Where Am I Now?

I have written about how I became interested in law school, my first law school open house, tips on finding the school that’s right for you, my “right fit” story, and the three things that shaped my top choice law school.

At this point, I bet you’re wondering where I’m at in the process. I submitted my applications a little over six months ago and have heard from all of the schools to which I applied. I have been accepted into the part-time evening program at a local law school and offered a conditional scholarship of $8,000. I was wait-listed at my top choice law school and am eagerly awaiting their decision.

In the meantime, I will be pursuing the school that accepted me. Earlier this week, I attended a luncheon with other newly admitted students where a professor of Constitutional Law gave a presentation on the importance and process of analytical thinking. The presentation was engaging as the professor discussed the real world applications of “thinking like a lawyer,” complete with a hypothetical situation in which she challenged all of us to start thinking like lawyers.

Thank you to the Mays Business School for making this image available for reuse.

The luncheon was also a great opportunity to learn about and meet my future classmates. There were about a dozen attendees, many were from the area (San Francisco and the East Bay), and currently employed — several of which work as paralegals. While it was intimidating to hear that several attendees already had experience in the legal field, I hope that they will provide valuable insight over the course of our time together in law school, and I look forward to learning from them.

Where are you at with your college/school admissions?

From There to Here: Three Things

I mentioned in this earlier post about my experience visiting a law school open house, and that there were three things in particular that made me feel as though the school I toured was the right fit. As I have said before, it’s important for everyone to find what is important to them in order to determine which school is best for them. For me, the standout features that put the school to the top of my list were: the friendliness of the students and staff, the focus on experiential learning, and the dean’s speech. They were factors that I couldn’t have experienced if I hadn’t visited the campus. I have elaborated on each of the three things below.

  • The friendliness of students and staff

Photo provided by the US Embassy Guyana.

In another recent post, I shared how the friendliness of the student body changed my college experience when I transferred to a large, public university. Overall, people were much friendlier than the previous school I had attended. I was much happier at the new university and a more dedicated student as a result. While at the law school open house, I was reminded of my undergrad experiences as I watched the interactions between the law students, faculty, and prospective students. My personal experience that day was very influential — during lunch, one of the law professors sat at my table specifically to answer any questions that we, as future law students, might have. He also offered his insights on law school, the university, and a career in the legal field. It felt like personal time with the professor rather than a forced interaction manufactured by the school. It’s hard not to think, if he’s sharing his personal time now, does he not do the same thing for his students? And of course I want to attend a school where the professors are accessible and take personal interest in their students.

  • Focus on experiential learning

Experiential learning is the fancy term used by law schools to say “learn by doing.” As prospects in the law school landscape and legal job market continue to nosedive into oblivion, some schools are changing their way of teaching. While law schools are traditionally  infamous for use of the Socratic method, a few schools, like the one I toured, are now placing emphasis on experiential learning. This is a good thing! After the financial crisis, many

Learn by doing — working together to find a solution.

companies and law firms are no longer offering on-the-job training because it’s costly and time-consuming. The most competitive candidates already have experience and can begin working with little direction on their first day. The hands-on learning you do during law school can benefit you during your job search and the subsequent hiring process. Since this is all part of a career change for me, I want to get right to work after graduation. And the best way to do that is by being as competitive of a candidate as I can be — part of which means having solid legal work experience prior to graduation. I believe the school I toured will help me to achieve that.

  • The dean’s speech

The open house concluded with a speech from the dean. She shared her personal experiences of attending law school and working in the legal field. The dean stated that, during her first court appearance as a practicing attorney, she was so terrified she could barely stand up or speak. She credited this to a lack of hands-on experience during her time in law school. A reason, she said, she strongly supported this particular school — because it emphasized creating capable lawyers with its focus on experiential learning. The dean also spoke of her experience as one of the first women to ever argue in front of the Supreme Court. She did so in support of civil rights and liberties. It was clear from her speech that she had a long and successful career. The dean’s speech was inspiring — it’s hard to remember that she is probably the exception rather than the rule, but it still serves as motivation. That day, I also saw her as a representative of what the school embodies and values. And since those things were what I was looking for and more, the dean’s speech helped to solidify the feeling that yes, this was indeed the school — the right fit for me.

[Thank you to NCVO for making the “working together” image available for reuse. And for clarity’s sake, the woman in the last photo is not the dean of the law school I visited, but thank you to Greg PC for making the image available for reuse.]

From Here to There: The Right Fit

I learned a very important lesson during my time in undergrad: finding a school that is the right “fit” is a key component to academic success and overall happiness.

During the course of applying to law schools, it’s easy to fall into the same traps prevalent in the search-and-apply mission of the undergrad process. The allure of the “best” or most highly ranked schools is hard to ignore. Plus, who doesn’t want to be a student at one of the best universities? But these traps have been perpetrated by published reports from the US News & World Report and Princeton Review. Like many reports, formulas have been created, things have been quantified and studied, and variables have been accounted for. In this instance, the purpose has been to discover the “best” schools.

