Founded in 1868, the University of Wisconsin Law School (Wisconsin Law) has earned a reputation as one of the top public law schools in the country due, in part, to its commitment to blending practical lessons into the academic study of law. The law school is also only one of two schools in the country that allows graduates to be admitted to the Wisconsin State Bar Association with only their degree (bypassing the standard bar exam). Wisconsin Law is now housed in an architecturally stunning building including an open atrium surrounded by glass walls. Wisconsin offers admission to less than half of its applicants with approximately 15% of all applicants matriculating. In its 150 year history, Wisconsin Law has graduated some of the most prominent justices in the region including 37 Justices of Wisconsin, Minnesota, and other Midwestern states.
The education at Wisconsin Law is described in their motto “Law in Action.” Students are challenged to understand both how the law is written and how it is practiced. This process begins in the first year where students study the principal courses of the first-year curriculum (civil procedure, contract, property, and torts) alongside courses that develop the practical skills of legal writing, research, and analysis. In their second semester, students in the first year also choose two electives from a select set of courses as they begin to define their career goals.
For second and third-year students, the goal of “Law in Action” is to marry coursework with practical skill-building to prepare students for their future careers. Wisconsin Law offers students seven concentrations that each suggests coursework and experiential education. Additionally, the school offers two formal certifications: the first in health law and the second in Russia area studies. Law students are also eligible for one of three Univerisity wide certificates that are open to any graduate students. Regardless of a students curriculum choices, all graduates must earn 90 credit hours, take one course in professional responsibility and one course covering the legal process, and satisfy both the writing and experiential education requirements.
Wisconsin Law offers a Master of Law (LL.M) degree with a concentration in Legal Institutions targeted at students who graduated from international law school and wish to pursue a legal career in the United States. This degree program requires two semesters of coursework with at least 24 hours of coursework. Students may begin the LL.M program in either the spring or fall and must complete two courses in American Law.
For students who graduated from an American law school (or the equivalent), Wisconsin Law also offers an LL.M and a Doctor of Juridical Science (S.J.D.) degree. Both of these programs do not require any coursework but are instead focused on completing a major researching and writing topic.
Wisconsin Law also offers its J.D. candidates the opportunity to combine their legal education with another graduate school to earn a dual degree. The University of Wisconsin has 11 other professional graduate schools that can be combined with the Juris Doctor. Students are required to be admitted to both programs and complete their first year of law school before working on both programs until their degree requirements for both programs are met.
Career and Career Placement
Statistics from the most recent graduate classes of Wisconsin Law show that 95% of all graduates are employed in careers that either require admission to the bar or prefer a Juris Doctor degree. The most common career choices were private practice in a small firm of 2-10 attorneys (17%) or work in a government office (25%). Just under 10% of graduates secured judicial clerkships mostly in the Wisconsin State court system. Graduates overwhelmingly chose to remain in Wisconsin to start their careers.
The Office of Career and Professional Development (OCDP) at Wisconsin Law has a full-time staff of three counselors who were all once practicing attorneys. Throughout the academic year, the OCDP provides students with a range of networking, interview, and professional events to help hone their career search. The school hosts on campus interviews in both the spring and fall as well as public interest interview program in February. The law school also pays the any registration fees for students to attend off-campus recruiting events.
Experiential Education/Distance Learning
As school that is based on the principle of “Law in Action,” Wisconsin Law places an emphasis on students receiving experiential education. The law school started one of the first legal clinics in the country and now operates 17 different legal centers that allow students to build their practical skills while working with real clients on a range of legal issues from consumer law to working to commute death sentences. Students may apply for up to five clinics and are able to participate in only one per year.
Wisconsin Law has a tradition of graduating students who work in government roles which is bolstered by its strong externship program. In an externship, students spend a semester working in a government or judicial office at the state or local level. This program provides students with an invaluable look into the daily life of government attorneys.
Finally, Wisconsin Law has a unique “Lawyering Skills Course” which teaches students practical legal skills in a simulated legal experience. The semester long course introduces students to the basics of witness interviewing, oral arguments, and brief writing.
With three student-run journals and over 35 student organizations, student life at Wisconsin Law is busy and rewarding. Each year, students at Wisconsin Law compete against their cross-campus rivals at the medical school for the “Dean’s Cup” which rewards the school that wins several charity events. The law school hosts two formal events for students each year and every fall, law students run across the Wisconsin Badger football field during halftime to participate in the annual “Cane Toss.” The Office of Student Services also provides a range of services for students with disabilities or who need classroom modifications.
Madison, Wisconsin is considered one of the best college towns in the country. The law school sits atop of Bascom Hill, the historic center of the campus and right in the heart of downtown Madison. Students enjoy the excitement of the Badger sports team while living in one the most progressive and active communities in the United States.