There were close to one hundred people in the new academic wing on April 17, traveling all the way from California, Connecticut, Florida, Maryland, Massachusetts, Mississippi, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Jersey, North Carolina, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Texas, Vermont, Virginia, Washington, Wisconsin, and the District of Columbia. Taking turns around the room, they introduced themselves as consultants, legal assistants, paralegals, political campaigners, research analysts, schoolteachers, software engineers, and students.
They had at least two things in common. They’d all been accepted into the Class of 2018 and they’d all come to think about their decision. “To some extent, a law school is a law school,” said Rachael Hancock, who oversees the internship program at the American Constitutional Society for Law and Policy, and intends to focus on international law. “I’m trying to pick out the specific things that stand out about Cornell.”
“We already know the statistics,” said Chris Plante, who works as a litigation legal assistant at Davis Polk & Wardwell. “We know the answers to all the tangible questions, because they’ve been reported. You can read about what people do here and what they do after here. Right now, we’re weighing the intangibles: What does the campus feel like? Can you relate to the people you meet? Can you imagine yourself as a student here?”
Welcoming them to campus, Richard Geiger, associate dean for communications and enrollment, talked about Cornell’s mix of old and new, traditional and contemporary. Despite anything they might have read about legal education in general, he said, there was no question about the continuing value of a Cornell legal education. The trends are all positive, including high marks in recent rankings. The data is off the charts. Programs are expanding, faculty members are engaged, alumni are committed, and graduates are getting good jobs.
Stepping to the podium, Eduardo Peñalver, the Allan R. Tessler Dean and Professor of Law, underlined those messages with an anecdote about his youngest brother, who’d been in the same position as the people in the audience. Accepted by Cornell Law, he wasn’t sure what to do. If he studied in Ithaca, would he be able to practice on the West Coast?
The answer was yes, which was why Peñalver told the story, touching on the reasons Cornell Law was the right choice: Its size. Its sense of community. Its core values of inclusion and excellence. Its global reach. Its clinics. Its commitment to being elite, not elitist. Its focus on transactional skills. Its place within a major research university. Its beautiful surroundings. Its long history of diversity. Its tradition of public service. Its record of job placement. Its Rhodes Fellowship. Its loan forgiveness program. Its deep sense of decency. Its dedication to graduating lawyers who make you proud to be a lawyer.
But was that enough?
“We’ll have to see,” said Mathias Rabinovitch, who graduated from New York University with a bachelor’s in linguistics, and ultimately hopes to work for the United Nations. “I can tell that I’d be very intellectually challenged here. People are very smart, and I might be a little fish. So I’m talking to people about their paths, how they reached this place, and whether they had to make decisions similar to mine. This isn’t the same as choosing where to go for undergrad. It’s a more personal decision about who you want to be.”
For some people in the room, including Rabinovitch, who’s Franco-Brazilian, the answers might come that night at a Diversity Weekend Party in Collegetown. They might come from watching a 1L property class, hearing a presentation on public interest law, taking a tour of campus, attending a student panel on What Law School is Really Like – or they might have already made up their minds.
“Clearly, I’d be getting an incredible, exemplary education,” said Grant Giel, who majored in vocal music performance at Duquesne University, and described himself as 98 percent sure he’ll choose Cornell. “This weekend is about seeing if I can acclimate myself to the general environment. If I can meet some of my fellow classmates a few months in advance, then when I come back in August, I’ll see familiar faces. I’ll be able to say, ‘Hey! I know you, Buddy!’”