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Messages - CA Law Dean

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Golden Gate / Re: Going to Golden Gate
« on: April 05, 2013, 07:00:36 AM »
As a NorCal law dean, not GG, I agree entirely with LivingLegend. I would add that you have a new Dean at GG, Rachel VanCleave, who I know personally and expect to bing a new energy to the law school. I have also seen Living Legend's comments elsewhere on the site where he speaks favorably about California accredited law schools in the Bay Area which I also agree with . . . of course I am a dean at one of those (see separate comments under "M" for Monterey). If a student is concerned about large school environment, tuition cost, and jobs, they should at least check out The NorCal state-accredited law schools such as San Francisco Law School, JFK, Empire, and Monterey College of Law. These schools have strong academic support programs, cost 1/3 to 1/2 the tuition, good bar pass rates for good students, and because of their connections to local bench-bar have better record of job placement than many of the large, impersonal law schools. Definitely not for everyone. Best for those who see a possible future for non-urban law firm practice, public law, regional DAs, Public Defenders, legal services, and non-profit. Definitely not for BigLaw aspirants. FYI, 2013-2014 cycle is still open for California accredited law schools in case ABA "plan A" is not working out for applicants.

Idea for California applicants who are terminally wait listed or rejected. O.K. The 2013-2014 cycle is almost over and Plan A isn't working out. Gut check time . . . What is your most important objective? If the answer is becoming a lawyer . . . and not just becoming a "________" law school graduate . . . then it is NOT too late to consider one of the 17 California accredited law schools (such as Monterey College of Law) for Fall 2013. These regional schools are accredited by the State Bar of California, not the ABA. Many of them have very respectable bar pass rates (competitive with the unranked ABA law schools), are a fraction of the cost of the traditional ABA schools, and offer part-time programs so that you can actually begin working in law related jobs to gain relevant experience before graduating. Most have strong ties to the local bench-bar that result in jobs after graduation Of course this is not the path if your goal is to work in a large urban center in a multinational law conglomerate. But if the idea of being a small firm lawyer, DA, Public Defender, Legal Services lawyer, or solo practitioner is what you are after . . .  select one of the California accredited law schools in an area that you might like to live/practice and get an application in . . . right away. Then go visit to see if it fits your goals. Ask hard questions about bar pass rates, costs, job placement, clinical,programs, etc. Most of the non-urban areas of California need lawyers (despite the articles in the national news) and many of them are great places to live and raise a family if you have not already decided to be a big city lawyer.

The biggest limitation is that upon graduation from one of the California accredited law schools you must take (and pass) the California bar exam first. You cannot go directly to another state and sit for their bar exam until you are licensed in California (and some states will require minimum years of practice as well). That is why the option is primarily for those who already know that they want to live and practice in California. Bottom line, if you really want to be a lawyer, make it happen.

Kim, whereas LivingLegend certainly raises good points to consider . . . I would add a different view. First, most part-time programs have 3 instead of 5 substantive courses plus a legal writing course. Each school picks the topics, but they are usually selected from the standard first-year topics, Contracts, Torts, Criminal Law, Real Property, Civil Procedure. Days and times will be provided to you, but if you look at last year's schedule, I bet they don't change much. Second, our school (Monterey College of Law) is entirely a part-time, evening law school, so I do not share LivingLegend's pessimism about your prospects, even though his caution is well advised.

What I see is that you are already reaching out for advice and thinking strategically about time management, life balance, etc. That alone puts you well ahead of the game from my standpoint. Most of our students work full-time and attend law school at night. It is not easy. In fact, it is exceptionally hard. However, if your passion and enthusiasm is to be a lawyer . . . and preferably a great lawyer, there is no reason you cannot achieve that in a part-time program. Keep in mind that just as you are trying to chart your individual course now at the beginning of law school, it will be the same at the end. You will need to be ready to prove yourself at every step to be equally (or better) prepared and talented as the full-time students. Is this fair? Obviously not. But it is the path you are choosing to take, so make no apologies, and give yourself no slack. Our part-time program graduates are Judges, DAs, Public Defenders, and successful private practitioners in every practice area . . . Was it as easy as if they walked in with a Stanford degree? NO. Was it still possible to be a success? YES.

Minority and Non-Traditional Law Students / Re: Never too late
« on: April 03, 2013, 05:18:19 PM »
Jack, I fully agree on all your points, particularly the idea that non-traditional older students need to carefully consider how many years of practice they expect after graduation. Our experience is that if they can "pair" their legal training with pre-existing work experience (i.e. realtor doing real estate law, social worker doing family law, police officer doing criminal law) they do not get treated as a typical "first-year" associate. They are much more likely to be successful opening their own practice and being accepted by clients as proficient.

Minority and Non-Traditional Law Students / Re: Never too late
« on: April 03, 2013, 02:57:06 PM »
Jack, I know that you have been reading all the press about crippling student loans, no jobs, and no practical training . . . I have too. The difference is that these issues are absolutely true in most of the large urban centers where the urban legend continues that there are $150K+ first-year associate jobs in elite law firms. What is not being written about is that  in many of the non-urban regions of the country there are jobs to be had . . . small law firms, DAs, Public Defenders, legal services . . . the list is long and the legal service needs are great. However, your point about salary level is indeed correct. The average small-town lawyer makes a good, but not exceptional living with salaries starting at $50,000-60,000 and growing to $150,000 to $200,000 as a senior lawyer. What that means is that student debt becomes the driving force in employment choices, not professional choice. What makes programs like ours different is that we are scaled to directly meet the needs of the community. Our law degree costs about $65K . . . not $150K. As a part-time program, our students are encouraged to start working in law-related jobs all through law school, not only reducing the need for student loans, but in most cases providing the opportunity to try out different practice areas to identify a preferred area of practice. In this scenario, there isn't the rush to finish as quickly as possible, and by doing so, graduate with no meaningful practice experience. In some ways, our format is much closer to the medical school practicum model than the typical ABA program.

Although I do not have an employment statistic available for you . . . I can say that we are unaware of any recent graduate being unemployed . . . since we are commonly the source of matchmaking between local law firms and our graduates. Employment statistics are a little more challenging for part-time programs since a number of our graduates go to law school fully intending to remain in their original profession. Most commonly this includes realtors, small business owners, financial planners, non-profit administrators, etc.

I guess the point is that is that there are viable alternatives to the one-size-fits-all model of "elite" legal education. It is not intended to be a replacement for those who desire an ivory tower, big firm future . . . but after 40 years it has been demonstrated to be an extremely effective model for our community, particularly for non-traditional law students.

Minority and Non-Traditional Law Students / Never too late
« on: April 03, 2013, 10:58:33 AM »
As Dean of one of the 17 California accredited law schools, our entering class last year ranged in age from 24 to 64. I just finished an analysis of bar pass results for the past 7 years and there is absolutely no difference on bar pass success based on age. Of course, the best option for an older student is combining your law degree with previous business or professional experience so that you are not starting from scratch. Non traditional (older) students frequently need help ramping back up to the classroom experience, so I recommend non-traditional students seriously consider a part-time program and if you are in California . . . look seriously at one of the smaller, state accredited schools that can provide better academic support. As Dean of Monterey College of Law I would be glad to share our experiences with non-traditional students. Don't let anyone tell you differently . . . law school at 40+ is very different from law school at 20-something.

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