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Rhode Island Law Schools

Befitting the smallest state in the nation, Rhode Island only has one law school, Roger Williams University School of Law, (RWU). The law school was founded in 1993 and named after the founder of Rhode Island, Roger Williams (1603-1683). Williams supported religious tolerance, acceptance of others, and a firm "wall of separation" between church and state. The university has taken these principles to heart and seeks to uphold them.

Roger Williams University School of Law


Roger Williams University is located in the seaside town of Bristol. The university itself is located a little south of the town on the tip of the peninsula where Mount Hope Bay and Narragansett Bay come together. Yes, it is an oceanside campus! That means that you should be able to find a beach to walk on while you contemplate the intricacies of Civil Procedure and the conundrums of Constitutional Law.


RWU School of Law is a private university with an enrollment of about 400 students as of 2016. Its rank by U.S.News is not published, but there are facts about the school on its website. The school is approved by the American Bar Association and detailed statistical information can be found about the school on the ABA Standard 509 Information and Employment Summary reports that each school is required to submit to the ABA each year. This information should allow you to compare the school to other schools in which you are interested.

The tuition for the school is mid-range between the most expensive schools and the least expensive. If you apply to the school you have about a 70% chance of receiving an offer letter. The percentage of students who leave after the first year is about 11%, which is considered high for law schools. Students who graduate from RWU School of Law mainly take the Rhode Island and Massachusetts bar exams. The pass rate for first-time takers of these bar exams is historically in the 70% to 75% range.


The school requires the standard law school subjects in the first and second years.

  • Contracts
  • Torts
  • Civil Procedure
  • Property
  • Criminal Law
  • Professional Responsibility
  • Constitutional Law
  • Evidence
  • Legal Research and Writing

The third year of study is comprised entirely of elective subjects. There are two additional requirements for graduation from the school: the Graduation Writing Requirement and the Pro Bono Learning Requirement.

Special Programs

RWU School of Law prides itself on hands-on pro bono work for its students. Students are encouraged to take part in their Alternate Spring Break program where students spend a week doing public service work in a variety of settings. Further, all students are required to perform 50 hours of hands-on learning in one of the schools many clinic opportunities.

Maritime law is a specialty of the law school and they offer programs in Maritime Law and Marine Environmental Law. They have also partnered with the University of Rhode Island to create a Marine Affairs Institute in an effort to educate and prepare marine law professionals for today's challenges.


A founding member of the law school, Ralph R. Papitto, was the cause of some controversy back in 2007 when during a board meeting he became agitated and allegedly used a racial slur.  To the university's credit, Mr. Papitto was removed from the board. The university, which up to that time had been known as the Roger Williams University, Ralph R. Papitto School of Law, removed Papitto's name from the school's title.


One notable alumni is Betty Anne Waters. Waters' brother was convicted of murder and sent to prison. Waters believed in her brother's innocence and set out to prove it. When she could not gain the support of the legal community, she decided to go to law school herself and graduated in 1998. Through her perseverance and determination, her brother was exonerated after serving 18 years in Massachusetts prisons. Waters' story is the subject of the 2010 movie, Conviction starring Hilary Swank.

Tips for Law Schools and Beyond

Whether you choose Roger Williams University, School of Law or not, you will find useful information on Findlaw's website and in particular their section for Law Students. You will find lots of useful information that will help you as you progress from student to lawyer.

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