Cornell Law School Admissions Dean | Interview

This is the 4th post in the "Better Know a Law School" series. Richard Geiger is Cornell Law School’s Associate Dean for Enrollment and Communications. He received his law degree from Boston University and after clerking for a federal district court judge, practiced at law firms in Washington, D.C. and Boston. From 2003-2005, he served as Chairman of the Board of the Law School Admission Council. Cornell ranked 12th among law schools in US News and World Report this year.

1. What's special about Cornell's international law program? What can someone specializing in international law do during their time at Cornell and beyond?

International law has been a signature program at Cornell for a very long time. What makes it special at this point is that it covers not just the curricular elements you would expect from a top law school, but the programmatic and institutional elements as well. For example, even though we’re a relatively small law school, we have formal study abroad relationships with 15 different law schools around the world; we offer summer institutes in Paris and Suzhou, China; and our degree possibilities include two different U.S./French law degrees, a U.S./German law degree, a three-year J.D./ LL.M. in international and comparative law, and a J.D. with a specialization in international legal affairs. We’re also part of a truly wonderful university that has a wide range of international area studies and other programs that are available to our students for course credit, or just for enrichment. All of this means that our students end up with excellent career options in both private and public international law.

2. The FAQ section of your website emphasizes that all applications are read thoroughly. Would you please describe the typical application review process and how much time is devoted to each part of the application?

Our process is aimed at getting to know the answers to two basic questions: (1) is the person likely to thrive academically at our school; and (2) will he or she be the kind of person who will actively engage not only the classroom environment, but everything else that goes on here. To assess these things, we rely on every part of the application. There is no real formula to it because everyone is different. In fact, we shy away from numerical cut-offs and mechanical approaches precisely because we don’t want to miss people for whom the numbers simply aren’t good predictors of success. Remember, we’re a small school and we can’t hide admissions mistakes. This gives us a strong incentive to get it right.

3. Your website makes it seem like professors are accessible to students 24/7. While I'm exaggerating here, are they really that down-to-earth and open to student contact? How do they have the time? Shouldn't they spend their time writing in journals and taking cases to court?

Great question. How is it that our faculty can consistently be rated as top scholars and top teachers, and still have time to engage with our students personally? The short answer is that the faculty/student culture really encourages and supports full engagement. Our faculty are consumed not just with their scholarly activities, but with having a real impact on our students. Plus, don’t forget that many of our students are already very accomplished people who faculty enjoy getting to know as individuals. The long answer will require a visit to our school. Spend a day here while we’re in session and all will be made clear! I promise.

4. Anything else?

Just a couple of things: First, city people are often worried about what it will be like in Ithaca for three years. My response to that is to remember that we’re part of a very large university (19,000 or so) and that Ithaca is a very lively place. But more importantly, remember that the law is essentially an urban profession. The common denominator for most of our graduates is that they end up in a major urban area. So, for most of our students, their time in Ithaca may literally be the only time they’ll be able to experience the wonderful lifestyle that a place like Ithaca offers. Second, most people tell me that once they start to get to know more about Cornell they are amazed at the wide range of possibilities we are able to offer our students even though we’re relatively small and not located in a big city. Of course, once again, a visit is the best way to discover the surprises that Cornell and Ithaca offer.