preLaw - Winter 2011 - 24
Best Law Schools FOR Public Interest
Law schools commit to helping its public service career-minded students make their dreams a reality with clinical opportunities, faculty involvement and access to loan repayment assistance.
By Michelle Weyenberg
he commitment to public interest at the University of Maryland School of Law reached new heights last spring when it sent 13 students to work in Namibia, China and Mexico, as part of their new International and Comparative Law Clinic. Emily Siedell, Carlos Guevara and Eric Kunimoto were three of the pioneering students to kick off the first year of the clinical program. The students, now in their third year, spent eight weeks getting experience in global issues while helping strengthen legal systems and increasing access to justice in developing nations. “The greatest experience for me was visiting these Chinese citizens in these remote villages,” said Kunimoto, who was one of three students to go to China. “The interviews were supposed to take 20 or 30 minutes, but they would go on for two hours because I got so invested.” The public service ethic is ingrained in the fabric of schools like The University of Maryland, City University of New York School of Law, Wake Forest University School of Law and Rutgers 24
State University of New Jersey School of Law-Newark. “Sometimes people look at public interest or pro bono work as an extracurricular activity,” said Blake Morant, dean of Wake Forest University, and recipient of the John R. Kramer Outstanding Law School Dean Award from Equal Justice Works, an organization devoted to getting new legal talent in the nonprofit and public sectors. “We saw this as a very important part of the education of the student. Giving back is about being a true lawyer.” Law schools overall have increased their commitment to public service over the past 15 years. This year, preLaw magazine is recognizing 96 law schools — almost half of those in the U.S. — for making an above average commitment to public service. When this magazine’s sister publication — The National Jurist — first published public interest rankings in 1994, it recognized only 10 law schools. That increase in commitment across the board helped 2009 graduates who faced new challenges after graduation. Several big law firms deferred new hires and gave them the opportunity to work at public interest
jobs. Many of the young lawyers have now decided to stay in public service instead of returning to their firms after the deferral ends, as reported by the New York Times in August. Some of these graduates say that though they thought the deferral process was wrong, in the end, it had them pursue what they wanted to do in the first place — public service. Educators say more students are holding on to their attraction to public interest throughout law school. For some, an interest in public service is why they go to law school, but a large debt load and a traditional pipeline move them toward the private sector. But some law schools are better than others at helping students stay focused on public service and preparing them for a career in the field. preLaw magazine has run the numbers on all law schools to identify which do the best job. At the top of the list are two very different law schools — Yale Law School and CUNY. The rankings weight schools in three categories: curriculum (which includes courses and clinical opportunities), cost of legal education (tuition, debt and loan