Why NCCU?

[Posted 11/17/2010]

Over the past year that law:/dev/null has been online, I’ve been repeatedly asked from fellow classmates and folks I’ve never met “What made you decide to go to NCCU Law?”

That question actually came up during my 1L Orientation, and was the subject of a pair of my earliest entries on the blog :)

In terms of why I considered a “Tier 4” law school in general, you can read Part I here. As for why I particularly chose the North Carolina Central University School of Law, below is a copy/paste of this Part II entry:

Disclaimer for any of you who become regular readers:  any time I write that I’m going to do/say/explain something “tomorrow” or “soon” or “shortly” or any other chronologically-oriented word that would indicate a time horizon in the relatively near future, add at least a week or two to it.  I’m one of those folks you hear about who get distracted easily by shiny objects, except in my case the “shiny objects” are random occurrences in life that remind me of random earlier occurrences in life and consequently prompt a story.  Consider yourself forewarned, caveat emptor, etc etc etc :)

Moving on…

A couple days ago in this post I mentioned one of my new 1L colleagues who apparently flagellates himself as restitution for his social awkwardity.  Still don’t know the kid’s name because I skipped the past 2 days of orientation (more on that later… maybe), but he essentially tried to demonstrate his Alpha Male-ness by terrifying a young lady I was conversing with about law:/dev/null.  I noted in response to his asininity that the ABA requires all accredited law schools to teach essentially the same material to 1Ls regardless of their “tier,” so theoretically my experience helps inform this blog about as well as anyone else’s informs their own.  I closed the post by posing this question:

…[I]f everyone is learning substantially the same material, why would anyone bother attending a Tier 4 school in the first place when it would seem (at least statistically) that a top school would give someone better odds at passing the bar and landing a job?…

Computer scientists like binary and powers of 2, the fundamental “on” and “off” that governs electrical circuits and spreads out to all CSC constructs like Boolean algebra, memory sizes, and so on.  My figuring is that there are only 2 types of people who go to a T4 law school:  folks who aren’t qualified on paper to get in anywhere else, and folks who could (or did) get into a higher tier school but had at least one logical reason for sticking with a T4.

There’s not much to say regarding the first group, so consequently I won’t say much ;)  For the folks who don’t have the paper qualifications to get into a top school — bad LSAT score or bad GPA typically, since often these are the only 2 values that matter regardless of how many reams of experience one accrues in a legal-oriented field — the T4s are providing them with a rare opportunity to prove through their work ethic they have what it takes to become attorneys.  In that capacity T4s perform a huge public service, because many of the best attorneys are the ones who work hard, meet filing deadlines, and take care of their clients because they know they may not be the brightest and have to make up for their deficiencies (by contrast, at least in my experience, many of the worst attorneys are graduates of top schools who are lazier than a quadriplegic sloth in a drug-induced coma).

The second group is a more difficult nut to crack because many of them have different and varying reasons.  This also happens to be the category I fall into — I actually applied to only three law schools (a T1/”T14″, a T2/”T100″, and T4 NCCU) and had already mailed off my acceptance and deposit to NCCU before I even got my letters from the other two.  I was lucky to do exceptionally well on the LSAT despite taking it “cold” with -0- studying of any kind, combined with nearly a decade of experience in the legal field during my time as a college dropout and after (more on that in a later post).

So why did I decide to go to the North Carolina Central University School of Law, a historically black college in the bottom tier, when I had two other higher ranked options?  Here are my reasons (which conveniently happen to count out to a power of 2):

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(Before jumping in, I need to stipulate I’m ignoring the T14 school I applied to in these comments — I knew when I applied that I wasn’t going to attend because I didn’t want to move across the country :) )

