On Monday, June 5, 17 undergraduate students interested in learning about the expectations of law school began an intensive, six-week course in Penn State Dickinson School of Law's Summer Law Scholars Program. Now in its fourth year of operation, the program is intended for students who traditionally are underrepresented at law schools and are interested in learning more about the legal profession. It offers Penn State undergraduates, and often students from other schools, who are seriously considering law school, the opportunity to get a head-start in the process.
"We want our program to inspire students to pursue the arduous task of going to law school, to better their chances in the admissions process, and to prepare them for the pace and analytic demands of law school," said Gicine Brignola, director of the Summer Law Scholars Program and assistant dean of career services at the law school.
During the six-week period, students will participate in two courses, Legal Writing and Equal Rights Law, taught by members of the Penn State Dickinson faculty at the Carlisle campus. Each student who successfully completes these courses will earn five credits toward their undergraduate degree.
Legal writing is one of the most important and challenging skills a law student must master. Beth Cook, founder and former director of the program, is teaching the legal writing course in which students will learn the essentials of legal writing by analyzing cases and drafting legal memos and briefs.
"The program introduces undergraduate students to legal analysis and reasoning and improves their communication skills," said Cook. "Students who are accepted in the program gain insights into the legal process and have a much better appreciation for what law school is like. For example, they learn how to analyze statutes, to brief cases and how to structure legal writing. This experience will make the transition from undergraduate studies to law school a lot easier. Any student who may be interested in attending law school would benefit from the program," she explained.
The equal rights course will cover basic constitutional law principles and concentrate on the Fifth and Fourteenth Amendments to the U.S. Constitution. Students will be asked to consider the importance of equality, and classroom discussions will focus on affirmative action, as well as gender and employment discrimination.
In addition to the two law school courses, the program includes a full Kaplan preparation course for the Law School Admissions Test (LSAT). "The Kaplan is an expensive course that many students are not able to take before sitting for the LSAT, which is a dominating force in the admissions process for law school," said Brignola. Through this course, students will have access to a database of hundreds of practice questions outside of class time to help improve their LSAT scores.
In-class instruction will be complemented by field trips to the U.S. Supreme Court and law firms in Washington, D.C., and Harrisburg, Pa. Students will visit the state capitol and spend time with the Pennsylvania Secretary of State, as well as meet with judges and practicing attorneys in legal services, prosecutors' offices and government agencies to gain a better understanding of the various occupations within the legal field.
Those chosen for the program will also receive coaching and assistance on the law school application process from the admissions staff, and information about careers within the law from the career services team. "Students should apply because the program is absolutely incredible. It will be a tremendous advantage for those who do well in it and later attend law school," said Brignola.
All the costs of the program, including tuition, housing, meals and field trips will be covered by Penn State and The Dickinson School of Law. Travel costs to and from the law school and incidental expenses must be covered by the student.
Interested students should visit http://www.dsl.psu.edu/centers to print a brochure. Applicants should then complete the form on the back of the brochure and include it with a one-page essay describing why they want to participate in the program; a letter of recommendation to the director's attention; and their college transcript, resume and SAT scores. Applications should be sent to Gicine Brignola, assistant dean for Career Services and director of the Summer Law Scholars Program, Penn State Dickinson School of Law, 150 S. College St., Carlisle, PA 17013.