San Francisco Law


Regular readers of The RECORD have no doubt come across 3L Colleen Chen’s “Letters from Berkeley” column in the Opinion section. Chen and previous RECORD columnists have often sung the praises of the Boalt Hall School of Law, the University of California Berkeley’s top-10 law school. Two-Ls who long for some of Berkeley’s known bonuses — a lighter workload, superior weather and cheaper, healthier food, according to Chen — can follow their version of the California dream by signing up to spend 3L year at Boalt. But if they want to make the cut, they need strong academic reasons as well.

Run by the Dean of Students office, the Berkeley Exchange Program gives five 3Ls the chance to switch places with five of their Berkeley counterparts. This does not mean HLS students can escape their nasty term bills with the move, as exchangers still pay tuition and earn their degrees from their home institution. The added rewards, however, come from programs and courses that may not be available at their home institution. For instance, Boalt is known for its extensive offerings in environmental law and one of the nation’s pre-eminent intellectual property programs.

The Program’s selection committee does its best to make sure that academics, and not warmer weather, are the exchangers’ main focus. “A student would need to show a long-term interest of studying in a particular area,” Dean of Students Suzanne Richardson explained. “If it is environmental law that the student is interested in studying, the selection process would determine if that student was on the Environmental Law Journal or had participated in other environmentally-related activities that demonstrated a long-term interest.”

The program, first proposed by Berkeley and approved by the faculty in 1976, benefits not only students, but the institutions as well. “It is a huge advantage for Harvard to have five students who have spent two years at another institution bring their experiences back to the Law School to share them with others,” Richardson said.

Chen said she became interested in the program after she took a leave of absence between her 1L and 2L years to participate in the Clairvoyant Training Program at the Berkeley Psychic Institute. She fell in love with her new location and only convinced herself to come back to HLS because of the Berkeley Exchange Program. “Two years in Cambridge was enough for me,” Chen said. “I prefer to experience as wide a variety of learning environments, people, whatever, as possible. I like to put myself in different contexts, as I find that that’s a great way to evolve and get perspective, to increase the size of my universe.”

Chen also commented on the advantages of Boalt as compared to HLS. “Boalt is much smaller, more intimate in every sense, much more mellow,” she said. “There’s lots more women here, a stronger environmental law program and more emphasis on public interest.” However, Chen added that she thought Boalt’s public interest emphasis may have more to do with a lack of firm jobs open to Berkeley law students.

“I want school to be a tool for me, not me to be a tool for it,” Chen said. “I feel that being at Boalt sets the stage better for how I want to live my life than being at Harvard, where school dominated my life and I had nothing else.”

On the other end of the exchange is 3L David Gold, who left Boalt in order to expand his network of colleagues and develop ties to the Boston community. “Since I want to settle in Boston,” Gold said, “the program has enabled me to start building a network locally.”

Gold has kept to his word, engaging in projects such as a collaboration with Prof. Charles Haar on a book he is writing about Boston Harbor. “And it was a thrill to take food and drug law with Prof. Peter Barton Hutt,” he added.

Gold said HLS and Boalt were reasonably matched in terms of caliber of faculty and unattractive buildings, though Berkeley blossoms with activism and radicalism that are more muted here in Cambridge.

“I think this translates into differences in the classroom,” Gold said. “The student body at HLS is more right-wing, male-dominated and less idiosyncratic.”

The Harvard name may be a help to many, but Gold opined that the Law School’s identity also had its drawbacks. “The Harvard identity seems to be a large distraction, either because some people buy into as a measure of intelligence or superiority, or they are actively trying to maintain a level of humility in the face of it,” he said.

Though this year’s deadline for Berkeley application has just passed, interested (or freezing) 1Ls can stop by the Dean of Students office for more information.

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