Associate Dean for Admissions & Student Affairs, Duke Law
This is the 17th installment of our 224 part series, Better Know A Dean. Today we posted our interview with Bill Hoye, Associate Dean for Admissions, Financial Aid and Student Affairs at Duke University School of Law — The Fightin’ Blue Devils!
Dean Hoye started his professional career in admissions at the University of California before joining USC School of Law where he served as Associate Dean and Dean of Admissions. In 2005, Dean Hoye moved to Duke Law School to become the Associate Dean for Admissions and Financial Aid; he now also oversees student affairs at the school.
AD: Thanks for agreeing to answer my questions today.
BH: Sure thing. I’m happy to do it.
AD: Okay, here’s your first question: Roy Williams is the University of North Carolina’s Men’s Basketball Coach — would you call him a great college basketball coach, or the greatest college basketball coach?
BH: Well, I guess the best way for me to answer that question is to say that while we are talking on the telephone right now, I’m gazing upon a picture of Coach K that I have hanging in my office.
AD: I’m sorry, who? Coach who?
BH: [Laughing] Coach Krzyzewski here at Duke.
AD: [Laughing] Hmmm, I’m not sure if I’ve ever heard of him. Oh wait, is he the basketball coach who likes to beat up on much smaller schools like Butler?
BH: [Laughing] Well, I wouldn’t put it that way, exactly. He’s…
AD: Sorry I cut you off. I assume you were going to say that Coach K isn’t really in Coach William’s league — so I’ll just put you down as someone who thinks that Roy Williams is the greatest basketball coach ever. How does that sound?
BH: [Laughing] You better not! I don’t think so!
AD: Seriously, though, if you could guarantee Duke Law School back-to-back NCAA basketball titles, or guarantee that Duke gets ranked #1 in the USNEWS Law School Rankings, which would you choose?
BH: I’d take the back-to-back championships, of course.
AD: Okay then. So, in your opinion, how much emphasis should applicants place on the USNEWS rankings?
BH: I think that people applying to law school should view the USNEWS rankings much like most admissions offices view LSAT scores. Both metrics give you an initial sense of quality, ability and opportunity. But you really need to dig deeper if you are going to determine — in the case of the LSAT score — whether that student is a right fit for the school and — in the case of the USNEWS ranking — whether that school is a right fit for the student. I’m sure that students wouldn’t want admissions offices to rest their entire decision on an LSAT score; likewise, students should not base their entire decision about which law school to attend entirely on some ranking determined by USNEWS.
AD: That makes sense. If you look at Duke Law’s UNNEWS ranking, it has remained fairly steady for the past several years — placing it solidly within the T14. However, its Leiter Ranking improved substantially within the last year. What do you think of Professor Leiter’s rankings and what factor(s) do you attribute to Duke’s score improvement?
BH: Look, the Leiter Law School Rankings are fine. I suppose that this is what we do in America. We like to put things in a list and then proceed to order (and then re-order) that list in the hope that it will become a helpful resource when trying to determine quality. But often what gets scored in any rankings — whether it be Professor Leiter’s Rankings or the USNEWS — may not reflect what is important to most applicants. So, like USNEWS, Professor Leiter’s rankings might be helpful at first glance when an applicant is trying to understand a variety of schools, how competitive they may be in terms of admission, or how they are generally perceived in the legal community; however, beyond that applicants really need to dig deeper in order to find a school that is going to be a good match for them. Whether a law school is a right match for an applicant will, in large part, determine whether her law school experience lives up to her expectations.
AD: So, since finding the “right match” is so important, what steps would you advise applicants to take in order to find the “perfect” school for them?
BH: Although there is certainly a lot of information on the Internet to get someone started, I think the most important things an applicant can do must be done in person. If an applicant is serious about a particular school, she must visit that school in person. If you really want to get a “feel” for a particular school, no view book or blog post is going to compare to a campus visit.
Second, the applicant must take the time to talk to current students and alums to hear their experiences and thoughts about the quality of the education they received. If what the applicant hears from those folks sounds like what she is expecting to get out of law school then she probably has found a good match; if not, then she needs to look elsewhere.
I guess what I’m saying is that you have to “try on” the place since the law school you choose will become your home for three or four years and you will be an alum forever. Every school has a different personality and a different feel and — let’s be honest — you are going to have the most opportunities at a law school if you are successful there. And, your chances of enjoying success in law school will improve dramatically if you feel comfortable and really fit in. If you’re comfortable, then you will be able to engage in the intellectual enterprise, pursue and develop your passions and truly enjoy the law school experience. Since everyone is different – and every school has its own feel and culture — applicants really need to engage personally with the school and its community in order to find the school (or schools) where they can go and thrive.
