Baylor Law’s small class size builds relationships

By Paula Ann Solis
Staff Writer

Whoever said bigger is better never went to Baylor Law School.

According to the average first-year section size of the nine law schools in Texas, Baylor Law School is the smallest in the state with an average of 42 students. Its percentage of students who pass the bar, however, is the largest.

“One thing to recognize is how this success fits into the successful past at Baylor,” said Nicole Neeley, the assistant dean of admission at Baylor Law School. “This is a habit for us.”

Since 2001, Baylor Law School has come out on top 18 of the 25 times the exam has been given. The latest pass rate was 97.52 percent with 118 out of 121 students passing. The average pass rate for the nine Texas law schools was 88.43 percent. Neeley said part of the law school’s success is rooted in its small class size.

While Baylor has boasted record high numbers for the undergraduate class, fall 2013 enrollment numbers at the law school are actually the smallest they have been in more than 20 years with 378 students currently seeking a juris doctorate, according to a report by Baylor’s Office of Institutional Research and Testing. This small class size is by no means a disappointment.

“That’s not only a goal but part of our success,” Neeley said. “The purposefully-small program at Baylor Law School enables our students to have significant access to professors and staff.”

Part of that access comes from a unique policy at the law school — no office hours. Every law professor leaves the door to his or her office open throughout the day, and students do not have to make appointments to meet with them. They simply drop by at their leisure.

Columbus, N.M., second-year law student Neyma Figueroa said she did not originally want to live in Waco, but Baylor Law School was just too good to pass up and the open-door policy is just one of the many reasons she decided on Baylor for law school.

“I’m friends with my professors,” Figueroa said. “I’ll just visit, sit, hangout and talk. I literally know everybody. It honestly feels like a family to me.”
This open-door policy is rooted in the genius of the law school’s building. Neely said in 2001 when the Sheila & Walter Umphrey Law Center was built, professor-student relationships were at the forefront of the design team’s mind.

“Large faculty offices were designed to create seating areas for students,” Neeley said.

She also said professors often comment on how they enjoy the opportunity to openly and frequently meet with students.

New Braunfels second-year law student Jessica Glosson said close relationships are what make for a successful law school experience.

“If you want a quality education, you’re going to get it here,” Glosson said. “Professors are more accessible and willing to get to know you on a personal level and vice versa. They help you meet all of your goals.”

Though Neeley said the administration is content with its low enrollment numbers, they do actively recruit and are working to fend off the trend of declining law school applications being experienced nationwide. This trend, reported by the Law School Admission Council, showed that in 2013, the number of applications to law schools decreased by 17.9 percent from last year.

Neeley said a similar situation is occurring at Baylor Law School with a drop in applications close to 13 percent.

To counter this, Neely said recruiting programs have expanded and the law school has a generous scholarship program.

Glosson said both were factors when she chose Baylor Law School.

“I was really impressed when I came on my visit,” Glosson said. “They already knew me by name and were expecting me. What really sealed the deal though was sitting in on a class and seeing the professor-student relationships. Other law schools lack that and it helps in so many aspects. We get a fuller experience here.”