Students sometimes struggle through their first semester of law school or college. However, if you find yourself frustrated with the environment or resources offered at your school then consider other options. Transferring can stir up a lot of anxiety. Traci Cosby, third year law student, was unsure about her decision to transfer but ultimately found a great fit at Widener Law. See her story on YouTube: Traci Cosby Talks About Transferring to Widener Law.
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!
Law schools offer an overwhelming array of concentrations, certificates and diplomas. Do you feel out of the loop? That’s okay, specialties and interests bloom as more classes and organizations fill your schedule. Just like college, some students arrive with a specific interest; some will stay the track while others will deviate. Still, a majority of incoming students have no clue where their degree will lead.
So how will you decide?
Your classes will guide you. Although every foundational course has its value, students typically find a niche within their first two years. For example, contracts might not be your path if you prefer trial advocacy. Or maybe you have a strong scientific background that compliments patent law. Take your time, reflect on your interests and network!
Ask professors. Yes, meet your professors during office hours. Most will be more than happy to talk about your interests – especially if it’s a similar field. Don’t be shy, explore your options.
Meet Career Services. Career counselors are paid to know about legal job options and market availability. They are a great resource for guidance on landing a job in your preferred field. They can candidly discuss job options. Furthermore, they offer resume and interview coaching to give you an edge in the job market. Again, network, explore and learn.
Join professional organizations. Do not just join student groups, become involved. Meet guest speakers or better yet seek out speakers for the group. Attend conferences and professional organizations. You might meet a future employer.
Participate with a clinic. Clinics offer pro bono experience to law students. At Widener Law, students represent a client from swearing in to a settlement or verdict. The interviewing, case briefing and research skills provided through clinics are extraordinary. If you are considering traditional attorney work, seek out clinical opportunities.
Overall, take advantage of the opportunities presented to you. Your skills and talents develop in time. As always, feel free to contact me with questions: email@example.com
The Admissions office is bustling with activity as we fill our incoming class. If you are still thinking about applying, it’s not too late! Our application deadline is May 15 and yes, we do accept June LSAT scores. Just list your registered test date in the LSAT portion of our application and the Admissions office will review your file upon receiving your score.
For those who already applied, congratulations, you’ve accomplished an arduous task and it’s commendable. As decisions roll into your mailbox (or inbox from Widener Law), I hope you find yourself challenged with selecting a school. Consider your options carefully, there’s more to a school than its price tag or ranking. Do some serious self-reflection; your choice will impact your future.
Research the faculty. Does anyone stand out? Align with your interests? What classes are offered? Are they accessible and helpful? Faculty have a profound influence on your education, networking and training. Widener Law’s faculty ranges from judges to CEOs with strong ties to Pennsylvania and Delaware legal communities. What do you want to do and how can the faculty help you achieve that?
Consider the school’s location. Is that where you want to practice? What are the internship and clinical opportunities? Will you be able to network and build your career while in law school? Widener Law is optimally located in the epicenter of major cities (Philadelphia, New York City, DC) offering a wealth of opportunities. We are also uniquely able to offer an education in an urban/suburban or more rural setting with the Harrisburg and Wilmington campuses. Where do you feel most comfortable?
Review the programs. Along with specialties, what core courses are required to graduate? Talk to students and alumni, how do they feel about their preparation? Widener Law prides itself in a practical orientation that prepares students to pass the bar and fully integrate in a professional setting upon graduation.
Ask. Research. Review. Do not rely solely on rankings or publications to make your decision. Visit law schools and sit in on classes. Talk to professors, lawyers, students, alumni and anyone else associated with the law. Your intuition will tell you which school will best prepare you for your path. Choose wisely!
It’s the height of application season and making your application stand out can be challenging. Here are a few points to consider:
What were your accomplishments?
You want to highlight your strengths in your personal statement. Try not to summarize your resume or extracurricular activities. What makes you different and extraordinary? What is most meaningful in your life? How does this relate to law school? Discuss any weaknesses or standardized scores in a separate statement, NOT in the personal statement.
Who knows you well academically and/or professionally?
Does this person write well? Can he or she provide specific examples of your outstanding abilities? Never rely on a well known name or persona for a good recommendation. A mentor or coworker might provide more detail than a Senator.
Did you get to the point?
Review all of your documents; remember that Admissions Committees are reviewing hundreds of applications a week. Be concise, be precise, be coherent. Can you easily skim your statements? How long do they take to read? Always ask others to edit your documents and ask for a general overview. How do others describe your statement in a word or sentence? Were there any sentences they had to review for clarity?
Although scores are a vital factor to your application, asking yourself these questions can give you an edge.
Also, remember that Widener Law’s admissions process is paperless. Please apply through lsac.org or law.widener.edu and we will request your LSAC CAS report upon receiving your application. Every applicant must register through our website portal, law.widener.edu/admissions, to receive a decision.
As always, please contact me with any questions or concerns, firstname.lastname@example.org. Good luck!
December LSAT results were released recently, how did you score? I received several calls from applicants disappointed with their scores. Hopefully, you conquered each question but here are some suggestions for those who fell short:
- A low LSAT score is not the end of the world. Passion, drive and dedication can get you places – so think positive.
- Reflect on your preparation. Did you take the time to adequately prepare for the LSAT? We advise preparing at least 3 months in advance and timing yourself once you start taking full prep tests. If you prepared solo, would a class help? If you took a class, was your teacher effective? Maybe a tutor would give the personal attention you need?
- Reflect on your health. How did you feel mentally and physically during the test? Were you blanking out? Anxious? Consider seeking a counselor that can develop skills to counteract test anxiety. It is completely natural to feel pressured with this test, it means a lot to your future. But if your anxiety is overwhelming and affecting your score then it’s time to take action, find someone who can give you coping mechanisms. Illness, not getting enough sleep, hunger, headaches and lack of concentration can all affect your score – keep healthy.
- What’s your next step? You can apply with your current score or retake the test. Keeping your score can be an option if it lies close to the median for the entering class. Academic records, personal statements and letters of recommendation can influence the Admissions Committee’s decision, so beef those up! Some schools, like Widener, also offer trial admission programs for applicants with slightly lower scores but otherwise excellent applications. If you feel that your score could increase, then retaking is a good option. Consider your timing, the LSAT is only offered four times per year so you may need to wait another year to start law school. Also consider your likelihood of increasing your score. If you felt healthy, confident and thoroughly prepared then scores rarely increase more than a point or so (although there are always exceptions).
I hope this offers some advice to those of you grappling with a tough decision. If you’re still unsure, feel free to email me at email@example.com with questions.
And happy 2011!
Just a short note – beware of the advice you find online.
Some discussion boards are very useful but others are loaded with wrong information. If you see a statistic or a rumor that concerns you, contact people at the school for reference. You can usually call or e-mail most law schools for statistical information, Widener Law’s Admission office holds information about bar exam rates, employment statistics and medians. We will gladly share our findings or discuss any reservations.
You can usually request a student or alumni contact as well. If you are uneasy about going through the Admissions office then visit a law school and talk to the students. They will rarely misguide you.