By Michelle Lease ‘14 and Meaghan K. Pedati ‘14
Law schools are judged by two factors: (1) the test scores and GPAs of an incoming class and (2) the practical success of its students. The U.S. News & World Report focuses primarily on the first. CUA Law focuses primarily on the second, accepting and mentoring students to become successful attorneys.
Conventional wisdom says a high law school ranking is the key to success. If a law school has a high ranking, they receive better student applications. Then those students, at the highest-ranked schools, get the best jobs. The assumption is that the students with the highest LSAT scores and the highest GPAs make the best attorneys.
But the legal field is not a series of tests or papers. It’s a practice, and CUA—regardless of our rank or average LSAT score—prepares you for the practice of law.
According to Robert J. Morse, director of data research at U.S. News, CUA fell in the rankings because our admissions data (LSAT scores and GPAs) were weaker for the fall 2013 class than the 2012 class, and because our placement data for the 2012 class were weaker than for the 2011 class. But those statistics reflect skewed data. They do not capture the 82 percent employment rate for the most recent class of 2013. It also does not reflect the high employment rates from our students enrolled in specialty programs, including the Securities Law Certificate Program, which for the past three years has seen 100 percent employment in full-time legal positions within four months of graduation.
As graduating 3Ls, the rankings do not scare us—we do not question the value of our education from CUA.
CUA prepares students for practice and builds a sense of community. Our professors, for example, are always working for their students. On any given day, the Fourth Floor is a constant stream of students wandering the halls, in and out of offices. Faculty are our advisers, our mentors, and are vital to running our most successful programs, like The Innocence Project, our Institute programs, our exceptional clinical programs, and our extensive externship program. The faculty challenges their students daily and provides practical experience. The faculty, because they get to know us, are as invested in our future as we are.
What hasn’t been said is that law school is what you make of it. We, as students, are integral to improving future rankings and play a vital role in the CUA community. We drive accomplishments and change at CUA. Take for example the launch of The Redirect, Toast Our Troops, the rise in Moot Court participation under Jonathan Tabacoff’s leadership, or the 111 students who logged nearly 11,000 hours through our pro bono program. There is an undeniable enthusiasm and dedication from the students to improve the school. This attitude is essential to improving CUA’s reputation.
We acknowledge improvements can still be made. For example, the speaker policy and lengthy event planning process makes it difficult to organize events. These policies limit the diversity and number of speakers at CUA. It also makes transitions between organization presidents challenging, often resulting in new leadership that reinvents the wheel for their respective organization.
As a small school, we often face limited class choices, leading to frustration and scheduling conflicts. That said, we gain unique individualized instruction from professors who are experts in their field: Professor Leary in Criminal Law and Procedure; Professor Duggin in Constitutional Law and Corporations; Professor Perez in National Security; and Professor La Belle in Litigation and Intellectual Property, among many others.
Our small school is also unique for our sense of community. Few other law schools can boast about student collaboration like we can. Take for example this anecdote from first year when, as two nervous 1Ls, we forgot to read a supplement case for civil procedure. Before the lecture, a fellow classmate offered not only to let us read his brief, but volunteered to brief the case in class so we wouldn’t be called on.
Beyond our professors and classmates we know and love our amazing administrators and staff. It’s impossible not to smile when Stuart Schept says hello to you or when Cookie and Mann, in the cafe, go the extra mile to make sure your lunch is perfect. Our sense of community, seemingly irrelevant to ranking, is what drives our strong alumni relationships.
At CUA we are more than a number. A ranking does not dictate our law school careers. At CUA we are lucky to work in a community with our faculty, staff, alumni, and fellow students who support our individual and group efforts. In short, if focus is redirected from test scores, GPAs, and U.S. News rankings to our alumni, students, and faculty, CUA’s value becomes remarkably and undeniably obvious.