« on: January 28, 2012, 10:25:07 PM »
So here's the run down about Willamette. First, your questions about Salem and the law school programs. Salem is quite a boring place. If you like outdoor stuff, however, you should be fine. Great road biking if you're into that. Also, a phenomenal MMA/Ju Jitsu gym downtown--a former coach of Randy Couture and UFC referee teaches the MMA class (if you're into that kind of stuff). Other than that, it's either 1) coffee and conversation; or 2) drink. Or, you can do what many, many students do on the weekend--go to portland. I was shocked to find out how many students who are single and have no ties to Portland per se still live up there and commute everyday (to avoid living in Salem). However, during the week you're going to be too busy to worry about anything besides school anyways (at least for the first year). Also, if you're single and have the time, the student body association always has activities going on just about every week. Oh yeah, the college has a pretty decent gym that is available to law students (for free), and that is a great place to burn time.
As for specific programs, there are a couple that stand out, namely, the negotiation courses/tournaments, trial competition, and international law. The negotiation and trial practice groups that compete always do well and travel all over the country competing (and winning, or at least ranking). But in all practicality, none of that stuff matters. I've been fortunate enough to work at a local firm (full time last summer, and part time through the school year), have lawyers in the family, and have talked about this stuff with the partners at the firm where I work, and basically, the only thing law school is good for is passing the bar, and building a network with lawyers (to find jobs). Pretty much nothing you learn in law school will prepare you to practice law--only give you a basic understanding of basic principles that you can draw on occasionally in the real world. You learn how to practice law on the job. Everybody I know at school (with a couple of exceptions I'll list later) who got a decent job, either only as a student, or as a student and beyond, got the job from networking (as I did). The exceptions are basically if you are one of the top 10 students in your class. Then (and only then), your grades will get you in the door to big-law or high-paying boutique law firms.
As for the student body--everybody is, for the most part, nice and helpful. In fact, I have been quite impressed with my fellow classmates. The professors are hit and miss. Their value has nothing to do with where they went to school, how much they have published, or how long they have been teaching. Sometimes the most "accomplished" professors are the most worthless in the classroom, and the Willamette grad. professor is the most helpful. You just never know.
As for my three above ideal questions, I'll talk about scholarships first. I'm not exactly sure what percentage lose their scholarships, but it is a lot. Just from what I can gather, around 30-50%. I assumed that since Willamette was in the third tier in US News, it would be easier. I was wrong. It's actually the opposite. Willamette is like the red-headed stepchild with a chip on his shoulder. I was just talking with my cousin who went to Baylor, and he had it easier than I do. Also, the quality of students is much higher than expected. There are students here who got accepted into top 30, top 20 programs (Columbia, UW, NYU, etc.), but chose to come here because of the scholarship difference. Although the deans profess to abhor US News, it appears that they are envious of the top 100, and are gunning for it. If you look at the other law schools in the state (U of O and Lewis and Clark), they are both ranked much higher than Willamette, yet Willamette DESTROYS both of them on the bar every year. Luck? Better professors? Nope, just a few demonic policies that ensure the success on the bar--such as requiring many students to retake certain classes, and dropping many, students after the first year. And this is the perfect segway into what I dislike about this school.
First, the curve. First year classes are required to maintain a GPA between 2.7 and 2.9, with 10-15% of the class a "C" or below, and at least 5% of students a "C-" or below. Couple this with the fact that a student who has a GPA of 2.5 or below must retake any class in which he/she received a "C" or below, and if the overall GPA is 2.0 or below after the first year then you are dropped from the school. This adds up to a lot of stress. I know you're thinking that these numbers sound drastically low, but remember, they are mandatory. Somebody is going to get them--somebody who is dishing out a ton of money to be here, and possibly gave up a good job to be here. In fact, I once had a professor tell me that in his whole class the bottom student was only about 4 percentage points below the top student, but because of the mandatory curve, that "bottom" student (who would have gotten an A or A-, or whatever in college) got a C-. Welcome to Willamette. What this translates to is a lot of students retake classes the second year, and about 12-15 students not return for the second year (out of a class of about 155).
The second thing I hate about this school is the attendance policy. I was blown away to learn that attendance was mandatory. You'd think that by now, a student could figure out how to manage his time. The truth is, about 50% of my classes are a waste of time to attend--I learned everything required by those classes on my own time studying a hornbook. But because you have to attend, that means you have to spend 1-1.5 hours reading for the class, then 1 hour in the class, only to study the hornbook and make an outline from the hornbook on your own time. The reason you have to read even if it's not beneficial is because if you get called on and your not prepared, they drop your grade a half step. Shortly before I started school here, I was talking to a friend of mine at BYU law school, and he was telling me how there students who don't show up once to class--just show up at the end of the semester to take the test. I wondered how that was possible, but now I know (I can tell you more on this later, if you want).
The third major flaw here is the first year required LRW class (legal research and writing), which is the only 1L class that is not graded. There are 4 professors who teach this class every year. Two of them are uber easy, one of them a little more difficult, then the other one requires exponentially more work/time out of his students than the other three. I had the difficult one, and I calculated that the first semester his students spent about 5-6 times more time on class work than the other three professors, and about 2-3 times more time the second semester. This means that 3/4 of the class has TONS more time than you do to work on the classes that are actually graded.
On the other hand, let me point out a couple of good things. The library is open to students 24/7, and it does get used almost 24/7 (thanks to the 1Ls). Also, the library includes unlimited printing for free. The campus is small and friendly. Willamette law has a good reputation in the region--but once again I was surprised to find out from talking to lawyers how little they cared about where a person went to school, what their grades are. The presumption is, if you are in law school, and pass the bar, then you are smart. Smart enough to be a lawyer. From there, it is all about character. How much the partners like you--they have to work with you every day, of course your likability is important. Another good thing about the school is that they don't care what kind of computer you use (as many law schools do--or did a couple years ago). Most of us have macs.
Oh yeah, I was going to mention the job situation. As I said before, a few (literally, a few) have incredible jobs by the time they are 3Ls. After that, there are a few more with really good jobs as a result of networking. After that, a few of us with decent jobs (also as a result of networking). Then there are quite a few of us who did fine in school and passed the bar the first time, and are now working at Starbucks or Powell Books. Sad but true. Nobody is going to hire a JD for a mid-level management job, because they fear he/she will flee the first chance they get. There aren't many jobs out there. The most important thing to do is to find a job your first summer, and build on the experience/networking. A girl that graduated last may that tied for 2nd in the class still wasn't working, last I heard. She failed to find work her first summer, then volunteered at one of those clinics for poor people (or something) the second year, and nobody wants her because she has no real experience. As I said above, experience is where you learn how to practice law, not law school. Also, generally speaking, stay away from any volunteer work/externships where they accept large quantities of law students--those things never turn into anything worthwhile.
Another good thing about Willamette is it cost--relatively cheap, and generous with scholarships.
So basically, in conclusion Willamette might be a good place to study law if you got a scholarship. If you didn't get a scholarship, unless you have a really good reason why not, you might be re-taking or getting kicked out of the school after fronting a ton of money for first year tuition and living expense.
This treatise I've just written should answer a lot of questions, but let me know if there is anything more specific you want to know.