Advice to 1Ls – Part IV (Sally)

Next, we have Sally.

Question 1:
Hey!

I was accepted into the PT program starting this upcoming Fall. I saw your post on Facebook that you would answer a few questions. Thank you, I have visited SMU several times for yours and to sit in on a class, but I have only talked to FT students so I have been looking for a part time student to answer some general questions.

I listed the questions below (I know it’s alot! Sorry. Answer as many or as few as you want.) Again, thank you so much.

1.)Do most of the PT students keep their full time 40 hours jobs, or do they not work at all or work part time. Do you have an opinion on what is the best workload?
2.)Are you interning anywhere this summer? Or are you currently employed and will continue working where you are?
3.)If you are interning how did you get the position, did the career services help at all or was it by your own networking? Do you know about the internships of any of the other PT students? Or are the PT students not able to intern until their second summer when they have more classes?
4.)What’s your feedback on the PT program concerning employment/internship opps. Do employers look down on part time programs or do they give graduates from a part time program the same regard as they would with someone from a full time program?
5.)Are you happy at the SMU PT program?
6.)I have heard some people will take summer school and graduate in 3.5 years instead of 4 years. Do you know anything about how that works with employment? Would the person just start working after results from the Feb bar, or do firms and employers just have ppl start after the results of the bar in May/June?

Answer 1:
Sally,

I have always started out my advice to law students with this disclaimer: take every advice with a grain of salt. I have been given a lot of advice that sounded good at the time but turned out to be a sour apple. With that…

1.)Do most of the PT students keep their full time 40 hours jobs, or do they not work at all or work part time. Do you have an opinion on what is the best workload?

I relocated to Dallas from far, far away, so I had no employment at the time I started law school (and still don’t). Many in the evening program have full-time jobs: some are legal (which is very convenient for them) but most are not. I have seen some that started out with a full-time job that either had to cut their hours or quit during the first semester. The first semester of your first year is definitely going to be the hardest semester of your academic career. I say that not to scare you but to prepare you mentally for the challenges ahead. It definitely gets easier the second semester. I have seen people take on new part-time jobs during the second semester as they get the hang of things.

2.)Are you interning anywhere this summer? Or are you currently employed and will continue working where you are?

I will be interning at the Texas Rio Grande Legal Aid in Weslaco through the Texas Access to Justice Internship Program. I have been looking for a job since the beginning of the spring semester, but so is 9% of the nation so the competition has been pretty stiff. πŸ˜‰

[UPDATE: Last week, I found out that I was awarded a grant to work for another public interest internship during the second half of the summer. It is gratifying to know that there are people out there who will give money for poor law students to do public interest work. Yay for “free money”!!!]

3.)If you are interning how did you get the position, did the career services help at all or was it by your own networking? Do you know about the internships of any of the other PT students? Or are the PT students not able to intern until their second summer when they have more classes?

PT students are allowed to intern after the first year as a school policy, but some employers do look for students that have completed all of 1st year curriculum. In the middle of your fall semester, they will give you the access to school job board. Employers will indicate what level of students (e.g. 1E, 1L, 2E, etc.) can apply. Besides upkeeping the job board, career services office isn’t all too helpful, unfortunately. Diligently applying to these posted positions and networking is what will get you the jobs.

4.)What’s your feedback on the PT program concerning employment/internship opps. Do employers look down on part time programs or do they give graduates from a part time program the same regard as they would with someone from a full time program?

Employers do not look down on evening program students as far as I can tell. It is a very difficult program unlike any other “night schools”, and if they can see that you were able to keep your job and work through the rigors of law school, they will respect your abilities and dedication. Once you get a hold of that diploma, it looks just like that of a full-time student’s.

However, I have noticed that those who have full-time jobs and families to support have difficulty leaving their full salaried jobs to take $10/hr law clerk job or unpaid internship to get the legal experience they need. Experience is needed in order to get the next job, naturally. So there may be a bit of a disadvantage there.

5.)Are you happy at the SMU PT program?

Yes. Every law student will come to a point during their first year to question their decision to attend law school. It’s a rite of passage. When you face that question, hang in there; it will pass. Having just finished my first year, I feel relieved and am glad I stuck with it.

6.)I have heard some people will take summer school and graduate in 3.5 years instead of 4 years. Do you know anything about how that works with employment? Would the person just start working after results from the Feb bar, or do firms and employers just have ppl start after the results of the bar in May/June?

