The Pennsylvania State University Dickinson Law school (Dickinson Law) is one of two law schools owned by the university. Dickinson Law takes its name from its former owner–Dickinson College–who ran the law school from its founding in 1834 until 2000 when the law school officially became part of Penn State University. The law school is located in Carlisle, Pennsylvania just outside the city of Harrisburg over 100 miles from the main campus of Penn State. In its long history, Dickinson Law has produced an impressive amount of Pennsylvania State justices as well as politicians including Rick Santorum, the former U.S. Senator for Pennsylvania.
Dickinson Law recently revamped its academic curriculum to incorporate more experiential learning from the very first semesters of education. This change is reflected in the first-year course load. Students study the traditional six core courses of most law schools: civil procedure, constitutional law, contracts, criminal, property, and torts. Folded into these traditional classes are skill-based courses: legal writing and analysis, two semesters in legal research, a course in the practice of law, and a course in legal contexts.
In their final two years, students are required to take a seminar course of their choice as well as a course in professional responsibility. Dickinson also requires 12 hours of experiential education credits–twice what is required by most law schools. Dickinson Law also offers five certification paths that ensure that a student is fully prepared for a particular field of law. Of note is Dickinson’s cyber-security law program which prepares students for the fast-growing field of data privacy and cybersecurity law. Dickinson Law also offers a unique “The Lawyer As” program which suggests courses for future lawyers in various roles (“as” counselors, as “conflict resolvers”,etc.).
Dickinson Law also offers one of the oldest Master of Law (LL.M) programs in the country. Students are required to complete at least 24 hours of coursework in one of the many concentrations offered by Dickinson. Students may also opt for an additional third semester (during the summer) to allow for up to 30 hours of coursework. Students are allowed to take advantage of Dickinson Law’s robust experiential learning catalog to build practical skills in the field of their choice.
Juris Doctor candidates may also pair their law degree with a graduate degree from one of four other professional colleges. Students must be admitted to both programs separately and are able to share credits between programs in order to complete both in less time than completing them individually. Joint degree options include combing the Juris Doctor with a Master of Business Administration (M.B.A.) or a Master of Public Administration (M.P.A.).
Career and Career Placement
Based on the most recent job placement statistics, over 95% of Dickinson Law graduates are employed in careers either requiring a Juris Doctor or a law license within the first 10 months of graduation. Career choices are almost evenly split between law firms of any size (30%), judicial clerkships (24%), government or public interest positions (33%), and business sector careers (13%). While just under 50% of graduates remained in Pennsylvania, most students chose careers in nearby states such as Delaware and New York.
With class sizes under 60 students, the Career Services office at Dickinson Law offers an unprecedented approach to career planning for all students. From the very first semester, students meet with counselors one-on-one to plan their careers. The center offers an entire program for professional development that teaches students how to build a resume and prepare for professional interviews. As the oldest law school in Pennsylvania, Dickinson also has one of the most extensive alumni based in the region allowing students to tap into an alumni base of over 8,000 graduates.
Experiential Learning/Distance Education
Dickinson Law is a leader in experiential education, requiring its graduates to earn 12 credits in skill-based courses. Students engage heavily with the school’s legal clinics where they work under the supervision of faculty experts to handle client intake and witness interviews. In later semesters, upper class students can intern at one of the school’s three working legal clinics.
Dickinson Law also offers students the opportunity for a semester long externship in a legal office around the state of Pennsylvania. These externships range from public defenders or judicial clerkships to large law firms. The externship program not only provides students with practical skills but also offers a glimpse into the daily life of practicing attorneys in different fields.
Dickinson Law also has robust moot court and law review offerings where students can collaborate with their classmates to build practical skills in different settings.
Moreover, training lawyers for the practical task of lawyering is at the heart of Dickinson Law’s mission which makes experiential learning a critical part of the entire curriculum.
Set in a rural area of Pennsylvania between Pittsburgh and Philadelphia, Dickinson Law offers students the charm of a small campus where the focus is on developing lawyers for the 21st century. The law school is one of the smallest in the country but also one of the most diverse with strong representation from minority and LGBTQ students. The school’s size allows for individualized attention and a community that is intimate and empowering.
The surrounding community is quaint and beautiful. The Appalachian Trail runs just west of campus as it rolls through the Alleghany mountains. Students enjoy a small town that is brimming with farmer’s market and culinary delights including one of the most celebrated Belgian restaurants in the region. Student housing is available throughout the community. Carlisle is also a short drive to many of the largest cities in the country including New York, Washington, and Philadelphia.