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Visiting New England Law Schools

The Mountains

I visited Franklin Pierce and Vermont Law school on my very first road trip, in 1989. I'm reluctant to say anything at all about the facilities, since they almost certainly have renovated in some ways since then; however, I'm sure the towns have changed in surprisingly few ways -- they probably have changed very little since 1800

Of course, both of these schools are a national draw because of their specialties, not because of their environment. Vermont's environmental program and Franklin Pierce's intellectual property program are both consistently ranked among the very top in the US News rankings.

Vermont Law School

South Royalton, Vermont is really too small to call a town [as you can see here]; Wikipedia lists it as having 622 families. My recollections of Main Street include the bed and breakfast where I stayed, a combined gasoline-car repair-restaurant on the corner, a post office, a general store, and the church. There may have been more establishments on Main Street, but not double the number that I've listed. The scenery was everything that a quaint New England village is reported to be. The weeping willow tree reflected in the calm mirror of the White River belonged on a high-class jigsaw puzzle or postcard. The most troublesome thing for a student might be that Vermont Law school is in no way affiliated with the University of Vermont, and is not physically near it.  

Vermont

A free-standing law school may lack the secondary sources (books on history, psychology, or sociology) that can be important to a research paper.

The people were small-town friendly, and I wasn't there long enough to discover whether they were stereotypically New England standoffish.

U. of New Hampshire (formerly Franklin Pierce) Law School

U. New Hampshire

Concord, New Hampshire is a little larger and less green than South Royalton.

Concord definitely had the feel of an old New England textile town, with obvious signs of a city that had not recovered from a lost industry. Empty warehouses and railroad yards gave the city a bleaker feel than I would like to live with for three years.  

The staff at Franklin Pierce (now U. N. H.) is uncommonly nice; in fact, they were decidedly the brightest thing I saw in the town.

 


Connecticut

Connecticut is in many ways the midpoint between New York and Boston. This is true geographically, of course, but it is also true in terms of demographics. Connecticut was founded by settlers who considered the Puritan attitudes of Boston and Salem far too restrictive, yet it never developed the amoral chaos that characterized New York 300 years ago and still does today.

Almost exactly halfway between New York City and Boston, graduates of UConn and Quinnipiac participate in both job markets. The countryside is more fertile and meadow-like than either rocky New England or urban New York.

I wish I could tell you something about Yale, but I've really never seen it.  Well, maybe once, in 1975, but I wasn't paying attention to facilities back then.  I could go to their web page or to Wiki and paste a picture of a building I've never seen, but that's not my style; I can only vouch for what I've seen myself.  

The University of Connecticut

Connecticut

UConn has added a beautiful new building, architecturally and aesthetically integrated with their original campus (formerly a seminary). We didn't stop to see the main campus about 20 miles up the road, because admission to UConn is so competitive these days that we didn't think my client had a realistic chance of getting in. Dean of Admissions Karen DeMeola told us that the economy of Connecticut, Western Massachusetts, and upstate New York was managing to support both UConn and Quinnipiac grads.

If you have a high enough LSAT score to get in, my only concern would be the separation between the main campus and the law campus.

Quinnipiac

We arrived at Quinnipiac too late to talk to anyone on the admissions staff, but the many employees we ran into were helpful and friendly. The law school is beautiful, with many of the little touches that led me to believe that the institution was designed for people instead of for offices.

There was clearly a lot of money and a lot of concern in the planning. The rest of the campus was equally beautiful -- in fact, identically so.  

I personally have trouble navigating campuses where every building looks the same. I get lost constantly. Fortunately, my client has a sense of direction, or we might still be wandering around the parking lot. Of course, I am decidedly in the minority in this regard; most people think planned campuses are delightful, and if you're one of those people, you'll love Quinnipiac. Quinnipiac

Boston

Boston continues to make far less of an impression on me than it does on others, perhaps because the interesting, cool, and funky places are not collected into one area. Only those "in the know" can really appreciate the city, and I'm decidedly not one of those people.

This may be seen as the "sour grapes" of a Philadelphian, but the sense that Bostonians rate themselves a bit higher than others rate them is common, as can be seen in the famous "Boston Toast" by Harvard alumnus John Collins Bossidy:  

"And here's to good old Boston,
The home of the bean and the cod,
Where the Lowells speak only to Cabots,
And the Cabots speak only to God."

More recently, in Let's See: Writings on Art from The New Yorker, Peter Schjeldahl expressed a similar feeling when he wrote, "To call yourself something special -- a chip off the old Mayflower, say -- and to uphold it as being exceptionally American is obnoxious." (p. 14) So, it being said that this is a Philadelphian's view of Boston, let us continue.

