Anne Richard received her J.D. from Yale Law School, where she was a founding editor of the Yale Journal of Regulation. After law school, Dean Richard had a truly remarkable career in private practice – as a partner at Virginia’s Hazel & Thomas (which has since been acquired by Reed Smith) and as a trial attorney at the U.S. Department of Justice. In 2006, Dean Richard joined the George Washington University School of Law as the Associate Dean of Admissions and Financial Aid after first holding that position at George Mason University School of Law. In 2011, Dean Richard moved to University of Virginia School of Law, where she now serves as Senior Assistant Dean for Admissions.
AD: Dean Richard, I know that this is a very busy time of year for you. Thank you for taking the time to talk with us today and answer some questions applicants might have about admissions to, or life at, UVA Law.
AR: It’s my pleasure to talk with you.
AD: I had the pleasure of interviewing you a few years back when you were at GWU Law – I think you were actually my second interview! How has the move to Charlottesville treated you?
AR: I have been truly blessed to have had the opportunity to work at first-tier law schools and with incredibly talented people. I joined the staff at UVA Law on July 1, 2011 and have found UVA and Charlottesville to be even more wonderful than I expected. Our Dean, Paul Mahoney, actually was a classmate of mine at Yale Law School. He is a great guy. He not only is a brilliant scholar but also is very engaged with our students and in the daily life of the law school. In fact, Dean Mahoney teaches contracts to a large section of 1L students each fall.
One thing that has impressed me most about UVA Law is the close interaction between faculty and students, not only in the academic setting, but also socially. This is an extremely close-knit, welcoming and warm community. Our students really do enjoy the law school experience in Charlottesville and I believe UVA Law’s reputation for offering students the best quality of life is well-deserved.
AD: I feel compelled to note for our readers that your personal and professional accomplishments before working in law school admissions are truly remarkable. Can you briefly describe what prompted you to leave legal practice… and whether you ever miss it?
AR: I enjoyed my work as an associate and partner in a large law firm, as well as a trial attorney in the U.S. Department of Justice. As a litigator, I was exposed to many different substantive areas of the law – labor and civil rights, business contracts, securities, bankruptcy, etc. I worked long hours and was truly excited by the constant intellectual challenge. I left practice to embark upon a new adventure in higher ed administration and for a change of lifestyle.
I do not really miss practicing law because I continue to feel very connected in my work in law school admissions. And my husband and daughter are practicing attorneys, so there is plenty of law-related conversation in our home. I am proud to be an attorney and always will be an attorney. I now have been in law school admissions for 15 years and also have done some teaching. My work in this arena with prospective and current students is extremely rewarding. As a recruiter, I am able to provide information about something I truly believe in – a legal career. And, having worked as a practicing attorney for many years, both in the private and public sectors, I feel that I have a great deal to share in terms of first-hand experience.
AD: Okay, enough of the strolling down memory lane — are you ready for some hard questions?
AR: Sure. Bring them on!
AD: You mentioned that your work as a recruiter allows you to spread the word about something you truly believe in, law as a career. This has been a very hot topic over the past couple of years. Most recently, Lawrence Mitchell, Dean of Case Western Reserve University School of Law, came under heavy fire for his Op-Ed in the New York Times (11.29.12) defending law school as an investment. I’m sure you read his letter and the backlash on AboveTheLaw.com (some of those comments are pretty harsh and almost unreadable!). You clearly have got an opinion on this – do you want to share your thoughts?
AR: My opinion has always been – and remains unchanged: Investing in your own human capital is the best investment you can make. And I believe that a legal education trains one to think, analyze issues, solve problems and participate in making sound policy in ways that no other course of study can do.
AD: Okay, but clearly, the current legal hiring market is driving the concern over the value of a legal education and that BigLaw associate jobs – jobs that pay high enough salaries that will allow students to repay their student loans – just won’t be there when they graduate. While UVA graduates are in the enviable position of always being in high demand at NLJ Top 250, I’m sure some of your students still feel strong pressure exerted from this incredibly tight job market. Do you have any warnings you would give to those applying to law school (any law school) in this economic climate?