AD: Now I expect that Duke receives applications from students located all over the country. If you can’t visit Durham, then what is the next best way to get a feel for what it will be like going there?
BH: Well, I don’t think there is really an option. If you have been accepted to Duke and are strongly considering attending, then you just have to visit. In my opinion, there is no way around it. Think about the financial investment you are putting into your legal education and compare that to the cost of taking a trip to visit the school — it’s not even a close comparison. The cost of a trip is really minimal so you just really need to make the time to do it. Perhaps it would be most cost effective to wait until the spring when the applicant has all of her offers and then can narrow down the choices of where to visit based upon where she realistically intends to accept. But, like I said, I don’t think there is really a way around the campus visit. Even if someone is working or has other responsibilities, this is such an important decision that I think they must make time for a visit.
But, let’s imagine that someone cannot do that for whatever reason. Then that applicant has to be a little more creative. She can visit websites that compile information about law schools.
AD: [Laughing] Like AdmissionsDean.com…
BH: [Laughing] Perhaps…
AD: Perhaps? What the hell, Bill?
BH: [Laughing] I mean, “ABSOLUTELY!”
AD: That’s better. You may proceed.
BH: Okay, well, after doing research here, then I’d say that a good test for the school is whether or not they are willing to connect you with people who can help you make an informed choice. Now I’m not just talking about current students and alums, but also faculty members, admissions staff and even the Dean. Are these folks all willing to take some time to talk with you by telephone or email and answer your questions? Is the law school doing everything it can to make you feel comfortable about choosing their law school? If the school is unwilling or has any resistance to making those types of connections, then I really think that tells you a lot about what type of experience you can expect once you do arrive on campus as a student. If, however, you sense that the school is open to the process of helping you make the best decision possible, then that’s probably a good sign.
AD: Say you’ve convinced readers to take the time to do a campus visit. What things should they do on campus when they arrive? I assume most students visit for a day — maybe two days at most — so, how do you recommend that they spend their time?
BH: Well, talk to the folks in the admissions office in advance and have them make suggestions based on your interests. Say, for instance, you’re coming to our law school with a real passion for First Amendment and Media Law, then we might be able to arrange for you to sit in on a class that covers those topics — we’re always happy to help out that way. In addition, I would also encourage an applicant to take a look at our event calendar before booking any travel reservations because almost every single day of the year there are two or more events going on outside the classroom. Often these events include lunchtime talks, conferences or colloquia that may also be on topics that interest the applicant. If anything like that is happening on the day of the visit, then we would be happy to make sure that the applicant gains access.
I’d also recommend making time to take a tour of the campus at large and…
AD: [Laughing] Catch a basketball game?
BH: [Laughing] Oh sure, there are plenty of tickets.
AD: Do Duke law students get any kind of preferential treatment — perhaps tents outfitted with WIFI and plumbing in Krzyzewskiville?
BH: [Laughing] Sure, there are some perks to being a graduate student. Over 50% of the students enrolled at Duke University are graduate and professional students. Because graduate students — particularly law students — have enormous time constraints and cannot realistically take a whole week out of their lives to “tent,” we have what’s called the Graduate/Professional Campout Weekend, an abbreviated version of what the undergraduates endure. Law students gladly participate so that they can get their tickets.
AD: I was just kidding around with that question and didn’t realize you guys actually did that. That’s great!
BH: Absolutely! Now, sometimes law students will pull up in a rented RV so that they can “camp out” in style and comfort while reading casebooks but, yes, our law students do get very involved in the goings on around here — particularly the basketball since the camaraderie makes it fun even for those who don’t much like the sport itself!
AD: [Laughing] Ok, I see. They camp out like they’re lawyers, not law students.
BH: [Laughing] Yes, that’s sometimes the case.
AD: Ok, let me switch gears here a bit. There’s been some speculation on some of the more popular law school discussion boards that AdmissionsDean is really run by the law school admissions deans themselves and is part of a larger conspiracy among admissions committees at the T14 to exercise even greater control over applicants than what you may already possess. Can you please comment on this and explain your motivation for starting AdmissionsDean.com?
AD: So, that’s it! You admit it! Your sinister conspiracy has been uncovered!
BH: [Laughing] No, please don’t take me literally. That post is one of the strangest I’ve read – but probably not the most senseless thing ever written on a discussion board. I’m not sure how that poster arrived at that conclusion, but it certainly goes to show you that you can’t believe everything you read on the Internet.
AD: Do you spend a lot of time browsing blogs and discussion boards looking for law school applicants and testing the pulse of the admissions cycle as some opine (see here)?
