liberal to ultra-conservative, but alviewpoints are respected. Great weight is placed on academic inquiry and discussion, as opposed to vacuous politicking.” “People are very interested in learning and maturing as legal thinkers.”
Many students tell us that the academic environment is “easygoing” and “mostly noncompetitive.” “It is an extremely friendly school with a low degree of competition,” they say, where “2L and 3L students frequently offer their assistance to the 1L class.” However, other students tell us “The competition is tough.” “Students are definitely not laid-back about getting jobs,” observes a 3L. “Even though everyone ends up with plenty of great job offers, students are intense and cutthroat.”<p>Socially, there is “community atmosphere” and “a great attitude on campus.” People are “interesting and cool” and “genuinely excited to be a part of the law school.” “Lots of people…participate in social events.”
Campus Life/Facilities: Because many people hail from outside the Midwest, everyone arrives looking for friends. “The 1L class bonds quickly.” “The small class size is a phenomenal advantage because I feel as if I get to know everyone,” comments a 1L. Also, “weekly events such as Wine Mess and Coffee Mess” are perennial social institutions where students mingle with classmates and professors. “Nearly every day there is free food for some political or legal guest speaker,” which is great if you like “sandwiches, pizza, or Thai food.” The biggest complaint about life here appears to be the law school’s affordable but “inconvenient” Hyde Park location. When students need to get away for work or any other reason though, downtown Chicago is “easy enough to live in and get to school” by car, bike, or public transportation.
* The Princeton Review is not affiliated with Princeton University.
Northwestern University School of Law
375 East Chicago Avenue
Chicago, Illinois 60611
Academics & Programs: Located “in the heart of Chicago,” Northwestern University School of Law has a first-rate “national reputation” for “developing practical skills” and offering “world-class” clinics that give students “unbelievable” opportunities to work on “real cases.” Many here agree, “It’s hard to imagine getting a better mix of academic rigor and practical job training anywhere else.” Other highlights at NU include study abroad programs all over the world, a highly touted JD/MBA program, and lots of “self-scheduled exams.” One demerit is the “legal writing program” that students wish was “a pass/fail class” due to the “incredible amount of work” it requires.
Northwestern’s “brilliant” and “very friendly” faculty is made up of “nationally and internationally renowned scholars” who have “a great sense of humor.” Students have “an unparalleled opportunity to learn from the best, starting right at the beginning.” “My classes and instruction have ranged from very good to simply outstanding,” relates a 2L. “I’d go so far to say that my Constitutional Law class was one of the most intellectually stimulating courses I’ve encountered.” Professors are “accessible” and “seem to really enjoy talking to students outside of class.” “It is not uncommon for them to stop me in the hallway and chat about a class topic, my journal comment, or even college football,” explains a student. For the most part the administration is “receptive to student concerns” and “always approachable.” “Everything goes pretty smoothly,” and the atmosphere is “not very bureaucratic,” though some note that “change is very slow to come” in regards to “accommodation for disabilities.”
Students happily report, “If you do even moderately well in your 1L classes at Northwestern, you’re going to have legal employers knocking down your door.” “You’d be hard-pressed to find someone coming out of NU to a less-than-excellent job.” “Most of us start out at big firms,” adds a 1L. “The Chicago firms just love NU students.” However, some students complain, “There should be a greater emphasis on public interest career choices,” as “not everybody wants to go to a big law firm upon graduation.”
Campus Life/Facilities: The architecture here is “nice, consisting of both old, more traditional buildings, and a newer building.” “A quiet atmosphere prevails” and the “gorgeous” library overlooks Lake Michigan. Also, trust us: Lincoln Hall is exactly what a law school classroom should look like. While “good,” the classrooms could use some “updating,” and “There aren’t enough areas to study.” Also, “lighting conditions” in the library are “bad,” and though “wireless Internet continues to improve,” it can still be “insufficient and annoying.
“Northwestern places a huge emphasis on admitting students who have a couple years of work experience after undergrad, and it makes a huge difference,” says one student. These future lawyers “come from a variety of backgrounds and offer amazing insights into a range of issues.” They “are grounded and have balanced lives.” “People have a better sense of the world around them and the realities of life beyond a classroom,” observes a 2L. “This keeps the drama to a minimum and also assembles a group of people who’ve done some pretty interesting things—minor league ball, the military, symphonic bassoon, and so on.” “There seems to be the misconception that the students at Northwestern are really old,” clarifies another student. “For most students it is only about two years before we come to law school.”
“Class sizes are small” and “The school goes to great lengths to create and foster a sense of community among the students.” In this “collegial” atmosphere, students are “intelligent, friendly, [and] laid-back.” “There are not too many gunners,” reports one student. “We’re smart, personable people who mix well socially while doing top-notch legal work,” says a 2L. However, some students project an “‘I-don’t-study-at-all’ attitude in the middle of the semester, trying to throw others off base. Then, suddenly, the same person who ‘never studies’ has a 150-page annotated outline with hyperlinks to all of its sections and subsections.”
Outside of class, Northwestern is “a very fun place to attend school.” “The school sponsors many events for students every week,” and there are “free lunches almost every day,” along with “random social events put on by the many, many student organizations.” “Lunchtime speakers, panels, and club meetings provide great opportunities to explore different facets of the law school experience and the legal profession without taking up too much time.” In addition, “Chicago is a great city” with “a great mix of…hustle and bustle and Midwestern friendliness”—all of which starts right “next door” to campus with “Michigan Avenue’s Magnificent Mile.”
* The Princeton Review is not affiliated with Princeton University.