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October 30, 2009
If you are considering applying to a law school or are making a choice about which one to attend, you may be looking at “student-faculty” ratios as one yardstick among many by which to compare schools. Presumably the fewer students there are per professor, the better your legal education will be, because then faculty will be oozing out of the cracks of the school, just waiting to serve your every need.
Sure, Yale Law has the best student-faculty ratio of any law school in the country (somewhere about 6.8 students per professor), but what does that really mean for you as a student? Yale also has “small groups” (first semester 1L sections) of only 16-18 students, but does that mean that faculty members are more accessible? Is that even something about which you should care? When I was choosing my future school, I had the same questions.
Halfway into my first semester at Yale Law, my professors are both outrageously busy and wonderfully available for me. In my four first-term classes (Torts, Contracts, Civil Procedure, and Constitutional Law) I am taught by a federal judge on the Second Circuit, a New York Times bestselling author, a former US Solicitor General, and a renowned constitutional scholar. Any one of them could certainly find more interesting (and potentially rewarding) things to do rather than help educate a hapless 1L on the finer points of reliance damages or subject matter jurisdiction, yet I have never had a problem visiting all four of them for assistance.
For one thing, all of my professors encouraged my classmates and me to attend their office hours. In one instance, I spent nearly an hour with my Torts professor talking about legal careers and receiving invaluable advice on various possible paths. Even though our conversation was interrupted by a call from a Supreme Court Justice, he insisted I wait until the brief call was over to continue the discussion. In another case, my Contracts professor nearly demanded that we visit her office hours so she could get to know us better!
My professors have also taken an interest in getting to know us outside the academic environment by inviting my small group to spend quality time with them. We spent a day eating wood-fired pizzas and exploring the farm of one of my professors, attended a party at another’s house, and had an evening telling stories and having appetizers and cocktails with a third. As if that weren’t enough, our fourth professor is taking us all out for pizza at a local restaurant next week.
The opportunity to be taught by and get to know these outstanding scholars has been remarkable and unforgettable. One thing is clear: if student-faculty ratio and faculty accessibility are important to you, then you can hardly go wrong at Yale Law.