AR: The reputation of UVA Law remains strong and our alumni network is large and rabidly loyal. As a result, our students and graduates continue to do very well in the job market. We have a career services operation, headed up by Senior Assistant Dean Kevin Donovan (who came to UVA Law after 20+ years of practice in a national law firm), that works one-on-one with individual students to help them achieve their professional goals. Dean Donovan and his staff are beloved by our students. Our students and graduates benefit from the law school’s very generous loan repayment assistance program. That program, in conjunction with the federal loan forgiveness program, helps alleviate financial concerns for those who are interested in careers in public service.
As for warnings to prospective applicants, all I can offer is that pursuing a legal career involves a very significant investment – not only financially, but also in terms of time, energy, emotion, etc. Going to law school is no longer what smart kids should do just because they are smart but don’t want to go to medical school. And market conditions have caused those considering law school to think more carefully about their goals and aspirations in pursuing a legal career and to have a more well-defined plan before entering law school. As a result, we are seeing more applicants who have worked for two or more years before applying and who may be better prepared to excel in the rigorous curriculum they face in law school. Even those who enter law school directly from college seem to have more clearly defined objectives.
AD: That warning is very fair, however some still cry foul and claim it is downright unethical for law schools to charge students hundreds of thousands of dollars in tuition for a degree that does not guarantee a job immediately upon graduation. Those are strong words, I know. While there are no guarantees in life, and jobs certainly weren’t guaranteed in the “good old days” when you and I graduated from law school, these people make a valid point. Students who decide to pursue a legal career and attend law school these days — particularly at law schools that are ranked outside the Top 20 — are assuming a risk that paying jobs may not be there when they graduate. Do you agree with the critics?
AR: As intelligent adults, we all have decisions to make about what careers to pursue, what cars to buy, whether to shop at discount stores or expensive boutiques, etc. Whether to attend law school and deciding which law school to attend are serious decisions that people have to make. And it’s important that law schools make complete information available to assist prospective students so that they can exercise wisely their freedom to make the best choices for themselves.
After working in the law admissions community for more than 15 years, I can tell you that my colleagues and I are not just “salesmen” – we also are counselors and do our best to help individuals make choices that will be right for them. It is not unusual for us to encourage prospective students to take some time to work before coming to law school or to suggest that they look at programs at many different law schools. No one in law school admissions wants to bring students into their communities who are not likely to excel at their particular institutions. It is our job to help students choose the law school at which they are most likely to be happy and thrive, and to go on to enjoy successful and rewarding careers.
AR: I think it is extremely valuable for those considering a legal career to have as much information as possible before entering law school and resources that provide such information are helpful services. That said, I am distressed by the chat I see on some websites – for example, when prospective students put questions out there such as “What’s it like at UVA?” and rely on the responses of other prospective students that are just incorrect. Those who have questions about individual law schools should simply call the admissions staff at those law schools. It’s our job to help. So – if anyone has questions about UVA Law, I really want them to call me (my direct dial is 434-243-1456)! All of us in law school admissions want to help prospective students to the greatest extent that we can.
AD: And what do you like to tell those who inquire about your school?
AR: It depends on what they need to know, but I like to highlight recent news about the school that says something about who we are — for example, we had two faculty members argue before the Supreme Court this year, including on a case that was the most significant religious liberty issue the court has decided in recent years. We also have many wonderful clinics — 20 in all — doing great work, including the Supreme Court Litigation Clinic, which just argued a case involving employment discrimination, and our Innocence Project Clinic, which this year helped overturn the conviction of a man falsely accused of rape. And we just started a transactional law clinic that allows law students to offer legal advice to graduate business students at UVA’s Darden School of Business on their start-up companies.
I point out how well our leading graduates have performed; we are third in the nation in the number of alumni who have clerked at the Supreme Court from 2005 through the past term. In the 2011-12 court term the number of our graduates clerking with judges reached 100 — a new school record. We had graduates working in each of the American Lawyer top 100 firms as of March 2012, and we rank second after Harvard in the number of chief legal officers at the nation’s top 500 companies. And some of our alumni in public service include FBI Director Robert Mueller, Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano and three U.S. senators.
