Until 2014, Penn State University operated one law school in two locations that both descended from the Dickinson College of Law. In 2014, the university split the schools into two separate, independent law schools. The second law–Penn State Law University Park (Penn State Law)–is located in State College on the main campus of the university. It is now housed in the Lewis Katz building–a 60,000 state-of-the-art facility adjacent to Penn State’s famed arboretum. Penn State Law also houses an important center for the study and practice of shale law–one of Pennsylvania’s most important industries. The law school is also committed to using technology to meeting the changing demands of the legal profession.
In the fall semester, students at Penn State Law take three core courses: civil procedure, criminal law, and torts. These core courses are complimented by two practical courses that cover legal research tools as well as legal writing and analysis. In their second semester, students take four core classes: constitutional law, contracts, criminal procedure, and property. They also take a second semester of a skill-based course focused on legal writing and analysis. This first-year curriculum is prescribed and sets a foundation for the remaining two years at Penn State Law.
In their final four semesters, students at Penn State Law are required to take a course in professional responsibility, to complete an upper-level writing requirement, and to complete six hours of experiential education credits. The remainder of course are all electives. Penn State Law offers students 14 different areas of concentration which recommend coursework and experiential credits to prepare students for a particular field of law. Of note is Penn State Law’s environmental law program which offers students the opportunity to work in the Shale Law clinic–the nation’s leading center for the growing field of shale and fracking law.
Penn State Law offers international students a Master of Laws (LL.M) program that provides an overview of the American legal system for students who wish to either sit for a bar exam in the United States or transfer into the Juris Doctor program to earn a law degree in the United States. The program is designed to embrace international students from all over the world as they take classes alongside Juris Doctor students.
For international students who wish to further pursue an academic area of law through research and writing, Penn State Law also offers the Doctor of Juridical Science (S.J.D.) degree. Candidates for the S.J.D. degree work under close supervision of Penn State Law faculty to pursue an academic issue with the intent of publishing a work that contributes to the legal field.
Penn State Law Juris Doctor candidates can also apply separately for admission into a joint degree program with one of seven other professional schools or, in the alternative, create a custom joint degree program with approval of the Director of Joint Degrees. Students are required to be accepted into both programs. By completing a joint degree, students are allowed to share credits between both programs which allows them to complete both degrees in less time. Popular joint degrees include a combination of the Juris Doctor with an M.B.A. from Penn State’s renowned Smeal College of Business or combining the J.D. with a Master of Health Administration from the university’s College of Health and Human Development.
Career and Career Placement
Based on the most recent employments statistics, over 82% of graduates of Penn State Law were employed in careers requiring a law license or preferring Juris Doctor candidates within 10 months of graduation. Smaller percentages of students continued on to additional graduate programs and some deferred the starting date of their career. This means that less than 9% of students were still seeking employment 10 months after graduation. The most popular career choices for graduates were small law firm work (18%), careers in a government office (19%), and judicial clerkships in state and local courts (18%). Only a third of graduates remained in Pennsylvania to start their careers with New York and California being the next two most popular options.
With a smaller than average student body and a staff of six career professionals, the Penn State Law Office of Career Services (OCS) provides a bevy of resources and programming to help students achieve their career goals. Primarily, the law school connects students with employers through job postings and the on-campus interview program. Recently, the law school hosted its first “Careers in the Law” event which brought employers on campus to socialize with students and introduce them to the many career paths available.
Experiential Learning/Distance Education
Through a mixture of classroom, clinical, and extra-curricular activities, Penn State Law helps all students build their practical skill set through experiential learning. In the clinical program, upper-class students focus on one of six practice areas to build foundational legal skills including case management, oral advocacy, and witness interviews. Students spend at least a semester in clinic which allows them time to work on real legal issues with actual clients.
Students may also opt to spend a semester in a government, judicial, or public interest office either in Pennsylvania or nearby Washington, D.C. These externships provide students the opportunity to not only build real-world legal skills but also measure the day to day life of practicing attorneys in various fields.
Penn State Law’s course curriculum is replete with skill-oriented courses that begin with the first-year writing and research courses. Students may also choose to compete on the school’s formidable moot court and mock trial teams which help build advocacy skills in a competitive environment.
Penn State Law is a community of diverse and active students from all over the globe who enjoy life in one of America’s premier college towns. Aside from the countless student organizations, Penn State Law offers a host of services to its students including counseling on education and heath matters as well as tutoring and bar exam prep. The school also has a state-of-the-art legal tech lab that allows students to explore the many ways in which technology is changing the legal practice. Law students are also part of the great university community and enjoy all the excitement of Big Ten athletics while surrounded by the beauty of Penn State’s aboretum.
In University Park, law students will find a wider range of housing, dining, and entertainment options. Additionally, the law school is located a short distance from some of the United States’ most sought-after destinations including New York City, Philadelphia, and Pittsburgh.