Georgetown Admissions Dean: 'We're Not Trying To Persuade Fourth Graders To Spend Fifty Grand On Law School'

Why do you think Georgetown has more applicants than any other American law school? What attributes make Georgetown a great place to go?
I think we’ve had more applicants than any other law school in the country since I’ve been here. I just think it’s such a well-known—I hate to use this term—brand name that has enormous appeal across the country and around the world.
The location in Washington is a big part of it. This is a great city to live in, but if you want to study law, you’re waking up every day right in the middle of where it’s made, interpreted, implemented—all that stuff is literally walking distance from the law school, and there’s something very exciting about all of that going on here at the school and just down the street, so that every day is like you’re in this law laboratory. Back when I started, we were just one building, but now we are five or six buildings with quads. It’s beautiful, we have our own fitness center—the law school has its own community here.
Right now, at a time when jobs are tougher to get and when employers are looking for people who’ve had some experience and some grit and some stuff underneath their fingernails—who haven’t just contemplated things in some tower somewhere—I think Georgetown has just that right mix. It’s one of those places that has understood from way back that legal education and the law are about blending the theoretical and the practical. It’s about putting it in motion rather than just taking the esoteric view.
Not that there isn’t an academic component—of course there is. You need to study a whole bunch of stuff. But that’s not at the expense of a practical education; it’s in combination with that practical education. That’s obviously a huge strength for Georgetown. We have 14 clinics, I believe. It’s the biggest clinical program and considered to be the best in the country. All law schools have some version of this, but not to the extent we do.
The other two areas that Georgetown is known for—although I think we’re great in all of them—is public service and international law. Public service is just something that’s part of our DNA. It’s not what we do, it’s who we are. And all international things are huge here.
How would you describe the student body? What kind of student fits in?
It’s a very diverse student body in every possible way. I think it is a student body that is interested in a real community, first and foremost. It’s not a place where people just go to class and then leave. They want a 24/7 community where they can feel like they’re a part of a place.
I also think it appeals to people who want to be where stuff is going on all the time. On any typical day, there’ll be 40 things going on here at school. The kind of student for whom that is attractive—those are the students we get more of, and therefore that makes us continually active. If it’s someone who wants sort of a quiet, more strictly campus-y, smaller, slower environment—there are places like that, and we usually don’t get students for whom that’s the most important thing.
What’s your view on the criticism law schools have received for producing more graduates than the market can absorb? 
The legal market is changing for sure. There’s some real rearranging going on. I think the marketplace will determine how this should go. I don’t know about other law schools, but I don’t feel that our law school should be subject to criticism. I don’t think we’re doing anything deceptive. I don’t think we’re promising anything except a terrific legal education, which we think our students get. After that—we think that when you’re placing 85% of your graduates, or whatever the exact number is, then you know what? We feel that as long as everybody’s eyes are wide open, we’re not hiding the ball, and we’re letting people know exactly what’s going on—you know, make up your own mind! We’re happy to live with whatever it is you decide. These are all adults. We’re not trying to persuade a fourth grader to spend 50 grand to come to law school. We think we have a terrific education here, we think our students are happy here, and we’re working extra hard to see if we can get a job for every single student. That’s not going to happen for every single one, but that doesn’t mean we’re going to stop trying.
And what I have found in terms of the decline in applicant pool—first of all, the applications are down from an absolute historic high in the history of the United States, so there is a certain cyclical aspect to this. And I think people who are otherwise not as committed are walking away and not applying, and that’s not a bad thing. That’s a good thing. People are going to vote with their feet, and if certain schools are not providing employment, if their placement rate is below 50%, if people just aren’t getting jobs out of there, they’re going to stop applying, they’re going to stop going, and some law schools may have to go under. That’s okay! It happens every day in all sorts of areas. As long as everybody’s upfront and transparent, I don’t feel as though anyone has anything to apologize for.
How do you see the admissions process changing in the next five years?
We’re sort of in the process of examining these things. Will admissions officers be using technology a little bit more in assessing applications? Could we be creating an admissions app for some of our applicants? Could we be communicating with them on an ongoing basis? Could we be asking them—which we’ve already done—if they want to make videos optional? Could they be doing all sorts of things that you can do through social media?
I think that may be getting a lot more attention as the years go on, but I gotta tell ya, the essence of it will be exactly the same. Gathering the information may change, but the decision is the same thing. How do you look overall? What are your academics like? What’s your test score like? What’s everything else like? How would you fit in with this community? And then people like me are going to have to make some hard decisions. I think that was true 20 years ago, and it’ll probably be true 20 years from now.