It all depends on your situation. If you are offered employment after your 3E clerkship and your employer is willing to take you in January rather having to wait until May, why not? Feb. bar is just as good a bar exam as the July one. But not everyone will be in such ideal boat. It may or may not be advantageous to be looking for employment before May. You might be beating the rush, but, on the other hand, some employers may not even be looking until much later.

Another thing to consider is bar prep. If you graduate in Dec., you have shorter prep time compared to May graduates preparing for July bar unless you plan on being completely anti-social during Christmas and New Years. πŸ™‚ Something to keep in mind…

Hope that answers your questions. Let me know if you have more.

Cheers.

Comment to Answer 1:
Thank you so much for your detailed answers. This gives me insight into the program as I have not had the chance to chat with a PT student.

Thank you!

Question 2:
Hello,

I have one more question.

For the Oxford program that is in the summer. Are PT 1L’s able to participate in this after the first year? Or do they have to wait until the summer after their second year?

I get different answers depending on who I ask. Thank you!!!
-Sally

Answer 2:
1Es after their first year of curriculum can participate in the Oxford Program without having to wait until the end of their 2E year.

I don’t know who all is spreading the false rumors, but you can take this one to the bank. πŸ˜‰ I know this for a fact because SEVERAL of my classmates are heading that way this summer.

Also, financial aid does apply to Oxford Program.

Hope that helps.

 

Question 3:

One more question: when are PT students able to participate in On campus interviews. Do the majority of employers wait until the 2nd year so we have more classes?

Answer 3:
Ah, the on-campus interviews (OCIs)… The topic that everyone loves to hate and hates to love. The evening students can participate in OCI after their first year. The bad news is that becoming eligible for OCI at SMU Dedman School of Law is quite challenging.

The Office of Career Services (OCS) tells all OCI-participating firms that they must interview a certain number of top-tiered students (I believe it is top quarter of the class) before they can even look at other students’ resumes.

Yet another reason to get good grades. [sigh]

You will receive a lot more information on OCI during orientation and OCS does a separate orientation sometime during the Fall semester.

Hope that helps.

 

Sally’s concerns are legit. There lives a career services counselor who tells her part-time evening students that they will have tough luck when looking for internships and jobs because they are “lesser quality” students. BS… @#$%^&* We’ll show her…

Advice to 1Ls – Part III (Steve)

Next up, we have Steve. He wanted to know more about what it is like to be in the evening program.

Question:
Hi, my name is Steve and I am going to attend SMU in the coming year as a Part-Time student. I just wanted to get feedback from a 1L in the Part-Time program. How helpful are the other students? Do you feel its very cut-throat and super competitive? Or are the students more willing to help each other out? How supportive are the professors as well?

Thank you for taking the time to read this, any feedback will be greatly appreciated.

Answer:
Steve,

I am so sorry for the delay in reply. I actually started writing a very lengthy reply message last week. Then I hit the “back” button accidentally and lost all of that. 😦 With that I lost motivation to continue especially in light of the final exam season. Lame excuses. Anywho….

First off, congratulations on your acceptance. The part-time evening program has quite a different feel to it than the day program. We are far from those uber-competitive people. But it will largely depend on the actual composition of your class. There are always those people that can’t look beyond themselves and their own interest, but our class has very friendly, cordial people. If you miss a day, you can easily find someone who would be willing to share notes with you.

I have not particularly sought out professors’ help, but the ones I had were very much interested in student success and were willing to answer questions in class, after class, via email or hold office hours.

If you have any more questions, ask away. I promise to be a little more prompt in my response next time. πŸ™‚

 

 

Short and simple (since the last post was so lengthy).

Advice to 1Ls – Part II (Jim)

Next up is Jim, who contacted me while still waiting to hear back from admissions office.

Question 1:
Hey I saw your info on [Law School Numbers] and I’m applying to SMU’s evening program with pretty similar #’s [GPA & LSAT score redacted for his and my own anonymity]. I was wondering what you thought set your application apart that got you in [because] SMU is my top choice, any and all help is appreciated.

thanks again.

Answer 1:
Jim,

Sorry for the delayed response. I’ve been away from Facebook for a few days. I would love to render service in your endeavors in any way I can, but to be honest, I could not tell you exactly what set me apart from other applicants to get into SMU.

As clichΓ©ish as this may sound, the best advice I could give is (and I mean this in the most genuine way possible) to do what works for you. Don’t be so swayed by what others are doing or telling you to do. Law schools aren’t looking for cookie-cutter applicants that meet their narrow set of criteria. True, if you have 175 and 3.89, any school would accept you barring a detrimental criminal record, but those of us that fall within the average range of applicant pool stand the best chance by just being who we are. Admissions committees can smell posers a mile away – there are hundreds of them every year. Don’t be one of them.