BH: In all honesty, we don’t really have the time to monitor discussion boards. Occasionally, someone might call us and say that they read something about Duke on one of the boards and we’ll take a look. But we have 8,000 applications to read, so beyond that we’re a little too busy to be spend time reviewing what would-be applicants post in some obscure corner of the Internet.
AD: OK, that’s fair. I guess then a better question would be how has the Internet, including the proliferation of information (and misinformation) appearing on discussion boards, changed your job over the years?
BH: Well, my sense of what is happening on these discussion boards is that it is becoming very easy for someone reading a discussion thread to imagine that a situation described by one poster is what will happen in all cases. Without really understanding the underlying facts of that poster’s situation — because all the information is sometimes not shared either inadvertently or on purpose — it’s really hard to get a sense of what really happened in his or her case. As you know, when you get to law school the correct answer is often, “It depends.” That is also true of law school admissions. Every applicant is different. Every applicant file is different and, consequently, how we might respond to a particular person depends upon a very comprehensive review of the specific details contained in that applicant’s file. There is really no standardized way that admissions decisions get made.
So, I think that’s what I find the most. It is just so easy for someone to post their GPA or LSAT score and say I was accepted (or rejected) and then have others who read that post think that the same decision will pertain to them as well. Every applicant is different so it is definitely not the case that what happened in one person’s situation will or will not happen in another’s.
And, it’s a little bit troubling because one of the things we try to do here at Duke – and applicants seem to love us for this — is that we try to be absolutely transparent about our admissions process and about the experience of being a student at Duke. We share a lot of data that many other law schools do not share. Our purpose for sharing information is to make sure that our applicants are making the best decision about whether to apply and/or attend Duke Law School. We certainly don’t want someone to come here and be unhappy – we want our students to know what they are getting.
AD: What ways do you disseminate that information?
BH: 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: So, in the interest of transparency, can you walk our readers through the process you follow from the time you receive an application until the time you render your decision?
AD: Okay, first off, I assume you receive most applications electronically, is that true? Does anyone submit a paper application anymore?
BH: Not really, unless they are unable to use the electronic application for some reason.
The application usually comes to us electronically and we have a professional staff here in the Admissions Office who get to work on it. Our Director of Admissions coordinates the process by assigning applications to the various admissions officers.
AD: And how large is your staff in the Admissions Office?
BH: We have 8 admissions officers and readers who review applications. And, realistically, you need a staff that large because we do receive about 8,000 applications — and we read every single one. Every application gets a full, comprehensive review. The reader also prepares a detailed summary or narrative before the file gets routed back to me though the Admissions Director. That’s how decisions are made.
AD: The people who are taking the first read of the application, are they a first cut? Do they tell you and the Director of Admissions that this person does or does not qualify and, therefore, either should or should not be admitted?
BH: They do a preliminary evaluation which means they do a full read of the file and then write up a narrative that includes the applicant’s strengths and weaknesses. Once it gets returned to the Director of Admissions he may either route the file to me or, in some cases to another officer, to do a second review. Depending on the evaluation, the Director of Admissions might also do a complete review of the file. Every file is different and so each one gets different treatment. But rest assured that every applicant file undergoes a very rigorous and comprehensive review. It really takes a lot of time.
AD: Out of the 8,000 applications Duke receives, how many do you personally review?
BH: I read the file of every applicant who is admitted — before we send an offer letter I will have reviewed that application thoroughly from cover-to-cover. And, of course, I read hundreds more beyond that group because we are constantly making distinctions between those who get admitted, those who get waitlisted and those who might not be admitted. So, I’ve never really counted the number of applications that I review personally — [laughing] it might be a depressing exercise to do so — but it is certainly several thousand each year that I will sit down and read personally.
AD: OK, then the next step in the admissions process is that the Director of Admissions will hand you a file and say, “Bill, this person seems like a deserving candidate, you should definitely take a look at this one.” Is that what happens?
AD: When you’re reading a file, what part do you like to begin with? What part will you read first?
BH: I like to go into the transcript first. Although sometimes I like to [laughing] “mix it up a little,” I typically enjoy reading someone’s academic transcript to see what type of undergraduate or graduate work he or she did. When I pick up someone’s transcript, I do a line-by-line analysis to understand the coursework the student took overall and how he or she structured each individual term. For instance, I’ll look at how demanding the curriculum was, how many credits the applicant enrolled in, the balance between introductory courses versus upper level courses — that kind of thing. I find that this exercise allows me to see how the applicant’s interests changed over time.
