Pre-Law Program at Miami University
[More People in the Spotlight.]
Kate was interviewed by former Director of Miami's Pre-Law Program, Yvette Simpson, on April 1, 2008.
YS: Let's start with your name.
KR: My name is Kate Reid.
YS: And what year are you?
KR: I am in my fourth year but, since I was a transfer student, I have been an undergraduate for 6 years.
YS: Where did you transfer from?
KR: I transferred from the University of Maine at Farmington.
YS: And in what year did you transfer?
KR: I transferred in my senior year, because I realized that I didn't want to be a professional classical vocalist. So in my senior year, I decided to transfer to Miami.
YS: So you started as a vocalist at Maine and then you transferred to Miami.
YS: What is your major here at Miami?
KR: My major is Comparative Religion and I have a minor in Political Science.
YS: How long have you been at Miami?
KR: This is my second year. I will have completed 2 years here when I graduate.
YS: Tell me what law school you plan to attend in the fall.
KR: I will be attending Syracuse University College of Law.
YS: And are you excited about that?
KR: I am very excited. It feels good to narrow down the choices finally. And just to make a choice. [Chuckles.]
YS: Well let's talk about your time at Miami. What has been your most memorable experience since you've been here?
KR: My most memorable experience as a student here would have to be the classes that I took in Constitutional Law with Professor Jones in the Political Science department.
YS: Tell my why you thought that was a memorable experience.
KR: I was somewhat interested in law when I transferred here, but I had no background in law whatsoever. I don't have any lawyers in my family. I don't even have very many friends who are lawyers; I just tacitly thought that law was something that I might be attracted to.
It wasn't until I took the courses with Dr. Jones that I really started to get a sense for how powerful and profound the law is and how I might be able to make a difference in that profession, and how it suited my unique strengths and personality traits. Those classes really cemented the interest I had in law.
There is the practical vs. creative balance that probably comes into play ... All good attorneys, I believe, have a balance of these 2 qualities — the kind of practical tenacity combined with the creative potential to be an effective problem solver.
YS: You have a unique background. Tell me how your experience as a vocalist translated well, considering your interest in law.
KR: There are a couple of things. I think the first thing is discipline, and I think that anyone who has studied classical music knows the importance of discipline. You have to practice when you don't feel like practicing. You have to practice when you have a cold. You have to practice when you have 5 other exams that week.
Consistent, daily work is so important, and you also need to get used to balancing the many things on your plate at the same time when you perform. As a classical vocalist, I had to be familiar with 4 or 5 different languages, and to be able to reproduce those languages on the spot. I often needed to memorize entire operatic scores in 2 or 3 weeks.
I think that sort of high-pressure situation will likely translate well, not necessarily to the practice of law because I don't know enough about that to say for sure yet, but hopefully it provided me with the skills necessary to excel under pressure in law school. I hope so, at least!
Also, there is the practical vs. creative balance that probably comes into play in both. All good attorneys, I believe, have a balance of these 2 qualities — the kind of practical tenacity combined with the creative potential to be an effective problem solver. Excelling as a singer also depends on your ability to focus on the minute details and at the same time synthesize those details into a creative whole when the time comes. So, I am hoping these skills will also apply to law.
YS: You talked a little about the Constitutional Law classes that you took. Were there any other courses that you found especially beneficial?
KR: In terms of making my choice to apply to law school, the courses that I took in Comparative Religion were also very useful. My capstone was with Dr. Poirier and the topic of the class was Religion and Colonialism, which has always been an interest of mine. And in that class, Dr. Poirier was very open to lots of interdisciplinary approaches.
My senior project was kind of a synthesis of the work that I had done in Comparative Religion with my interest in Constitutional Law, in interpreting the Free Exercise Clause in terms of how it related to colonized and disenfranchised groups in the United States. So, synthesizing those two interests and also being able to do more legal research in that context, was very, very helpful for me and the process kind of crystallized where my interests were in terms of law.
YS: Tell me a little bit more about the Constitutional Law class. What kinds of things did you study in that class?
KR: Well, it was probably a standard undergraduate Constitutional Law class in terms of the content. The class that I took with Dr. Jones was Civil Liberties, specifically, so we looked at the Bill of Rights — the interpretation of those provisions and also the history of the incorporation of the Bill of Rights.
The case law that we studied was the very standard case law that is associated with those provisions, but I think that the most useful part of the class for me, in addition to becoming comfortable with that material and learning to read that material, which I had never done before, was the structure of Dr. Jones' exams. I think that he has consciously structured his exams in the manner of first-year law school exams and I think that will serve me very well, in addition to others who have taken the class with him.