One thing I made a point of is not trying to hide my weaknesses. I told them right out that standardized tests always have been my arch-nemesis, but I have shown them a track record of me proving those numbers wrong time and again. I’m sure I wasn’t the first to tell such tale, but I think it’s a good idea to make your weaknesses into your strengths.

If you have any further questions, please do not hesitate to contact me. Best of luck in your application cycle!

Question 2:

Hey! Thanks for the info I definitely wrote an addendum about my LSAT score and I hope my essays portray how much I want to go there, SMU is my top choice. Were there a lot of people with scores similar to ours in the evening program? I just want to honestly gauge my chances. Good luck to you this year.

Answer 2:
Hi Jim,

I don’t really know the LSAT score ranges of my class, to be honest. All I know is that [my LSAT score redacted; you could probably dig further and find it out if you want, but I’m deleting it from here…] falls right on the 25th percentile line. I don’t know if that still holds true for this cycle.

Keep the question coming. πŸ˜‰

 

[A month and a half later…]

Question 3:
Hey I don’t know if you remember me but I found your info on [Law School Numbers] and I sent you a FB message asking about SMU’s Part-Time Program. I was wondering if you had any idea the average time it takes to be notified? I applied 10/23, went complete 11/19 and the only reason was because I called them to ask them if something was missing on my application which of course there wasn’t.

Are they just slow and disorganized in general? or just with the people they don’t really want to accept :-\

Anyways have a happy holidays and an awesome Christmas break!
-Jim

Answer 3:
Hi Jim,

(I just wrote a lengthy reply and was almost done when I accidentally hit the “Back” button and erased it all. Ughhhhhh….)

Of course, I remember our previous conversations. I’m glad to hear that you have already completed the application. The downside of being so on top of your game is that your waiting period is elongated by that much. No good deed goes unpunished. πŸ™‚

I applied within the early notification period, but SMU was one of the last schools from which I heard back. Early April, I want to say?

Generally, schools reply very quickly in two cases:
1) if you have amazing LSAT and a respectable GPA that they want to snag you before another school does; or
2) if you have dismal LSAT and GPA and have no chance ever of getting admitted.

The rest of us fall into the third category of endless waiting. But look on the bright side: at least you become more certain that they don’t absolutely hate your application as your waiting period lapses.

But the direct answers to your questions are:
1) the admissions office can somewhat be disorganized, but the fact that you’ve ONLY waited a month (yes, ONLY; it could take couple more months before you hear back) doesn’t necessarily add to the evidence of their lack of organizational skills;
2) the admission file review process takes very long – once the file goes complete, copies are made, distributed to faculty review committee, they’re given time to read it, they deliberate, sort the applicants into groups, and all of this doesn’t start until Fall semester courses are over (so that the faculty no longer have final exams on their minds); and
3) at this early stage in the application cycle, they wait for more people to apply so that they can get the “best” people in regardless of when they apply (as long as it is within the deadline).

I know it is hard not to compulsively look at your mailbox three times a day, but take comfort in that it’s not WHEN you hear back that really matters but WHAT you hear.

Meanwhile, enjoy the holidays and best of luck!

 

Question 3:

Hey its Jim again.
I don’t wanna be a bother but I just wanted to ask a question. I wrote an LSAT addendum to all the law schools I applied to about how my score is really not indicative of my true capacity because I have a big problem with Test Anxiety which lead to a history of low scores on all standardized tests. I wanted to supplement this with copies of my two SAT scores [scores redacted]. Either way I contacted the college board and was unable to get paper copies because it was over 5 years ago so they were archived. The only way that I knew of was to login to my college board account and make a PDF snapshot of the web page that showed my scores and then also a second web page with the scores I sent them to back in high school.

At the risk of looking unprofessional I sent it with an apology and also asked them if they knew of any other ways to get “official score reports” and if so that I’d be happy to go and get them that way.

In any case, I was wondering if you knew if my SAT scores would be sufficient as a means of helping my case with proving the legitimacy of my LSAT addendum.

Answer 3:
Your undergraduate institution should have your SAT/ACT scores on record as well (though this advice seems belated). I sent my scores to some (not all) schools as well. To be honest, I don’t really know of any other way to “legitimize” your LSAT score. But do find peace in the fact that admission committees realize standardized tests are not necessarily the best way to gauge a student’s abilities.

And, no, you’re not bothering me. Drop me a line whenever you have a question. Just no guarantee that I will be able to give you a satisfying answer.