One thing that’s special about UVA is the way students relate to each other and the faculty. This is the kind of place where they work together to make things happen. Recently one of our professors and several students got together and decided to challenge the military for not allowing women to serve in combat positions. Whether or not you agree with their goals, you have to admire that their lawsuit has started a national debate and even spurred another lawsuit by the ACLU.
AD: I love that you’re so accessible to prospective applicants. I’m also intrigued that you follow the chatter on some of the law school discussion boards. Do you have a favorite place you like to visit? Also, do you have any advice for reader (or posters) on those boards?
AR: I do not have a favorite discussion board and I do not post on any of those boards. My only advice for those who participate in the online chatter is that they use good judgment and maturity when they post and that, if they have questions about individual law schools, they take their questions directly to the schools rather than rely on answers being given by other applicants.
AD: Okay, so let’s bring this closer to home. If you had a son or daughter who was applying to law school, what would you hope that they consider when deciding on whether to attend law?
AR: I actually have a daughter who is an attorney practicing environmental law. When she was looking at law schools, she considered a number of schools and, after gaining admission to many, she visited the few that were of most interest. She ultimately chose the school she felt was the best fit in terms of course offerings, faculty, location, etc. She did not choose the school that was ranked the highest or that would cost the least. She took on student loans and invested in herself. She hustled and worked hard to get the job that she wanted. I am proud to report that now, six years later, she is doing very well in her career and has become a leading expert in a very specific area of environmental/animal rights law.
I suggest that law school applicants review course lists and course descriptions, see what clinics are offered and read faculty biographies to determine whether there is sufficient focus on the applicants’ areas of interest. In addition, I think it’s important to carefully review information published by each law school’s career services office to see where students and graduates go — both in terms of legal practice areas and geographic locations.
Alumni networks are great resources to students and new graduates; seeing in what areas and where particular schools tend to place graduates is important information to consider…
AD: Not to cut you off, but I couldn’t agree more. It’s often frustrating to hear law students and recent grads complain that they went to School X and cannot find a job in State Y. The information about what geographic areas schools place their grads is broken out by most schools so it shouldn’t come as a surprise that it may be more or less difficult to find a job in a particular part of the country. Again, sorry to cut you off. I just feel that in this day and age, applicants need to be informed consumers and need to consider (and investigate the feasibility of) their post-graduation plan before they even apply.
AR: Exactly – and not a problem cutting me off. I was just going to conclude your last question by saying that each applicant must also do his or her own cost-benefit analysis once the offers of admission and financial aid packages are in hand. Finally, applicants need to visit the different law schools to get a sense of the spirit and atmosphere.
AD: During my interview with Bill Hoye from Duke Law School, he stressed the same thing – that campus visits were extremely important because they can tell an applicant a lot more about a school than some glossy brochure or website. If, however, an admitted student is unable to visit UVA for whatever reason — financial, scheduling conflict, etc. — can you put them in touch with a handful of 1Ls, 2Ls and 3Ls who can speak to them by phone?
AR: We connect admitted students with current students all the time. Our students are always willing to share their perspectives and insights with those who are trying to decide whether or not to join the UVA Law family.
AD: Okay, so assuming that a person understands all the risks and is still hell bent on going to law school, what factors would you hope that they consider when deciding which law school to attend?
AR: Law school is not just a series of classes and, although all law schools are alike in many ways, we are all different in others. There are more than 200 accredited law schools in the U.S., all of which provide sound legal educations and opportunities. Each student has to investigate different aspects of the various law schools to determine which will be the best fit. Students should consider many factors, including: (1) size of the law school; (2) location of the law school; (3) curriculum and program offerings; (4) accessibility and engagement of the faculty; (5) opportunities available to students through journals, externships, and clinics; (6) cost and financial aid, including availability of scholarships and loan repayment assistance programs; (7) size, strength and involvement of the alumni network; and (8) employment prospects – in what sorts of practice areas and in what locations does each law school typically place significant numbers of graduates? It is important to weigh all of these factors as you decide which law school will be the best choice. And, finally, in my mind, the final decision as to which law school to attend is largely a matter of “gut” — which place just feels right.
AD: You mentioned earlier that you are seeing more students take time off between college and law school to gain some work experience and, presumably, some perspective. According to your website, the average age of students admitted to UVA Law’s class of 2015 was 24. Do you recommend a path that has students pursuing a law degree immediately after college, or would you like to see more applicants work for a few years before law school?