Basically, Dr. Jones first familiarized us with all of the case law that is associated with the concepts we were studying. Then I constructed an outline for the case law and how it related to the topics that he covered, and the exam consisted of hypothetical legal questions that required us to apply all of the case law that we had learned through the semester. It is probably a taste of exactly what I will be doing next year. So the exam structure was very useful.
Just becoming familiar with reading Supreme Court cases was interesting and, of course, I think that those cases represent the pinnacle of intrigue, profundity, and all that business in terms of the cases that we encounter here in the United States. I think the cases chosen by Dr. Jones gave everyone a taste of how interesting the subject matter of civil liberties can really be.
YS: How many people were in your class?
KR: I think that there were about 50 people in the class. It was a relatively large class.
I feel much more prepared going into law school. I wouldn't have known half of the terminology, the layout of law school and so forth that I now know without Phi Alpha Delta's programs. I feel like I have the lay of the land now.
YS: Let's transition into activities. What types of activities have you participated in as a student at Miami?
KR: Well, I haven't really been that much of an extracurricular demon while I have been here. I have always really focused on academics, because that has always been my priority. But, in terms of things that take my time outside of my academics, I've been involved in Phi Alpha Delta, which has been a fantastic experience that has been useful for gaining familiarity with what the field and law school is going to be like and preparing for a life in this career.
Through my activities with Phi Alpha Delta and planning those activities that we did and the events we have been a part of, I feel much more prepared going into law school. I wouldn't have known half of the terminology, the layout of law school and so forth that I now know without Phi Alpha Delta's programs. I feel like I have the lay of the land now.
YS: Do you serve in a leadership role in Phi Alpha Delta?
KR: Yes, I serve as the secretary of that organization currently.
YS: And what does that entail?
KR: Basically I am the liaison between the Executive Council and the membership. I am also the liaison between the organization and national headquarters in terms of processing new members and handling communication between members and Executive Council and also taking minutes and keeping good records of all of our proceedings.
YS: So what skills do you think you gained from a leadership position like that?
KR: Well, I definitely think organization is an important thing, and that's always something with which I struggle; so having more opportunities to improve my organizational technique has definitely been beneficial. I have also had opportunities to improve my public speaking skills, since serving a leadership role requires that we all speak up and express our viewpoints, so it has been very useful to be involved in that capacity. I am trying to think ... what other leadership skills did I not have coming in that I gained from Phi Alpha Delta?
YS: Or, you can list skills that had that were enhanced by that experience.
KR: Well, I was a member of student government prior to coming to Miami. I was the Parliamentarian of the student government organization, which taught me skills like drafting documents, writing grant proposals and other nuts and bolts of the processes of government organization, and these skills transferred well to Phi Alpha Delta.
Persuasive argumentation, too! We don't argue very often in PAD, but in student government it definitely was important to be able to succinctly make your point and not badger around things, and to try to be persuasive in your argumentation so that your ideas were implemented. With Phi Alpha Delta, we only have a committee of 5, so we tend to compromise and adapt to each other's ideas fairly well, but in a group like the group in which I participated in Farmington, with around 25 senators, bureaucracy from the university, and other student representatives, there were a lot of interests that needed to be balanced and addressed.
YS: Well, let's transition to people you look up to. Who would you say are your mentors here at Miami?
KR: Here at Miami, definitely YOU!
YS: I didn't pay her for this. [Chuckles.]
KR: I don't think I would have been able to get through the process of applying to law school if it had not been for you because you were so incredibly helpful in reviewing my statement of purpose, reviewing draft after draft of my statement of purpose until we were both satisfied with it, as well as in terms of helping me decide and target the schools that suited my capabilities and to which I was going to apply. Also, once I had some acceptances on the table, you were invaluable in helping me decide which school was going to fit me best. So you were definitely one of my mentors here.
YS: Okay. Anybody else?
KR: Dr. Jones has also been an incredibly important mentor for me, in terms of how inspiring he has been as a teacher in the classroom and his passion for law and for political science. He also has been helpful in terms of his support in the law school admissions process and in giving me the courage and the confidence to submit some applications.
Lisa Poirier, who is the Graduate Director for the Department of Comparative Religion, has also been really, really important in writing letters of recommendation, supporting my application, and helping me out with the whole admissions process. Dr. Poirier also was a mentor for challenging me intellectually while I have been here. Most of my mentors have been academic mentors.