After the transcript, I typically review the letters of recommendation because there you will often find faculty members who can comment on that student’s educational experience, progression and intellectual curiosity. The best letters will talk about how ambitious they were in their academic development. Whether, for example, they were “fearless” in their course selections and how engaged they were with that professor in terms of exploring topics that were of interest to them. By reading those two things side-by-side — the transcript and the letters of recommendation — I find I’m able to get a really good understanding about an applicant’s academic achievements and abilities, and that information proves very helpful in the selection process.
AD: Where does the personal statement fit in?
BH: That comes a little later in my review. I usually read the resume next because we require one as part of our application; that allows me to get a good sense about what the candidate values by how they spent their time. If this is someone applying to law school straight out of college, I can see what she did outside the classroom — what campus groups did she join, where she might have worked or volunteered her time. If instead, as is quite often the case, the applicant has several years of work experience after college, it’s helpful to consider their professional and work-related accomplishments.
So, when I finally get to the personal statement I can read it with a much fuller context and understanding about who the applicant is and what drives them.
AD: Since the personal statement is the one part of the application that is completely within the applicant’s control, do you have any advice about what topics they should cover?
BH: Well there’s no preferred personal statement topic. We ask for a personal statement because we are trying to understand what motivates the candidate, what they care about, and what truly inspires them. An applicant can write an essay that addresses those things in a variety of ways on many different topics.
I think the most important thing about the personal statement — regardless of what topic you cover – is to be certain that your essay is authentic. When you write your personal statement you have to make sure it is your voice and that it really rings true. I can’t tell you how often I read someone’s personal statement and I just don’t believe it — I don’t believe that what this person is writing about is something that he or she truly cares about. So it’s really important that you choose a topic that you are passionate about or the ambivalence will definitely show through. I mean, by the time I get to the personal statement I already know a lot about the applicant — from the classes on their transcript, from the letters of recommendation and their own resume — if they choose to write a personal statement that is completely off topic which is about something that the applicant thinks the admissions committee wants to read, it’s going to be strikingly obvious.
AD: Any personal statement horror stories that you’d like to highlight so that our readers don’t make the same mistake?
BH: Sure, there are all kinds of horror stories but I don’t necessarily want to call anyone out. But do please try to avoid poetry! Good, solid prose is just much better for this exercise. And don’t try something “creative” such as cutting up your personal statement into strips and inserting those strips into a bunch of fortune cookies, like one applicant did several years ago, and then ask me to open each cookie, and piece together the various “fortunes” to make one complete document. You just don’t want me to work that hard to read your personal statement!
I will say, though, that this is a writing exercise and that is very important to remember. Your personal statement really must be your best written work. There is just no excuse for submitting a personal statement with typographical and grammatical errors, or one that is poorly constructed. That is clear evidence that you don’t write very well — and writing ability is something we value here at Duke. So, we are definitely reviewing the personal statement with a critical eye for how well the applicant writes.
We also look favorably upon applicants who can be a bit reflective in the personal statement — they not only describe their life experiences, but how those experiences shaped them and why they are important. How have those experiences influenced the applicant and, perhaps, helped define his or her goals and aspirations. You either have this insight or you don’t. If you are able to draft this type of essay, it can be extremely powerful because it shows that you might have a more sophisticated view of the world and your role in it. When we are deciding who to admit, we consider what type of professional career an applicant envisions for themselves — a law degree allows a person to have a great impact on society and if you’re able to demonstrate in your personal statement how you intend to use that power, then you’ll only improve your admissions chances.
AD: How do the numbers — an applicant’s LSAT score and GPA — fit into your process? How much weight do they carry?
BH: Well, the LSAT is important us, as it is to any top law school. Similarly, how well someone has performed in an academic setting is also important since we are very concerned with whether the applicant is prepared to engage in some very challenging academic work.
But, I’ve been admitting students to law school for 17 years now and I have to say that I take particular pride in those students who were admitted with much less impressive LSAT scores and who, because we know what to look for in a candidate and can be convinced by other strong elements in an applicant’s file, outperform those lower LSAT scores and do quite well during their first year and beyond. And, even though we are dealing with a very large applicant pool often comprised of candidates with very high numbers, because I have a lot of experience doing this we’re always looking for candidates that have something else to offer. Often it is not a high number, but it is something else that persuades us that this person will be able to handle the workload, will contribute in some very significant ways in our law school community and make Duke a better place while they are here — as well as do some very impressive things after they leave and begin serving the community.
AD: Do you track these folks on a student-by-student basis?