AR: Law students come from diverse backgrounds and experiences. There are benefits to working or participating in public service organizations (Teach for America, Peace Corps, etc.), working in the private sector or government before entering law school and there are benefits to coming straight from college. Some students feel that they need to step back and take a break in order to refresh and build new energy for law school; others want to have some work experience in a legal setting in order to confirm (or not) their decision to pursue a career in the law; some students feel ready to jump right into law school straight from college; while other students feel that they have to stay on the education train for fear that, once free of school, they will never return (this last category is the one that applied to me many years ago). There is no best or better route.
Many students who have less than stellar academic records ask what they can do in a year or two following college to make up for a weak college performance. My answer is that students should not do anything for a year or two following college solely to try to strengthen their law school applications. There is no magical experience that is going to overcome a weak academic record. Students who choose to take time between college and law school should do what they want to do for their own personal growth and development – not just to try to satisfy law school admissions committees. Whether to take time between college and law school and what to do during that time is truly a very individual and personal decision.
AD: What are the biggest changes in law school admissions that have evolved since you were applying to Yale Law, and what changes do you expect (or hope) to see in the next ten years?
AR: I applied to and attended law school many years ago – before USNEWS started ranking law schools. The biggest change I have seen – and I do not believe it necessarily is a change for the better – is that many applicants tend to place the greatest weight in their decision-making process on the USNEWS rankings. I think this does a great disservice to some applicants and to some law schools. Applicants should focus on determining which institution is the best fit rather than picking the school that USNEWS has ranked number 33 rather than number 37. While rankings certainly provide useful information that applicants should consider in their list of factors, I hope that in the next ten years we can work together to figure out how to help individuals look deeper as they try to make informed and intelligent choices that will serve them best.
AR: Different rankings use different factors and those factors are used in a variety of ways. Having more information to consider is better for prospective law students than less information. I don’t have a favorite ranking and it’s not helpful to comment on which ranking may be more or less legitimate. But it is important for those that review and consider rankings to be sure that they understand exactly what factors are being used and how they are being used. And I hope that applicants will use the rankings only as additional pieces of information as they make important life decisions. It’s great that The Princeton Review ranks us as having the best quality of life, but it’s only one consideration applicants should take into account. We also are very proud of our broad and deep curriculum, and that’s something no ranking has attempted to rate schools on.
AD: I assume that competition for higher rankings among law schools can drive some folks to do some pretty outrageous things in order to preserve (or advance) their rank. I’m speaking, of course, about the two recent law school admissions scandals at University of Illinois and Villanova Law. As an admissions dean have you ever felt similar pressure to, say, make sure that UVA never fell outside the T14?
AR: In my time working in law school admissions, no one has ever suggested that I hide or falsify information to improve rankings. All law schools are mindful of the rankings and of the factors that go into the different rankings. That said, schools such as UVA are fortunate to have large and strong applicant pools. So strong, unfortunately, that we are unable admit all applicants who are qualified. Our admissions process is thorough and complex and we consider a variety of factors, from academic accomplishments to achievements outside of school. We are committed to matriculating each year a group of diverse students who will bring unique talents and who are most likely to thrive in our law school community and in our profession.
AD: So, if you had your way, what would you change about the USNEWS Rankings?
AR: The USNEWS Rankings provide useful information. One thing I would change, if I could, is the perception on the part of prospective students about these rankings — namely, to find a way to ensure that applicants use these rankings as an information source and not as the numerical list that dictates which school to attend.
UVA does not seem to be immune from this trend. Applications for the Class of 2015 (the 2011-12 admissions cycle) were down 17.2% from the prior cycle. Still, you enrolled the exact same number of students (356 in 2012 and 357 in 2011). Can you tell me how many offers you extended to applicants during the 2011-12 admissions cycle to yield that class?
AR: We extended offers of admission to approximately 15% of our fall 2012 applicant pool.
AD: And in the previous admissions cycle — for the Class of 2014 — you admitted 688 students out of the 7,379 which means that you admitted 9.3% to yield the same size class.
AR: Yes, I think that’s correct.
AD: [Laughing] Hold on… there’s a question in here somewhere, Dean Richard, I promise.
