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Tuesday, October 28, 2014

What can you tell about a law school by its building?

I've been thinking a bit about law buildings because of a press release issued earlier this month for the rather silly "50 Most Impressive Law School Buildings" list, which TaxProf covered in August.

I did think about suggesting a list of the "Least Impressive Law School Buildings in the World" but I've never actually been in one outside of the USA so I'm perhaps unqualified.  And there's always a danger when working in a 41-year-old state-constructed Law Center that your own abode could show up on such a list, sending the College's Architecture Committee into a tailspin.  It may be that one in fact comes to work in a piece of "visual indigestion" (see below), but no one likes to admit that.

These days, with law applications down, most college kids don't have to leave their dorm rooms to get in-person visits from multiple law school deans looking to find them the perfect forward-leaning experiential student-centered program.  Or you can take an on-line building tour on some schools' web sites.

But some will still trek out for a campus visit.  For what should they be looking?

1. Can you find the faculty offices?  At some law schools, faculty offices are located down some corridor that only a member of the MIT Spelunkers' Club could navigate.  If you can't find faculty offices, there is a good chance you won't be able to find the faculty when you have questions on your paper or in preparation for an exam.  Their offices are hidden for a reason -- they are hiding from you.

2. Where is the parking lot?  Many law students will be going from dorm or dorm-like neighborhoods to living off campus for the first time in years.  As I learned the hard way in law school, mountain bikes don't work in the snow.  Or on California freeways.  So other than those lucky Michigan quaddites (?), law students are commuters.  That means they need parking.  Is there a parking lot?  Where is it?  Is it shared with the music department?  Particularly as students spend more of their time out in the real world in clinics and externships, but still have to make it back in time for twice-weekly Commercial Paper lectures, parking matters. 

3. Which are nicer, faculty offices or classrooms?  You can tell something about the values of a school and its leadership, at least for an older and "updated" law building, from what they spend limited remodeling funds fixing first.  If the faculty office suites are nicer than the classrooms, that might tell you something.  

4. Are there names everywhere and does the law school look like they bought it at Ikea?  If every classroom, conference room, washroom and water fountain is named the "A.C. Slater Memorial _____", that means the law school has alums who both (a) have money and (b) give money to the law school.  Same for the law schools with slick new buildings with clean lines and rational HVAC systems that look like something you could buy at a Scandanavian import store.  Knowing that alums of the school you are considering make money can tell you something about your job prospects (though the school's "employment outcomes" data is probably more reliable).  That the alums give money back to the school tells you something about how they felt about their experience.  Of course, if the school has a brand new building but no names appear anywhere, that might be a sign it borrowed more than it should have. 

5. Could you fall in love in this library?  We all know the great love story of our time, Bill and Hillary, and how they met in the law library at Yale.  You may show up to law school single but leave not just with piles of student loan debt but also a spouse or a partner.  At your wedding, when you recall meeting that special someone in the law library, will the memory be of vaulted ceilings or will it be of mold?

Posted by Geoffrey Rapp on October 28, 2014 at 08:44 AM in Life of Law Schools | Permalink

Comments

Nearby parking lots are not strictly necessary if the school is located in an urban central business district with good public transportation (Manhattan, SF, Boston, Toronto, etc.).

Posted by: Lawyer | Oct 28, 2014 6:54:56 PM

A fun post, with much more value than the original, rather silly list itself. Two suggestions:

1) About point number one, buildings outlast the regime that made them. I think it's too hasty to assume that if the offices are hard to get to, it indicates an intention on the part of the current faculty (or administration) to avoid students or others. You would want to find some analog to what you did in number 3, where you asked what happens in the most recent remodeling and what *that* says about priorities. You'd want to ask whether the faculty find ways to work around the distant offices, or whether they're content to hide away. (Incidentally, the whole question reminds me of that wonderful quote from the Anthony Blount character in Brideshead Revisited: "Where do you lurk? I shall come down your burrow and ch-chivvy you out like an old st-t-toat.")

2) On the "does everything have a donor name" question and Barry's interesting reply, I think there are other and better reasons to care than the "there are some rich alumni, and that bodes well for me" point. It would probably be good for students, and speak well to one's possible experience at the law school and eventual outcome, if there is a large percentage of alumni participation in giving. It would offer (some) evidence that the alumni valued their experience and continue to do so, that this sentiment is spread wider than just a few exceptional alumni, and, perhaps, that they would have some continued hiring preference for graduates of that school. You might be better off looking for a bunch of $500 engraved bricks than one five million dollar mock courtroom with a single name on it.

Posted by: Paul Horwitz | Oct 28, 2014 1:40:20 PM

"4. Are there names everywhere and does the law school look like they bought it at Ikea? If every classroom, conference room, washroom and water fountain is named the "A.C. Slater Memorial _____", that means the law school has alums who both (a) have money and (b) give money to the law school. Same for the law schools with slick new buildings with clean lines and rational HVAC systems that look like something you could buy at a Scandanavian import store. Knowing that alums of the school you are considering make money can tell you something about your job prospects (though the school's "employment outcomes" data is probably more reliable). That the alums give money back to the school tells you something about how they felt about their experience. Of course, if the school has a brand new building but no names appear anywhere, that might be a sign it borrowed more than it should have. "

Remember, if a school is putting out 100-200 JD's per year, over many decades, *some* will strike it rich. Most schools probably generate 1,0000-2,000 living alumni per decade. If one out of a thousand become multimillionaires, that's a chance at a several million dollar donation each decade.

And they might have made their pile a long time ago. Even if they made it in law,
they could have graduated when having a JD from an average law school meant far
more than now.

Posted by: Barry | Oct 28, 2014 11:11:34 AM

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