The Columns

New Resources for Pre-law Students at W&L

— by on February 18th, 2010

They are young, new recruits to a prestigious law firm in Los Angeles, and life is dramatic and glamorous.

But the characters on the ABC television show “The Deep End” are living a life devoid of the nitty gritty of a real law firm, according to Abby Perdue, adjunct instructor and special consultant to the Pre-Law Studies Program for undergraduates at Washington and Lee University. “The law is a really important career and time consuming, challenging and wonderful, but I want students to know what they are getting into before they make that decision,” she said.

Perdue knows what she’s talking about. A graduate of W&L and the University of Virginia School of Law, she is on sabbatical from her career with an international law firm in New York, where she practices employment counseling and litigation. When Perdue approached Hank Dobin, dean of the College at W&L, with the idea of spending a year on campus to contribute to W&L’s Pre-Law resources, “I jumped at the chance,” said Dobin.

The W&L students in the pre-law program are part of a trend. Applications to law schools have risen this year by 6.1 percent, according to the Law School Admissions Council; applications to the W&L School of Law have risen even more, by 31 percent. Perdue and Beverly Lorig, director of career services at W&L, say many students see a law degree as something good to have, without necessarily looking ahead to see what their options will be after they have it. “It’s a default choice for some students,” said Perdue.

With a combination of teaching and counseling, Perdue is making sure pre-law students are fully prepared. The class that best illustrates her approach is one she taught last semester, on diversity and discrimination in employment and higher education. Instead of a final paper, the students conducted a mock trial of a fictional sexual harassment case, admitting exhibits into evidence, delivering opening statements and closing arguments, and conducting direct and cross-examinations. The jury consisted of students from other classes, and Dobin served as jury foreman. “It was a great event and very impressive on the students’ parts,” he said.

Perdue joins pre-law advisors Robert Culpepper and Lucas Morel, faculty members in the Williams School of Commerce, Economics, and Politics, in providing guidance in this area. Culpepper is a visiting professor of business administration and business law; Morel is an associate professor of politics. Dobin added Perdue to the mix in response to the increasing and significant number of undergrads interested in law and to balance the advising load between the Williams School and the College. As a result, the program is now more on a par with its counterpart program for students interested in the health professions.

As part of her continuing effort to strengthen W&L existing pre-law resources and create new ones, Perdue created a new organization, GILS (Generals Interested in Legal Studies), which brings together students to hear speakers, organize law-related events and have mixers with organizations at the W&L School of Law. Students also have a new mentoring program, Law School Liaisons, which matches pre-law undergraduates with a W&L law student, along the lines of Big Brothers/Big Sisters.

When the students actually apply to law school, Perdue makes the daunting process easier with LSAT strategy and practice sessions. She also brought in deans of admissions of several law schools to run a mock admission-committee meeting. W&L students sat on the committee, reviewed real files, and decided who would receive an offer. “It provided tremendous insight into the law school decision-making process,” she said. Rome Perlman ’10, a math major, attended the session and found it extremely informative. “I’ve repeated lessons I learned there multiple times to friends who are thinking about law school,” he said.

Perdue also has brought to campus speakers on topics ranging from same-sex and interracial marriage to an important animal rights case. A W&L alumnus and current Yale law student also talked about his experiences at Yale and law school in general.

Dobin said the pre-law students are “galvanized” by Perdue’s presence. Upwards of 40 students have visited her multiple times in the last few months to discuss admissions, internships and financial aid.
Laura Persun, ’11, an English and creative writing major, knew in her junior year that she wanted to go law school. “I had no idea where or how to begin the process,” she said. “Abby Perdue has been my primary source for all of this information. She has been extremely available and has met with me several times. Together we have picked out a set of schools for me to apply to. The benefits I have obtained from these sessions are numerous. I am very fortunate that for this new resource; otherwise, I would be incredibly lost during this complicated process.”

As for the future, Perdue is always coming up with new ideas. Among those are a free LSAT practice exam in March, more upcoming speakers, and a Pre-Law Preview Week during spring term to showcase the pre-law studies resources. “We’re going to forge ahead,” she said. “We’re going to try things and see if they work.”

One resource that has already proved itself is the new pre-law Web site. It’s a one-stop shop that Perdue constantly updates with information. Students can find out about making the decision to go to law school, law-related courses, internships and externships, how to choose a law school, the application process, LSAT preparation, student resources, law-related events, alumni connections and answers to frequently asked questions.

It all adds up to students who are fully prepared and under no illusions about the realities of law school and a law career, the often glamorous portrait in TV shows notwithstanding.

The Pre-Law Web site can be found at http://www.wlu.edu/x35745.xml