I also teach the LSAT and GMAT for Kaplan, and Cheryl Hampton has been helpful there in terms of giving me the support to feel confident teaching, and just easing my anxiety as I have been learning, because I'm a relatively new teacher.
YS: What has been your greatest obstacle here?
KR: The whole transfer process I would say was a complete and utter nightmare. If you ever have children who contemplate transferring from one school to another, I would encourage them to refrain from doing so [chuckles], because it is just a bureaucratic nightmare!
For instance, when I first transferred here I was under the impression that since I was coming in with almost 120 credits that I would be able to graduate in one year or less. But, even though all of the credits were eventually accepted, they didn't necessarily fit the Miami Plan or the various general education requirements of Miami. That was a struggle and it took a lot of readjustment on my part to sit back and say, "I can stay another year; I can give it a little more time."
Most of my transfer burdens were eventually eased by Dr. Hanges in the Comparative Religion Department, whose willingness to work with my transfer credit process will enable me to graduate in only 2 extra years. I was fortunate while I was at Farmington to have my education subsidized through grants and academic scholarships but when I got here there was no merit funding for transfer students, which was something that I didn't really grasp until after I was already here. So the financial burden was also really stressful for me.
But I think that once I crystallized what I wanted to do and what my goals were in terms of going to law school and becoming an attorney, those burdens were lessened; they were sort of put in perspective by that goal.
Always make yourself stand out. Ask questions, go to office hours, be the person that talks and that stands out because that little effort will make it so much easier when it comes to getting letters of recommendation and finding support through the law school application process. It also ensures that you are more engaged in your coursework and, as a result, you will ultimately do better.
YS: What would you say has been your greatest accomplishment here at Miami?
KR: I think my greatest accomplishments would be the high GPA I have maintained, as well as my ability to consistently forge relationships with professors even in classes with 50, 100, 150 students. I am a perfectionist at heart; so I am proud of my strong GPA. This, in turn, has enabled me to stand out sufficiently that professors know me and recognize me and are willing to go out on a limb for me.
So in terms of advice that I would give to other students in this position, always make yourself stand out. Ask questions, go to office hours, be the person that talks and that stands out because that little effort will make it so much easier when it comes to getting letters of recommendation and finding support through the law school application process. It also ensures that you are more engaged in your coursework and, as a result, you will ultimately do better. So, I think that the relationships that I have formed here, and the resulting academic success have been my greatest accomplishments since I've come to Miami.
YS: I was going to ask what advice you would give to students interested in going to law school. Maybe you just answered it ... or maybe you have more?
KR: There are a few, yeah, and I think I have a lot of advice now that I have been through the process. Definitely ace the LSAT, take the time ...
Sometimes an extra point or two on the LSAT is the difference between a large scholarship and no funding at all. So, regardless of what your goals are in terms of what schools you're aspiring to attend, I think that acing the LSAT, or at the very least doing the best that you possibly can, is really important.
YS: That shouldn't be too hard to do. [Chuckles.]
KR: Well, it is not hard to do actually. Having taught the LSAT now, I am under the impression that it is a very, very teachable test; it's also a very learnable test. It's really just a matter of knowing yourself and being able to predict how much time you are going to need and taking the time necessary to do your personal best.
Even if you're not shooting for a top-tier law school, the LSAT often makes the difference between earning merit grants and scholarships and having to cover the whole bill yourself. Sometimes an extra point or two on the LSAT is the difference between a large scholarship and no funding at all. So, regardless of what your goals are in terms of what schools you're aspiring to attend, I think that acing the LSAT, or at the very least doing the best that you possibly can, is really important. Don't take it until you are prepared and put in the time necessary to prepare.
Let me reiterate what I said earlier. Students should be cultivating relationships with academic mentors and thinking about relationship building right from the beginning — not just in classes in which you're one of 10 or 15 people, but in large classes, too. Always strive to be the person who the professor remembers — for positive reasons hopefully! [Chuckles.] You'll get more out of the class, while cultivating a network that will support you when it comes time to transition into law school. And you can start cultivating relationships with professors when you are a freshman.
YS: You talked about your Civil Liberties class. Was it at that point you decided to pursue a career in law or was it before that?
KR: It was actually slightly before that. I took two classes with Dr. Jones — Civil Liberties and also a 100-level class to fulfill a Miami Plan requirement that was called American Politics and Diversity. It is a class that is taught in the Political Science department and it rotates so different professors teach it, but I happened to take it the semester that Dr. Jones was teaching it.
