The Samford University Cumberland School of Law (Cumberland Law) is one of the oldest law schools in the country. Founded before the Civil War as part of Cumberland University in Lebanon, Tennessee, the law school was destroyed in the aftermath of the war. During the Reconstruction Period, Cumberland Law slowly rebuilt, adopting the symbol of the Phoenix–the mythical bird that rises from the ashes. At the start of the 20th century, Cumberland Law’s program began finding growth as Nathan Green, J.R. became its first dean and the school admitted its first woman. The school’s curriculum shifted from a one-year focus on apprenticeship to the more common three-year curriculum pioneered by Harvard Law school. In 1961, the law school moved to Birmingham, Alamaba and became part of Samford University. In the 21st century, the school has taken steps to reduce class size and restore the focus to teaching practical skills. As one of the oldest law schools in the country, Cumberland Law has produced two U.S. Supreme Court Justices and Cordell Hull, one of the founders of the United Nations.
The Juris Doctor degree at Cumberland Law requires 90 credit hours for completion of which 30 hours are completed in the first-year curriculum. During their first two semesters, students engage in the fundamental academic subjects of the American legal system: civil procedure, contracts, criminal law, property, and torts. Students also take a course in evidence during their second semester as well as a two-semester skill-based course covering the fundamentals of lawyering. Students complete 30 to 32 hours in the second year including additional core substantive courses: two semesters of constitutional law, criminal procedure, business organizations, secured transactions, trusts and estates, and professional responsibility.
Students have roughly 35 hours of elective courses that allow them to specialize in an area that meets their academic and professional goals. All students must complete a rigorous writing project as well as satisfy the requirement for experiential education. Cumberland Law offers 14 different areas of specialization that offer a suggested path for students who wish to practice in these areas.
Cumberland Law offers several additional graduate programs targeted at both lawyers and non-lawyers all of which are online programs that offer students a flexible way to fulfill their academic goals. For students who have already earned their Juris Doctor degree, Cumberland Law offers a Master of Laws (LL.M) program with four concentrations. All LL.M programs require 31 hours of online courses that may be completed in a total of two years. Students take one to two classes each semester (including summer semesters) for six consecutive semesters. Cumberland Law offers concentrations in four complicated, growing areas of the legal field: financial services regulatory compliance, health law and compliance, higher education law and compliance, and legal operations. All four of these fields are regulated by a complex set of laws. The LL.M program prepares students to understand these complexities and practice in these areas.
In lieu of a formal LL.M degree, Cumberland Law also offers condensed certifications in the same four practice areas as their LL.M program. These certifications are designed to be completed in five-courses that cover the fundamental principles of the subject matter. The certification is available to both lawyers and non-lawyers. Non-lawyers who complete the certification process may apply some of their course work to Cumberland Law’s Master of Studies in Law program.
The Master of Studies in Law (M.S.L.) degree is a comprehensive 34 hour program that prepares non-attorneys to succeed in professional careers that overlap with notably litigious areas of the law. The M.S.L. allows non-attorneys to study the same four concentration areas as the LL.M program. M.S.L. students also are introduced to fundamental concepts of the American legal system. Aside from the four concentrations, Cumberland Law also has a custom option for students who wish to pursue other areas of the law.
Juris Doctor candidates at Cumberland Law may also pursue a second professional degree after completing their first year of law school as part of the school’s joint degree program. Students typically apply to their second program in the spring of the first year of law school. All applicants to a joint degree must also meet a minimum G.P.A. requirement. Cumberland Law offers nine different joint degree programs. J.D. students may opt for a joint J.D. and LL.M program through law school or opt for a professional degree from one of Cumberland’s other professional schools. Typically, students are able to earn both degrees in three years by sharing certain courses between both programs.
Career and Career Placement
Within 10 months of graduation, over 87% of all Cumberland Law graduates are employed most in careers that either require a law license (78%) or prefer a Juris Doctor degree (6%). In total, 96.5% of all graduates are employed in long-term, full-time legal careers within a year of graduation. Half of all employed graduates opted for careers in small law firms with less than 25 attorneys. Law firm work, in general, accounted for 65% of all graduates first career choice. Cumberland Law graduates also opted for careers in the business sector (10%), government offices or the public interest sector (14%), or secured judicial clerkships (10%). Most graduates remained in Alabama to begin their professional careers.
The Career Development Office (CDO) at Cumberland Law teaches students at part of their academic training. Students learn the professional side of the law as well as how to manage their own career search. During their first year, students learn how to build their professional resumes, conduct an interview, and begin their job search. In later years, student take advantage of the CDO’s many programs including a “lunch with a lawyer” program that allows students to learn about various career opportunities as well as one-on-one counseling and the school’s annual career fair. All students learn to use the CDO’s many online and hard-copy resources to further their career goals.
Experiential Learning/Distance Education
Cumberland Law’s Office of Clinical Education works to place students in external law offices as part of their externships program. With designated externships in five different practice areas, students are able to experience a broad array of practice fields as they work alongside practicing attorneys. Cumberland Law offers regional externships in the fields of corporate legal offices, government, judicial offices, litigation settings, or the public interest sector. The law school also offers a selection of externships outside the area where students may work for organizations such as the Hague or the United Nations.
Each year, Cumberland Law offers a selection of online courses that provide flexibility to their traditional J.D. program. Students may earn up to 15 credit hours towards their J.D. through online courses.
Cumberland Law stresses that students who are engaged in co-curricular activities make better lawyers. The law school offers a broad range of programs and student organizations that allow students to find their passion and voice. Cumberland Law has a nationally recognized trial advocacy program and competitive moot cour teams. Students run two academic journals including the foremost journal on issues of trial advocacy. Throughout the year, Cumberland Law brings experts, lawyers, and judges onto campus to interact and engage with students.
Cumberland Law school is located on the campus of Samford University south of downtown Birmingham. Students enjoy a range of campus facilities as well as access to one the South’s most engaging cities. Birmingham is steeped in history from the Civil War to its notable music and culinary traditions. Students have access to ample and affordable housing in the neighborhoods surrounding the campus. Birmingham is also surrounded by forest land while also a short drive to the major metropolitan area of Atlanta. With its small town charm and big cities amenities, Birmingham offers one of the highest quality of lives of any law school in the country.