Founded in 1999 by the founder of Dominos Pizza, Thomas S. Monaghan, the Ave Maria School of Law (Ave Maria Law) was started to provide Roman Catholic students with a legal education infused with the principles of the Catholic Church. Former Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia, a practicing Catholic, help design the curriculum at Ave Maria Law. Until 2008, the law school resided in Ann Arbor, Michigan before moving to its new home in Naples, Florida. The campus in Naples is comprised of traditional classrooms as well as villas for student and faculty housing. True to its foundation, Ave Maria Law’s mission is still to offer students a unique legal education that blends both faith and traditional legal reasoning.
The Juris Doctor program at Ave Maria Law requires 90 hours of coursework of which all but 16 hours are prescribed courses. The first-year curriculum begins with a one-week introduction to the CASE method of analyzing and briefing case law. Students follow this introduction with two semesters of four of the traditional core courses of American legal education: civil procedure, contracts, property, and torts. Students also take one-semester covering criminal law as well as a course discussing the moral foundations of the law–a course based on the school’s adherence to Catholic doctrine. All students complete a two-semester course on the fundamental skills of legal analysis, research, and writing.
In their second and third years, all students are required to complete substantive courses in business organizations, constitutional law, commercial law, criminal procedure, evidence, professional responsibility, and wills, trusts, and estates. Students continue their study of the moral underpinnings of the law through classes exploring jurisprudence, ethics, and public policy. All students must also complete six hours of experiential education credits which include courses and field placements to help students hone their real-world skills as they prepare to transition into their professional careers. Prior to graduation, students also take a course to help prepare them for success on the bar exam.
Students do choose 16 hours of elective courses–roughly one semester of study–to prepare them for their professional careers and meet their academic goals.
Ave Maria Law also offers students the opportunity to begin their degree program either in the summer session or the traditional fall semester. The earlier start allows students to either graduate earlier or reduce their course load in later semesters.
Ave Maria Law has a unique program focused on the study of international law and human rights. The program is rooted in the school’s understanding of the moral foundation of the law. In addition to the focused coursework on the subject, the program allows students to work in conjunction with the Catholic Church to help fulfill its mission to promote international peace, protect freedom of worship, and reduce the effects of poverty. Students participate in research and writing projects to help fulfill this mission.
Career and Career Placement
Based on the most recent employment outcome data, over 78% of all graduates found jobs within 10 months of graduation. However, of those employed, only 60% found long-term, full-time careers. Over 90% of students who did start careers within 10 months of graduation found careers (short or long term) that either required a law license or preferred a Juris Doctor degree. almost 60% of all graduates opted for careers in law firms with small law firms (1 to 25 attorneys) accounting for 50% of all employed graduates’ first career choice. Another 17% of graduates opted for careers in the business sector while 11% chose careers in government offices. Just over 5% of graduates were able to secure judicial clerkships in the state courts. Almost 80% of all graduates remained in the state of Florida to begin their professional careers.
Students at Ave Marie Law work with the Office of Professional Development (OPD) to define their career aspirations and a plan to effectuate those goals. The OPD facilitates an attorney mentoring program where students can learn from recent graduates and practicing attorneys. The OPD helps students prepare for professional interviews with mock interviews and resume prepping. The OPD staff meets regularly with students for one-on-one counseling sessions. The OPD also regularly hosts career fairs, brings employers on campus for interviews and networking events, and maintains a job database for students.
Experiential Learning/Distance Education
At Ave Maria Law, students learn how to practice law ethically in furtherance of the school’s mission to graduate lawyers with a fundamental commitment to Catholic values. Students begin their experiential learning in their first year with a course covering legal analysis, research, and writing. Ave Maria continues the process of skill-based learning through lab and simulation courses that teach students how to practice law through hands-on, real-world practice.
Students also learn experientially at Ave Maria through participation in the school’s clinical program or in an external field placement. Students work in two practice areas–estate planning and general practice or patent law. In either clinic, students work with real clients in a variety of legal situations while being supervised by clinical faculty. This experience allows students to learn how to advocate for their clients while also learning to practice law ethically.
Ave Maria Law’s externship program places students to various legal practice settings through a field placement where students work in real law offices while earning academic credit. Over a third of Ave Maria law students opt for an externship every year exposing them to numerous career options as well as building their professional relationships.
Currently, Ave Maria Law does not offer a distance education program.
Ave Maria Law’s campus is a unique collection of both traditional campus buildings, residential space, and support services for students. The campus is part of a 1,300 acre planned community that includes an elementary school adjacent to the law school. The law school’s common space–named for the patron saint of lawyers–provides students with a café and worship space. The campus also features both apartments and villas were students live as they attend the law school. Students engage with classmates on a variety of levels as they participate in service projects, social gatherings, and worship. Mass is held daily on campus.
The city of Naples is considered one of the happiest places to live in the United States. The city is known for its healthy lifestyle and proximity to some of the best beaches in the world. The law school is a short distance from Naples’ famed Vanderbilt beach as well as the large preserves that cover the southern portion of the state. The Vineyard community where Ave Maria Law resides offers students a community park and country club as well as easy access to surrounding shops. Students can also access Miami in less than two hours through an easy drive through the Everglades.