Is Notre Dame Law School Still a Place for Faithful Catholics?

Notre Dame has a less-than-stellar reputation among faithful American Catholics, which calls into question whether aspiring Catholic lawyers should apply there.

Now that the leaves have changed and Notre Dame has (regrettably) been eliminated from college football playoff consideration, many college seniors are putting together their law school applications for fall 2024. A short three years ago, I was in their shoes, trying to balance a busy academic schedule, social commitments, and a job with studying for the LSAT and writing personal statements. The law school application process can be daunting for those unfamiliar with it, so I’m writing this article with a specific piece of advice for all aspiring Catholic law students: apply to Notre Dame.

Notre Dame has not done much in recent years to repair its less-than-stellar reputation among faithful American Catholics. But I’m not going to write about all the unfortunate initiatives and events that Notre Dame’s administration permits—a quick Google search can bring you up to speed on the latest disappointing news. Instead, I’m here to write about all the great things I have personally experienced at Notre Dame Law School and why you or the aspiring law student in your life should still seriously consider applying.

When the time came for me to submit my law school applications, I applied to only four schools: Notre Dame, and three others in case I didn’t get in to Notre Dame. But while I knew I wanted to attend Notre Dame, I tempered my enthusiasm about what I would find there, given some of the controversies that have surrounded the school recently. My wife and I moved to South Bend in August of 2021, and I began school a few weeks later. To my relief, we found a flourishing Catholic community that welcomed us instantly.

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Within the law school itself, there is a vibrant Catholic culture among the students. The St. Thomas More Society, the Catholic student club, regularly hosts events and activities that bring the Catholic students together or that share the Gospel with non-Catholic classmates. St. Thomas More students assist at daily Mass in the law school chapel, help organize weekly Eucharistic adoration, and lead Bible studies. Jus Vitae, the pro-life club, is also very active. 

The faculty don’t merely tolerate these groups, they often encourage and promote them by giving talks, hosting dinners at their houses, and actively mentoring student members. It’s not uncommon to have a professor for class in the morning, hear him speak at a St. Thomas More event in the afternoon, and then sit behind him for Mass in the law school chapel that same evening. 

The program’s culture is also refreshingly pro-family and pro-children. I was working as a student intern for Notre Dame’s Religious Liberty Initiative last summer when our first child was born. My coworkers and supervisors could not have been happier for me, and they encouraged me to take as much time off as I needed to care for my wife and baby. 

As the semester approached, my wife and I had no trouble finding willing babysitters through Notre Dame’s Right to Life club and the de Nicola Center for Ethics and Culture’s Sorin Fellows group. Even my professors were incredibly supportive. One day, our babysitter wasn’t available, and I could not find a replacement in time for my Freedom of Religion class with Professor Rick Garnett. Professor Garnett was happy to let me bring my son to class and didn’t give me a sideways glance when my son was fussy. In fact, I’ve had several professors ask me how my son is doing and suggest I bring him to school more often. 

Of course, Notre Dame isn’t just great for faithful Catholics because of its community. It is objectively a very good law school, too. I agree with Ivy League school administrators on at least one thing: the U.S. News and World Report rankings are a poor assessment of how good a school actually is. Notre Dame falls just outside the “top 14” law schools, but the career opportunities for its graduates aren’t far behind higher-ranked schools. For one thing, only seven law schools can boast of a graduate serving as a Supreme Court Justice in the 21st century: Harvard, Yale, Stanford, Columbia, Northwestern, and Notre Dame (Justice Amy Barrett is the only non-Harvard or Yale graduate currently on the Court). 

Notre Dame Law ranks seventh in the country for Supreme Court clerkships among graduates, and Reuters reported in May that 15 percent of Notre Dame law school graduates have a federal clerkship—fourth among all law schools in the country. Additionally, the Notre Dame Law Review is routinely among the top ten most-cited law journals. Notre Dame Law graduates go on to become federal judges, Supreme Court advocates, partners at big law firms, in-house counsel for Fortune 500 companies, federal prosecutors, and much, much more. 

Encouraging as this is, the administration and faculty also understand that law school ought to be more than just preparation for a prestigious career in the eyes of the world. While the law school’s “different kind of lawyer” slogan is trite, its commitment to giving students a uniquely Catholic legal education is very real. In addition to the standard law school curriculum, Notre Dame requires all students to take a class in jurisprudence, which is taught by professors like Jeffrey Pojanowski and Sherif Girgis, both of whom are experts in Catholic natural law theory and renowned legal scholars. 

The school’s “Galilee” program sends students out over winter break of their first year to meet with public interest lawyers serving the needs of underprivileged clients. The pressure to enter “big law” right out of law school and get on the partner track immediately is much less at Notre Dame than it is at many other law schools. 

Just last year, the law school introduced the Murphy Fellowship for students studying law and religion. The fellowship gives students a generous scholarship and unique opportunities to meet with judges and visiting speakers, and to engage in programming specific to law and religion. Notre Dame does an admirable job of educating the next generation of lawyers to understand the classical and Christian foundations of our legal system and the importance of using that system to serve the body of Christ. That’s something no Ivy League law school can say.

Notre Dame Law isn’t perfect. Although the school’s Catholic community and legal education are stellar, the administration regularly makes head-scratching decisions that often undermine the school’s Catholic mission. But, if anything, I think this is even more of a reason for faithful Catholics to apply to Notre Dame. As the proportion of students who genuinely adhere to the Church’s teachings continues to grow, the culture at the school will continue to get better. So, in these next few weeks, if you or someone you know is thinking of applying to law school, toss an application Notre Dame’s way.

Author

  • Athanasius Sirilla

    Athanasius Sirilla is a third-year law student at the University of Notre Dame. He graduated in 2021 from the Franciscan University of Steubenville, where he majored in Mathematics and Philosophy.

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