Interview with University of Richmond School of Law Admissions Director, Dean Michelle Rahman
Interview with University of Richmond School of Law Director of Admissions, Dean Michelle L. Rahman
AA: Dean Rahman, thank you so much for your time in giving this interview. As a long-time Associate Dean of Admissions, what changes have you observed in the admissions field in the time you have served in the admissions office? In addition, how has the admissions process changed at Richmond over the last five years?
MR: Probably the biggest change for us is the huge increase in applications from all over the country and the world, but what has remained timeless is that we continue to enroll really nice people who understand our extraordinarily supportive environment and choose to come here for what they know will be an extraordinary experience on a gorgeous campus in an amazing city. Students continue to pass down from class to class their belief in a collegial law school experience and truly promote this ideal year after year. Thus over time our culture has not changed: a rigorous law school experience in an environment that supports everyone in the pursuit of his or her own goals.
Our admissions process remains unchanged and is based on a holistic review of each applicant’s file. We take the entire application into consideration, placing weight on LSAT score, undergraduate GPA, narrative statement, work history, community service, extra-curricular activities, and letters of recommendation. To us, each file represents an applicant’s hopes and dreams, and our process ensures that each application receives thoughtful and full consideration.
AA: Please explain how Richmond’s two-year law skills program is distinct from the education offered at other law schools.
MR: The first-year Law Skills program teaches students skills that are at the heart of lawyering — legal research, analysis, and writing. The curriculum employs a process approach developed by Richmond faculty to prepare students for a client-centric, service-oriented legal practice in a rapidly changing world. Students acquire a set of choice-making tools that they will be able to deploy in any and every type of legal practice. Moving beyond the traditional internal memo and court brief, these courses also provide opportunities to compose client letters and e-mails, and practice other communication vehicles that reflect the realities of today’s changing legal marketplace. The faculty who teach these courses engage with students not only in the classroom, but also in numerous one-on-one and small-group settings. This high-level of personal interaction allows faculty members to meet each student’s individual needs and to ensure meaningful and tailored feedback on every assignment.
Richmond Law is one of few law schools that require a second-year of law skills training. In the fall semester of their second year, all students take Lawyering Skills III, which focuses on the skills required of lawyers in the litigation process. Through this course, students learn real-world legal skills during exercises where they act as counsel in litigation settings. For example, students practice arguing motions, taking depositions, and trying a case before a jury. In the spring semester of the second year, students can choose between two Lawyering Skills IV options: Contract Drafting and Appellate Advocacy. Contract Drafting is a transactional course in which students learn skills to apply contract law principles to the drafting of contracts. Appellate Advocacy is designed to teach the skills required of advocates in appellate courts. Students participate in hands-on exercises that simulate the roles of lawyers representing parties during an appeal. Class sessions are conducted as “law office” meetings where students meet with the instructor to analyze the trial court record, identify issues for appeal, discuss the results of research on those issues, outline arguments for an appellate brief, and edit portions of the brief.
AA: Tell us about your London Clinical Placement Program.
MR: The London Clinical Placement Program is a four-week, four credit, pass/fail summer externship program for second- and third-year law students. The program helps students to integrate legal theory with practice and to compare American, English and European Union legal systems. Students work thirty-two hours a week with barristers, solicitors, or Members of Parliament. (These individuals are called field instructors to reflect their teaching role in the program.) Placements typically include public interest organizations, legal aid offices, private law firms, and MP’s constituent and Parliament offices.
In addition to the work at the placement, students attend a weekly two-hour seminar taught by an American trained lawyer living in London and submit weekly reflective journals and time sheets. Both an oral midterm evaluation and a final written evaluation of each student’s performance are conducted by the field instructor. Each student is also required to complete a final written course evaluation.
AA: Your school offers several other clinic options. Can you share with us recent news about any of those clinics?
MR: The Institute for Actual Innocence has added a new programmatic element in which students are culling and screening federal clemency petitions that are deemed viable under the Obama Administration’s newly announced policy of focusing on cases where defendants were given stricter penalties for crack cocaine offenses. In addition, students are partnering with various other schools and defense lawyers to create clemency petitions for deserving individuals.
In the Education Rights Clinic, law students are assisting numerous clients in negotiating appropriate Individual Education Programs. They successfully represented two students who were the subject of disciplinary proceedings, assisting them in returning to school to more appropriate placements. Students are also conducting the legal research and factual investigation needed to prepare for the filing of administrative due process hearings under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA).
In the Children’s Defense Clinic, law students have had dozens of court appearances this semester, and they helped many children avoid felony or misdemeanor adjudication. In some cases, our students convinced judges to dismiss cases completely. In others, they successfully negotiated felony charges down to misdemeanors or convinced the court to take charges under advisement to be dismissed after a probationary period if the child stays out of trouble. Our students also successfully argued motions to suppress to keep certain evidence from being used against their clients and were often told that they were more prepared and effective than many lawyers in the courthouse. One judge told the students that it was the first time a lawyer had argued a motion to suppress a statement in his court in three years, and he was thoroughly impressed with the student’s mastery of the case law. And in another case, the students convinced the prosecutor to withdraw charges because the child was incompetent to stand trial.
Law students have also been leaders in educating school staff about how trauma affects learning and emotional regulation. This work has been responsive to the growing body of research on the impact of trauma on children that is available through the National Child Traumatic Stress Network and to the work done on the local level through Richmond’s Trauma Informed Community Network organized by Greater Richmond SCAN.