BH: Oh, sure. We perform correlation studies every year in which we look back at the end of the first year of law school to see how students’ 1L grades correlate to their undergraduate GPA and LSAT score. And every year, there are some “surprises” — there are candidates with less impressive LSAT scores who performed at the top of the class; on the other hand, there are always candidates who had very high LSAT scores who don’t do quite as well. But that really shouldn’t surprise anyone who does law school admissions and knows the proper way to use the LSAT in the admissions process.
AD: Given how much time and energy goes into your selection process, how do you manage to make decisions on some applications in only ten days?
BH: You’re referring to our Priority Track program. Each year, we invite a small number of candidates to apply to Duke through this program. We guarantee that the applicants will receive a response from us within ten days after the application becomes complete. The response could be an offer of admission, a waitlist offer, an invitation to interview, a deny decision. Or, in some cases, we have to hold the file for further review. But the applicant will hear something back relatively quickly. We keep the Priority Track pool very small so that we can give each application the same rigorous treatment that every other application receives, but we’re careful to ensure that the evaluation happens within a very tight timeframe. Of course, this can make for some very late nights and previous Priority Track applicants might tell you that they received their email decisions at very odd hours!
AD: In general, how has the economy affected law school admissions?
BH: Well, applications to Duke Law School were up 25% during the 2009-10 admissions cycle, but they weren’t up all that much on the national level — nationally they only increased 2.2% over the previous year. So I think it’s difficult to say just how much impact the economy is having on law school admissions. But, what we do know is that the entire applicant pool is not a whole lot larger than in previous years — and I can say with some certainty that one of the reasons why we experienced such a dramatic increase is because there are a lot of people out there applying to a greater number of law schools.
AD: That raises a good point. If you go into the applicant tracking section of AdmissionsDean for the last cycle, you can find folks who applied to 20 or 25 law schools. When I was applying to law school the rule of thumb was to apply to six schools: 2 reach schools, 2 safety schools and 2 schools where your numbers fall within the sweet spot. To me, 25 schools sounds like overkill — especially for a competitive applicant who is applying to T14 schools. What is the right number?
BH: First, I would recommend not applying to more schools than you can reasonably expect to do a good job on the applications. You should not do one standard application and use it to apply to every law school — at least, that should not be the strategy if you are applying to Duke. So, if you can handle applying to 25 different law schools and will do good job with those applications, then go for it. However, I would imagine that is the higher end of the range and that most students would be better served by applying to between 8 and 12 law schools that they have researched in advance and feel would be a fairly good match for them should they get accepted.
AD: You see, now I would have even said that 12 schools is too much, so what do you think is driving folks — or even you — to say that 12 schools is the right amount? Has the application process really gotten that competitive that you really need to have some options if your top four choices don’t pan out?
BH: I think that is part of it because — certainly at a place like Duke — it has gotten much more competitive. The people submitting applications to us have some outstanding credentials and make my job very difficult. So, yes, if it’s the case the applicant pool is becoming more competitive, then one must consider applying to more schools in order to hedge a bit so that they can expect to have some options come the spring.
But I think the strategy you described still works, but instead of six schools, perhaps the prudent applicant wants to apply to three safety schools, three solid schools and three reach schools for a total of nine. I think that’s reasonable.
AD: Can we talk about legal hiring and how Duke is faring in this economy?
BH: Sure. Well the first-year students begin working with the Career Center late in the fall semester. Those initial meetings with the Career Center are not just to get the student thinking about the summer job they will get after the first year, but also to begin to explore the opportunities available in the legal profession and what — given their interests and what they hope to accomplish — might be a good career path for them. Duke law students go on to do so many different things that we feel it is really important that students explore their options before they starting making choices that might make a specific career path more or less difficult to pursue.
Our students work with individual career counselors or attend events that are sponsored by the Career Center where Duke Law graduates return and talk about their area of practice or recent accomplishments — many students go to those events because it is an easy way learn about all the different things you can do with a law degree. It’s also nice to hear from someone who is very satisfied with his or her legal career and the path they followed to get there — oftentimes it is not a straight path and it is good for students to hear what it took for someone to finally land that “dream job.” I also think these talks demonstrate the flexibility that a person can have in their legal career and choices available — but always with an eye towards things that law students can do now in order help them achieve those goals.
AD: At most law schools, the focus of the Career Center is on getting second-year students a job for their 2L summer, but it sounds like Duke places a lot of emphasis on 1Ls. Is that the case?
BH: While our Career Center does spend a lot of time working with 2Ls trying to help them get clerkships or summer associate positions, they also spend a lot of time with 1Ls trying to find them summer employment as well. We feel that it is really important for 1Ls to gain substantive legal experience during that first summer so the Career Center works hard for our students there as well.
