UW School of Law attributes high national rank to changes in program

The UW School of Law is commanding national attention after being ranked 20th in the nation by U.S. News, and administrators at the law school credit its young faculty for the jump.

Samuel Donaldson, associate dean for academic administration at the UW School of Law, said the law school focuses on drawing in better faculty and students than it used to, which increases the school’s overall reputation.

Many public law schools have a hard time attracting the good faculty who increase the reputation of the school and the school’s rankings — especially in the current economic climate.

Donaldson said administrators can’t raise tuition to the same levels as Harvard or Yale because the UW is a state school. But, as state support is declining, it’s getting more difficult to find enough money to hire the best professors.

Donaldson said administrators at the UW School of Law try to hire dynamic, young professors who will act as advocates for the school and continue to bring in talented faculty members.

“We’ve been able to attract a lot of young junior faculty that have been top notch,” Donaldson said. “And, in a lot of cases, what really has them excited about coming here is that they’ll be with a lot of other really good young junior faculty.”

Many students attending the UW School of Law are impressed by the faculty’s quality. One of these students is Shaun Callahan, who is in his first year at the law school.

“The faculty is great,” Callahan said. “All of my professors have been excellent. You can tell that they’re making an effort to get the best people available.”

But for Donaldson, attracting a quality staff isn’t the only problem. Attracting quality students to the UW School of Law can be even more challenging. As a public school, the law school can’t promise large scholarships. It largely draws in-state students because of the lower tuition rates — which are similar to those paid by recipients of large scholarships at Ivy League schools.

Donaldson and other administrators are trying to break the mold of the traditional law school in an effort to draw in gifted students. By “traditional,” he means those schools in which students are constantly fighting to be the best, and those with lower GPAs may be cut from the program. Administrators like Donaldson hope that their less traditional approach to running the UW School of Law will make up for a lack of scholarships.

Donaldson said the UW School of Law offers a much more community-based environment, and students and faculty try to look out for each other. Students like Callahan are attracted to the school for this reason.

“It’s kind of like a team atmosphere instead of the competitive one that you see at more traditional law schools,” he said.

To further recruit quality students, the administration and faculty of the law school tries to promote social justice. Donaldson argues this reputation sets the UW School of Law apart from other law schools and attracts talented students who are interested in social issues. Programs within the law school focus on issues like housing for homeless community members and re-opening cold cases.

Administrators, faculty members, and students alike are proud that recent innovations led the UW School of Law to national recognition.

“A ranking isn’t everything, but it is something,” Callahan said. “It’s a good way to tell that Seattle is becoming a much more important place in the world.”

Reach reporter Amelia Dickson at news@dailyuw.com.

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