The attributes that separate the “best” schools from the rest may vary, with some overlap. There is usually a mixture of objective and subjective factors that are studied to provide a formula for what constitutes a good school.

But when it comes to making an important decision such as which school to attend, it is critical to consider a variety of factors using more than one source to guide you. My advice is to do your own research of the reports mentioned previously, but don’t make any decisions solely based on them. If you know what you want to study, give preference to schools that focus time, energy, and money into that program. If you aren’t sure exactly what you would like to focus on, give priority to other factors such as location, employment rate upon graduation, and cost — or whatever other attributes that are important to you.

No matter what, make sure to visit schools. I cannot stress this enough: visitvisitvisit! Here are some tips for your trip:

  • go during the school year
  • take a tour
  • talk to current students and ask them questions about their experience — you want to hear the good and the bad
  • walk around with a parent and a friend just to check out the campus
  • pick up a school newspaper. The newspaper will provide information on the focus of the school and student body. It can also give insight into the safety of the campus.
  • if possible, sit in on a class

Visiting a campus helps you to gather information first hand and provides you with a “feel” for the school that you can’t get by reading about it — a feeling, something intangible. I cannot overstate the importance of this. Believe me, I have visited a lot of college campuses. And I’ve been excited about schools only to walk away from a visit hugely disappointed. But I’ve also had the fortune of feeling so-so about a school only to be surprised at my experience there. This was what happened at the campus I mentioned in the last post.

I know this because I started my undergraduate studies at a small, private, religiously affiliated university only to transfer to a large, public university for my last two years. For me, finding and attending a school that was “the right fit” made all the difference.

Check back next week to read my personal story! 

[Thank you to the Wikimedia Commons for making the picture available for reuse.]

From There to Here: Law School Open House

The day of the law school open house was initially a bit nerve wrecking. As my husband dropped me off at the law school, it felt like an awkward first day of school complete with a wave and that split second where you nearly run after the car, arms flailing while screaming “Wait! Don’t leave me!”

The nervousness vanished when I turned around and was greeted warmly by one of the school’s staff. In fact, everyone I met that day from the school was helpful and eager to answer questions.

The day went something like this:

  • introductions by department (admissions, financial aid, career center)
  • brief faculty introductions on clinics, externships, and what to expect your      first year
  • a guided tour by current students
  • lunch in the cafeteria
  • mock class
  • Q & A with current students
  • speech by dean and farewell
  • also: lots of colorful brochures, folders, and other school-themed stuff to       take home

The mock class I participated in was on property law. When I think about becoming a lawyer, I must admit that property law isn’t the first thing I think of. But keeping an open mind that day led to big rewards because the professor leading the class was also an authority on the subject. And a very engaging teacher. He passed out a piece of paper with two scenarios on it, gave us time to partner up and review as well as brainstorm. He proceeded to ask questions about the scenarios outlined in the handout as he had attendees act them out — complete with oversized props (think: huge, silly ring with a colorful plastic “stone”). The result was hysterical. I will never think of property law the same way again.

It wasn’t the brochures or the bragging, the quiet, clean campus, or the newly renovated library that made it feel like the right “fit.” It was three things in particular: the friendliness of the students and staff, the focus on experiential learning, and the dean’s speech.

Come back to see why those things are so important to me!

From There to Here: Part I

A year and a half ago, I was working in a dead-end job. It was the first full-time, professional, 8am to 5pm, fancy-office-in-a-big-city, working for a world-renown company job I ever had. It wasn’t what I had in mind when I graduated college, but like my mom has always told me, “you’ve got to start somewhere.”

And I did.

I had stars in my eyes when I began, when I was sitting in a video conference with a former world leader, when I escorted best-selling authors through the office, when I met the CEO, and when I worked on projects aimed at changing the world.

Every day I was taking on new responsibilities, creating better ways of doing, and learning as much as I could absorb. But I grew while the position did not.

During my time there, I came to realize that I wanted to be more involved in creating change — helping others — in the world. I didn’t want to assist simply at arm’s length, but I wanted to be all in — hands dirty, up to my neck, and exhausted in the way that good, challenging work can be. I wanted to spend my hours untangling problems in my head, collaborating with a team to find the best solution, and making people’s lives better, if not easier.

As I was attempting to discover the best way to go about all of that (imagine world domination in a Mother Teresa sort of way), the company hired a recent law school graduate who was about my age. We became friends and she talked with me about her time in law school and work experience as a lawyer. My interest was definitely piqued. I had considered law school in the past but never in any sort of real way.I couldn’t imagine myself in the cut-throat, competitive environment that I envisioned law school to be. I couldn’t imagine myself wearing a suit, sporting a bun, and balancing in high heels while holding a briefcase walking toward a courthouse. Nope, not me.

My coworker continued to encourage me.

Do you like research? Check. Reading? Check. Complicated reading? Check. Writing? Check. Lots of writing? Check. The law? Check.

I began researching local law schools and saw that one was holding an open house. I cleared my schedule and went.

Check back to read all about how my first law school open house went! 

[Thank you to PhotoA.nl for making the image available for reuse.]