“You are not just individuals. You are the Michigan Law School Class of 2016, and you will always be a member of that class. And it’s not just a class: It’s an idea, a tradition, a tie to something greater than you.”

Mark West, the new dean of the University of Michigan Law School

You can learn a lot about a law school by how they greet their incoming students. The famous Paper Chase quote — “Look to your left, look to your right, because one of you won’t be here by the end of the year” — pretty much tells you all you need to know about Harvard Law School, or at least how it would like to see itself. If Dean West’s prodigious statements appeal to you, Michigan Law might be more your cup of tea. West continued: “You are not here to get your degree, and not simply to learn to ‘think like a lawyer’ or even merely to learn how to be a lawyer. You are here — at Michigan — to develop a lifelong association with all that is here. There will never be another time like this for you.”

Conquering heroes all, no doubt. Champions of the West.

Other law schools don’t take themselves nearly so seriously, but they all think their entering class of 2016 is pretty special. And they are. These are the kids who decided to go to law school when, historically speaking, everybody told them it was a bad idea. The class of 2016 is either the most motivated in history or the people most resistant to information and statistics in a generation.

Let’s look at how their own law schools describe them….

Most of these “welcome” messages focus on the large numbers of the entering class. “We have 18 merit scholars, three Olympians, and one foreigner from a country you probably can’t find on a map!” At Duke Law School, however, they focus on the individual:

After graduating from Wellesley College, Shani Cooke spent four years in Egypt studying Arabic at the American University of Cairo…

Along with 32 other JD candidates who are concurrently working toward Duke’s LLM in International and Comparative Law or LLM in Law and Entrepreneurship, or another graduate degree at Duke University, Chantalle Carles experienced LEAD Week after getting a head start on her 1L studies by taking two core classes in the summer…

For United States Marine Corps veteran Sean Murphy, Duke’s clinical program also was a draw, as were the externship opportunities.

Okay, hang onto your butts because I’m about to say something positive about Duke: I think this is a pretty nice way of writing the welcome. Law school is all about conformity, to rules and precedents and the inevitable Biglaw monkey suit awaiting many graduates of a school as prestigious as Duke. But by focusing on a few individuals in the class, I think Duke is emphasizing that everybody has a personal story that brought them to law school, and everybody wants to get different things out of it. If you are going to go to law school despite the overwhelming evidence that it is financially risky, I would hope you are going for some intensely personal reason, and you chose a school like Duke because it seemed like the best (and most financially prudent) way of achieving your goals.

And sure, in three years almost all of these people’s goals will be “make as much money as possible,” but at Duke at least, there will be plenty of options to do that too.

The opposite of the “individual spotlight” is probably something like the welcome message from William & Mary:

The members of the Class of 2016 arrived at the Law School on August 19, 2013, hailing from 40 different states, the District of Columbia, China, and Japan. Their records of achievements, awards, honors, leadership, employment, and service indicate students who will individually and collectively uphold the fine tradition of William & Mary Law School.

* Median LSAT: 164 (75th/25th: 165/161)
* Median undergraduate GPA: 3.73 (75th/25th: 3.88/3.46)
* Class Size: 227
* Average age: 24
* Age range: 20 to 47
* 51% women, 49% men
* 10% of students identify themselves as minorities
* Total applicants: 5,857

Stats, baby. I kind of like this approach too. It’s one that says, “There are 200 of you, you are all pretty smart, to the strongest!” And note how William & Mary managed to increase its class size over last year — by 31 students, or more than 15 percent — while maintaining its strong LSAT and GPA numbers.

My favorite for comedy’s sake is BYU Law School, by a long shot. Other schools emphasize the academic accomplishments of their class, or the weighty social responsibility their new students are about to assume. Check out what BYU is proud of:

The Class of 2016 is comprised of 139 students, 100 of which speak at least one foreign language, and 28 of which speak two. There are four LLM students from the foreign nations of Jordan, Mexico, Nigeria and the Ukraine, and twelve students that already hold graduate degrees.

Students’ ages range from 21-53 and a little less than half the class is married. There are two married couples in the class and four newlywed students as of this summer. There is also a mother of eight who is working on a joint JD/MPA program.

I read a bunch of these, and I didn’t see any other school tout the marital status of incoming students. Moreover, half the class is married? Jesus at Cana with a box of water. BYU is not the place to go if you are looking to get your JD/MRS degree.

Perhaps you’re not comfortable laughing at BYU Law’s slightly disturbing obsession with marriage? Well, try this:

In addition to college athletes, professional singers, award-winning dancers and a certified Jedi Knight, there is a marine who served in Afghanistan and one Machinist Mate 3rd Class on USS Cimarron in the US Navy who interned at the US Supreme Court this summer.

I don’t even have a joke here, bless their little hearts. Maybe next year Santa Claus will matriculate to their law school.

In any event, we’re going to be watching you, BYU class of 2016. In three years, I expect the school will not be talking about your job placement, but will report instead on how successfully you’ve procreated.

Dean Mark West Welcomes Class of 2016 to Michigan Law [University of Michigan Law School]
Duke Law welcomes JD class of 2016 [Duke Law School]
Class of 2016 [William & Mary Law School]
Class of 2016 [BYU Law School]


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