  1. Cost. In high school, I was one of only two students in my graduating class (so far as I know) who were actively recruited by MIT for their Computer Engineering program.  Instead I decided to attend NC State University in Raleigh because, even paying out-of-state tuition, it was a significantly less expensive proposition — MIT’s tuition and fees over a decade ago in 1998-99 was $6K+ more expensive than NCSU’s out-of-state tuition and fees *today* (let that marinate for a minute so you can fully grasp it). Cost of attendance was a similar motivator for picking NCCU.  My tuition and fees for the 2009-2010 academic year come out to $9,097.16, less than half of the T2 school I applied to up the street (I don’t compare total cost of attendance for law schools since there’s so much variability in the housing and retail markets, but it’s worth noting many T1s are in outrageously expensive cities).
  2. Competence. Folks who have worked with me in NCSU’s Student Government or the statewide UNC Association of Student Governments will tell you that I am a notorious micromanager, an unapologetic perfectionist and overly obsessive about details (“anal retentive” is the pejorative most often thrown).  When I filled out each of my applications for law school, I quite literally checked, re-checked, re-re-checked, and re-re-re-checked everything before either filing documents online or submitting materials in person. In the case of the T2, I even had a friend from the campus go with me to drop off the application and had him check everything for me. We both confirmed all of the required documents were in the packet I dropped off, including my form declaring North Carolina residency. Yet magically, 54 days after that packet was dropped off, I received an email that the residency form was missing and I’d have to shelve everything I was doing in my life (like trying to graduate) to re-send a duplicate copy. Compare that to the response of the T4. When the LSDAS didn’t send my transcripts because one of my letters of recommendation had not yet arrived, I got an email from NC Central only about two weeks after they received my application indicating the transcripts were missing… then got a second email a week later as a reminder (fortunately I had more than ample notice to get in touch with the errant professor and get my LOR squared away, so I didn’t receive any further notices). Not only did NCCU not lose any of my paperwork, they promptly notified me multiple times when they didn’t receive stuff in the first place. That’s a level of competence and attention-to-detail that can only come from a school recognizing its rank and striving to improve.
  3. Character. My time visiting the T2 in-person to gather more information was about what you’d anticipate from a school that loses paperwork and doesn’t notify people until two months later. Trying to meet with the Dean to ask questions was a fruitless endeavor, and the low-grade paper-pusher who finally graced me with her presence acted like it was a burden to talk with me — as though I had just taken her away from the positively riveting experience of playing Minesweeper all day.  And this was as a student with an LSAT score well above the institution’s top quartile. The T4 experience was completely different. The Chancellor of North Carolina Central University met with me for about an hour to answer my questions about the University. The Dean of the School of Law met with me for about 20 minutes to answer my questions as well, even telling me he wasn’t sure I was qualified to attend because “[t]here are students who genuinely want to attend NCCU as their 1st choice instead of wanting to go to Carolina and applying to us as their backup” (which, though I was mildly insulted, I considered an eminently reasonable response from a Dean of a law school). They graciously offered their time to speak with me, provided me with their email addresses if I had further questions, and responded to those emails when I contacted them later. It was a “students first” mentality that comes with trying to build a legacy by taking care of its customers.
  4. Culture. In line with my earlier reference about T4s providing a public service by accepting applicants who are “sub-standard” on paper, the culture at the North Carolina Central University School of Law is one where every student is expected to learn the material and excel. This is reflected in the institution’s bar passage rate (81.9% in 2007, +7.9% over the state average) which is actually comparable to several T1 institutions and most T2s. My impression is that the intensity of the student body stems from the knowledge they are “underdogs” in the legal arena, competing with law graduates coming from schools with bigger profiles, resources and legacies. Graduates from top schools, by contrast, seem to lack that same level of intensity. That sense was actually summarized best during my experience working with the North Carolina State Bar (our state agency responsible for licensing and regulating attorneys). I was a college dropout at the time and working as a low-level staff member in the Grievance Division. When I mentioned to one of the staff attorneys my interest in law school and wondering where I should apply, I got this as a response (inflection and hand gestures translated visually by me):
    • If you want to be a lawyer who knows the law, go to Campbell (another T4 in the Triangle)
    • If you want to be a judge who knows the law, go to Central
    • If you want to be a politician who “knows” the law, go to Carolina

    (one of the newer attorneys who was still paying down his student loans also chimed in with “If you want to know the law but be homeless, go to Duke:) )

    I simply mesh better with an environment where there’s a feeling of “us vs them” and people are willing to help uplift each other because we’re all essentially a family. There’s still competition of course, but all the “gunner” talk you see on other law-related blogs doesn’t seem to apply to NCCU.

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And although it wasn’t an actual reason behind my decision, I thought it was fitting that NCCU’s school colors of maroon and gray were just a slightly darker shade of NC State’s red and white ;)

I realize the length of this post has reached ridiculous proportions, so I’ll clip it here for the evening. At some point over the next couple days I’ll actually get into my other experiences during orientation this week… some of which I’ll admit now were more than slightly embarrassing. Good night folks :)

If you made it all the way through that entry, my guess is you fall into one of three categories: (1) you’re serious about learning as much as you can about prospective law schools, (2) for some heretofore unknown reason you actually care about what I think, or (3) you’re a glutton for punishment :beatup:

Assuming it’s the first category, I’d strongly encourage you to give NCCU Law a hard look. I’m now halfway through my 2L year and I love it here — I think you will too ;)

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