A Message from Dean Nell Jessup Newton

Author: Dean Nell Jessup Newton


Dear Alumni and Friends of Notre Dame Law School,
The end of fall term, with Thanksgiving and Christmas approaching, presents an opportunity to reflect on the Law School and to offer my thanks for the many ways our alumni and friends support it.

One of the most inspiring sentences in our mission statement calls upon the Law School to encourage our students to “cultivate both the life of the mind and the wisdom of the heart, to pursue their studies with a passion for the truth, and to dedicate their professional and personal lives to serve the good of all the human family.” It is this goal, often encapsulated by the phrase “a different kind of lawyer,” that sets the education that students receive at NDLS apart from the rest.

Ryan Snyder (J.D. ’12), our most recent alumnus to be offered a Supreme Court clerkship (he will join Chief Justice Roberts’s chambers in the fall), may have put it best. When asked why he chose Notre Dame Law School, Ryan said, “I was really impressed by the idea of a school that emphasized how law is not just a professional career choice but also an opportunity to have a positive effect in the world. My professors cared about the law,” he continued, “but they cared about much more than that. They really cared about the students, and they always encouraged us to explore the moral issues that arise in the law.”

As law schools everywhere search for their place and their identity in the new legal marketplace, this shared culture of mutual respect and love is, in my opinion, our secret ingredient. During a time in which the value of a law degree is hotly debated and many have lost confidence in lawyers as counselors, policymakers, and problem solvers, we continue to produce graduates who can earn the absolute trust and confidence of those who depend upon them.

Our Reason for Being—the Students

This year we decided to reduce our class size modestly (from 180 to 160). In the face of a weakened job market and a commensurate decrease in law school applicants nationwide, we needed to ensure that we could maintain both our high admissions standards and high success rate in job placement. We are fortunate that we were able to cut our operating budget to make up for the lost revenues. At a time when some law schools are operating with substantial deficits, we remain very much in the black.

This fall our recruiting resulted in an impressively diverse group of 163 students. They come from 34 states and five foreign countries. Our 1Ls represent 107 colleges and universities (after Notre Dame, UCLA sent us the largest contingent). I have had the great pleasure of teaching Contracts this fall and have to say that the class dynamic has provided me with all the inspiration I need to remember why we are all engaged in this enterprise. My students are incredibly bright, inquisitive, and hard-working, and—in the Notre Dame tradition—they are looking after each other and taking advantage of all we have to offer. Just today, two of my 1L students came to me with a suggestion for an innovative pro bono project and a request that we provide some help to get it off the ground. I was happy to say yes, but only after they promised to work on the project this summer and not try to tackle it during their first year!

We are very fortunate that our alumni and other benefactors have helped us to maintain the quality of our incoming classes by contributing fellowships. We are also able to provide financial support to our students at the conclusion of their NDLS experience. For example, we have increased the Loan Repayment Assistance Program (LRAP) by over 500 percent in the last few years, aided by a bequest and a recent $1 million gift from a very generous alumnus. Unlike many other law school LRAP programs, the Notre Dame program covers private as well as federal loans, and students may participate for increments of three years rather than the 10 to 20 years required for the federal Income-Based Repayment program. I believe it is one of the best in the country.

The job market for new law graduates continues to be extremely tight, but the success rate for Notre Dame students has improved markedly since 2011. The number of NDLS graduates obtaining permanent legal jobs increased by more than 10 percentage points from 2011 to 2012; nationwide, the change was less than 3 percent. While American Bar Association standards provide that employment for the Class of 2013 will not be measured until February, we believe that our recent graduates are on pace to match employment with the previous class. The majority of our recent graduates’ jobs are with private law firms, followed by increasingly popular jobs in the business world. With Kevin O’Rear at the helm of the Career Development Office and a professionalized and talented staff, we believe we are on track to make continued improvement.

We placed 18 of our 2012 graduates in federal clerkships (including, of course, Ryan’s Supreme Court clerkship) and our preliminary results show that this will remain a strong area for us. The Class of 2014 already has 18 clerkships lined up. In fact, last year, according to data reported to the ABA, NDLS stood in a tie for tenth place among all U.S. law schools for its rate of placing students in federal judicial clerkships.

The most common destination city for our graduates is Chicago; the markets in California and New York are also popular, although our students have recently obtained work in at least 34 states and internationally. We are blessed with a very broad base of employers, with well over 400 unique organizations hiring our graduates in the past few years.

In addition to the financial support mentioned above, we have added programs and curricular changes to meet the increased demand among the very best applicants for more experiential, international, and interdisciplinary programs. We have also hired 11 new faculty in key areas of intellectual property, international and domestic business law, and public law. For example, Stephen Yelderman joined us this fall after a career with the Department of Justice Antitrust Division. Stephen, who has also worked as a patent agent, will be teaching patent law, copyright, and antitrust law. (Take a look at our website for bios of our other new faculty— law.nd.edu/news/35497-new-faculty-hires.)

