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CONTEMPORARY LEGAL EDUCATION

Today more than 180 accredited law schools operate in America, all growing from the visions of Harvard Law School's founders, later refined by realists at Columbia and Yale, and mandated by progressively tougher standards adopted by the ABA and AALS. It is fair to say that a student at any accredited American law school has an opportunity to gain a first-rate legal education, but these law schools differ widely in the constituencies they serve and the programs offered. The elite law schools, such as Harvard, Yale, Michigan, and Berkeley, generally are the hardest to gain admission to and serve as the primary conduit for positions in the nation's major law firms, which are willing to pay huge salaries for their graduates. These law schools draw on a highly competitive national pool of applicants, and offer their students access to many of the nation's better known legal scholars, in addition to some of the premier research libraries in the world. However, the local and regional law schools at the other end of the scale may attract some equally strong students who for one reason or another are bound to the community or otherwise feel connected to the institution. These law schools often have powerful connections in their region and typically count numerous successful practitioners in the community among their alumni. Students at these law schools have access to outstanding teachers, and some are also great scholars. The quality of law school libraries is strong at all American law schools, with the average law school library now exceeding 225,000 volumes, so that no law student is likely to suffer from a lack of adequate research materials at any accredited law school. All of these law school libraries are further supplemented by access to major commercial online resources, such as LEXIS and WESTLAW, and by other related online materials via the Internet. Some of America's better known lawyers are graduates of its lesser known law schools.

It should be noted that even among the elite schools, the differences are many. Harvard and Michigan law schools, for example, are relatively large institutions with student bodies of nearly two thousand each. Georgetown, however, lays claim to being the largest law school in America, primarily due to its substantial part-time evening division. And of course, Harvard is private, while Michigan receives some minimal support from the state of Michigan. The state institutions typically offer students from their states a nice break on tuition, but non-resident tuition at the better state institutions often approaches the cost of a private school. Yale, Stanford, and the University of Chicago are a bit more intimate, with each having no more than about six hundred students, but the smallest law school in America is at the University of Wyoming, which has an enrollment of fewer than two hundred students. The larger law schools are able to offer their students a wider breadth of course offerings and extra-curricular activities, while the smaller ones are able to provide students with a better sense of community.

While most accredited American law schools are affiliated with a university, the free-standing law school is still alive and well. These include some of the largest law schools in America and are typically found in major metropolitan areas, such as New York Law School, John Marshall in Chicago, and Southwestern in Los Angeles. An exception is the relative newcomer, Thomas Cooley Law School, which is located in Lansing, Michigan. Cooley, with its open admissions policy, may be the largest of the group, but most of the free-standing law schools have enrollments well in excess of one thousand students each. While most of these institutions are private, California has a free-standing law school supported by the state: Hastings in San Francisco. The recent trend has been for many of these free-standing institutions to affiliate with a larger university, perhaps for reasons of prestige or financial stability. Thus the establishment of the free-standing Detroit Law School recently affiliated with Michigan State, South Texas (in Houston) with Texas A&M, Dickinson School of Law with Pennsylvania State, and Delaware Law School with the private Widener University in Pennsylvania. Some of these affiliations seem to be tenuous, such as that between McGeorge Law School in Sacramento, California, and the University of the Pacific in Stockton, California, where the two institutions are not even located in the same community. A major advantage held by the remaining free-standing law schools is their administrative freedom from a higher university authority, which often assesses a large fee as administrative overhead. Fortunately, the ABA accreditation process helps protect law schools from being unfairly taxed for administrative overhead by cash-strapped universities.

Affirmative action efforts of the late twentieth century helped improve the racial complexion in most of America's law schools, as is evident when one looks at the annual Harvard Law Review group photos, but blacks continue to be under-represented in relation to their percentage of the population. The situation is much different for women, whose entry into the law school mainstream began with earnest in the early 1970s and continued until the end of the century until they comprised nearly half the total law student population. Indeed, the entry of women into law schools may be the single most important factor contributing to the increase in America's lawyer population at the end of the century.