Harvard Law School

Harvard Law

Harvard Law School is undeniably impressive, even majestic!  Austin Hall is the building where The Paper Chase was filmed.   

Harvard is not officially in Boston; but Cambridge can hardly be called a separate town, primarily because Boston itself is so small that without its surrounding communities it would be fairly unimpressive.  While the metro population is about four and a half million, Boston proper holds fewer than 750,000.  Also, the MTA [the only public transit system to merit a song about it] passes seamlessly from Boston to Cambridge with not even a transfer to disturb your ride.  

 

Harvard Yard is a quadrangle of buildings making up one of the earliest parts of the college.

Its well-maintained lawns and neatly shingled buildings impress a lot of people. Unfortunately, I am so directionally impaired that I require visually different buildings in order to navigate, so a stately sameness is a real hindrance to me. Surprisingly, the law school [known to those "in the know" simply as HLS] does not impress me much. The library renovation back in '99 or so did not change the feel; new tables, drapes, lighting, and Internet connections were moved into a building that was otherwise substantially the same.

Harvard

Harvard Square is the collection of trendy, funky, intellectual businesses that accumulate near many colleges. Perhaps I've become jaded in my travels, but I don't find this particular collection to be trendier or funkier than the ones near Penn, Berkeley, or UCLA. In fact, I find the off-campus shops near M.I.T. to be the coolest set of campus stores that I've seen. Fortunately, M.I.T. is only one or two stops up the red line (a subway) from Harvard, so you get two cool neighborhoods for the price of one.

BC/BU

That's really unfair of me: so many people have trouble remembering which campus is which that I really shouldn't put them in the same paragraph. But I've come up with a clever mnemonic device that I'm hoping will solve the problem:  Boston Univer-sity is in the city.  I hope that helps.  

There are a number of other differences besides the suburban/city distinction.

  • Boston College feels noticeably smaller than Boston University, not only because it is in fact half the size, but also because the law school is isolated from the rest of the University.
  • Public transportation does not run to BC law school, seriously limiting mobility for people without cars. BU is right on the T line, which makes it accessible to virtually all of Boston and Cambridge.
  • BC's isolation contributes to a greater sense of community among the students, while BU's urban locale makes it just as easy to have dinner in Chinatown as in the cafeteria.  

In a greater sense, BC and BU typify the distinction between urban and suburban schools.

BU is energized by the traffic (both automobile and pedestrian) on Commonwealth Avenue.  Sidewalk vendors epitomize lunch "to go."  The students walk with the more directed pace common to city life. BC's isolation not only from the city but also from the rest of campus creates an almost-mythical sense of isolated academia. Boston U

The law school's emphasis on community service may tend to offset the isolation, but the very act of having to leave campus in order to find someone to serve emphasizes the metaphor of a safe suburban society.

Boston College

 

As you may have gathered, I am a city kid; I thrive in the electrified and electrifying atmosphere of any place that deserves to be called "downtown." However, you may be the sort of person who associates that electrifying atmosphere with being struck by lightning. In that case, Boston College might suit you far better than BU. Newton MA's City Hall captures the feel of the BC environment better than a picture of the law school itself.  


Northeastern, New England, and Suffolk

The "other three" Boston law schools are generally not considered to be in the same league with Harvard, BC, or BU. Their primary focus has been on working-class people in the Boston area, offering more flexible educational options.

Northeastern University is one of only two in the country to operate on co-op system; students spend a significant amount of time (as much as three semesters) in internships, guaranteeing a very high placement rate after graduation. New England Law School is a freestanding law school within blocks of Boston Common. It was originally called Portia Law School in honor of the woman lawyer in Shakespeare's The Merchant of Venice, and was the only law school exclusively for women. Like many other downtown law schools, it has a large part-time evening program, accommodating people who work in the area. Like Vermont and Franklin Pierce, it is a free-standing law school, lacking the secondary sources associated with the University. Suffolk Law School, while also in the heart of Boston, is part of a larger urban campus. It also has strong ties with the state government buildings only a block or two away.

The two law schools I visited in 2005, Northeastern and New England, struck me as adequate but not superior; if you want to be in Boston, they're fine, but no one would say, "Have you seen...?" Both of them are doing an excellent job of serving the primarily local market too often ignored by the bigger-name law schools in the city. My client wandered over to Suffolk while I rested my tired feet in Boston Commons. She says their new facility is great, but I'm hesitant to write about something I didn't see. Fortunately Suffolk will host the NAPLA (prelaw advisors') conference, scheduled for June 2011, so I'll be able to update my opinions as well as my pictures.

 

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