University of California, Berkeley School of Law
2850 Telegraph Ave, Suite 500 #7220
Berkeley, CA 94705-7220
Class of 2016 Stats:
Acceptance Rate*: 11.6%
Total Applicants*: 7,027
Students of Color: 41%
Average Age: 25
Total Full-Time Enrollment*: 856
“Making the case that our spectacular recreational resources surpass those of our peer schools is so easy it’s practically unethical,” says the UC Berkeley School of Law’s online page on student life. The page reminds applicants that the school is rigorous, but it also lets them know that Berkeley wants students to explore and have a bit of fun—a fairly typical message for a law school to send. What isn’t typical is the YouTube slideshow embedded in the page: it features pictures of students cycling, kayaking, rock climbing, and hiking, all set to an upbeat song. The people look genuinely happy and carefree; it’s enough to make anyone who experiences actual seasons jealous.
Berkeley also has much to brag about when it comes to its student body. Among the 118 undergraduate institutions represented in the Class of 2016, the ones that appear most are Stanford, Harvard, Yale, Cornell, Princeton, UCLA, and UC Berkeley—all of which are about as difficult to get into than the law school itself. Moreover, the class includes nine students with doctorates, three Fulbright scholars, a professional baseball player and “a performing clown mime in Argentina,” whatever that means.
Students spend most of their first year taking required classes, including a legal research and writing class in the fall and a written and oral advocacy class in the spring. As far as specialization goes, Berkeley doesn’t offer as much variety as a number of its peer schools, but it does have unique specialties that capitalize on the wider university and region: environmental law, law and technology, and cleantech. Students who can’t find what they want at Berkeley can apply to complete their 3L year at Harvard (Harvard students can do the same at Berkeley). The program is unique, but it’s very competitive: only about five students per year get to participate.
Interestingly, Berkeley encourages its students to consider careers in academia. The school makes the prospect of teaching sound enticing: “Are you looking for a career that provides intellectual stimulation and rigor? A career that allows you to pursue your own intellectual interests and research projects? One that puts you in contact with smart, engaging colleagues and students?” (The list goes on.) Alumni who’ve gone the teaching route mention that faculty members are generally happy to provide mentorship and feedback.
Still, students who want to gain more practical experience have ten clinics to choose from. Van Swearingen, a 2008 graduate, discussed his experience in the Death Penalty Clinic: “As a thirty-plus-year-old student who’s written so many papers that my head hurts, that didn’t matter at all,” Swearingen said. “This has been wonderful—the opportunity to actually work on several documents that will go before the court that will try and help somebody’s success in life.”
Van Swearingen now works at Sidley Austin LLP. The numbers from the Class of 2012 show that most Berkeley graduates follow the route he followed: about 65% took jobs at law firms. About 9% each took clerkships and public interest jobs, and in spite of the school’s encouragement, just under 2% took academic jobs. The median private practice starting salary was $160,000, and the median clerkship and public interest starting salaries were $60,000 and $45,000, respectively. The employment rate at Berkeley is lower than it is at most other schools in the top ten, as only 82.6% of 2011 graduates were employed within 9 months of graduation. Nevertheless, Berkeley’s reputation and convenient location still make it a great option for any Californian—or any out-of-stater who aspires to become one.
*Derived from school-reported U.S. News data
Academics & Programs: UC Berkeley School of Law is indisputably one the nation’s most celebrated citadels of legal education. The curriculum includes a great mix of legal theory and practical courses, and the breadth of specialized courses is dazzling. “Students have the opportunity to pursue virtually any sub-genre of the law and receive credit for it,” says a satisfied 3L. “There are extensive externship opportunities at nonprofit organizations and governmental agencies.” There are nearly a dozen journals. Unlike at most law schools, all of them (except for the Law Review) are open membership, and students are allowed to participate immediately. Students tell us that the immense clinical opportunities “are the absolute highlight of Boalt,” though. “We get to start clinical opportunities, just like journals, from day one,” gloats a 1L. “There are a number of 1L clinics in employment, education, immigration and asylum, tenant rights, homeless aid—you name it.”
The “illustrious” faculty at Berkeley Law is crammed with “almost frighteningly brilliant” professors who are “some of the most well-known and well-respected scholars in the field.” The “quality of instruction can vary widely” “from the poor to the most excellent,” but it’s always worth showing up to lectures for the dynamic classroom interaction. “Boalt’s intellectual rigor is most evident in class discussions,” reports a 2L, “where students’ learnedness, insightfulness, and curiosity come shining through.” Outside of class, professors are “incredibly devoted,” “always approachable,” and “want to develop relationships.” Sipping coffee with faculty members is practically customary, and it’s not uncommon to go to a professor’s house “for sushi and great wine, while discussing the Uniform Commercial Code.” Some students are “disgruntled” with the top brass, especially in light of ever-increasing tuition. However, even the harshest critics admit that management “runs things fairly smoothly.” “The administration is always ready to help,” declares a 1L, “whether it’s dealing with the crashing of a laptop during a final or hearing and considering an idea for school improvement.”
Like every other law school, Berkeley Law is engaged in “a constant arms race to be better positioned for firm hiring.” The difference is that Berkeley usually wins. The “name has street cred,” and the Career Development Office “can and will help you find a job.” Job opportunities are beyond plum, and the school’s prestigious reputation helps students land summer associate jobs and extravagantly salaried full-time positions at prestigious firms around the country. Also, the loan repayment assistance program for students who choose to go work in the public interest is one of the best in the nation.
Campus Life/Facilities: “No one picks Boalt for its facilities,” and “Boalt’s exterior will never be much to write home about.” However, the interior of the school is “generally quite up-to-date,” if not “freaking gorgeous.” “Classrooms are pretty standard, not really good or bad,” but they’re “modern and laptop friendly.” The newly renovated library boasts a pretty striking reading room and, as you would expect, world-class resources.
Students at Berkeley Law are “weird” and “wildly intelligent, but not wildly egotistical.” “Diversity is wonderful.” “Every student at Berkeley is passionate about something, and it is just incredible to hear their experiences,” gushes a 2L. Views of the political landscape are conflicting. Some students find it “overly politically correct.” “The liberal Bezerkeley mania occasionally—not as often as you’d expect—takes over the student body and affects the tenor of class discussions,” says a 1L. However, liberalism isn’t unconditionally pervasive. “I am very conservative and haven’t even noticed which side of the political scale most people fall on,” relates a 1L, “because no one really shoves it in your face, especially the professors.” “There are weirdoes from the right and the left here,” adds a wizened 3L, “who all come together to learn and grow.”
Academically, “The culture is fantastic.” It’s “an atmosphere that’s as noncompetitive as you can hope for with a building full of law students.” “Even the gunners are relaxed.” The relatively tolerant grading scale (which is sort of an all-or-nothing curve) relieves a lot of pressure. Still, “No matter how smart you are, you have to try hard.” Beyond the confines of the classroom, a multitude of clubs and organizations forms the backbone of student life. “Boalt is a collegial place,” reports a 2L. “Students have fun studying together, partying together, and just hanging out.” “Berkeley quirkiness,” “great weather” at all times of the year, and the fact that “you get to live and work in the Bay Area” are also fabulous perks. “If you have to spend three years studying law,” counsels a happy 2L, “there’s no better place than Berkeley to do it.”
* The Princeton Review is not affiliated with Princeton University.