As these grand colliding forces play out, the future may be ripe for what Peer Monitor’s Medice envisioned: low-cost, bare-bones law programs that act more like trade schools.
The law school at the University of the District of Columbia seems to be working in that vein. It is not fancy, housed as it is in a newly renovated but far from swank building on upper Connecticut Avenue. It is not even ranked on an overall basis by U.S. News, though UDC’s curriculum requiring hundreds of hours of hands-on training does rank 10th on U.S. News’s list of top clinical programs in the country.
(Matt McClain/FOR THE WASHINGTON POST) - Shelley Broderick,dean of the law school at the University of the District of Columbia, says, “We can’t all be Yale.” Tuition at UDC is $10,620 for residents, $21,240 for nonresidents.
An embarrassingly low percentage — just 20.5 percent — of its 2011 graduates are reported as employed nine months post-graduation in full-time jobs requiring a JD. A hyper-practical law degree from UDC is hardly a sure thing.
But it doesn’t pretend to be, and perhaps that is what is rather refreshing about it. UDC Law’s dean, Shelley Broderick, is a wry, unpretentious former criminal defense attorney who paid her way through Georgetown Law with loans and the proceeds of her job as a Teamster working on the Trans-Alaska pipeline.
Here is her pitch, delivered on a break from packing her own moving boxes, as she wore a work shirt and flip-flops one afternoon in September: “It’s affordable, it’s accessible, its curriculum is laser-focused on the kinds of jobs we are trying to prepare you for. We don’t invite people to come here suggesting [they will] get jobs in the big firms. That is not who we are. If you want to be a public interest lawyer, public service lawyer, public policy lawyer, in private practice in a small firm, this is perfect for you. Because you can do this in an affordable way and find work that you are trained to do, educated to do. We can’t all be Yale.”
UDC is dirt-cheap, as law schools go. It charges D.C. residents $10,620 a year (with living expenses, UDC costs $41,630; $52,750 for nonresidents).
And Broderick seems to make her pitch with clear eyes and clear conscience.
Could Broderick make the same pitch if UDC cost $70,000 a year? Would “excellence” justify those costs?
“I couldn’t do it,” Broderick says. “There are not jobs where you can pay that back in a reasonable amount of time for the vast majority of people who go to law school. I couldn’t do it, because it is a lie.”
Elizabeth Lesly Stevens last wrote for the Magazine about the historic Carter’s Grove estate in Virginia. To comment on this story, send e-mail to email@example.com.