September 05, 2014
Members of the Class of 2017 take the traditional professionalism oath, led by U.S. Magistrate Judge Karen Wells Roby (L ’87), on the first day of orientation, Aug. 18.
First-year students gather in the lounge during orientation week.
With the kickoff of the new academic year, Tulane Law School recently welcomed 185 members of the Class of 2017.
For all their diverse and forward-looking talents, the group’s arrival reflects a calculated return to Tulane’s roots.
First, it is the smallest J.D. class to enter Tulane since 1972, the summer of the Watergate break-in. Second, it brings both stronger academic credentials (including improved LSAT and GPA medians) and a distinctive Louisiana flair. The 29 percent of the class from Louisiana is the largest representation from the state in recent memory and nearly double the proportion from just four years ago.
Both developments mark progress toward Tulane Law’s strategic plan to become a stronger, smaller law school, leveraging its distinctive academic identity and strengths to extend the impact of its students and faculty around the world.
The smaller J.D. class, down from the 215 who entered in 2013, completes a strategic downsizing and strengthening of the student body. The reductions, phased in over two years, reflect a new class size more than 25 percent smaller than recent years and almost exactly half the size of Tulane’s pre-Katrina peak entering class of 362.
The smaller class target, the product of a new strategic plan adopted by the faculty in 2013, is better calibrated to the evolving legal market, will enable the school to dedicate more resources to each student’s job placement and will facilitate more intensive professional skills training.
While the law school continues to attract one of the most geographically diverse student bodies in the nation — students from 35 U.S. jurisdictions and other countries spanning the globe — the law school made significant strides in persuading Louisiana’s most talented students to choose Tulane. Thanks in part to new scholarships dedicated to Louisiana residents, Tulane notably continued a trend of several years in enlarging its Louisiana representation.
The Louisiana emphasis coincides with another shift toward the law school’s local roots: a surge in students opting for the civil law curriculum. The civil law focus sets Tulane apart from other U.S. law schools, and, in 2013-14, approximately 40 percent of students took that track, up from 18 percent in 2009. Students opting into the civil law program include not only those who intend to practice in Louisiana, but also many who intend to practice elsewhere but recognize the benefits for transnational practice of rigorous exposure to the legal system that dominates most of the world.
Meanwhile, Tulane’s LLM program keeps gaining popularity for training lawyers from around the world: This year’s 58 LLM students represent 24 countries, from Azerbaijan to Venezuela, and exchange students come from an additional 10 nations.
Assistant Dean of Admission David Weinberg said the Class of 2017 exhibits “passion, drive, spirit and soul.” It includes native and naturalized New Orleanians along with a classically trained pianist who loves jazz and blues; an oyster harvester; a former Kansas City Chiefs player drawn to Tulane’s sports law program; and a Malawi NGO worker determined to protect the public from environmental dangers.
Many students from New Orleans wrote poignantly in their application essays about rekindling their love for their hometown, Weinberg said. And nine years post-Katrina, they referred more often to “renaissance” than to “recovery.”
“The Class of 2017 clearly wants to be a part of New Orleans’ current momentum as a city of excitement and promise,” he said.
The enthusiasm wasn’t dampened by a New Orleans-special downpour that greeted them Aug. 18., their first day on campus as they moved from Weinmann Hall to the LBC to take the traditional professionalism oath, led by U.S. Magistrate Judge Karen Wells Roby (L ’87).
Dean David Meyer welcomed the class to the Tulane community saying that, unlike when aspiring lawyer Abraham Lincoln could learn the law while toiling alone in an Illinois log cabin, today, “it matters a great deal how you learn and where you study.”
“In New Orleans, you will find that no place in the U.S. offers a richer environment for studying law, particularly with the city’s recent efforts to improve education, the environment, the economy and social justice,” Meyer said.