Sewanee has been the starting point for many successful careers in the private practice of law, the corporate world, government and the armed forces, non-profits, and in law schools. Sam Elliott '78 recently served as President of the Tennessee State Bar, and Angus Macaulay '86 has completed a term as President of the South Carolina State Bar. Robin Rotman '04, Rhodes Scholar and a graduate of Yale Law School, has joined Van Ness Feldman, where she works in environmental and energy law. David Barnes '05 graduated first in his class at Vanderbilt Law School May of 2011, even as Ryan Barry '08 graduated first in his class at the University of Tennessee School of Law. Matthew Lafferman '10 graduated magna cum laude at the George Mason School of Law after serving on their law review, and LaToyia Slay '11 graduated as the valedictorian of Mississippi College of Law in 2014. Martha Ferson '11 is in her second year at Yale Law School.
Such outcomes are the result of many things, but at Sewanee it is clear that bright, engaged undergraduates greatly benefit from a rigorous liberal arts curriculum taught by faculty members committed to the life of the mind and to mentoring as well as challenging their students. As Brannon Denning ’92 who is now Professor of Law at the Cumberland School of Law at Samford University put it:
“With Sewanee’s emphasis on critical thinking, as well as effective oral and written communication, students—whatever their major—find themselves well-prepared for the rigors of law school. Moreover, the close student-faculty ties encouraged at Sewanee mean that students are eager to establish similar relationships with law school faculty. Those interactions are not only helpful to a student’s education, but can be very important professionally as well.”
- Advisor: Andrea Hatcher, Associate Professor of Politics
PREPARING FOR LAW SCHOOL
Deciding to go to Law School
The decision to go to law school is a major one. It demands a great deal of personal commitment and financial sacrifice. And given the recent downturn in the economy, a law degree is no longer (if it ever was) a guarantee of a good job and rewarding career. It is wise, therefore, to do one’s homework and to test the waters as well. One way to do this is to participate in Sewanee’s Moot Court competition. Another way is to explore the legal work through a summer internship. (See Career & Leadership Development for information.) You should also talk candidly with friends in law school and family members or friends who are practicing lawyers about their experiences. Get a sense of what the day-to-day existence of a law student or practicing lawyer is like. If you don’t personally know any law students or practicing lawyers, this is a great opportunity to have the Career & Leadership Development Office put you in touch with alums who would be excited to talk to you about their experiences—and a great opportunity for you to network!
Choosing appropriate courses
Law schools do not require a particular major or even specific courses. A pre-law student should take a rigorous range of courses and should select a major based on interest in and commitment to the subject. Regardless of major, choose courses that will aid your success in law school and in legal practice.
Keep in mind the advice of the Law School Admission Council, “Whatever major you select, you are encouraged to pursue an area of study that interests and challenges you, while taking advantage of opportunities to develop your research and writing skills.”
Your record in law school and your later success in the legal world will partly depend on how well you research, write, and speak. Choose courses that will strengthen your abilities in oral and written communications. At Sewanee, you will find a wide number of courses across various departments that help you meet this goal.
To help develop your writing skills, take courses that have many opportunities for writing assignments. Quite simply, the more you write, the better you will write. For example, courses in English, History, Philosophy, Politics, and other departments where reading, and thus writing, is dominant will give you ample opportunity to practice your writing skills.
In the legal profession, whether in courtrooms or in meetings with clients, oral communication of difficult information is essential. As such, you should take courses that give you a chance to practice your speaking skills. Many Sewanee courses have a strong in-class-discussion component, and, for example, our array of Constitutional Law courses in the Politics department have a moot court simulation, in which students assume the role of counsel and justices in oral arguments. Of course, Theatre courses offer a fun way to hone your oratorical talents!
A common complaint is that law school graduates do poorly situating clients’ legal problems in a larger business context. Consider using resources at Sewanee, like the Babson Center for Global Commerce, to acquaint yourself with economic and business issues that intersect with the law.
Each fall, Sewanee students form legal teams to participate in the Appellate Moot Court Collegiate Challenge against teams from colleges and universities across Tennessee. In September, a case is posted, and teams begin writing a brief, which is submitted in advance of oral arguments. One weekend in November, legal teams converge in Nashville at the Capitol. There, in the old Supreme Court chambers, legal teams participate in oral arguments. There are preliminary and intermediate rounds of arguments before the Tennessee Intercollegiate State Court (a panel of judges selected by colleges and universities across the state). During these rounds, each legal team has the opportunity to argue both as petitioner and as respondent. Teams are assessed by a Jury of View (comprised of lawyers from the State Bar), and the two highest-scoring teams compete for the championship. On Sunday morning, the Supreme Court delivers its decision, and the Jury of View presents awards to the best teams, lawyers, and justices. In the past, Sewanee teams have made it to the semi-final round.
