Berkeley Law School:
To Go Or Not To Go

Berkeley Law School is a Prince of a law school. Just like Prince, its weird name change issues don't mean that it is not a good place to study.

(That is, this is a wonderful law school formerly known as Boalt Hall of the University of California Berkeley.)

Why come here?

I'd give 7 compelling reasons. There are a couple of factors that may make Berkeley not a good fit for you.

Why you should go to Berkeley Law School

I count maybe 7 compelling reasons why you should go:

  • National Prestige. Berkeley is one of the "Big 3" national Public law schools (with Michigan and Virginia). It is part of the "Big 2" law schools in California, topped (sorry, Cal Bears) only by Stanford. But to be practical about things, here is how the whole prestige thing likely plays out for you:
  • If you get into Yale, Harvard or Stanford, you'll probably go to one of those.
  • But: If you get into Yale, Harvard or Stanford instead, you should probably go unless Berkeley Law School offers you a full scholarship and the Big 3 do not.
  • If you get into Columbia, NYU and Chicago, even though they are ranked higher than Berkeley Law School, you still might think about going to Berkeley instead, for two reasons: if you get a scholarship with Berkeley and the "next 3" don't offer you money, or if you want to practice in California or in the west and you don't get into Stanford.
  • Matching Scholarship Program. If you want to go to Berkeley Law School, and you get a scholarship to one of twelve different schools (basically the 15top ranked law schools less Northwestern Law School and the University of Texas, for reasons I don't get, Northwestern Law School), Berkeley will match the scholarship to make sure you go to Berkeley Law. It is not an automatic match, but it's a nice gesture.
  • Let's face it. If you get into Harvard, Yale and Stanford, the matching program is not going to convince you to come here. And for the most part, unless you are set on staying in California afterwards, you still would likely choose Columbia, Chicago and NYU first if you received equal scholarships to Berkeley and the "Next 3" law schools.
  • But if your scholarship offers are from Michigan, Virginia, Cornell, Georgetown, Duke and Pennsylvania, the Matching Program could be the decisive factor in favor of Berkeley Law School. My big question (and I would love to learn from someone who knows) is whether Berkeley would match for these schools.
  • Strong Departments. Berkeley is one of the best law schools in the U.S. in intellectual property and environmental law. The clinical programs (the ones in which you actually practice law) are also wonderful. Berkeley is not, with one exception, weak in any area.
  • Attached to a World-Class University. UC Berkeley is perhaps the best major public university in the U.S. and, public or not, one of the handful of best research universities in the world. Cal boasts Nobel Laureates and strengths in nearly every major field in the arts & sciences, engineering, etc., etc. If you want to study something outside of law, they've got it. So if you have a strong idea of what you want to focus on, and classes outside of the law school will help you, Berkeley has got it.
  • Wonderful Location. Berkeley is a (famous) college town. But the other offerings close by are amazing, especially if you've worked before law school and aren't strictly on a soon-to-be-in $200,000-debt budget. San Francisco is just a BART ride away, and within an hour's drive is wine country in Napa-Sonoma and the beaches of Santa Cruz (not the prettiest but still, they are beaches, and the boardwalk is cool). Less than four hours away is skiing or swimming (depending on the season) at Lake Tahoe. You may study pretty hard, but if you want to get away for a weekend.
  • Berkeley's proximity to San Francisco and Silicon Valley may be useful in a different way: You could do term-time internship. Some big law firms let you work during the school year before graduating. While you may want to rest and just enjoy being a student before you start full time at a firm job, if that is what you intend to do, it does help pay the bills if you work 10-15 hours a week at a law firm. As long as you keep up your grades, nothing wrong with trying to avoid a bit of debt before graduating.
  • No letter grades. This does not mean that the school is not competitive. It is extremely competitive. But it does take the sting away if you. It also contributes to a somewhat less openly competitive environment.

Why you might not want to go to Berkeley Law School

  • Expensive - Painfully Expensive For A Public Law School. Weirdly, despite being a public school, Berkeley Law School is one of the most expensive in terms of tuition. In the absence of scholarship money, Berkeley charges more for in-state, California residents (over $50,000) than many of the elite private schools do, such as NYU or Columbia.
  • Not great international law offerings. This is a personal pet peeve, and I am exaggerating somewhat. Professor David Caron is a mainstay and a wonderful teacher of international law. But Berkeley is not otherwise reknown for its public international law department, perhaps unlikely Harvard, Columbia and NYU.
  • To the left, mostly. While there are some famous conservatives who teach here (e.g., John Yoo, lawyer during the Bush years and author of the memo defending the use of harsh techniques many have called torture (this is how you know that I am a lawyer -- look at how overly cautious I was to call it '"torture), this is still home to the denizens of for the most "Bezerkley."

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