AR: [Laughing] I sure hope so Don! I hope you can get there quickly, because I have a lot of files to review!
AD: [Laughing] Okay, I’m sorry. I guess my question is: How has the drop in the number of applicants affected your job apart from apparently selecting more students from the pool? I’m sure you are finding that candidates with high LSAT scores and GPAs to be in extremely high demand among your peer schools in the T14 and what, if anything, are you finding yourself doing to woo a candidate away from UMich or NYU when the applicant pool experiences the type of contraction we’ve seen?
AR: I think we are having more personal/individual contact with applicants and admitted applicants as we work with them to try to help them determine which law school (typically among law schools in our peer group) is going to be the best fit for them. This is a very good thing.
AD: What ways do you disseminate that information?
AR: Well, there’s the admitted student section of our website where we post a tremendous amount of data about the previous admissions cycle — our most recent entering class. We also include the most recent employment statistics like where our current 3Ls found summer associate jobs the previous summer, both by firm and by city. And we also post lists of average starting salaries, where the most recent graduating class ended up finding full time employment, etc. Those are just a few examples. Our applicants shouldn’t have to rely on stale data when making their decisions — and they certainly shouldn’t rely on rumor! We try to make sure the most recently compiled information that would be of interest to an applicant is out there — front and center — so that they can make an informed choice about whether to apply to (or attend) our school.
AD: Are you finding more and more admits trying to negotiate with you and play you off your peer schools? If so, what is the student’s pitch besides I’ve got the metrics you want?
AR: Admitted applicants have always been concerned about scholarships and need-based financial aid. We have conversations about financial aid packages with many prospective students each year as part of the larger discussion of whether UVA Law will be the best fit for them, taking all of the various factors into account.
AR: That’s right. As I said before, the UVA Law applicant pool has remained large and strong. The medians among those in our fall 2012 entering class were 170 and 3.87. It is still early in the fall 2013 application cycle but, at this point, we are seeing very strong applicants.
AD: For applicants with solid metrics, is this actually a good time to be applying to law school because they may find themselves with more offers (and possibly offers of scholarship money)?
AR: Though the economy is tough right now, being a lawyer is a great career to pursue, and those who truly are interested in studying law and are willing to work hard should not be put off by whatever economic conditions exist upon entering law school.
AD: I think it is important to note that according to your Class of 2015 stats, 19 students (5%) who attended University of Virginia as an undergraduate, enrolled in the Law School. In fact, undergrads from UVA and William and Mary (another Virginia school) made up more than 9% of your entering class. You enrolled students from 150 different undergraduate colleges and universities, so what is it about students from these two schools that give them a considerably high percentage of your entering class?
AR: We receive a large number of applications from UVA and William & Mary students and graduates. Students/graduates from those two schools (as well as at other colleges and universities located in Virginia), tend to be familiar with UVA, have friends who are students at UVA Law, etc. There are more applicants admitted from those schools simple because there are many outstanding applicants from those schools – and, of course, we think very highly of UVA and of our other fellow Virginia state institutions. And more of those admitted tend to choose UVA Law because they know more about UVA Law and like what we have to offer.
AD: What is the best advice you can give to students who are just beginning the application process for the fall of 2013 with regards to financing their legal education? Is there anything that these applicants should be doing now to make their lives (and yours) easier a year from now?
AR: I advise students to investigate and apply to all law schools in which they are seriously interested and would be happy attending. Once admitted, they will work with admissions and financial aid counselors at each school to determine what sort of financial aid packages will be available to them. I always urge students not to be focused with the costs at the front end, but rather to focus on law schools that they believe will be good fits. In terms of what students can do sooner rather than later: (1) maintain good credit so that they will not encounter problems obtaining student loans; (2) as part of their investigation of law schools, see what sorts of merit-based and need-based financial aid programs, as well as loan repayment assistance programs, the different law schools offer.
AD: What percentage of students from 2011-12 admissions cycle (Class of 2015) received scholarships and grants and what factors do you look at when determining an award?
AR: Approximately 35% of the students in the fall 2012 entering class received some level of scholarship/grant award. Most law schools, including UVA Law, consider all admitted applicants for scholarship awards and base award decisions on a variety of factors, including financial need and merit.
