The Howard University School of Law (Howard Law) was founded at the end of the American Civil War as African-Americans citizens recognized the immediate need for lawyers to advocate for their rights during the period of Reconstruction. Howard Law was the first historically black law school founded in the United States. The inaugural class contained only six students; today, Howard Law graduates close to 200 students each year and is still a leader in the education of African-American lawyers. Howard was also the first law school in the country to have a non-discrimination policy for admissions and admitted women (and non-black students) from the beginning. In 1890, Howard graduated its first African-American woman. The history of Howard Law is enmeshed with the civil rights movement. Its most famous alumni–Thurgood Marshall–became the first African-American to sit on the United States Supreme Court after a career advocating for equal protection and due process for African-Americans.
The Juris Doctor program at Howard Law requires 88 hours of coursework for completion of which 30 hours are prescribed as part of the first-year curriculum. Students take the six foundational courses of the traditional American legal education: civil procedure, constitutional law, contracts, criminal law, property, and torts. Students also take a semester course covering the fundamental of the legislative and regulatory process. To build their practical skills, students also take a two-semester course covering the basic skills of legal research, reasoning, and writing.
In their upper-level years, all Howard Law students are required to complete three additional substantive courses: the second semester of constitutional law, evidence, and professional responsibility. Students also complete two additional semesters focused on the fundamentals of legal writing as well as complete six hours of experiential learning credits. The fourth and final semester of legal writing requires either a writing seminar or an independent study where students complete a major writing assignment.
The remainder of a student’s curriculum is elective in nature although students are encouraged to pursue course that meets their professional goals and prepares them to pass the bar exam. Howard Law offers J.D. candidates two certification programs that require focused coursework and practical training to ensure a student’s preparedness to practice. The certification in Alternative Dispute resolution requires to complete a mixture of clinical and doctrinal courses as well as complete a mediation certification. The Family Law certification requires students to complete 21 hours of coursework focused on family law issues, complete a major writing project focused on an issue of family law, and participate in a family law externship.
For students who have already earned this J.D. (or its foreign equivalent), Howard Law also offers a Master of Law (LL.M) program. Situated in the nation’s capital, Howard Law presents a unique opportunity for continued legal studies especially for students interested in strengthening their understanding of legal practice areas where Howard Law is notably strong such as family law or civil rights. The LL.M program requires students to complete 24 hours of residential coursework and complete a major writing project such as a thesis. LL.M candidates also enjoy a law school that is enmeshed in the fabric of the nation’s capital. LL.M students participate in the same courses as J.D. students as well as many of the experiential opportunities.
For J.D. candidates interested in a Master of Business Administration, Howard Law also offers a joint degree program that allows students to earn both professional degrees in a total of four years. The combined program requires 105 total credit hours of which 66 must be completed in Juris Doctor classes. The other courses are completed at Howard University’s business school. This approach has several advantages. First, students are able to earn both degrees faster than pursuing them independently. Secondly, the joint degree approach provides a unique perspective on both business and its intersection with the law. Finally, joint degree graduates distinguish themselves as they move towards their professional careers.
Career and Career Placement
Almost 85% of all graduates of Howard Law are employed within 10 months of graduation. Of those, over 96% begin careers that either require a law license (81%) or prefer a Juris Doctor degree (15%). Just over 41% of graduates opt for working a traditional law firm setting. Large law firms of over 500+ attorneys are the most setting for Howard Law graduates. A substantial number of graduates also pursue careers in government offices (23%) or the public interest sector (11%). Over 10% of graduates secure judicial clerkships in the federal or state court system. While the District of Columbia is home to Howard Law, as many graduates found careers in New York as in Washington (both 24% of graduates). Almost 10% of students began their professional careers in nearby Maryland.
The Office of Career Services (OCS) at Howard Law works with each student to build a professional foundation that will allow them success throughout their careers. To achieve this, the OCS relies upon both traditional career services such as individual counseling, workshops, and networking as well as unique programs targeted at judicial clerkships and placement in the largest law firms in the country.
Experiential Learning/Distance Education
Howard Law’s Clinical Law Center plays a vital role in preparing law students for practicing law and providing representation to Washington’s underserved residents. The Clinic is also the heart of Howard Law’s commitment to social justice and is responsible for the school’s reputation for producing the best civil rights attorneys in the country. In the clinical program, students work in one of nine live-client programs where students work with actual clients facing a range of legal situations from housing and civil rights issues to trademark or patent infringement. Students run the clinic under the supervision of faculty experts as they master the fundamental skills of practicing law and representing their clients.
Howard Law also has a robust externship program that provides students with an opportunity for general field placement or, upon completion, advanced field placement in specific legal offices around Washington, D.C. These externships place students alongside attorneys working in legal offices such as the Securities & Exchange Commission or the World Bank. M Students can spend a semester in a judicial externship or in alternative dispute resolution. Not only do externships provide students the opportunity to build practical skills, but they also help build their professional network as they prepare to start their careers.
Howard Law is the epicenter of legal diversity. The student body is the most diverse in the country with the minorities making up over 91% of the student body. The law school is steeped in the civil rights movement and the current movement to bring diverse lawyers into the legal practice. The law school campus reflects this mission in its many student organizations and its long-standing commitment to social justice and civil rights. In recent years, Howard Law has also seen a growing number of students hailing from the Caribbean islands adding additional viewpoints to the many perspectives on campus. Howard Law offers students a number of co-curricular activities including several moot court teams as well as two student-run journals including the renowned academic journal covering civil rights issues.
Howard Law is located just north of the Nation’s capital adjacent to Rock Creek Park and Chevy Chase, Maryland. The location provides students with easy access to more affordable housing options across the Maryland state line. The law school is also within walking distance of some of the cities main attractions including the Smithsonian National Zoo. The main campus is easily accessible by car or public transportation. As students at Howard University, law students are part of the history of the nation’s capital. Law students enjoy all the traditions of one of the nation’s preeminent Black universities while preparing to become the next generation of civil rights attorneys.