Choosing a law school
It’s important to know about law schools so that you can target your application effectively. To help your search, consider these resources.
• Boston College Online Law School Locator. By listing the 25th to 75th percentile LSAT scores and GPA ranges of first-year classes at accredited law schools, this tool can help you gauge your chance of admission at a particular school.
• Find out where Sewanee graduates have been accepted and where they have chosen to attend. (Information to be added soon)
• LST Score Reports provides data regarding the acceptance rates and costs of law schools as well as the marketability of their graduates.
Programs and scholarships
There are an array of summer programs that can help prepare you for law school, as well as programs to assist those with backgrounds not adequately represented in the law.
• The Summer for Undergraduates Program at Florida State University College of Law is an immersion program providing students experiences in the classroom as well as advising related to law school and legal careers.
• TRIALS is a summer residence program with the aim of diversifying the legal profession. The program is hosted by New York University School of Law or Harvard Law School for students of limited means.
• CLEO is a nonprofit scholarship program by the American Bar Association to help low-income, minority, or disadvantaged students enter and succeed in law school and in legal careers.
APPLYING TO LAW SCHOOL
The Law School Admissions Council consolidates the application process.
Your application to law school will be evaluated on the basis of four criteria: Grade Point Average, LSAT score, recommendations, and a personal statement. The first two criteria—GPA and LSAT result—weigh very heavily in the admissions process.
Law schools consider the GPA in terms of your entire undergraduate record. That is why choosing courses that you are interested in and committed to, and thus presumably will succeed in, is so important.
The LSAT is a challenging aptitude test that evaluates reading comprehension,
analytical reasoning, and logic. There is also an unscored writing sample, a copy of which is sent to each law school to which you apply. It is best to take the LSAT either in the early summer or the early fall. As for the scores, 180 is a perfect score, which can be achieved even with a couple of wrong answers. 170 will put you in the 97-98th percentile range, and 160 around the 80th percentile. 150 is considered an average score. To take the LSAT without a great amount of preparation is a recipe for disaster. One can prepare for the test in a number of ways (taking a course from a private firm such as Kaplan or Princeton Review or working one’s way through a prep book), but one essential is to take four or five practice tests under timed circumstances which mirror the actual test. If you do not score well on the LSAT, take it a second or even a third time. Law schools used to average the scores of multiple tests; now you are usually permitted to report your best score. Note, however, that schools sometimes still average for scholarships and you might have to secure a school’s permission to report a fourth score. Check with individual schools for their policies. Sewanee offers the LSAT three times a year (June, September, and December).
• Please see Career & Leadership Develompent's calendar for exact dates
The best choices for recommendations are Sewanee professors who know you well and who can write informed, insightful letters on your behalf. Recommendations from family friends, “important” individuals in government, business or even the law who in point of fact do not know you well are not very helpful. Approach your Sewanee professors in the following way: in September, make an appointment to confer with the professor. At the appointment, discuss your goals in going to law school, submit a copy of your resume, perhaps fill him or her in on your recent activities and experiences, and in general try to put your best foot forward. Finally, keep your recommenders informed at every step of the way of the admissions process: where you have applied, where you have been accepted, etc. Because many professors will find themselves writing several recommendations for a number of students, you will likely find that giving your recommender a deadline, with the occasional reminder as it draws closer, will be appreciated.
The personal statement is an opportunity to introduce yourself to admissions committees and differentiate your application from the scores of others the committee is reading. In general, you will want to stress the ways in which you would contribute something to the incoming law school class. It should be in essay, interesting in content and perfect in terms of grammar and mechanics. It should not be a resume in paragraph form, listing your achievements, activities, offices, etc. Moreover, it does not even have to go into any detail as to why you want to become a lawyer. Rather it should aim to engage the attention of an admissions committee and convince them that you are an individual they would like to join their law school community. By all means, though, if the essay asks you to answer a specific question, answer that question.
One way to improve the personal statement is to ask others to read and critique it. Professor Hatcher reads statements every year, but a friend or another professor could help as well. Career & Leadership Development sponsors a personal statement writing workshop each September. Please see their calendar for the exact date.
NETWORKING FOR A LEGAL CAREER
The American Bar Association has an array of resources for would-be law students as well as lawyers.
With an advanced search on Martindale’s Lawyer Locator you can not only find a lawyer but also discover which law school he attended.
Above the Law is an informative site with news and chatter about law schools and the wider legal world.