AD: Can you give me an idea about the scholarship size? For example, do you happen to know the median award for those students who did receive a scholarship?
AR: Yes, scholarships ranged from $10,000 to full tuition; I believe the median award was in the $25,000-$30,000 range.
AD: Alright, now, layoffs and deferred start dates have forced many otherwise Big Law associates/candidates from schools like UVA to look to public interest and non-legal job. Having practice at both a private law firm and the government, how do you think this experience will shape this generation of lawyers?
AR: The legal market has been going through a readjustment in recent years. It’s a very good thing for our profession and for our society that more lawyers are entering public service and that the federal government is supporting this by providing student loan forgiveness for those who work in the public sector. UVA Law has always maintained a strong focus on public interest and government work and has a very generous loan repayment assistance program. I also think that greater opportunities in small and mid-sized firms are affording new lawyers the opportunity to gain very valuable legal experience as they enter the practice. Finally, I believe we are seeing things picking up in the legal market – our 2L students have been doing very well in securing offers for positions for summer 2012.
AD: Can you briefly take us through your admissions review process. How do you evaluate a candidate’s undergraduate GPA, LSAT score report, personal statement, letters of recommendation, and other relevant factors?
AR: Sure. We review each application for admission in its entirety. We consider all information that we require applicants to provide: academic record, resume, LSAT score, personal statement, and recommendations. Each application is read by at least two people (admissions officers/faculty). I personally review all files before decisions are finalized and released. We are looking for applicants who demonstrate strong academic ability and who are well-rounded in terms of extra-curricular activities and other professional experience. We also carefully review the personal statement not only to evaluate the candidate’s writing ability, but also to try to get a sense of what the applicant is like as a person and whether UVA Law would be a good fit. Letters of recommendation give us additional insight into applicants’ academic abilities, work ethic, character, etc.
AD: How much weight does do you place on an applicant’s LSAT score?
AR: The LSAT is one of the factors that we consider in our evaluation of an applicant. It is the only uniform measure by which we can compare applicants, at least in terms of their mastery of the specific skills tested on the LSAT. Certainly a strong LSAT score increases an applicant’s chances of gaining admission, but applicants must keep in mind that half of our admitted applicants have LSAT scores above our median and half have LSAT scores below our median (which was 170 among those admitted to our fall 2012 entering class).
AD: How about personal statements. Can you briefly describe the worst applicant essay you read – something that really stands out as egregious? What missteps should applicants avoid at all costs when crafting their personal statement?
AR: The personal statement that stands out in my mind as most egregious is one that was extremely vulgar and rather sexist. I actually called and questioned the applicant (“What on earth were you thinking?”). The applicant said that he wanted to show the admissions committee that he was “real,” notwithstanding the fact that he was from a privileged background and had attended an elite undergraduate institution. If an applicant wants to show us that he is “real,” he should do so without resorting to vulgarity or sexism.
AD: Ha! Okay, now you’ve piqued my interest – when was this and are you aware of whether this applicant gained acceptance to another law school? Do you ever talk to your colleagues at peer schools about such “red flag” applicants?
AR: [Laughing] I believe that the applicant (from more than 5 years ago) did gain admission to law school. Law admission colleagues do not typically share information about specific applicants, although we certainly talk about general admissions matters and trends – and share occasional anecdotes.
AD: Just one more question. Can you provide our readers with some color surrounding your transfer application process and results? For instance, how many applications did you receive for 2L transfers last fall and how many did you accept?
AR: Sure. We typically receive 175-225 transfer applications. The number of offers we make to transfer candidates differs from year to year, ranging from 15 to 30.
AD: Okay, is there anything in particular you are looking for in a transfer candidate? What really makes someone stand out besides stellar 1L grades?
AR: In our transfer process, we are looking for talented candidates who are likely to excel at UVA Law and contribute to our community and to our profession. The review process is much like that for 1Ls – we consider and evaluate all information that we require transfer candidates provide.
AD: I think that covers it all. Given that we are in the middle of your busy season, I really do appreciate all the time you spent with me today. Thanks again!
AR: It’s my pleasure. I am always glad to talk about UVA Law and law school admissions.