We also have a Public Interest and Pro Bono Program that is very well staffed. The dean of that office works directly with students who wish to pursue public interest positions or a career in government. There is also a counselor in the Career Center who is devoted to helping students find employment in government and public interest as well — so there are a variety of different people someone might work with depending upon how his or her interests develop over time.
AD: Duke has a strong reputation for helping students get land BigLaw jobs after law school. However, over the past two years many large law firms have hired fewer associates and, in the case of the people they did hire, deferred the start dates for many them because of the economy. What advice would you give to applicants who are looking to enter into big law firms when they graduate?
BH: You are absolutely right and there have been some big changes and transitions in the legal employment market which has affected all of the top law schools. Large, international law firms are hiring fewer lawyers and, at least over the past few years, we’ve seen students who did receive offers get deferred while the firms waited for the economy to recover and the work to return. I think how it has played out here, is that our students have been very nimble. Because ours is such a small class, we are able to provide a very personalized approach to finding legal employment — the deans and the faculty here are very well connected and have been very willing to use those connections to help our graduates secure a job.
Additionally, it would be a mistake to assume that every market is down — that’s simply not true — and the benefit of attending a nationally recognized school like Duke is that we have an alumni network that spans the entire country — and even the globe. Because we do our homework and know where the hiring market may be more or less depressed, we can steer our students in the direction of where the jobs are. Having that knowledge — and alumni in those areas where there are jobs — has been key for us to get to 100% employment over the last several years.
Our alumni have also been deployed in a variety of ways. For instance, the Dean travelled out to alumni clubs and meetings in geographic areas where we knew that our students wanted to work and really lobbied on behalf of our students. Thankfully, our alums responded to the call. You have to understand that we have very active alumni who have always given back to the school — both in terms of monetary gifts and, as in the case of the past couple of years, assistance in finding employment for our graduates. Once you have reached a point in your career where you have achieved a certain level of success, it can be extremely satisfying to help someone else get his or her legal career off the ground and on a path to enjoying the same type of success that you have realized. So our alums have been very instrumental in helping our students successfully navigate what has been a very challenging legal market.
So, I think our students feel that the school has supported them. And, the students themselves have been nimble too. They have been willing to expand their employment search both in terms of the geographic scope and the type of jobs they have been willing to consider.
And the other thing that I’ve heard from some students is that the changes in the legal hiring market really have helped them remember why they came to law school in the first place — which is a huge positive to come out of this difficult economy. So, I’ve heard students say that while they might be comfortable working at a large international law firm, that wasn’t the reason why they came to law school. Instead of focusing on a career at a big New York City law firm, these students have explored other opportunities to “do good” with their law degree and because of the wonderful loan forgiveness programs available they can find a way to afford a career that may not pay as well as a large law firm, but one that in some ways may be more rewarding.
BH: We have always had a good number of students doing those, but we are seeing more and more students coming to the workshops that we hold — so there is certainly more interest as students begin exploring the various options available to them.
AD: For the reader who may not be familiar with the loan repayment assistance program, can you briefly explain how that works at Duke.
BH: Sure. Duke’s loan repayment assistance program — or LRAP — is a program that provides financial assistance to graduates who are doing legal work in either non-profit 501(C)(3) organizations, or in government, so that they can satisfy their student loan obligations. It’s pretty straightforward — if a graduate works for one of these organizations and makes $60,000 a year or less, then Duke will provide funding to cover 100% of that graduate’s student loan payment.
AD: Is this over a period of years?
BH: Yes, you can participate for a period of 10 years — the time it takes to get full, 100% forgiveness in the federal loan repayment assistance program. So, essentially, if you’re making less than $60,000 a year for a period of 10 years, and you are working in a qualifying job, then you will have your entire student loan repaid. We also provide assistance on a sliding scale for those students who make between $60,000 and $75,000 a year. So, that, in combination with the federal loan repayment assistance program, can be tremendously helpful for students who are interested in pursuing a public interest career but are worried about how they can afford to do it.
AD: Can you tell us about the Summer Start Program for dual-degree students at Duke.
BH: Twenty-five percent of Duke Law students pursue a dual-degree. We don’t know this for sure because we can’t find comparable data from other schools, but we think we have one of the highest percentages — if not the highest percentage — of dual degree students in the country. Because we offer over 30 different dual degree programs here at Duke, it is a very compelling option for many students.