In 2007, Richmond Law created the Carrico Center for Pro Bono Service in recognition of an attorney’s professional obligation to serve the community, as well as a law school’s responsibility to educate its students on the need for pro bono legal services. The Carrico Center offers a wide variety of programs, ranging in practice type (e.g., litigation, transaction, legislative/public policy), time commitment (e.g., ongoing project, one-time event), and partnership (e.g., private attorneys, legal services organizations, community groups). Furthermore, we have worked with professors to include service-based learning opportunities in course design. For example, the law school’s Housing Law class works with our pro bono housing law program, and our Spanish Legal Skills course coordinates with our pro bono immigration program. Oftentimes, these courses are an introduction for students to our pro bono programming, and many students continue their service well after the semester has ended.
AA: Do employers come for on-campus interviews to U. Richmond Law School? How does Richmond work to place students outside the Virginia job market?
MR: Richmond Law’s Career Development Office (CDO) coordinates on-campus interviews each fall and spring. Fall OCI begins in early to mid-August. Employers participating in that program primarily are large and mid-size law firms seeking second-year students for summer employment, and third-year students for post-graduate opportunities. Spring OCI is in mid-February. Participating employers primarily interview first-year students for summer positions.
In addition to OCI, Richmond Law students participate in several consortia programs. Over the summer and fall, students participate in the Patent Law Interview Program (Chicago), Southeastern Intellectual Property Program (Atlanta), Southeastern Minority Job Fair (Atlanta), New England Interview Program (Boston), and Equal Justice Works Conference & Career Fair (DC area). During the spring semester, Richmond Law co-sponsors the Government and Public Interest interview Program and the Spring Interview Program (for small and mid-size firms seeking summer and post-graduate assistance), both on the University of Richmond’s campus. The Washington Metropolitan Corporate Counsel Association conducts interviews at Richmond Law for its Corporate Scholars Program, through which rising second and third-year student obtain summer positions in the legal departments of regional corporations and nonprofits.
Each Richmond Law student is paired with a career advisor who will help the student develop a personalized employment search strategy. Also, in addition to the formal interview programs described above, Richmond Law is proud to coordinate resume collections and job postings for employers throughout the country. We assist students in connecting with alumni in their preferred geographic area through frequent interaction with the Law School Alumni Association Advisory Board, which is made up of prominent alumni from diverse geographic areas. Also, the CDO facilitates: (1) a remote mock interview program through which students may be connected with an alum in their preferred geographic location to conduct a mock interview and provide career-related advice over a school break, and (2) a 3L alumni advisor program that matches students with alumni practicing in their preferred geographic and niche practice areas. Finally, a director of career development for employer outreach, recruiting coordinator, and the associate dean connect with employers in students’ preferred geographic areas as reflected by frequent student employment interest questionnaires gathered by the CDO.
AA: What else sets Richmond apart from other law schools?
MR: At Richmond Law, students are at the heart of a distinctly collegial community. The small size of the law school allows for personal connections, a collaborative learning environment, and life-long friendships. This personalized approach not only makes the law school experience more enriching, it also produces better lawyers who are more effective in their professional interactions with clients, other lawyers, and judges. Moreover, Richmond is a great city in which to study law. Not only is it the capital of Virginia, but it has more courts—federal, state, and local—than almost any other city in the nation, as well as a thriving legal practice community that includes law firms of all size, important state and federal agencies, and nonprofit organizations. The city and region offer abundant opportunities for students to gain valuable practical experience, and Richmond Law is the only law school here and within 50 miles of the city.
AA: What personal and academic qualities are you looking for in applicants?
MR: In general, we look for a diverse student body representing a wide variety of experiences, backgrounds, and perspectives. We look for well-rounded, thoughtful, involved, reflective, ethical, hard-working, passionate, intellectually curious, experienced, mature, motivated, focused, and interesting people who have done interesting things with their lives. While an applicant’s particular undergraduate major is not important, we want to see academic evidence that an applicant can write well, think analytically, and handle pressures comparable to those experienced during the intense first year of law school.
AA: What, in your experience, is the biggest surprise students encounter in law school?
MR: Richmond Law students are often impressed to find themselves surrounded by so many accomplished and diverse students. They are suddenly exposed to new viewpoints and perspectives, which forces them to think critically and examine their own beliefs. This stimulating environment leads to a tremendous level of intellectual engagement and academic curiosity.
AA: Can you give us some do’s and don’ts for preparing the law school application?
MR: DO apply when you can present the strongest application. It is never a bad idea to delay your application in order to improve your position as an applicant—it certainly trumps presenting a “weak” application simply to be “early.” Take the necessary time to hone your application materials. Have a trusted friend or professor—even someone you don’t know well—read your personal statement and offer feedback. Feel free to apply to your school of choice as early as you like, but make certain to indicate if you want your decision held until after you re-take the LSAT. DO avoid the possibility of receiving a negative letter of recommendation by asking the recommender if he or she can write a GOOD letter, and be sure to ask early enough in the process so that the recommender has ample time to write a detailed letter. DO remember to pay attention to financial aid deadlines—not just application deadlines! DO visit law schools online but preferably in person in a time frame that will allow you to make a deposit at the school you truly might attend rather than make multiple deposits because you have not timed your visits well. Finally, DO get to know admissions officers, ask questions, and enjoy the process!
AA: Do you have any other advice for students applying to Richmond?
MR: It is so important to get a feel for what the culture and community is really like at each law school you visit. Make sure to talk to current students about their experiences. How competitive is it? Are faculty accessible? What resources are available to students? What is the social scene like? Get an idea if the school is a place where you feel like the culture and environment suit you, the faculty and staff support you, and you are in a position to shine.