New Admissions Dean Cordel Faulk '01 Discusses His Career, Goals and Efforts to Recruit a Talented, Diverse Class

Cordel Faulk

"Law schools aren’t interchangeable — they have distinct personalities," says Cordel Faulk, the new head of the UVA Law admissions office. "I found that out during my tour of law schools back in 1998, and I recommend visiting to every applicant who asks for advice."

August 25, 2014

The competition to recruit the nation's top law school applicants has never been fiercer, says Cordel Faulk , the new interim assistant dean for admissions at the University of Virginia School of Law.

Faulk, a 2001 UVA Law graduate who has clerked and worked in law firms, in politics and for the media, most recently served as the Law School's director of admissions, and is also a member of the Virginia Tech Board of Visitors. He was named head of the UVA Law admissions office in May.

Why did you go to Virginia Law? What was your experience like?

Fortuna is the Roman goddess of good fortune. All the way back in 1998, she looked favorably upon me during the application process. I was lucky to have really good options. As I told the incoming class during orientation, every law school teaches promissory estoppel, and the ones I was choosing among all did that better than any institutions on the planet. I decided to go visit schools and see which one had people I liked, and a community I’d want to be a part of for the next 60 or more years. After I walked into the doors of UVA Law for the first time, it took me all of four seconds to realize this place is where I needed to be.

The day I drove away after law school graduation I thought to myself — and I am dead serious, this is the exact thought I had — "You certainly got that one right."

What was your career path up to joining the Law School?

Immediately after law school, I clerked on the Eastern District of Virginia for one of the most decent human beings I'll ever meet, Henry Coke Morgan Jr. Then it was off for a few years at two law firms, Baker Botts in Dallas and Hunton & Williams in D.C. In 2003, Hunton allowed me to start teaching a class on Virginia politics and do some prelaw advising at Virginia Tech. It required a four-hour drive to Blacksburg once a week, but I did it happily. Virginia Tech has remained a constant professional love for me since.

Cordel Faulk '01 welcomes the Class of 2017 during orientation remarks last week.

I left Hunton and the active practice of law in 2005 after I was made an offer I couldn't refuse: a position on the editorial board of the Richmond Times-Dispatch.  I loved that job and still love the people there.

I returned to UVA in 2008 to work with [UVA politics professor and media commentator] Dr. Larry J. Sabato during the 2008 election. I came back over to the Law School in 2009 as director of admissions. All the while continuing to write occasionally for the Times-Dispatch, teach at Virginia Tech, and every so often using my media skills to offer advice on communications and strategy advice to a few friends.

The highlight of my professional career came in 2011 when the governor asked me to serve on the Board of Visitors of Virginia Tech. What has that taught me? Running a university is hard.

You've been working in admissions for a few years. What's it like to be in charge of the office now?

I worked for the deans of admissions when I was a law student, particularly Jerome Stokes. That experience made me want his job — though in my wildest dreams I NEVER thought that was possible.

I spent two years with Dean Stokes and have watched the job for five years now. I guess I'm as ready as someone can be — but that doesn't mean even this first summer has been easy. I'm pretty good with keeping multiple balls in the air and balancing a variety of goals, and that's exactly what is required in creating the best possible class of students.

This job definitely is more art than science. Why is that? When you boil down just about any part of an admissions office, what you're dealing with is people. People with hopes and dreams. People who are exposing their lives in applications. Parents who want to see their children at a top law school. Mentors who feel deep down in their bones UVA Law is the right school for their mentees. People who work in the office who are desperate to get this "right," and a faculty that deserves for us to do that.

What are your goals for the office?

I want to help protect the generations-old culture of community at the Law School, while also making sure the place genuinely reflects a multifaceted, 21st-century society. This is a public school, after all.

Robert F. Kennedy is one of my two personal heroes. That he chose to attend the University of Virginia School of Law influenced me to make that same decision exactly 50 years later. I want to help admit classes I think would make him proud — and I want classes full of people I think he'd enjoy practicing law with.

How has law school admissions changed in recent years?

The competition for great students has ratcheted up. Applicants apply to more schools, and they see peer schools as interchangeable. Law schools aren't interchangeable — they have distinct personalities. I found that out during my tour of law schools back in 1998, and I recommend visiting to every applicant who asks for advice. Just because any one law school is right for your best friend doesn't mean it's right for you.

As much as I love Bobby Kennedy, I made the drive from Blacksburg to Charlottesville to check the place out for myself.  

What efforts do you make to recruit a diverse class?

We have to have the help of our alums, current students, faculty and administrative colleagues to recruit a diverse class. And when I refer to "a diverse class" I mean that in its broadest sense. The most effective way to have a diverse class is to have a diverse applicant pool, to identify and admit the right candidates, then get them to Charlottesville to meet the wonderful people in this building while also connecting them with our alums.

Our students often are our best ambassadors. And they don't just say they want a diverse class, they roll up their sleeves and get to work. For instance, the Lambda Law Alliance, the Law School's LGBT student organization, calls potential applicants and talks with them starting in September or October.  That is a partnership that has been going for a few years now after we sat down with the students in the group because they wanted to know how they could help.

We want a continuous conversation at the Law School, where people with different life experiences are talking to one another. Learning doesn't just take place in the classroom. Outside of the efforts of this fabulous law faculty, students also work to make each other broader, better, smarter lawyers and people.

People often ask you, "What can I do to get in?" What advice do you offer?

Getting into UVA Law or a place like UVA Law is a marathon, not a sprint. It has to be treated as such.

In essence, I don't really admit anyone. Applicants admit themselves by presenting applications that makes us want to invite them to be a part of this community. They do so by living lives of purpose that show intellectual and social engagement of the type UVA Law is famous for.

Applicants should think about the process this way: The numbers (LSAT and GPA) get an applicant to the threshold of the door, while the rest of the application gets him or her invited over it.

Give us your elevator speech about why we should come to Virginia Law.

I don't just like UVA Law, I love it. Coming here was the best decision I ever made, and I have students and alums echo that sentiment to me on a daily basis.

But I don't want anyone to believe me automatically when I say that. Come to Charlottesville. Talk to students and faculty at random. Ask them about their classmates and colleagues. Ask them about the quality of instruction. Ask them about the personal touch given by the Office of Financial Aid and the Office of Career Services. Talk to our alums. Ask them if they would relive their law school years and how many of their law school classmates they still talk to regularly. That's really when someone discovers the UVA Law difference.

Don't take what I say about this community for granted — check up on me. I'm not scared. I encourage it.

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