The Summer Start Program is available for students pursuing the JD/LLM in International and Comparative Law, JD/MA, and JD/MS. The way it works is that these students begin their classes during the summer before their first-year and take two core law courses such as Contracts and Property. By doing this, they have room in their 1L schedule to take courses in the other departments and that is how these students are able to graduate with two degrees in just three years — because they receive a head start during the summer. The JD/LLM students must also spend the summer following their 1L year taking courses in one of the two transnational institutes that Duke runs in Hong Kong and Geneva. These JD/LLM students do this for half of the summer and then they work at either a law firm or some other international organization in Asia or Europe.
AD: How large is the group of summer starters?
BH: That’s the nice thing, it’s a relatively small group of students — only about 40-45 students participate in the summer start program every year. So it can be a really nice way to begin learning some of the core courses in a very small, personal setting.
AD: Although that’s a small group, it’s still a pretty high percentage of your entering class.
BH: That’s true, we typically enroll about 200-210 students, so summer starters often comprise slightly more than 20% of the entering class.
AD: And did I hear correctly that Duke was over subscribed this past cycle — that your offers yielded more students than you expected?
BH: Yes, that’s true. We enrolled a slightly larger class than we had expected for the fall of 2010. The yield on the admissions offers increased in a way that nobody expected — which is good news since it means that there were more people who wanted to come to Duke. The problem was that they really wanted to come this year. Typically, a number of admitted candidates will request a deferment and that just didn’t happen this year for whatever reason — [laughing] I guess everyone was very eager to start law school.
Despite the slightly larger class, however, we have taken measures to make sure that Duke doesn’t lose its small law school feel. For instance, we hired additional writing instructors this year so those sections will remain small.
AD: I know that the University of Miami School of Law ran into a similar problem with over subscription in 2009 and they offered some students partial scholarships if they were willing to defer their start date to 2010. Did you resort to any tactics like that?
BH: No, we didn’t do anything like that. It was a relatively small number of extra students so it wasn’t a critical problem. But, that said, we are a small school and we feel that a lot of positives flow from having a small student body with a huge faculty and lots of resources, so we have taken steps to make sure that we don’t risk losing that aspect of life here at Duke.
AD: Duke Law students have a reputation for being non-competitive and supportive of one another, one of the best examples of this is the Lead Week, in which 2Ls and 3Ls take incoming 1Ls under their wing. How does the academic environment of Duke Law play into this atmosphere of camaraderie?
BH: LEAD is an acronym for “Lawyer Education and Development” and is a program that is closely tied with our Blueprint.
AD: Then maybe we should first talk about the Duke Blueprint and what that is.
BH: Ok, the Blueprint is something that has gotten a lot of attention. The Blueprint is a set of governing values or principles that we think are important here at Duke Law School. So, they are values such as “engage intellectually,” “practice professionalism,” and “live with purpose” — things of that nature. These values are designed to help educate students to make good choices that will, hopefully, allow them to find a meaningful life in the law both personally and professionally. The Blueprint also serves as a framework to help us develop events and student programming throughout the year that center on one or more of these core values. For instance, during LEAD Week — which is our orientation here at Duke Law — each day is tied to a different core value in the Duke Law Blueprint.
I mentioned that the Blueprint has received a lot of positive attention. One example is that we recently went through the re-accreditation process with the American Bar Association. During the school visit, the Chair of the ABA committee responsible for accreditation cited Duke’s student culture as the strongest of any law school he has ever seen — and the reaccreditation report specifically credited the Blueprint ideals as the source of Duke’s culture of service and collegiality. So, it’s really something we are very proud of and what has really helped us foster the strong student culture that has become almost synonymous with the Duke Law School experience.
AD: Financial aid packages are often the deciding factor when people are choosing which law school to attend. What factors should students consider when deciding between a scholarship at School A and paying the “sticker price” at School B?
BH: Everyone has a different tolerance for student debt and one always has to think about that. I think it has become a lot easier to get comfortable with the debt load most law students confront given the various loan repayment assistance programs that are now available. But, in the end, it is still the students who must sign those promissory notes and so it’s really important that they think long and hard about how they plan to finance their legal education.
One thing students must consider when comparing financial aid packages from two different law schools is not only the cost of tuition at each school — and these can vary greatly — but also the cost of living if you were to attend School A instead of School B. So, for instance, you might have a nice scholarship offer to attend Duke, but that offer might become even more valuable when you dig down and discover that the cost of living in Durham is substantially lower than what you might have to spend living in a location like New York City, Chicago or Washington DC.
AD: That’s a really good point. I’m not sure if you’re aware, but in the Paying For Law School section of the AdmissionsDean website we have a Law School Cost Calculator that allows students to do just that — factor both tuition and cost of living expenses and make adjustments based on inflation to project just how much a 3- or 4-year JD is going to cost them.
