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Law Camps and Other Places of Legal Education

published February 27, 2013

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Law Camps and Other Places of Legal Education

Summer prelaw camps have been designed in imitation of the computer, basketball, and music camps that have proliferated in recent years. They offer from one to seven weeks of summer programs designed to provide information about law school, legal practice, or both. Some are residential and provide living accommodations, usually on a college campus. Others resemble day camps; their activities may be held mostly in the evening and they do not provide living accommodations. Typical activities at prelaw camps include moot court competitions, computer training (in the handling of WESTLAW and similar legal research software), field trips to courts and law firms, programs of speakers, preparation training for the LSAT, and the like. Law camps do what prelaw clubs do, and therefore may be valuable for students whose campuses lack those important organizations. They present the information systematically, and without the need for the students to do the organizational work, in a short period of time during which you are surrounded by similarly oriented students with no distractions. But some law camps also do what no prelaw club does: they offer real or simulated legal coursework, to provide a realistic taste of law school and to prepare people for the challenges they will face there. Some prelaw camps are run by individual law schools. McGeorge Law School of the University of the Pacific, for example, offers a five-week program on its campus in Sacramento. Your prelaw adviser should have information about programs near your campus.

The National Institute for Legal Education (NILE), a private organization, offers two- week intensive camps for college students at Stanford University or American University. Its activities are in many respects a model of what should be provided. To this end, NILE offers 70 hours of classroom instruction in law school subjects such as civil procedure, contracts, and property, taught by distinguished law school faculty. The courses are taught up to law school standards, and include realistic exams. There is also a separate program in legal writing.

Prelaw camps may help you to make up your mind if you aren't sure whether or not a legal career is for you. Because they provide a realistic taste of legal education, they may also help you identify deficiencies in your vocabulary, reading ability, or other law-related needs. And Salamone s statistics indicate that at least some camps succeed in helping to prepare students for the challenges of law school. (The camps are also designed to familiarize people in other careers, like journalists and educators, with the peculiarities of law schools.)

The main drawback to prelaw camps is the cost. Some financial aid is available; about 20 percent of the students have scholarships, and there is a separate assistance program for minorities. So if you are close to the financial margin, you should ask about help. But if you need to earn money in the summer, prelaw camps are probably out of reach. You certainly shouldn't plan on holding a job while you attend an intensive summer program.

Subject-Related Organizations

Your campus may have "affinity clubs" for other fields. At Bradley, a medium-sized school, there are active clubs in accounting, advertising, marketing, financial management, international business, criminal justice administration, political science, psychology, journalism, and sociology. There are also several clubs whose name begins "Women in-." Most of the members are students majoring in the subject, and the main objective of the club is to provide the members with career-related information, networking, and mutual support. So they are good places to meet like-minded students.

In many professional fields, notably accounting and journalism, there is a tradition that working professionals will take an interest in the education of the next generation. As a result, accountants and journalists often contribute both time and money to the work of student clubs. The clubs are thus good places to begin your professional networking.

Honorary Societies

If you are eligible, you should certainly join an honorary society or two. These organizations resemble social fraternities and sororities in being national bodies with relatively autonomous local chapters and lifetime membership. They resemble affinity groups in collecting young people with similar interests. Most honorary societies are open to students in particular majors (or groups of majors in "social science" or "education") who maintain good grades. For example, the Pi Sigma Alpha political science honorary society is open to all political science majors who maintain an overall 2.5 grade-point average and a 3.0 GPA in their political science courses. The Order of Omega is open to students with good grades who are also members of social fraternities. Some larger honorary societies, like Mortar Board, are open to all seniors with good academic records.

Typically, if you are eligible for an honorary society, you will be asked to join during your junior year. You should do so. The cost is small and the work involved is nominal. You may be asked to help organize programs, publish a newsletter, run a tutoring program, or raise money for charity. Some honorary societies also do social work for the community. But most are largely social. In exchange for minimal participation, you get the opportunity to socialize with like-minded students and network with alumni. And you can list the name of a prestigious organization on your law school applications under the heading "Awards and Honors." It will be one more opportunity to call attention to your consistently excellent grades.

A Word about Volunteerism

Law schools, ever sensitive to the popular image of law as a profession, try as a secondary goal to recruit students of good moral character. One way to demonstrate that you are the right kind of a person is to begin in your college years to make the charitable contributions to the community that adults are expected to provide. The charitable work won't compensate for poor grades, and you should never put in so many volunteer hours that your grades suffer. But volunteering won't hurt your application status. Besides, it's good for your soul.

Many of you have been doing this all along. High school service clubs are presently enjoying a boom. For most of you, volunteer efforts are available in your church or synagogue. Helping out with a hot lunch program, a meals-on-wheels program, or a tutoring program for disadvantaged children won't teach you law-related skills. But you will learn something about people, and you may actually enjoy the effort.

At present, the fastest-growing charitable program on many campuses is Habitat for Humanity, which builds houses for low-income families. Habitat workers work hard; they may learn useful skills like household carpentry and painting, and they have a chance to network with similarly minded people. Environmental activism is also popular on campuses.

As a rule, you will learn more if you become involved in the ongoing work of the charity-like tutoring or construction-than if your involvement is limited to fundraising. But don't sneeze at fundraising efforts. Door-to-door soliciting, telephone canvassing, and organizing fundraising events are all essential; without volunteer fundraisers, most charities couldn't continue to exist.

Work Experience

For traditional applicants, work experience won't "count" enough to out-weigh grades as the chief variable in determining law school admission. For non-traditionals, however, it may. If you have a long work career, or a distinguished one, or both, your grades will become less important. If you are over thirty and moving from one career to another, you should seek personal interviews at the law schools you are going to apply to. Because you bring another kind of diversity to the law school's student body, you may find that you are a very attractive candidate.

If you are a traditional student, you probably have to work at least some of the time. If you are like most students, you don't have much choice about what you will do. There are part-time jobs on campus, often provided as part of your financial aid package, or there's the minimum-wage ghetto. Consider yourself lucky if you can find a job that pays above the minimum wage, gives you some flexibility in scheduling your hours, and teaches you something.

You will have to describe your work experience on your law school applications. If you can distinguish yourself by rising to a responsible position or winning a job-related award or competition, or if you can persuade an employer to write a letter of recommendation that identifies you as a superior employee and describes something noteworthy that you have done, then your work experience may marginally improve your chances of getting into law school.

If you have a history of being fired for incompetence, insubordination, or dishonesty, your work experience will hurt your chances of law school admission. You probably won't be able to conceal a poor employment record: some law school applications ask if you have ever been fired from a job and, if so, why.

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