January 29, 2013
Is W&L The Biggest Legal Education Story Of 2013?
Posted by David Zaring

Bill Henderson has an enthusiastic post about the successes of the remodelled practice/clinics-style third year curriculum at Washington & Lee, my old employer.  Basically, the story is that students like it, partly in a way that I credit - W&L seems to have received more applications and gotten more yield after announcing the change - and partly in a way that I treat with caution - students self-report greater satisfaction with the third year with law school there today than they did in 2008 and 2004.

Here's the yield story (which also suggests that W&L is increasing enrollment - without cost to its overall numbers, apparently):

... after their experiential 3L year was up and running and the overall legal job market continued to stagnate, W&L yields spiked. Ordinarily they would enroll 135 students. But for the fall of 2012, they received enrollment commitments from well over 260 students. Indeed, at the ETL conference Jim Moliterno said the school had to offer financially attractive deferments to get the class to approximately 185 incoming students -- a 50 student bulge.

The 3rd year satisfaction survey data is interesting too.  W&L has always had a reputation as a happy place to be.  It is cosy, it has a friendly culture, good teachers too.  Now, students are reporting that they are working harder and being asked to do a wider range of things compared both to peer schools and earlier graduates.  And they appear to like it, though grumble, grumble self-reporting, where's the experiment, &c.

What we don't yet know from Bill's posts is whether employers are also buying what W&L is selling.  And what kind of employers, too.  That seems like the other proof in the pudding to me.  And that is the thing that could sustain something that looks like it might be a one-time bump.  But still, happy students is certainly one thing that it's nice to be able to argue that you've delivered, if you're going to go through the drama of curricular reform.

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