The University of California, Berkeley, School of Law (Berkeley Law) has a long, storied history as one of the finest public law schools in the country. The school’s alumni include Chief Justice Ear Warren, who leadership of the Supreme Court brought about sweeping changes in American jurisprudence. Berkeley Law is known as one of the progressive leaders for legal education. The School admits close to 300 students and accepts less than 25% of all applicants. Berkeley Law uses a unique approach to grading, discarding the traditional GPA for a three tiered system: Pass, Honors, Highest Honors. The School is located in the Bay Area of California just north of Oakland and a short distance from the metropolis of San Francisco.
The first year curriculum at Berkeley Law requires only four core courses: Civil Procedure, Contracts, Criminal Law, and Torts. Students also take a class in legal research in their first semester followed by a class in oral advocacy in their second. First year students, however, are strongly encouraged to take a semester of constitutional law since it is a requirement for graduation. The section of oral advocacy involves the preparation of a trial brief and an oral argument before an actual judge.
Berkeley also provides a unique, cutting edge Academic Skills Program (ASP) targeted at pre-orientation and first year J.D. students. This program uses lab based training to maximize students performance and real-world skill base to insure their success during school.
In their second two years, students at Berkeley Law focus on one of eight practice areas. These areas include traditional subjects such as environmental law and criminal law while also showcasing Berkeley Law’s commitment to technology with concentrations in Business Start-Ups and Technology. Berkeley’s progressive center is showcased in a concentration on Social Justice and Public Interest through the Thelton E. Henderson Center for Social Justice. Berkeley also shares a unique exchange program with Harvard Law School where each school shares 5 students in their final year of study.
Berkeley Law also requires students to complete a section in professional responsibility, a senior level writing requirement, and 6 hours of experiential education.
Berkeley Law’s Master of Law (LL.M) program features four different tracks to accommodate different academic interests and different schedules. The most traditional track is a 9 month residence with a typical two semester course load with a focus in one of six practice areas. Students can also compliment the traditional track with a thesis once their residence is complete as part of the Thesis Track. Berkeley Law also offers a Professional Track which includes two consecutive summers of residential classrooms or a Hybrid Track which contains one residential summer of course work plus two semesters of online distance education. Berkeley Law offers two doctoral degrees: the Doctor of Juridical Science (JSD) and a PhD in Jurisprudence and Social Policy (JSP). Both degrees requires a significant commitment to research and are intended for students pursuing careers in academia.
Berkeley Law does allow students in the J.D. program to pursue combined degrees in other graduate departments or concurrently with other institutions. The Law School does require the concurrent program to be completed within four years of its commencement and, therefore, does not allow for PhD programs to be completed at the same time. Students in a combined program must be residential students for their first year of law school.
Career and Career Placement
Berkeley Law’s graduates generally find a range of employment options upon graduation with more than 97% finding employment within the first 10 months after graduation. True to its progressive core, less than 50% of graduates accept employment in traditional law firm careers. Instead, graduates of Berkeley Law School find work in judicial clerkships (19%), public interest (16%), and small to medium sized firms (14%). The median salary for graduates is a notable $180,000 with an average salary of just under $140,000. Most graduates of Berkeley Law remain in the California area while substantial portions find work in New York and Washington, D.C.
Berkeley Law has a career development office that maintains a full time staff of 9 counselors and administrators who offer a range of services from individual counseling to career planning. The CDO organizes on-campus recruitment for both public sector jobs, private sector jobs, and judicial clerkships. The office also administers the summer fellowship program which provides financial assistance for students to pursue public interest work over the summer.
Experiential Learning/Distance Education
At Berkeley Law, experiential learning is emphasized at every opportunity through integration into skilled course work, a robust clinical program, field work, and an outstanding pro bono program. The clinical program reflects Berkeley Law’s commitment to social justice in the Death Penalty Clinic and the International Human Rights Law Clinic while the law schools has two clinics focused on technology and business start-ups. Clinics are overseen by faculty members who are respected in their fields as professors and as practicing attorneys. Berkeley Law also offers a field placement program where students gain real-world practical experience in one of five fields. Their work in the field is married with their course work to link legal theory with practice.
Berkeley requires students to complete their work in residence within four years of beginning the J.D. program. However, the LL.M. degree does offer two flexible options one of which couples summer residency with distance education.
With its home in the East Bay area of northern California, the University of California, Berkeley, offers its law students a rich and diverse experience in one of the most progressive and artistic regions of the country. The law school itself houses an impressive collection of unique spaces for students including a roof top garden, outdoor courtyards, and a number of reading rooms. There are generally no classes from noon to 2 p.m. in order to allow student organizations to meet in the law school facility. The student organizations and journals offer students an opportunity to engage with the community and the legal community at large.
Due to the Bay Area’s robust public transportation system (BART), students at Berkeley Law find housing throughout the Bay Area. There is ample housing in close proximity to the law school as well as multiple options in nearby Oakland and San Francisco. The Bay Area also provides endless opportunity to engage with the arts and outdoor recreation. The town of Berkeley is also home to one of the most vibrant culinary scenes in the country with a unique collection of cutting edge eateries in close proximity to the campus.