Collins Byrd
Assistant Dean for Admissions
University of Iowa College of Law

"What special counsel would you give minority applicants about attending law school in a place where there are not many people like themselves?"

Collins Byrd, Dean of Admissions, University of Iowa College of Lawl

Collins Byrd earned a Bachelor's degree from Dartmouth College and an MBA from Northwestern University's Kellogg Graduate School of Management. He has worked in admissions for 20 years. Prior to being employed by University of Iowa College of Law, Mr. Byrd was the Director of Admissions at University of Minnesota Law School and at William Mitchell College of Law. Mr. Byrd also worked for Northwestern University' s Kellogg Graduate School of Management and for Dartmouth College.

I asked Dean Byrd this question because many minorities, having grown up in urban environments, flinch when I suggest they apply to Iowa. Then I take them to talk with Dean Byrd at a Law School Forum and they change their minds.

Dean Byrd, you may have noticed that I recently interviewed Jennifer Kott about her experiences as the country girl-turned-city-girl-turned-county-girl again. You and I have often spoken about the special challenges that face racial, ethnic and sexual minorities. One of these is undeniably the tendency to seek safety in numbers. What do you answer to people who say, "You want me to go where?"

First, I would tell them that I do not believe in allowing geography to get in the way of opportunity.  There are wonderful law schools all over the United States, each with a number of strengths that would be a good fit for particular applicants.  If a student finds a school that fits his or her academic or professional interests in the form of a professor’s research, clinic, research institute or scholarly publication, then that school should be considered seriously by the student, and not counted out because of geographical location.  As a lawyer, you will not have the option of turning down a potential client based on geography, or handling a case in a particular jurisdiction because you choose not to work in a particular area of the country or the world; that would be poor analysis leading to a poor judgment call.  Don’t start doing that now.

Keep in mind that you are attending law school to earn a law degree.  The life outside of law school while you are a student is secondary.  You will be spending a lot of time in the law library and in study groups.  Also, it is partly cloudy and 72 degrees F in nearly all of our law libraries and most of our classrooms.  (Think about it….)

What would you tell students who feel that attending law school is a step toward helping people from their own background, and fear that these issues won't be raised at law schools outside the major cities?

There are social activities and events at all of the ABA-accredited law schools and within all of the cities and towns that they are located in.  The student organizations do make local connections that allow students to become involved in the local activities on an extracurricular, professional and social level.  The key question is will you have time (or make time) to participate.

As citizens in a multicultural world, we all have to learn to  be chameleons from time to time.  We need to learn to adapt to our environments, as long as those environments are both legal and ethical in how they operate.  People have adapted to new environments and situations all of their lives.  Our parents and grandparents adapted to situations that were much more volatile, uncertain and unnerving, to say the least, than we have had to adapt to.  Let’s maintain the strength that has been passed down to us.  Keep in mind that for many of us, we have been guided more by faith than by sight in our family histories.

For some students, the leap to small-town life fees to frightening: there are no gay bars, pizza comes from a chain that never even hired an Italian, and they import their baklava (if they have any) from the city where I live now! Besides, I have to help my grandmother, who doesn't speak English.

To be frank, I am not necessarily a fan of leaving one’s comfort zone.  If there is a legitimate, objective and verifiable reason to attend law school in a certain environment, such as a large city or a warm weather environment, then one should do that.  I just do not want the criteria for making an enrollment decision to be based on stereotypes regarding geography, weather, social life, the potential for that law school’s location to become a nice vacation spot, or for the law school’s career services department to become some type of relocation service.  Remember the priority:  Attend and graduate from law school.  

On a more personal level, I was born into a family that had to move around a lot, due mostly to my father’s profession.  I got used to adapting to different environments by finding a way to connect with my passion at the time:  Sports, football and baseball in particular.  I got involved in some types of leagues and activities that would allow me to meet other people while doing the things that I like.  When I was in graduate school, my passions remained athletic in nature with some community services activities.  I got involved with other students and people who had the same interests.  Today, as an adult, I do the same thing.  My passions, after raising a child and being a part of a family, involve outdoor activities.  So, I participate in activities that allow me to spend a significant part of my weekends outside.  I have always focused on the passion and the interest, and the activities that have allowed me to pursue them.  I have not focused much on the people who are involved, since they will come and go; but my passion for my activities will remain the same.

 Many applicants are put off by the common myth that you should attend law school where you want to work, so that you can make appropriate contacts. It sounds like you don't' believe that to be true.

Most of the accredited law schools have very good career services departments.  Here at Iowa Law, our Career Services Department  works with an orientation that is national in scope.  That office helps to place 70% of our graduates in jobs that are outside the state of Iowa, and about 30% within the state of Iowa.  So, even if a student is in a smaller city or town, the chances of that student gaining some national exposure is quite high.

So you're saying what I did when I moved to Durham: find the restaurants you like, the bridge club, and the list of guest speakers and performers, and you'll fill three years adequately.

Right. Unless you have a doctor’s note, focus on a law school's clinics, research institutes and scholarly publications.  Find one of these services that covers the subject matter that interests you, and investigate that law school.  It may be the one for you.

Thank you, Dean Byrd!

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