BH: I think I did see that and it seems like a really helpful tool. I also believe that students need to think about the cost of their legal education in the context of their entire professional career — particularly for folks who plan to enter private practice. Given the salaries they are able to command over time, when you look at the cost of a legal education it often turns out to be only a small fraction of the earnings one can accumulate over a lifetime. Students need to have that perspective too.
AD: Now that Duke Law has recently completed its multi-year, multi-million dollar “Extreme Building Makeover,” what’s your favorite part of the new space?
BH: My favorite space from the renovation is definitely the Star Commons — it’s a beautiful atrium with lots of natural light. I think it’s terrific because it provides our community with a place to gather — both informally and formally. So, for instance, it’s a great place for a faculty member to grab coffee with a student or for when students want to get together as a group to discuss things, have lunch, whatever. But it’s also a great place for when we host a prominent speaker on campus. So, for instance, when Al Gore came to Duke last Spring, or when a U.S. Supreme Court Justice comes through (as they do regularly), we can use that space to hold their talk.
And, of course, the library, which received a complete overhaul during the renovation project, is fantastic as well. I know that students are really happy with that space given how much time they spend studying there.
BH: That’s a relatively new project sponsored by our alumni office to compile a series of short videos indexed by topic, name, graduation date, etc. It’s starting with alumni but eventually I imagine that members of our faculty will be invited to participate in the process as well. The basic idea is that the people interviewed describe their life and professional experiences both at Duke and, later, after they graduated. The project has been extremely popular with alums — we have very engaged alumni who enjoy sharing their experiences with students, prospective students and former classmates.
As for my most memorable interview, I really like Judge Becton’s video. Judge Becton is a former judge on the North Carolina Court of Appeals who now teaches trial practice here at Duke. He’s a really terrific person and during his video he talks about how he met his wife who was an undergraduate while he was studying law here at Duke — they were both participating in a protest on campus. It’s a great story.
AD: OK, my last series of questions has to do with transferring after the first year — both in and out of Duke. Do you find yourself losing students as transfers to other schools?
BH: There are always a small number — really only a few students — who we may lose as transfer students. The number is not really that high. Almost always, a transfer is due to personal reasons — a spouse found a new job or was transferred and the student has to move, that sort of thing. That’s usually the main reason why someone chooses to depart Duke after the first year.
Because we don’t lose very many students, we also don’t invite many students to transfer into Duke. We typically have space for only about 10-15 transfer students so it tends to be a very competitive process. But it is a good process for someone who really wants to be at Duke and perhaps just didn’t make it the first time around. And our transfer students — probably because they are so committed to studying law here — typically embrace the opportunity and assume leadership roles on campus and participate on the law review or one of our other journals. They always turn out to be spectacular students.
AD: So you do leave spots open on the Law Review for students who come as transfers?
BH: Oh, yes. There is always a special writing competition that allows them to compete just like everyone else for those spots. This competition takes place in early August.
Transferring is something that students should keep in mind especially if they didn’t get into their “first choice” the first time around. On the other hand, you may turn out really loving the law school where you are and perhaps that is why you performed so well there — because that school is a really good fit for you. Don’t be surprised if that happens too!
AD: When you look at transfer students, do you look at students from law schools outside the top 100?
BH: I can’t really tell you because, honestly, I don’t know what schools are in the top 100. Regardless of where the candidate went to law school, we look at how well he or she performed as a 1L. We also look to see just how prepared the transfer applicant is to come here and make an impact — both academically and in co-curricular activities. So, I guess the answer to your question is that we consider transfer applications from a variety of law schools.
When selecting transfer applicants, we examine whether the applicant possesses the qualities that we look for here at Duke — do their grades from their home institution demonstrate that they have the intellectual capacity to perform well if admitted, does the application demonstrate a strong commitment to becoming a Duke law student and can the applicant explain why coming to Duke makes sense for them now (e.g., clerkship opportunities or courses of study that are not available at the applicant’s home institution). If the applicant can demonstrate these things, he or she will be a strong transfer candidate.
We also conduct interviews for every transfer applicant we consider — usually telephone interviews since there typically is not a lot of time to make a decision. And one of the things we try to glean from these interviews is whether or not the applicant is the type of person that is going to thrive once they arrive on campus. A transfer applicant by nature has to be a bit nimble and we want to make sure that they have the type of personality that will allow them to come here and quickly assimilate by joining the community, seeking out opportunities and meeting new people.
AD: Well, Dean Hoye, we’ve been on the phone for over an hour and I genuinely appreciate you taking the time to answer my questions. You’ve given our readers a lot of valuable information that I’m sure will be very helpful when they apply to law school — especially to Duke. I thank you very much for your time.