Visiting Law Schools
in the Philadelphia Area

I'm from Philly, so writing about it objectively is nearly impossible. Efforts to reduce the crime and improve the economy have also seriously reduced the cultural flair of the city. The new convention center made incursions into Chinatown, making it a touristy addendum instead of a neighborhood of its own. The relocation of the higher-end South Street stores out to suburban malls has left Philly's Greenwich Village with a lot of kitsch and little quality. Even Little Italy's identity as the center of Mafia excitement has been eclipsed by North Jersey's bus tours of "Sopranos" locales.

fieldstone street

Cobblestone Streets abound in older cities

Of course, if you didn't grow up here you won't know what's missing, so it may not look as bad to you.  Penn campus is still beautiful, Old City is still historic, and the pizza and cheese steaks are still great. So I'll do my best not to give too slanted a view, but you might want to get a second opinion from someone less disappointed in how her home town has evolved.


Villanova's biggest selling point is its location. The Main Line (named for the commuter train serving the area) is an endless strip of student attractions and high-end consumer services and goods. Two trendy restaurants, a Banana Republic, a Jaguar dealership, a sporting goods store, then start over again, for a stretch of almost ten miles. Immaculata, Villanova, Bryn Mawr, Haverford, and Rosemont, plus a few junior colleges, exist in that same few miles. One of my students named it "Rodeo Drive combined with a college town." For a student, there could hardly be a better place, and the commuter train into Philly costs less than $10 and takes less than a half hour.

Villanova Law School had a serious need for improved physical facilities when I visited in 2005. Fortunately, the new building is targeted for completion in 2009, so those of you applying now need not worry about the mud and dust that accompany construction.  



Temple University

Temple University has used recent infusions of money to make extensive aesthetic improvements to an existing structure. To the eye of this person who attended the old no-frills school, there was a lot of beautiful new wood slapped onto an ugly old concrete building. To the eye of my client, however, the renovation was much more pleasing. [I suspect others agree with me; I could find only a few pictures, tiny and taken from a distance.]

Whether or not you could see the ugly duckling behind the swan, you could not deny the existence of the swan. However, there were signs that despite all publicity to the contrary, Philly in general and Temple in particular are still dangerous places. You can't even get into the law school to look around without permission from the admissions office and a visitor's pass; I presume that means you can't get in at all outside of office hours. A sign on the front door of the law school requests that students wear their IDs at all times. A constant and visible police presence may not reduce crime, or it may, but at the price of a constant and visible police presence.


food truck

Penn Law

old penn

[University of Pennsylvania Archives. Used with permission.]

penn law I got my B. A. from Penn thirty-something years ago, so none holds a greater place in my heart, but I think the beauty of the campus is evident to many a more objective eye.  The current campus began in the 1870s, and many of the buildings were restored to their original beauty in the 1990s.

Penn law school, and in general Penn campus, are in many ways all that a student could desire. Each of the four (or more) buildings that surround the law quadrangle was architecturally trendy and well-appointed when it was built, and all have been well-maintained.

Like Temple, Penn suffers from a need of tight security, although less so, (or perhaps just less visibly). Student living has gradually shifted from Victorian houses in nearby West Philly to secured high-rises downtown, so you're less likely to walk, bike or rollerblade to class. Penn keeps so many attractions on campus that you may never need to see a dangerous neighborhood.  You've got a Barnes and Noble, a Gap, a classy French restaurant, movie theaters, etc., etc.  Philly may have changed, but Penn will always be great.


Philly's newest law school is Drexel.  The law school, like all other Drexel buildings, is adequate, but suffers by comparison to Penn, which it adjoins. (I always admired the main building for its classical architecture as well as for its statue of Sappho in the main lobby.) Drexel's niche as one of only two law schools in the United States to offer co-op education will guarantee it a role in Philadelphia's legal community, just as the same programs have done for its undergrads.



Widener University

Widener is a geographic oddity in the law school arena. Widener University is (and, AFAIK has always been) in Chester PA, practically on the Delaware state line. Delaware Law School was an independent institution and was (not too surprisingly) in Delaware. In the 1970s the ABA (I think) began making new regulations that pressured independent law schools into partnering with a University. So Widener and Delaware married, although Widener remained in Pennsylvania and the law school remained in Delaware; unlike most long-distance relationships, however, this one seems to have worked. Then, about 15 years later, for reasons that bear no relationship to the original merger, Widener opened another campus, in Harrisburg PA, the state's capital. So as of this writing, Widener University and law schools occupy three different cities. I embarrassedly admit that I have never seen any of the three, so I shall decline further commentary.

Maryland and Baltimore

Maryland has two law schools, one associated with the U of M and the other part of the University of Baltimore. Both are public schools, with lower resident tuition. The two are located only a few blocks apart in central Baltimore, a few blocks from the inner Harbor. This arrangement strikes me as a bit odd, but makes more sense to me than Widener's; at least in this case both law schools have access to the seat of government. Downtown Baltimore, like many other older cities, changes from gentrified to slum in the blink of an eye, so I would want to be very careful to know where I was going to live before planning to attend school here.

The day I visited, I attempted to see both law schools as well as Baltimore's then-new aquarium. I wound up squeezing in the aquarium and the U of M law school, but never saw the U. of Baltimore. Maryland's law school was perfectly adequate but nothing special. The most noteworthy feature was the imitation law offices set up for clinical practice.


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