General perceptions of the school? I have heard from some friends in DC that the program seems to be very well funded and on the up-and-up, ready to make jumps in rankings and prestige - is this accurate?
The law school is the recipient of a tremendous number of financial donations - rumor has it the donations obtained by the law school alone far eclipse the donations received by the UG campus on an annual basis thus creating somewhat of a rift between the two programs (i.e. the UG wants some of the law school money and the law school generally refuses - hence the conflict). The reason for this should be more or less obvious: DC law firms are full of GW law grads and most seem pretty willing to give back. Futhermore, I know that our Dean (Dean Lawrence) is very active in soliciting gifts from local firms - GW certainly isn't hurting in the funding department.
I think that their generosity with their scholarship offers is indicative of their overall financial state at the present moment. This year I was awarded a merit scholarship close to 15g (per year) and I barely finished within the top 3rd - this means that GW is giving out a tremendous amount of money to its current students (when you factor in my "good but not great" class standing with the huge # of students in our class), when, at least arguably, it really has no need to (i.e. you, me, and everyone else knows that I'm not transferring up with my "barely top 3rd" GPA). Also, I think that maybe those of you with the higher LSATS have noticed that GW is being incredibly generous with its scholarsihp offers to the incoming 1Ls. This used not to be the case. This is happening for two reasons: 1) the school is swimming in money, and 2) (and more importantly) Dean Lawrence is making a concerted effort to raise the incoming average LSAT at GW. I think that currently the median LSAT at GW is a 166 - they want to get it up to around to a 168ish or so (which would more or less close the gap with gtown, which is hovering around a 169ish i think - but yeah, you get the idea). In terms of ranking, I don't think that you will see a huge bump for GW. The t14 is the t14 because it has ALWAYS been the same 14. Don't exepect that to change. Who else is left? UCLA, Vandy, UMinn, UTex, and USC. I think that it would be reasonable to expect GW to bump both USC and UMinn should Lawrence succeed in bumping the LSAT a couple of points - but UCLA, Vandy, and UTex? Don't expect that to happen anytime soon .. so, in other words, expect GW to hover between 17 and 20 for the rest of time
I think that a misconception amongst 0Ls that GW is lacking the prestige department. GW is the #19 law school with an elite IP program and a very respectable International Law program. Furthermore, the median LSAT is at the *95th* percentile. Hiring committees are well aware of these numbers and give GW it's due deference. I think part of the problem is that 0Ls tend to wrap GW's law school up with its more or less anemic UG campus. No, GW certainly doesn't have much lay prestige, but the law school certainly commands respect - and that's all that really mattesr if you're in this for the right reasons.
What's the student body atmosphere? Overly competitive, relaxed, friendly, etc...?
I've made some great friends here though there are certainly groups of a-holes to be found ... but such is law school generally I think.
How deep does biglaw go at GW?
Haha this is the question that I've been asked 3000 times in the last 3 days. I think that the best way to answer this is to relate to you my own experience: After 1L, I finished with a 3.4 - just inside the top 35% and placed onto a journal that isn't law review. When I participated in OCI, I placed 35 resumes with 35 potential employers. Of the 35 resumes placed, I was selected for 17 or so interviews after screening. Of the 17 firms that I interviewed with, a significant portion were with some the nation's more elite law firms. I will drop a couple of names so that you will be satisfied: Jones Day, Kirkland & Ellis, Sonnenschein, Morgan Lewis, Bingham McCutchen, Howrey, and a cuople others that I can't remember. Furthermore, I wasn't interviewing just for DC offices - I interviwed with offices in San Diego, Phoenix, LA, NYC, DC, and Palo Alto. I have friends who have accepted offers in Miami, LA, SF, NYC, Boston, Philly, Buffalo (oops), Chicago, Portland, etc. I personally accepted an offer with a firm in NYC and will be earning 3080 / week this summer (NYC offices just bumped their pay scale - again!).
So, how deeep does GW go into biglaw? Pretty damn deep if you ask me .. I think that this is GW's true selling point. If you're thinking about academics you'd be doing yourself a favor by taking an offer from the T-14, but if you want to work for a big firm, you really won't go all that wrong with GW [and this idea really ties in with your question about prestige, when you think about it - biglaw firms are prestige whores yet they hire from GW like mad ... the connection should be pretty clear].
I think that those of you with big money scholarship offers on the table should think long and hard about GW - especially if you're interested in starting your career at a law firm. I know that I will be working with a bunch of SAs from NYU and Columbia this summer - if I can get there, I'm pretty sure that you guys can to - and if you can get there with no outstanding debt, well, why do it the expensive way?
Anyway, I hope that that helps...