 

Comment to Answer 3:

Thanks for the quick reply, I am afraid i’ll have to disagree with your assessment of AdComms, call me a cynic but I think they’re way more concerned with the potential impact of a “lower LSAT” on their Ranking. But such is life, anyways thanks again and if I have any other questions i’ll be sure to send’em your way.

thanks again
-Jim

[About 5 weeks later…]
Question 4:
Hey i’m not sure you remember me cause it’s been a looong time but I somehow got your info from LSN or TLS or something and I saw you got into SMU’s PT program.

I def[initely] retook the LSAT and got a [score redacted] (not an earth shattering score I know, but i’m hoping with my GPA it’s good enough to get into SMU’s evening program).I wanted to ask you firstly what you think my chances are with a [number redacted] GPA and a [number redacted] LSAT. and Secondly I wanted to ask you about how (if at all) this economic downturn is affecting law students and their employment prospects in the Dallas/Fort Worth Area. SMU is my top choice because I want to end up in Dallas so it seems like a perfect fit.I appreciate your help and I look forward to hearing from you.

Thanks again!
-Jim

Answer 4:
Hi Jim,

My apologies for the delayed reply. As I get older, my memories do start to fail me at times, but it is not quite so bad yet so I remember you very well. Thus you won’t have to start any subsequent messages reintroducing yourself.

I applaud your efforts in dragging yourself through another round of LSAT. I know how tough that must have been. Congratulations on your improved score. With such large pool of applicants, showing the admissions committee that you are continuing your efforts to improve and set yourself apart from the rest can only help. I regret to inform you, though, that neither can I give you an assessment of “your chances” nor would my opinion really be of any benefit to you. They gave you the numbers that would be most helpful in gauging your chances, i.e. Median, 25th and 75th percentiles, and beyond that your guess is as good as mine. I apologize that I could not be of more help on that issue.

To your second inquiry, however, I may be able to offer some insight. One does not have to look very hard these days to see just how bad the economy is, and, though people say that Dallas area has relatively been sheltered from the hit, I have definitely seen some changes in the legal employment climate. I keep receiving these news emails saying how large firms are cutting law student clerkship positions, staff and even seasoned attorneys. I myself have been trying to get a part-time job to no avail thus far. But what does this really mean for you?

1) the general maxim that law school applications go up when economy goes down has not quite panned out yet according to the ABA Journal. Either the increase is waiting to hit during the next application cycle or people are applying to different programs. Who knows? But the good news is that your odds are not any worse than it would have been a year ago.

2) if you are currently employed and you like your job, keep it for now as you start school. Some people in the evening program leave their previous jobs thinking that they would like to transition to a legal job while in school. While that would be ideal, competition is very steep nowadays. Wait out the storm for now.

3) if you get admitted this year, you’ve got 4-4.5 years, so the legal job market will improve by then. I am certainly hoping it would be so for my sake. πŸ˜‰ If you are staying in Dallas, there is no place like SMU to get your law degree. You’ve probably heard that there are more SMU law alumni among DFW area lawyers than any other schools. Not only is it so much easier to get a job with such extensive alumni network around, those people tend to come back to their alma mater to find new recruits. Also, SMU has the highest bar passage rate in the state of Texas, even over UT and Baylor. If you know you want to stay here, you’re making the right decision to attend SMU.

Hopefully, I’ve answered your questions and not have scared you off too badly. I wanted to give you an honest assessment rather than sugar-coated answers.

If I have been of any help, feel free to continue asking questions as you encounter them.

Best of luck.

 

Jim was very worried about his prospects of getting into SMU Law. His tireless efforts paid off and he was admitted. Congratulations, Jim.

Advice to 1Ls – Part I (Bob)

I have been approached by several people among the fresh crop of 1Ls-to-be for advice regarding the grueling task that is first year of law school. Most of them are to attend the Dedman School of Law. I have a feeling that the reason why they seek my advice is not necessarily because I am so all-knowing, but because I am one of the administrators for Dedman Law 2012 Facebook Group.

So, here’s a small sampling of questions asked by those inquiring minds. I will be posting questions from different people in separate blog posts. Names will be altered to give the these people some degree of anonymity.

First up is Bob.

Question 1:
Hello, I will be entering SMU’s evening law program this fall and wondered if you might have any advice, recommended readings, etc. that would be helpful in preparation for 1L success. I realize that you are probably very busy, but any assistance would be greatly appreciated. – Bob

Answer 1:
Hi Bob,

First of all, a very big congratulations to you on your acceptance into a fine program. I think you’ll enjoy it once you arrive – well, in a masochistic way. πŸ™‚ It is true that life as a 1L is pretty hectic, but I am always pleased to offer any advice when solicited.