Today, completion of the standard three-year accredited law school program leading to a
Juris Doctor (JD) degree is a prerequisite for taking the bar examination and entering the ; legal profession in most U.S. jurisdictions. Graduation from any of these programs (and an acceptable character investigation) will entitle the degree holder to take a bar examination in any U.S. jurisdiction. A few states, like California and Massachusetts, also have state-accredited law schools, which allow graduates to take the bar examination in those states. Unlike the undergraduate LL.B. degree awarded to law graduates in an earlier era and still the norm in the United Kingdom, the J.D. is a post-graduate degree, which typically requires successful completion of a college undergraduate program and an acceptable score on the Law School Admissions Test (LSAT) to be admitted. Each year, 40,000 to 50,000 new students enroll in an American law school to pursue the Juris Doctorate, and a similar number graduate and take a bar examination. Additionally, post-J.D. programs at a smaller number of law schools provide advanced legal education opportunities offering students specialized training in areas such as tax and environmental law. These advanced-degree programs enroll another 6,000 students at more than ninety law schools. Many of the students in these post-graduate programs are lawyers from other countries seeking to gain a better understanding of U.S. law. For example, two of the current members of the International Court of Justice hold graduate law degrees from Yile Law School: Judge Rosalyn Higgins of die United Kingdom, and Judge Shigeru Oda of Japan. The current vice president of the Peoples Republic of China s Supreme Court, Win Exiang, also is a graduate of this program. More typically, lawyers continue with graduate legal education to enter the teaching profession, and hundreds of law professors around the globe hold graduate degrees from U.S. law schools.

In most states there is at least one state-supported law school providing relatively low-cost tuition to residents. Some states support four or more law schools, including Ohio (with five) and California (with four, and a fifth one in planning). A few of the multiple state-supported law schools in the South are predominantly black institutions, created as by-products of the separate-but-equal era. These include Texas Southern University s Thurgood Marshall Law School in Houston, Southern University's law school in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, and North Carolina Central's law school. They suffer from a legacy of poor funding and seem anachronistic, but loyal alumni have argued to keep them open and improve funding.

Law schools are not evenly distributed across America, although most major metropolitan areas have at least one or more. Every state (except Alaska) has at least one accredited law school. California holds the record with a total of nineteen. New York is second, with fifteen. Illinois and Ohio each have nine. A number of the nation's law schools have a religious affiliation. These include twenty-five Catholic law schools, ranging from Georgetown and Catholic University law schools in Washington,DC., to Notre Dame, Boston College, and St. Louis University law schools. This number does not include two more Catholic law schools soon to be applyincr for accreditation: Ave Maria in Michigan, and St. Thomas in Minnesota. A smaller number of Baptist, Methodist, Lutheran, and Christian fundamentalist-affiliated law schools also operate with ABA approval. The Baptist-affiliated institutions are concentrated in the south and include Mercer in Georgia, and Mississippi College and Baylor in Texas. The Methodist schools arc primarily located in the middle of the nation and include SMU in Texas, and Hamline in Minnesota. A relatively recent law school was started by the Christian fundamentalist Oral Roberts University in Oklahoma, and then transferred to Regent University in Virginia. And perhaps the law school with the best ocean view is the Christian fundamentalist Pepperdine University, located in Malibu, California. Finally, there are two accredited Jewish law schools operating in New York: Touro and Yeshiva.

With over 175 accredited American law schools, the United States trains more lawyers per capita than any other country. America literally seems to have an accredited law school for every major constituency, but thanks to the accreditation process they all offer a common core of instructional offerings and extracurricular activities. Most have a first-year program that looks remarkably similar, with core courses in contracts, torts, property, procedure, and Constitutional Law. All offer electives in such major areas as tax, business organizations, criminal law, and domestic relations. All require a course in professional ethics. Most base grades on the results of an exam or paper due at the end of the course. All offer some form of clinical education experience, whether with live clients or through simulation. Many offer a combination of both. All provide opportunities to enter moot court and appellate advocacy competitions. All provide opportunities to write on one or more student-edited law journals. All provide access to superb library collections. And all provide opportunities for their students to gain a legal education that exceeds anything available anywhere else in the world.

 

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TITLE: Law and Legal Services at CitiMall.com Online Shopping Mall

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