Founded in 1883, the Willamette University College of Law (Willamette Law) is the first law school founded in the Pacific Northwest as part of the Willamette University–the first university in the Western United States. While the school began with a mere three students in its first class, Williamette Law now enrolls approximately 100 students each year with a total student body over 300. In 1965, Willamette transitioned from conferring a bachelor of laws degree to the traditional Juris Doctor degree. Soon after, the law school moved to its current home in the Truman Wesley Collins Legal Center in downtown Salem, Oregon across the street from the state supreme court. In its long history, Willamette Law has produced three Oregon Supreme Court justices including two chief justices of the state’s highest court.
The Juris Doctor program at Willamette Law requires 90 hours of residential coursework that may be completed either in a full-time program (a minimum of 10 hours per semesters) or a part-time program. Full-time students complete the degree program in three years while part-time students have up to six years to complete their degree. The first=year curriculum places an emphasis on smaller classes with students studying one of their substantive courses plus their skill-based courses in classes with less than 30 students. The first two semesters (longer for part-time students) cover the six foundational courses of the traditional American legal education: civil procedure, constitutional law, contracts, criminal law, property, and torts. For skill-based courses, students take a two-semester course covering the fundamentals of legal research and writing. After completing the first-year program, students must also complete courses in evidence, an additional semester of constitutional law, and a course covering professional responsibility. All students are required to complete a second-year writing requirement.
During their final semesters of law school, students’ curriculum is largely elective as students plan their transition to their professional careers. All students complete a second, more rigorous writing project under close supervision of a faculty member. All students are also required to complete at least six hours of experiential learning.
Willamette Law offers its J.D. candidates five certification programs that prescribe courses and experiential learning to ensure that students are prepared to practice in these complex areas of law. Certification programs generally require 15 hours of prescribed coursework and a minimum grade point average of a 3.0.
Along with its J.D. program, Willamette Law offers a number of additional degree programs for both lawyer and non-lawyers. For attorneys who have already earned their J.D. (or its foreign equivalent), Willamette Law offers a one-year Master of Laws (LL.M) program. The LL.M requires 24 credit hours focused on one of two practice areas: dispute resolution or transnational law. Either LL.M program offers students the opportunity to continue their academic studies while also taking advantage of the law school’s experiential offerings such as the legal clinic. The program in dispute resolution is one of the best in the country.
For non-lawyers whose careers intersect with the legal and regulatory framework, Willamette Law offers a Master of Legal Studies (M.L.S.) program. The degree requires one-year (26 hours) of coursework that may be completed on a full-time or part-time basis. M.L.S. candidates enjoy the full range of the Willamette Law course catalog as they select courses–with the help of an academic advisor–to best fit their professional goals. M.L.S. students are required to take one of the traditional first-year courses and complete a major research project.
In conjunction with Willamette University’s business school, the law school also offers its J.D. candidates a joint degree program. In their joint degree, students earn both a J.D. and an M.B.A. in four years. The program also allows students to leverage Willamette Law’s extensive business law curriculum in conjunction while also studying business and management. This approach not only reduces the time required to complete both degrees but provides students with additional insight through an cross-disciplinary approach.
Undergraduate students at Willamette University may also participate in an accelerated J.D. program that combines their last year of undergraduate studies with their first year of law school. This “3+3” program allows students to complete both their undergraduate and law degrees in six total years.
Career and Career Placement
Based on the most recent employment outcome statistics, over 87% of all graduates of Willamette Law are employed within 10 months of graduation, most in long-term, full-time employment. Of those employed, 95% found careers that either required a law license (83%) or preferred a Juris Doctor degree (12%). The common career choice for graduates was traditional law firm work (46% of employed graduates). Small law firms of 1 to 10 attorneys were–by a wide margin–the most popular choice for graduates. Willamette Law also saw a notable number of its graduates (over 17%) secure judicial clerkships in the federal or state courts. Just under 20% of graduates opted for careers in either government offices or the public interest sector. The business sector also accounted for another 15% of graduates’ first career choice. Just under 90% of all graduates remained in Pacific Northwest to begin their professional careers with the majority staying in the state of Oregon.
The Willamette Law Placement Office approaches career counseling with a “one student at a time” philosophy that emphasizes one-on-one counseling that is customized to meet each students strengths and professional aspirations. To achieve this goal, students meet one-on-one with advisors to map out their professional strategy that often includes professional training, a mentor program with a practicing attorney, externships, and networking. The Placement Office also works with local, regional, and national employers to engage with students both formally in on-campus interviews as well as informally as career and networking events.
Experiential Learning/Distance Education
In order to prepare students for the practice of law, Willamette Law offers students a variety of experiential programs that provide an opportunity to put their classroom lessons into practice. The capstone for most students is participation in the school’s clinical program. In clinics, student work with real clients in one of four practice areas: business law, child and family law, immigration law, and trust and estates. Clinical students are overseen by practicing faculty members who helps students as they learn to represent and advocate for their clients.
Willamette Law’s externship program offers a similar experience as the clinical program through an external field placement in a law office in the regional area. Leveraging its proximity to the state government complex, Willamette Law students may be placed in a variety of government legal and judicial offices. The externship program allows students to work alongside practicing attorneys as they become familiar with the daily life of practicing law and build their professional networks.
Willamette Law also offers addition curricular and co-curricular opportunities for students to build practical skills. In the classroom, Willamette Law offers a range of simulation courses each semester where students learn by doing. In simulation, students tackle real-world legal problems that often require collaboration and complex, interdisciplinary solutions. Students may also participate in the school active trial advocacy programs or sharpen their writing and research skill as part of the school’s academic journal.
Willamette Law engages with students outside the classroom to provide a holistic education that includes an emphasis on wellness and health. The law school supports over 20 student organizations as well as number of charitable and pro bono efforts throughout the year. These programs engage students with the larger community. As members of the oldest university in the west, students at Willamette Law also have access to the university’s excellent health and wellness facilities including the excellent on-campus athletic facilities. Willamette University is also home to one of the state’s largest art museums as well as music and performing venues.
Nestled in the heart of Oregon’s legal community, Willamette Law offers its students a city famed for its quality of life. Salem–the state capital–is surrounded by park lands. The Willamette River runs blocks away from the law school as it winds towards its confluence with the Columbia River in Portland. The city of Portland is less than hour to the north and offers students additional housing options as well as nightlife and professional sports. To the south, the college town of Eugene is just over an hour away. Surrounded by stunning forests and mountains, students enjoy a city that strives for balance and recreation.