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St. John’s Law Continues to Make Strides on Measures that Matter Most

Thursday, November 6, 2014

“I’m pleased to report that, in a time of great challenge for all law schools, we are thriving. Applications are up, student credentials are up, bar passage is up, career placement is up, and alumni giving is up. In short, St. John’s Law is on the rise.” This was the heartening message that Dean Michael A. Simons shared recently with St. John’s Law alumni in his annual fall update letter.

The letter outlines the range of ways the Law School continues to make strides in measures that matter most to students, to alumni, and to employers. And, in the short time since the letter mailed, more positive news has come in on the bar passage front:

With an 87.1% pass rate for the July 2014 exam, St. John’s Law significantly exceeded the statewide pass rate of 82.6%. “This marks the third consecutive year that the Law School surpassed the statewide average,” Dean Simons said. “And, with each year, we’ve widened that achievement gap in our favor.”

You can read the full text of Dean Simons’ fall update letter below.

September 2014

Dear Friends,

As I enter my sixth year as dean, I write once again to update you on the state of St. John’s Law. And I’m pleased to report that, in a time of great challenge for all law schools, we are thriving. Applications are up, student credentials are up, bar passage is up, career placement is up, and alumni giving is up. In short, St. John’s Law is on the rise.

A New Strategic Plan
Ten years ago, 100,000 people applied to US law schools. This year, there were fewer than 56,000 applicants. With this dramatic dip in demand, law schools nationwide have been faced with a stark choice: quality or quantity. During the past year, I have had many discussions with alumni and faculty about the choice facing the Law School. And I’m proud to say that we have resoundingly chosen quality. Last spring, our faculty adopted a bold new strategic plan designed to strengthen St. John’s Law for years to come. By 2016, our JD enrollment will be reduced from over 900 students to around 600 students. The broad support for the new plan demonstrates our faculty’s deep commitment to the Law School and a shared willingness to work together towards our goals of academic excellence and student success. And we’ve already made remarkable progress toward meeting those goals.

Inputs: The New 1L Class
Last year, only 37 of the over 200 American law schools saw an increase in applications. And only 20 saw an increase over 10 percent. At St. John’s, applications increased 13 percent. But even with this larger applicant pool, we admitted fewer students as part of our continuing commitment to quality. This increased selectivity caused our median LSAT to rise from 156 to 157 and our median GPA to rise from 3.39 to 3.45. Of New York’s 15 law schools, only one other (Columbia) saw increases in both LSAT and GPA. Most schools saw declines, and some—including some of our closest competitors—saw sharp declines. I spent the last two weeks of August teaching Introduction to Law to our new 1Ls, and I can attest that they are not just highly qualified, they’re also filled with the St. John’s spirit. They’re smart, eager, hard working, ambitious, and a joy to teach.

Outcomes: Employment and Bar Passage
We’ve also seen notable improvements in our key outcome measures. Our overall employment rate increased from 78 percent to 86 percent, while our rate for full-time, long-term, law-related jobs increased from 61 percent to 67 percent. Both increases moved us ahead of the national average. With our proactive, individualized, and integrated approach to career development now fully implemented, I expect this positive trend to continue. Our bar passage rate also increased—from 84 percent to 88 percent—again placing us above the statewide average. This gain is largely attributable to the success of our new Applied Legal Analysis program, which provides intensive bar preparation to students throughout their final year of law school. Having expanded the program last year, I expect our bar pass rate to continue to climb as well.

Enriching our Curriculum
Our singular focus is on giving our students the education they need to pass the bar, get a job, and succeed in today’s profession. While continuing to emphasize the fundamentals of legal analysis and legal writing, we’ve enriched the curriculum to offer our students so much more, including over a dozen advanced classes in drafting, ten in-house and partner clinics, and hundreds of externship and internship placements. Nearly three-quarters of our most recent graduating classes have taken at least one clinic or externship. And this year, the faculty adapted our academic calendar to create space for innovative intersession courses—intensive two-week experiences that will teach students essential skills for the practice of law today. Starting in January, our 1Ls will take a new required course called Lawyering, which will give them an intensive introduction to negotiation, counseling, and drafting. Our emphasis on practical skill-building continues in upper-level courses on drafting, bankruptcy practice, patent application preparation and prosecution, pre-trial advocacy, and business planning, among other offerings. There are also such diverse courses as the role of the in-house counsel, social media law, health care fraud, and e-discovery.

Expanding our Centers of Academic Excellence
One of the ways we integrate career development with the curriculum is through our academic centers, which bring students, faculty, and alumni together with other leaders in specialized fields to explore legal issues that are changing the national and international landscape. In June, our Center for International and Comparative Law and our Center for Law and Religion joined with the Department of Law at the Libera Università Maria SS. Assunta (LUMSA) to present a two-day conference on “International Religious Freedom and the Global Clash of Values” in Rome. The conference was opened by Pope Francis, who received the conference attendees in a private audience in the Papal Palace, where he gave an impassioned address about religious persecution (and also warmly received a St. John’s soccer jersey). Just this month, we launched our newest center: the St. John’s Intellectual Property Law Center (IPLC). The center was made possible by the generosity of a number of alumni, including Shephard Lane '66, William F. Cavanaugh, Jr. '77SVC, '80L, Robert J. Gunther '81C, '84L, and Daniel A. DeVito '87, who together gave $1.1 million towards this ambitious project. Directed by Professor Jeremy Sheff, IPLC is a forum for research, education, professional development, and service addressing the legal and policy issues of the knowledge economy. This fall also marks a transition in the leadership of the Ronald H. Brown Center for Civil Rights and Economic Development from its inaugural director, Leonard M. Baynes (now dean at the University of Houston Law Center), to its new director, Professor Elaine M. Chiu, and its new assistant director, Professor Rosa C. Castello ’06. For the RHB Center and all our centers, it promises to be an exciting year.  

A Remarkable Year for Alumni Giving
Our alumni community is the bedrock of St. John’s Law. Over the last year, I called on you to help us recruit the best students and provide them with a first-class legal education. You responded to the call with generosity that is truly inspiring, and I’m pleased to report that alumni contributions hit record highs this past fiscal year. Under the outstanding leadership of Brian Woods, our new Executive Director of Development and Alumni, total giving to the Law School exceeded $3.7 million, a 125 percent increase over the prior year, while total gifts and pledges increased 225 percent to exceed $6.5 million. Your support is directly benefitting our students and making it possible for us to stake our future on quality.St. John’s is strong because the St. John’s Law family – alumni, faculty, administrators, staff and students – are so committed to the Law School. I am deeply grateful for all that you do for alma mater. I invite you to keep the momentum going this fiscal year as St. John’s Law continues to rise.



Michael A. Simons
Dean and John V. Brennan
Professor of Law and Ethics