Visiting Law Schools
Inland from the East Coast

Up-State New York

Once you leave Manhattan Metro there are only four more schools in New York State, and each is a "best buy" -- a school that takes applicants with lower numbers than its urban peers because of its north-of-Manhattan location.

Albany Law School

Albany Law School has added a third and equally beautiful building to its two older facilities. The original 1920s law school is elegant and well-maintained. The addition including the moot court room, built in 1968 and renovated in 1987, still looks brand new (an incredible accomplishment with pearl-gray carpets and seats). The new building, which houses clinic and placement offices, is equally elegant, well-staffed, and pleasant.  Albany impresses me now, as it did in 1989 when I first visited, as a school with a happy and generous group of alumni. I put Albany high on the list of any of my clients interested in a medium-sized east coast city.

Albany Law School is affiliated with Union University, whose undergraduate arm, Union College, has long been famous for its fine liberal arts education. Albany is one of the five oldest law schools in the United States, and boasts of graduating the first African American and the first woman in the state of New York.  As law school selection became more governed by location than by reputation in the 1970s, Albany suffered a drop in the rankings. And as the local job market suffered through the recession of the late 80s and early 1990s, Albany again suffered in the USNWR rankings. But while the ranking has changed, the quality of the education and facilities hasn't.  

Albany isn't a big city, but its location midway between New York and Boston gives the student ample options for the occasional getaway weekend.  And as the state capital, Albany offers unparalleled opportunities for clerkships with the state legislature, governor's office, and appellate courts. If you're looking for a quality education with numbers that aren't quite "top tier," you should definitely look at Albany.

SUNY Buffalo

The worst aspect of SUNY Buffalo is its silly name.  Twenty years ago it was the name you see above.  Then some marketing people told them that they'd get more applications if they put "Buffalo" up front in their name, so they're higher alphabetically.  So now they call themselves "The University at Buffalo Law School, The State University of New York (SUNY)."  How'd you like to engrave that on a class ring?  So regardless of marketing efforts, to me they're SUNY Buffalo.   And to make matters worse, the campus isn't actually at Buffalo! Instead, it's in a suburb called Amherst -- Amherst NY, not the one in Massachusetts (which hosts the very famous Amherst College).  

SUNY  Buffalo

The law school is in the heart of the campus, instead of its usual almost-off-campus place; it's one of the brown brick buildings just northwest of center in this photo.  The campus is typical of many state schools - suburban, with well-tended grounds and plenty of trees and grass - but the facilities are nicer than those at many state schools. The grounds are well-designed and maintained, and the campus seemed to be a place students enjoyed.  As part of the main campus, the law school boasts easy access to facilities such as the gym and student health. The library is spacious and well-lit, and wide hallways are dotted with tables and chairs for studying by the floor-to-ceiling windows, or for just hanging out. If you're looking for a pleasant environment now and a pleasant loan repayment schedule later, you should definitely consider Buffalo.


Cornell has a beautiful law school and a beautiful campus. The law library reading room has vaulted ceilings and giant chandeliers, and folks who like monumental architecture love it. The new wing (to the right of the tower) boasts an enclosed and roofed courtyard that creates the feeling of a sidewalk cafe indoors. This is a real benefit when the snow starts.   Cornell

What bothers most prospective applicants is that Cornell isn't in or near a big city. Ithaca, like Ann Arbor and Durham, is a college town.  Most of these towns have great spots to sip latté, watch foreign films, visit naturopaths, join kayak clubs, browse used-book shops, buy organic feta, or find meditation centers.  So no, Ithaca isn't Manhattan, but it has a lot to offer.

Cornell is very generous in its review of diversity applications; if minority or disadvantaged applicants are looking for one longshot, this would be a good one to choose.   Overall, Cornell is a school that I urge my clients to consider, and I think the rest of you would also do well to consider it.  



