Like you, I have no interest in working in BigLaw. The curriculum is definitely a plus, as is the location and employment rates. Sounds like you certainly have no regrets about choosing Mercer. I am early in the cycle, but have applied to Mercer, Samford, South Carolina, Alabama and Charleston. So far, I have one acceptance at Charleston, the rest are pending. Once more decisions come in and I make my visits, I want to be able to make a fully-informed decision and appreciate all the information I can get.
I definitely have no regrets about Mercer. I found some great summer work out-of-state coming from Mercer, and I think I will have a decent shot at a judicial clerkship (which is what I've wanted to do from the get go).
Best of luck on your application cycle! If you have any Qs about Mercer or will be visiting the school, let me know.
You mentioned the curriculum. In addition to the other courses I specifically mentioned, I figured maybe I should talk more about the legal writing program. Regardless of whether you put much stock in the school's #1 ranking for legal writing by USNWR, I've found the legal writing program here to be excellent for several reasons:
1. Professors: a) Tenured and tenure-track professors teach the legal writing courses, b) assistant professors and established law librarians teach the legal research courses, and c) Mercer recruits distinguished legal writing professors.
Mercer places a strong emphasis on its legal writing faculty, whereas many other schools do not. At some schools, legal writing classes are largely taught by 2L and/or 3L students. (Check out U-Texas's website: "In both semesters, the legal-writing faculty are assisted by TQs – capable second- and third-year students who help review student work." http://www.utexas.edu/law/academics/curriculum/firstyr.html
). Think of this as how some core classes at an undergraduate university are taught by grad students. Some schools also use "fellowship" professors (Harvard: http://www.law.harvard.edu/academics/degrees/jd/fylrwp/
). Fellowship professors are typically professors who do not intend to teach legal writing for more than a year or two, and they primarily have interests in other fields. Fellowship professors teach legal writing as a sort of a ritualistic hazing for new professors - many schools do not view legal writing as a "scholarship" or a principled academic discipline.
Mercer is different. All professors are tenure or tenure-track professors who intend to remain legal writing professors. They have a passion for legal writing, and they publish papers, speak at conferences, and have devoted their academic scholarship to the study of legal writing and teaching legal writing. Mercer places a strong emphasis on recruiting such professors. For example, Professor Linda Berger recently joined our faculty (http://www.law.mercer.edu/faculty/bio.cfm?staffid=603
). Here are the other legal writing professors:http://www.law.mercer.edu/faculty/bio.cfm?staffid=45http://www.law.mercer.edu/faculty/bio.cfm?staffid=531http://www.law.mercer.edu/faculty/bio.cfm?staffid=529http://www.law.mercer.edu/faculty/bio.cfm?staffid=518http://www.law.mercer.edu/faculty/bio.cfm?staffid=530
Mercer's large endowment (top 4 in the country when adjusted for cost of living and number of students: http://leiterlawschool.typepad.com/leiter/2006/09/top_20_law_scho.html
) allows the school to recruit quality professors in all disciplines, especially legal writing.
2. Mercer requires 8 graded credit hours of legal analysis, research, and writing courses, divided and taught by different professors.
Many schools do not grade legal writing courses, and some schools have as few as two hours of required legal research and writing (ie. U-Texas). Because of the low number of credit hours, many students have only one professor (and that professor's 2L or 3L teaching assistant) for legal writing over their whole time spent in law school. Some schools also "mix" legal research, legal writing, and legal analysis, which often comes across as a jumbled mess. Most schools start students off with "true" legal writing in the first semester, but Mercer waits until the second semester; after students have already learned the "basics" of legal analysis (how to to interpret cases and formulate rule statements based on synthesizing many different materials) and legal research.
Mercer is different because all courses are graded (although in the past some have been ungraded), and each separate area of study is taught by a different professor. In the first semester of study, students take a one-hour Legal Analysis course. This course focuses on the basics of understanding rule statements and combining rule statements from multiple sources to create a new rule or argument. Throughout the first and second semesters, students take a one-hour Introduction to Legal Research course. In the second semester, students take a three-hour Legal Writing I (memorandum writing) course. In the third semester, students take a three-hour Legal Writing II (brief writing) course. All courses will be taught by different professors. This is especially important for Legal Writing I & II because you will be exposed to writing techniques favored and disfavored by two independent faculty members. The more exposure to faculty opinions and opportunities for faculty review of your writing the better, in my opinion.
3. Mercer has a legal writing certificate program.
Mercer has a very unique legal writing certificate program. As far as I know, it's the only one in the country. Students who enroll in the program continue to take legal research and writing courses for the remaining three semesters of school (an additional 7-8 hours). In each of the semesters, students meet in a small group, usually 6-7 students, with a faculty member to critically review new and old student-written material. (One of these courses is led by the dean of the law school).
The only negative about the certificate program is that not all students who want to do it are allowed. Participation is determined by lottery, and usually 5-10 students each year are unable to do the program.
Here's some more info about Mercer's writing program: http://www.law.mercer.edu/academics/legal_writing/index.cfm
EDIT: Fixed some broken links.