Fordham University School of LawMichael M. Martin in The New York Law Journal, October 29, 2012
Q: Is a law school education a good buy in the current economic environment? Why is law school so expensive?
A: Many changes have taken place in the 40 years I've worked in legal education. The growth in the cost of law school over that time is primarily the result of student demand for smaller class sizes and increased services and support. When I joined Fordham in 1972, classes were large and the student-faculty ratio was 40:1; now classes are small so students have a more focused, intensive learning experience and the faculty-student ratio is 15:1. There were two staff in the law library; now there are 26 library staff including 8 lawyer-librarians. There was no student services staff, and one person worked in career services; now there are four counselors and nine career services professionals. IT services did not exist back then; now we couldn't get through a day without our IT infrastructure and staff.
Prospective students—especially those who are highly qualified—are entering a very competitive atmosphere, as 200 law schools work simultaneously to recruit them. During the admissions and recruitment process, students should weigh their options carefully. Is the financial aid package guaranteed for all years of law school or dependent on meeting a GPA requirement? Modest aid packages that cover part of the tuition over all three years may be a better deal than a free ride in the first year contingent upon high grades in subsequent years.
Students should also consider these questions: How high a percentage of entering students finish in three years and get their degrees? What programs does the school offer to help you meet your career goals? How many graduates pass the bar on the first try? Are alumni supporting the school with donations? How easily can you plug into the alumni network?
Law school can be tough, even for those who did well as undergraduates. Prospective students should find out more about what will be expected of them before they make the commitment.
I believe a J.D. is worth it. Beyond the sheer number of jobs that require a law degree, the analytical, verbal, expressive, cognitive, and persuasive skills that a legal education imparts have broad applications in hundreds of fields. There are lots of law school graduates who don't practice law but find their J.D. prepared them for success and fulfillment in careers spanning fields as diverse as business, entertainment, healthcare, and journalism.
Q: Are you confident that there will be enough legal jobs in the foreseeable future to accommodate your graduates? In what sector will graduates find those jobs (for example, in government, large firms, small firms, insurance agencies)?
A: People go to law school in pursuit of many career goals. Along with becoming a lawyer, graduates use their legal training to supplement their study and knowledge in a range of fields, such as finance, human resources, insurance, media, entertainment, and compliance.
For those most focused on careers as attorneys, Fordham Law is one of the top 20 law schools measured in terms of Class of 2011 initial employment with Big Law (that is, firms with 101 or more attorneys) and federal clerkships, as reported to the American Bar Association. According to the National Law Journal, Fordham Law ranks 20th in terms of the percentage of the class of 2011 hired by the NLJ 250 law firms. The NLJ also reported that Fordham Law ranks 11th in terms of the most alumni promoted to partner in 2011.
In addition, during the 2011-2012 academic year, five graduates received one of the following prestigious public interest fellowships: Fulbright Fellowship, Soros Justice Fellowship, Fried Frank Mexican-American Legal Defense and Educational Fund Fellowship, Presidential Management Fellowship, and Cal Studies Executive Fellowship.
Bottom line: Fordham-trained lawyers are well positioned for career success.
Q: What changes have been made to the curriculum to ensure students are well prepared for a career?
A: We strive to give Fordham Law students both a solid grounding in legal theory and a clear sense of the practical contexts in which they will put their law degrees to use as problem solvers. Because of this commitment, we offer a range of programs aimed at ensuring graduates are prepared to practice law from day one.
Our clinics and simulation programs are prime examples. Through our clinics, we provide litigation training that goes beyond the traditional areas of criminal, housing, and immigration cases to include specialized fields of law such as securities arbitration, intellectual property, and low-income tax representation.
Our Fundamental Lawyering Skills course taps into New York City's network of professional actors to play clients in simulations that expose 2Ls to complex client problems. In more than 500 simulations the course stages each semester, students work with the actors as they would with a real client. When the simulations have finished, the actors provide valuable feedback to the students about their lawyerly presence: how their body language, eye contact, expressions, and attitude convey a professional image.
Since legislatures and agencies promulgate at least as much law as common-law and constitutional courts, we've recently implemented a required Legislation and Regulation course for all 1L students. The course introduces students to basic modes of regulatory law, theories and techniques of statutory interpretation, and the structure of government agencies. It also provides an underpinning for the legislation components in a range of upper-level courses.
Another current initiative has drawn on alumni expertise to help our corporate law faculty strengthen the competitive position of graduates who wish to pursue careers as businesspeople, general counsel, or outside counsel to business firms.
We are continually expanding offerings in experiential learning and externship programs. For example, we've added student externships in fashion, media, and national security law that capitalize on the expertise of and relationships in our centers and institutes.
We've enhanced our international and comparative law curriculum to address key topics such as business and antitrust law. Our summer study abroad programs in South Korea, Ghana, and Ireland offer a range of externships with the judiciary, multinational corporations, and law firms. We've also forged new partnerships in China to provide students with opportunities to gain international law expertise in areas such as intellectual property, competition law, and human rights.
We also offer an exceptional writing program in which first-year and upper-level writing courses are taught by full-time academics and law librarians, as well as an adjunct faculty drawn from the highest ranks of legal practitioners—including federal and state judges, assistant U.S. attorneys and district attorneys, directors of legal aid and legal services offices, and partners in major Manhattan law firms.
Q: What does your school do to make it stand out among the state's 15 law schools?
A: Fordham Law is a family. Ours is truly a close-knit community of faculty and students united with one of the strongest alumni networks at any law school. This network ties our alumni together throughout their lives and benefits graduates working in New York as well as throughout the country and internationally.
Fordham Law offers highly regarded and highly ranked programs. Three of our specialty programs are ranked by U.S. News & World Report in the top 15 nationally in vital areas of legal education: Our dispute resolution program is #11, our intellectual property law program is #12, and our clinical legal education program is #15. Our top-ranked part-time evening program celebrates its centennial this academic year.
Fordham Law boasts some of the leading student-edited law journals in the country. The Fordham Law Review is the 7th most cited student-edited journal in terms of judicial opinions. Three of Fordham's specialty law reviews are in the top five most cited journals of their respective specialty fields by law reviews: Fordham Journal of Corporate and Financial Law is first, Fordham Urban Law Journal is third, and Fordham Intellectual Property, Entertainment & Media Law Journal is fourth.
Q: How do you plan to implement the requirement that law students complete 50 hours of pro bono before being admitted to the bar?
A: At Fordham Law, a spirit of service has been central since our founding in 1905. Our motto is "In the service of others" and in 2008, the American Bar Association awarded its coveted Pro Bono Publico Award to our Public Interest Resource Center—making us one of only two law schools to win the award. In fact, for more than a decade, Fordham Law students have consistently performed more than 100,000 hours of pro bono and public service work each year. The Class of 2012, for example, contributed 187,804 hours.
The good news for Fordham Law is that the majority of our graduates already meet the 50-hour pro bono requirement via their work in our clinics, centers and institutes, and award-winning public service programs. To ensure that all students will meet the requirement, we've established a team of administrators who manage the pro bono opportunities that qualify. They will work with me to educate students about the requirement and how to access these opportunities.
Q: What advice would you offer students about how to make the most of their law school experience?
A: Think of yourself as a professional from your first day in law school. You are not a student, you are a lawyer, and you will be learning throughout your career. Working hard goes without saying, but be smart and learn how to manage your time. A big part of the law school experience takes place outside the classroom. Seize opportunities to develop your leadership skills and build your professional network. Be bold and flexible. Be curious and open to new experiences.