The most important of my advice would be: don’t be too swayed by other people’s advice. I, too, sought out advice as I was preparing for law school – former/current law students, books, websites, blogs, etc. Even though a lot of them seemed to be legitimate and sound advice at the time I first heard them, my experience has proven that what matters the most is what works for you. Figure out what attributed to your success in undergrad. Know what among your study habits are a keeper and what you need to fix. For example, I never studied in groups while I was in undergrad. Not that I was anti-social or anything; I still worked with other students on this and that, but never relied on study groups. When you get to law school, everyone will tell you that you MUST get in a study group. While, in my experience at least, there is some truth to this advice, do take it with a grain of salt. I wasted a lot of time trying to accommodate the study habits and schedule of my study group. Don’t get me wrong; I dearly love my study buddies, but they despise the silence of the library whereas I cannot concentrate at a cafe or student union. I’ve come to the conclusion after much trial and error (not to mention the heartache of leaving my friends to go to the library by myself) that sometimes, it might be better to study alone. I have been able to come to a compromise: I would get the reading done alone in the library then meet up my friends for a discussion elsewhere.

That’s just one example among many advice that I had to disprove personally. Another would be: don’t take notes in class on a computer because you’ll be distracted and tempted to do things other than paying attention. That is true: AIM, email, Facebook, and various other websites can be distracting. I tried taking notes by hand. Then mixed it up half way through the semester. While the disadvantages of this was not readily apparent, at the end of the semester, I decided that I will take all my notes on computer in the future. You will come to know and love the process called outlining (basically compiling all of your notes and then some for the entire semester). At that point, you will appreciate the fact that you can just cut and paste your electronic notes into your outline. Saves a lot of time, and 1Ls can always use more of that!

This is one advice that is universally given out, and I wholeheartedly endorse: read all of the assigned cases before class. There simply is no substitute. Commercial briefs, outlines, your friends who are nice enough to share notes or summarize the cases for you… None of those will be even remotely adequate for reading them yourself – before class. At first, the mere fear of being called on will make you read on time. Don’t slack off a month into the semester, though. It will be EXTREMELY difficult to catch up once you fall behind. As the professors assign you more than enough reading for each day, it’s nearly impossible to read couple weeks’ worth of material on the side.

Learn to brief cases well during the first few weeks of school. After a while, once you feel like you have a good hang of the process, save yourself a lot of time by book-briefing. But only after you’re confident that you can dissect a case into its little parts without having to write out a separate brief. In that regard, buy yourself a bulk supply of assorted colors of highlighters. Devise a system that works pretty well for you. (I have one; email me if you want more details.)

Commercial study aides can be helpful (hornbooks, outlines, briefs, flash cards, etc.), but don’t drain your bank account by purchasing all of them. I have a lot of pretty books on my shelf that I barely touched. You can buy them from me if you’d like. πŸ˜‰

I’m writing this on my BlackBerry, so I feel like I’ve been typing for an eternity. Digest what I’ve said above and shoot me some follow-up questions. I’d be happy to answer them to the best of my abilities.

Again, congratulations. It seems like you have a daunting task ahead of you, but you’ll have help along the way so don’t hyperventilate just yet. πŸ˜€

Cheers.

Question 2:
Thank you for taking the time to write such a detailed reply πŸ™‚ I found the information very informative and helpful. I too bought all of the 1L hornbooks (Actually called “Aspen Primer Explanation & Answer Series”) and exam prep. flash cards…haha. My goal is to get a basic understanding of each subject by the start of fall semester. But with the number of hours I am working right now, that goal may be very idealistic πŸ™‚

As far as study habits are concerned, mine are very similar to yours. I have always found that studying the bulk of the material on my own and using the study group as a recap is the most efficient method. And yes, when you have time I would love to know what system has worked for you in briefing, etc.

Sincerely,
Bob

Answer 2:
Bob, explaining the book-briefing system would be a lot easier in person, so we can do that.
[meeting & contact information redacted for anonymity]

Cheers,
Yon

Bob is typical of law students. We pay meticulous attention to details. We tend to over-work ourselves. We are anal. πŸ™‚ Rather than enjoying the last few months of freedom before law school begins, we buy study aids and how-to-succeed-in-law-school-books and read them tirelessly. I, too, was in his shoes this time last year. (See other posts tagged “Preparing for 1L.”) So I thought his questions and comments would be good ones to post.