Once upon a time, all a school needed to maintain a fabulous reputation was a fabulous football team.  Sadly, the Orangemen are no longer enough to keep a law school in the public's favor. Having not quite enough of anything, Syracuse lags at the midpoint of the nation's 200 law schools.  Consider it this way: Syracuse is a five hour drive from either Boston or New York. It's not as cheap as SUNY Buffalo, it's not as prestigious as Cornell, it's not as well-placed in the job market as Albany.  

The city is  relatively small, with about 3/4 of a million people in the metro area.  Its skyline reflects the lack of new industry in the last 25 years, as does the law school; classrooms, lounges, and cafeteria have a "low budget" feel, especially as compared to the other upstate law schools.  


Nonetheless, Syracuse has an excellent academic reputation, and would be a "best buy" for a person wanting a joint degree, since the University at large has not suffered from the oppression of US News rankings.  

Central and Western Pennsylvania

Penn State Dickinson undertook a fairly radical move -- splitting the campus in two, and having a new facility at University Park as well as the old one in Carlisle. A shuttle bus connecting the two will travel about two hours each way, for Carlisle students who want to enroll in courses at the main campus at State College, PA.  I, for one, think this is about as good a solution as King Solomon's cutting the baby in half.  But I may be wrong, and telecommuting may be the wave of the future. There are already online seminars of all sorts, so why not a whole semester's classes?

Penn State, Part One -- Dickinson

Dickinson Law School is the original school; it has been in Carlisle since 1834. There was a Mr. Dickinson, but he wasn't at the school; he was a governor of Pennsylvania so long ago that his title was actually "President." Carlisle Pennsylvania is a suburb of Harrisburg, which is itself a pretty small town despite being the state's capital. With a Metro of just about half a million people, culture and socializing are pretty basic; you won't find any Ethiopian or health food restaurants in this town.

Dickinson The  law school building is being gutted and refitted, wired and wi-fied, but, as this architect's rendering shows, the exterior will still bear the small-town colonial look of red brick with white trim.

As is common with college towns, Carlisle is more tolerant of racial, ethnic, and lifestyle diversity than a comparable town lacking a university. Nonetheless, it probably won't offer a gay bar or an R & B music station. If life without funk and counterculture is emotionally rewarding to you, you might do well here, especially as an older student who doesn't really care about the club scene. But if you're looking for the level of diversity and activities that you associate with a big state college, you might want to consider the University Park campus.

Penn State Part Two -- University Park

Penn State at University Park is still a work in progress. 2010 was the first year that there is a full complement of students representing all three years, with such trimmings as law journals, moot court and mock trial teams, and enough faculty to teach elective classes. As I mentioned above, telecommuting will link the two campuses more than shuttle buses will. I've never seen the campus, but I imagine it will look very similar to the picture of SUNY Buffalo above.

If you go to their web page, the banner keeps flashing great photos of buildings, but since I don't know which is what, I'll just give you the link and you can see for yourself.


The University of Pittsburgh's main campus is located in a pleasant, safe-feeling neighborhood that has the additional benefit of being one of the most level parts of this hilly city.

Its main disadvantage is the building itself. The structure is of the stark gray-concrete style common in the 1960s and actually named "Brutalism." This interior and exterior starkness is antithetical to a companionable or homey feeling.




Difficulties in traveling allowed me to spend much less time at the school than I had originally intended.  A word to the wise: remember that traveling through mountains can take up to double the time the same trip would take on level ground.


Although I visited Duquesne back in 1990 or so, I still remember two things:  Duquesne is hilly, and it's Catholic.  

The street in front of the law school rivals San Francisco's Lombard Street for steep angles; I remember wondering what's the point of having a wheel-chair-accessible building if you can't make it to the front door.  (No, I'm not in a wheel-chair; I'm just conscious of these issues.)  

When I gained the top and planted my metaphorical flag, I stopped to rest at the grotto of the Madonna and Child.  This is the only law school I've ever seen with actual religious statuary.  There was also a note on the bulletin board reminding people that the law school would be closed on a Catholic holy day.  This is not a law school for people disturbed by overt signs of organized religion.  

In 2003 this fountain was built; I don't know whether it replaced the grotto or is in a different location.


Take me back to the
"Grand Tour" Page

Take me back to
the Home Page