On November 11, 2011, Widener Law invited Pre-Law Advisors from regional colleges and universities to visit the Harrisburg campus and discuss recent trends in law school admission and education. Topics included the worth of law school, alumni occupations, and advice to offer undergraduates. Since this blog serves prospective students, I’ll focus on the information most pertinent to you. And, since there was a wealth of information, this post is long but worthwhile!
First, Professor Ben Barros proficiently addressed the controversy over law school tuition, debt and salary statistics. If you graduate from law school, you will likely leave with a great diploma and a debt around $90K-$100K, unless you have alternate means like a scholarship or sponsor. Yes, that’s daunting. But recall that you have decades to pay off your debt and initial salaries increase within a few years. Consider the investment you are making, this is your life and you will very likely find a job within law that will cover your debt load. Dean Linda Ammons reminded us that professional schools in general require a hefty investment, take a look at the tuition rates for medical programs (how about dentistry?).
But don’t take my word for it, take a look at statistics. The website Law School Transparency uses American Bar Association (ABA) data to formulate reports about salaries, job characteristics, credential requirements and geographies. Professor Barros encourages everyone to consider the wide range of salary data and look at the whole picture. What is the cost of living within the region? Where do graduates obtain jobs? Typically, law schools are regional. Plan to practice where you study, that’s where you network, secure internships and learn the law. It makes sense to place location high on your list of criteria that determine your choice of schools.
The following session showcased alumni addressing their experiences at Widener Law and finding employment. Once again, networking was a general theme since most, if not all, of the graduates secured a job through friends, colleagues and mentors. LeaNora Ruffin, Assistant Dean for Career Development, added that Widener offers a mentoring program between alumni and students to learn more about important skills and network into the profession. She also addressed the difference between J.D. preferred and J.D. required jobs. J.D. preferred positions tend to require the skills developed in law school, such as leadership and writing. The jobs, such as lobbyists and executives, associate with the law but are not directly involved in proceedings.
In regards to undergraduate preparation, the panel stressed the importance of writing persuasively. English was an excellent choice of major for several panelists. Specifically, they mentioned rhetoric and persuasive writing classes as more beneficial than creative writing. Additionally, public speaking classes can help define the skills necessary to support and argue a legal position.
During the question and answer session, Pre-Law Advisors asked what characteristics are necessary to succeed in law school. Professor Ben Barros and Vice Dean Robyn Meadows stressed the importance of focus and dedication. Too often they see students in class wasting time on facebook or attending because it is expected by Mom and Dad. You should attend law school because it is your dream and passion. If you don’t like what you do, it becomes obvious in time. With dedication, most students succeed. Widener Law professors feel it is their job to train future attorneys and, while a few students are simply not capable of “thinking like a lawyer”, the majority do succeed if they truly desire.
Additionally, when considering scholarships students should ask how many scholarship recipients retain their award. At Widener Law, the vast majority keep their scholarship since the Admissions office strives to award funds only to those most likely to show extraordinary performance in their first year of law school as illustrated through the LSAT and undergraduate GPA.
Overall, professors, advisors, administrators and graduates encourage incoming students to really consider their professional skills. Professors are transitioning into practical, versus doctrinal, teaching to develop students into professional attorneys who do not need significant orientation upon entering their first job. For this reason, they expect students to seek opportunities as they arise. Don’t wait for a test to find out you don’t understand the material, ask questions often. As an attorney, you will be expected to dig for information. That is only achieved by asking questions. So start now, what is your goal? How do you get there? What are the details involved? Who can guide you? What questions can you ask them?
As always, I’m a resource to you if law school admission is your goal!