The broad topic was Diversity in the University and, although I've heard that there are many different ways that different professors approach this topic , the way that Dr. Jones presented the material really, really excited me personally and got me passionate about studying law. He organized the class around the case law that is associated with the Civil Rights Movement and the use of litigation by the African American community in the struggle for equality. So it was a big undertaking on Dr. Jones' part, and I think it really, really cemented in my mind that law was what I wanted to do. It was an excellent demonstration of the effects that the law can have on society and that was very, very powerful for me.
I'm really, really looking forward to being able to put all of my energy in one direction and focus. I am also looking forward to being in an environment where everyone else around me will have that same goal in mind; where there will, presumably, be other like-minded people pursuing that goal just as adamantly.
YS: What are you most anticipating about law school?
KR: I think what I'm most anticipating is being able to be completely focused on something that I'm interested in, where all of the courses I'm taking and all of my extracurricular interests and everything will coalesce towards a specific goal, because I am a goal-minded person. I'm really, really looking forward to being able to put all of my energy in one direction and focus. I am also looking forward to being in an environment where everyone else around me will have that same goal in mind; where there will, presumably, be other like-minded people pursuing that goal just as adamantly. I think that's going to be the biggest pleasure.
YS: Before the Pre-Law Program started, where did you receive most of your information about law school?
KR: I received most of my information about law school from my academic mentors, Dr. Jones and Dr. Poirier.
Dr. Poirier and Dr. Jones have advised pre-law students and they were probably the two people who first helped me understand the timeline for the application process and what I needed to be thinking about at a given point in time. I think that if they hadn't advised me, I wouldn't have known that I needed to have my letter of recommendation forms in by, you know, August — not October and November, right before the deadline.
So that was really important, as was their support in helping me to settle on an appropriate time to take the LSAT, as well as just for synthesizing my specific career goals and intellectual interests. Both were invaluable during my first year here at Miami. It's great to have all that advising in one office now, though.
YS: I was just about to ask, what do you find most useful about the Pre-Law Program?
KR: The targeted advising and the programs have been very, very valuable. I really hope that the various programs continue to expand in the future. The panels with law students and financial aid directors, for example, were just fantastic! All of the programs were beneficial. They have made me feel as though I am taking control of this entire process and it's a lot less intimidating to me now.
I know that this complacency is all going to be shattered when I get to law school, and I realize it will likely be nothing like I expect at all, but I definitely feel more confident going in, because of the programs.
YS: I think you will be surprised about how much it's like what you've been told.
KR: I hope so. [Chuckles.]
YS: What suggestions do you have for further developing the Pre-Law Program?
KR: Actually, one thing that I think might be useful would be to have student mentors involved. Someone else who was very important to me last year was a fellow student who was going through the process. He was a very high-achieving student who had scored in the 99th percentile for the LSAT and had a near perfect GPA. Now he is at Columbia Law School, but he helped me so much by tutoring me for the LSAT and also really giving me an idea of how the whole process worked and how important the LSAT was, how the financial aid process worked and all of that business, because he had just been through the process 6 months before and was in the process of choosing law schools.
I think that perhaps having senior mentors as part of the program who have been through the process recently and who can counsel more junior students who are on the cusp of it, would be very, very beneficial.
YS: When did he assist you? Was it in the spring semester?
KR: This was during the spring prior to when I took the LSAT.
YS: Anything else?
KR: I am not sure whether this exists because I have not exhausted all of the resources provided through this office yet, but do you have a career database that lists all of the opportunities for potential student employment?
YS: Do you mean internships?
YS: We are developing that.
KR: I think that would be a useful addition — internships or summer employment related to a broad spectrum of legal fields too, like, for instance, public interest.Lots of different options would be useful.
Often, a candidate who would be very, very strong in the first instance when the doors open may not be so strong come February when the competition is a lot greater. I think that you can give yourself a huge advantage just by getting your applications in early.
YS: Any other advice that you want to share to current pre-law students as you transition into the next phase of your life?
KR: I would say start the whole process as early as possible. Start thinking about it early and, more importantly, start acting early. Take the LSAT as early as you can. Get your letters of recommendation all in line and organized by the summer prior to when you plan to apply and aim to submit your applications the minute applications are open, not right before applications close — because a lot of law schools handle their applications on a rolling admissions basis.
Often, a candidate who would be very, very strong in the first instance when the doors open may not be so strong come February when the competition is a lot greater. I think that you can give yourself a huge advantage just by getting your applications in early. Applying early worked out really, really well for me with respect to funding because a lot of my applications went in early and schools at which I probably would not have been competitive for funding later in the season ended up giving me substantial scholarships. Being organized and getting everything in early is really important.