Experiential Learning

Our students now have even more opportunities to develop lawyering skills. Thus we are expanding our skills courses (currently at 19), externships, and clinics. In the last few years, we added two innovative clinics: a Community Development Clinic, which advises small businesses and nonprofits, and an IP/Entrepreneurship Clinic. We also continue to expand our externship offerings every year, adding immigration and criminal law externships in South Bend and creating general externship programs in South Bend and now in Chicago.

Notre Dame Law in Chicago allows students to spend a full semester living, externing, and networking in a major metropolitan area that is also the top job market for NDLS graduates. They may extern in nonprofit organizations, government agencies, or corporate counsel offices.

On September 9, we opened facilities in Chicago on the second floor of a historic building in the Loop (224 South Michigan Avenue, formerly the Railway Exchange Building). The Law School’s facilities are across the atrium from the Mendoza College of Business Executive Education facilities and the Chicago offices of University Relations. The conference room and 40-person classroom’s videoconferencing capability enables Chicago lawyers to teach courses as adjunct professors to NDLS students in South Bend and London and to those in the Chicago program. For example, Professor Chuck Roth, Litigation Director at the National Immigrant Justice Center in Chicago, is now teaching an Immigration Law course for us in Chicago that is also open to NDLS students here in South Bend. Our students in South Bend and Chicago will be able to take classes in fast-developing areas of practice taught in Chicago by experienced practitioners. Two classrooms in Biolchini Hall of Law are also outfitted with distance-learning technology. In fact, Professor Mary Ellen O’Connell has taught a course in London to students in the London program as well as students from the Law School and the Kroc Institute who videoconferenced into the class. The possibilities are now endless.

Interdisciplinary Programs

Our students benefit from access to courses that draw on insights from other disciplines. They are working with students and colleagues in other departments in the Mendoza Business on the Front Lines course, and participating in business competitions that include students from Mendoza, Law, and Engineering. Similarly, students in the IP/Entrepreneurship clinic have worked with an architecture professor on trade dress, and with the Office of Technology Transfer on patent issues. Meanwhile our six interdisciplinary programs (Intellectual Property and Technology Law; Church, State, and Society; Constitutional Structure; Law and Economics; Law and Human Development; and Law and Market Behavior) are thriving as students realize that the ability to work across disciplines is an increasingly important aspect of law and legal practice.

Beginning in 2014, we will be launching a highly competitive three-year J.D./M.B.A. program that will complement our existing four-year joint-degree program. Students enrolled in this accelerated program can earn both a J.D. and an M.B.A. in three years of study.

International Law

The practice of law is increasingly global. We have long been a leader in international law, with a strong faculty in international private and public law and our London program. We have added student exchange programs at Bocconi University in Milan, Italy, and the Pontificia Universidad Católica de Chile in South America. We are finalizing agreements to add Peking University Law School and Tsinghua University School of Law as exchange partners and are in conversations with Trinity College in Dublin. These semester-long exchanges provide our students with a unique opportunity to gain an understanding of how the law functions in other legal systems. Both of our Chinese programs are at first-rate schools. Peking University is the oldest law school in China—its graduates include the current Chinese Premier, Li Keqiang. Tsinghua University is also held in very high regard. Its alumni include the former President of China, Hu Jintao, and former Chinese Premier Zhu Rongji.

Our London program is also evolving, with our recent addition of a one-semester option to the longstanding one-year London option, and by opening up London to students in their third year of law school. With these changes, more students can now afford to study in London than ever before.

While we have always had some international students at NDLS, we have also added a general LL.M., long available in London, to our South Bend offerings. This small LL.M. program will be available to foreign students who seek an opportunity to study the legal system of the United States in a traditional U.S. law school environment. A select number of post-J.D. students will also be admitted if they can show they will be able to use the LL.M. opportunity to develop a specialty.

Law School Events

This fall is shaping up to be one of our busiest in terms of important conferences and events at the Law School. On October 10, we hosted a major national conference on the future of homeownership in America. Funded entirely by a generous grant from the Bank of America, this conference brought a stunning array of the very top scholars and attorneys in the field to NDLS for a full day of discussions about the institution of homeownership and the regulatory reforms needed to optimize the industry moving forward.

Fortunately, thanks to the magnificent Patrick F. McCartan Courtroom, our students always have a venue suitable for dignitaries who wish to speak to them. In September we hosted former Indiana Supreme Court Chief Justice Randall T. Shepard. Then Ninth Circuit Chief Judge Alex Kozinski visited us for two days, teaching courses and visiting students, and this was followed by D.C. Circuit Judge Brett M. Kavanaugh’s visit November 1.

Many of these events are open to alumni, so please do drop by if you are in the area when we are hosting a program of interest to you. Times and locations are listed on the home page of our website.

On behalf of the entire Law School community, thank you for supporting Notre Dame, and may you have a blessed Christmas and a happy New Year.


Nell Jessup Newton
Joseph A. Matson Dean and Professor of Law