Two recent alums returned to campus Friday to share advice and some candid law-school survival tips with Illinois State students thinking about taking the three-year plunge themselves.
Their visit was part of the Law School Conference and Fair, sponsored by the Law Club student organization at the Bone Student Center. In addition to two panels featuring the alums and admissions representatives, eight law schools had tables in Old Main Room to meet with students, including Saint Louis University, Valparaiso, DePaul, University of Iowa, Marquette, Southern Illinois, University of Illinois, and Northern Illinois. The event also featured a meet-and-greet with local legal professionals, plus free food and raffles.
The event, now in its seventh year, gives students who have applied to law school (or soon will) an opportunity to explore their options without the expense of traveling, said Law Club President Muriel Dorsey.
“You’re kind of getting the inside scoop from actual law school students,” said senior Brianne Madden, a Law Club executive board member who was lead organizer of Friday’s event.
That inside scoop came from Danica Taylor ’12 and Abigail Causer ’12, both political science graduates from Illinois State, who sat on one of the event’s two panels. They’re both in law school now—Taylor at the University of Michigan, Causer at the University of Illinois.
Their advice began with law school applications. Check if the law school will grant you a fee waiver, Taylor said, and try to find a school that pairs well with your personal passions. Taylor was a Gamma Phi Circus performer while at Illinois State, and her personal statement about her circus trip to Germany made an impression at Michigan, she said.
“Find something different that will set yourself apart,” she said.
They also stressed the need to carefully consider the cost of your dream law school, and to weigh financial aid offers against potential earning power as young attorneys. Taylor said she spent $1,000 on textbooks in her first semester alone at the University of Michigan.
Everyone basically takes the same courses that first year, they said, so you have to get involved to stand out. Causer, who is president of U of I’s Immigration Law Society, agreed with Taylor that making friends and building relationships with professors were also essential.
Also, leave time for yourself, Causer said. After you do the six hours of assigned reading every night, don’t feel guilty putting on a “bad TV show” afterward to unwind.
“Don’t lose yourself just because you’re a law student,” she said.
While Illinois State itself doesn’t have a law school, the Department of Politics and Government does serve students through the Thomas Eimermann Pre-Law Advisement Center and the award-winning mock trial team, in addition to academic coursework.
“There is a significant population of students here who are going on to law school,” Dorsey said.
Dorsey, a sociology major with minors in African-American studies and women’s and gender studies, is one of them. She first got interested in the law as a high school policy debater, which allowed her to shadow real attorneys. She’s continued debating with Illinois State’s Forensics Union debate team, and made time for internships with Illinois JusticeCorps and McLean County’s state’s attorney’s office.
Dorsey, a senior who expects to graduate in December 2014, wants to practice public-interest law that helps those who’ve been disadvantaged, perhaps in civil rights or public policy. She says her involvement with the Law Club has given her confidence as she prepares to apply to law schools next fall, teaching her how to spread out the application work so it’s not overwhelming, and to engage with professors who can provide letters of recommendation.
“When I start applying, I won’t even be stressing about it,” she said.
Ryan Denham can be reached at rmdenha@IllinoisState.edu.