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Work Experience in Law Camps

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Summer prelaw camps have been designed in imitation of the computer, basketball, and music camps that have proliferated in recent years; they offer anywhere from one to seven weeks of programs designed to provide information about law school, legal practice, or both. Some are residential and provide living accommodations, usually on a college campus. Some big-city programs resemble day camps; their activities may be held mostly in the evenings, and they do not provide living accommodations. Some prelaw camps are run by individual law schools. For example, Marquette offers LawPrep, "an intensive seven-week course to prepare you for law school." For information, contact the Division of Continuing Education, Marquette University, Milwaukee, Wisconsin, 53233; (414) 288-7345.

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The best known law camp, the National Law Camp, is run by a private outfit and offers three-week programs in Washington and Los Angeles. You can contact them at P.O. Box 811086, Boca Raton, Florida, 33481-1086; or call (407) 276-7577. (I'll describe some special camps for minority prelaw students in chapter 13.)

Typical activities at prelaw camps include moot court competitions, computer training (in the handling of WESTLAW and similar legal research programs), field trips to courts and law firms, programs of speakers, preparation training for the LSAT, and the like. By and large, law camps offer the same kinds of activities that prelaw clubs offer. But they present information systematically in a short period of time during which you are surrounded by similar students, with no distractions. Unlike prelaw clubs, students aren't required to do the organizing work, and law camps also provide some classroom instruction. Marquette's LawPrep provides 42 hours of instruction in seven basic law school subjects taught by qualified lawyers and designed to introduce students to the teaching methods used in law school. National Law Camp provides not only courses in such subjects as contracts, torts, and trial advocacy, but also a "sample final exam to learn how exams are administered in law school."

Law camps give you a hands-on experience of law school educational techniques. This may be of great value if you are still trying to make up your mind about a legal career or if you're not sure whether your vocabulary or reading skills are up to the challenge of law school. (The camps are also designed to familiarize people in other careers-journalists, educators-with the peculiarities of law schools.)

The main drawback to prelaw camps is their cost. The National Law Camp, for example, costs $1,595 with overnight accommodations or $1,350 for commuters. (If money is a problem for you, make inquiries; some scholarships are available.) I know of one school, Cheyney State, which gives academic credit for attendance at National Law Camp. More schools may do so in the future. But at the moment it is usually not possible to earn academic credit for law camp. Although attendance at a camp shows interest in law and should be listed on your law school applications (either along with your extracurricular activities or under the heading of continuing education), it will probably be of little interest to the law school admissions officials.

These programs are new; National Law Camp is only three years old. It's too soon to know whether they really "take the 'culture shock' out of your first year law school experience" (as Marquette advertises). But it's hard to see how they can do any harm. If nothing else, a summer at a law camp should be a pleasurable part of your networking and information gathering.

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For traditional students, work experience won't count enough to outweigh grades as the chief variable in determining admission. For non-traditionals, however, it may. If you have a long or distinguished work career, your grades will become less important. If you're over thirty and you're 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're a very attractive candidate.

If you're a traditional student, you probably have to work at least some of the time. If you're 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; there's also the minimum wage ghetto. Consider yourself lucky if you can find a job that pays above the minimum wage, lets you schedule your hours flexibly, 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 note-worthy that you've done, then your work experience may marginally improve your chances of getting into law school. If you have a history of getting fired for incompetence, insubordination, or dishonesty, your work experience will hurt your chances of admission. You probably won't be able to conceal a bad employment record: some law school applications ask whether you've ever been fired from a job, and if so, why.

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