Pre-Law Program at Miami University
[More People in the Spotlight.]
Jan was interviewed by former Director of Miami's Pre-Law Program, Yvette Simpson, on April 23, 2009.
YS: What is your name and major?
JS: My name is Jan Shanklin and I am a senior. My major is Interdisciplinary Studies.
YS: What is your focus?
JS: My focus has been Legal Theory, but that is mostly just a way to say I studied a bunch of law stuff. I took classes in Political Science and my favorite were the philosophy classes by far, so I ended up taking more of those. I took two Economics courses, and courses in Religion, but I had other courses as well.
My senior project was on the legal possibilities and political implications of prosecuting members of the Bush administration for torturing Guantanamo Bay prisoners. It ended up being a much larger project than I thought and I fell in love with it.
YS: What was your senior project?
JS: My senior project was on the legal possibilities and political implications of prosecuting members of the Bush administration for torturing Guantanamo Bay prisoners. It ended up being a much larger project than I thought and I fell in love with it. I think that it is important in a senior project to be able to present something as a product for yourself and be proud of that. I was proud of the conclusion, although it was not the conclusion I thought I would come to when I first started the project. I was glad I was able to maintain an open mind and come to a relevant conclusion, because if you go too far either way then who is going to listen?
YS: What law school do you plan to enroll in this fall?
JS: I just sent my deposit to Georgetown. Unless something crazy happens I will be going there. I am so excited.
YS: What has been your most memorable experience here at Miami?
JS: This past semester we had the constitutional crisis within ASG [Associated Student Government]. There were two senators who claimed the Heritage Commons seat and asked the Student Court to hear the case and make a decision on who was the right person for that seat according to the By-laws and the circumstances. When we made our decision a lot of the senators didn't agree. What they didn't understand was that Student Court rulings on those matters are final ... but the Student Senate voted on a bill that nullified our decision and gave the other person the seat.
We then tried to come to a mutual conclusion and it was like the legislative branch taking over the judicial branch by nullifying our decision. The executive branch agreed and they tried to make the Senate enforce our ruling. It turned into a three-way battle. Finally, we were able to come to a decision and the senate agreed to repeal their nullification and uphold the original decision.
That experience taught me so much about interpersonal relations and how to get what you want in a politically decisive way, how to get what you want and to understand why that is important. I also learned that when you approach people with a diplomatic perspective instead of a hot-headed attitude, you get a lot further.
What happened in that situation is that the senate enacted a bill that affected procedures of Student Court without consulting us. I thought that was unfair and not smart in any way ... but what I did was sit down with the two authors of the bill and told them my concerns and asked if we could change things and they made every change that I asked them to make. What I learned was that being friendly and making compromises and exercising moderation is very important in situations where you have to work with other people to produce the best outcome.
YS: What courses have been the most beneficial for you?
JS: I have to say my International Law class was by far one of the top two courses I have taken here at Miami. International Law opens you up to so many international issues that you need to know if you are going to be in the field of law, whether you decide to practice law or go into business. My philosophy classes were important to me because they required a lot of slow reading. It would take five minutes to read a page rather than a minute. And the papers — I had one exam total in all my classes. The papers are very analytic so it was a good exercise in learning to take ideas from literature, transform them in your mind, and then produce something new.
I loved Student Court ... During my senior year I was the Chief Justice ... It was hard to go from the adversary to the mediator, but I think it was a good skill.
YS: What activities have you participated in that you found interesting?
JS: Of course I loved Student Court; I have been on it for three years. I started as a sophomore, which is unusual for Student Court. My first two years I was a regular Justice, so during our hearings we got to ask students questions about their behavior and things like that. During my senior year I was the Chief Justice and that role is to conduct the hearing and make sure all the procedures are being followed. It was not my role to ask questions anymore, it was more to make sure everyone was being respectful and that the student knew their rights. It was hard to go from the adversary to the mediator, but I think it was a good skill.
YS: Who have been your mentors at Miami?
JS: Bill Jackson has helped me a lot although we have only met about five times. They have been the most meaningful meetings because we encourage each other to go further. You [Yvette Simpson] have helped me so much in preparing for law school and helping me in the personal struggle find what was right for me. I appreciated the opportunity to go down to Cincinnati and for you to have faith that I wouldn't embarrass you.
There is one other professor who taught the class called Religion and Science: Creation and Evolution. It was an important course to me because it opened things I had never seen in my Christian education. She never interjected her opinions until I asked her and we had very emotional conversations. It is the professors who leave their views outside the classroom but can talk about them outside. As students I think we should have respect for these people who have spent their lives studying ideas and to be able to learn from them is important.
YS: What has been your greatest obstacle here at Miami?
JS: I would say it is having to miss out on some things in order to maintain the GPA — going places on the weekends or going out with friends or watching movies and things like that. I don't at all regret it because I am very proud of everything I have accomplished, but everyone talks about senior year being this great time and I spent mine in front of my computer. I think that is something that will benefit me later in life when it is more work than play.
YS: What has been your greatest accomplishment?
JS: I think my academics because I have been able to maintain a good GPA and part of that was learning to adapt to what the professors wanted without compromising what I was trying to do in my papers. I learned to see a different kind of perspective, and to adapt to different learning styles. Also I have enjoyed being Chief Justice of the Student Court; it gave me a voice in the university but also one that is not political. It is important that we maintain the opportunity for students to challenge allegations made against them.
YS: When did you decide to pursue law as a career?
JS: I think 6th or 7th grade. I have pretty much always known that I wanted to go to law school. I have a lot of brothers and sisters and we always had to be fair in my house and I was the one who always wanted to make it fair. My different experiences through high school and here at Miami have just reinforced my decision. I used to do mock trial and I loved getting up there and doing it.
Being on Student Court here has confirmed my love for advocacy of law and I believe there are a lot more wrongs than there are lawyers to fix them. A lot goes undone, especially for people who can't afford legal representation. One of my lifelong goals is to make sure to do pro bono work even if that isn't my main area of practice.
YS: What are you most anticipating about law school?
JS: I was really excited about what I learned from the Young Lawyers Panel. A lot of them said that they treated law school like a job. When I heard that, I thought, "This is going to be so different than here at Miami; I still get up that early but I go all day." I am looking forward to treating law school like a job, so I have the opportunity to enjoy the fun aspect of law school. I will enjoy all of it but to have a few hours in the evening sounds really exciting to me.
I would recommend that [underclassmen] talk to more people about the legal practice ... They should talk particularly to people who have only been doing it for 5 to 10 years because they have a lot of perspectives on what is important.
YS: What advice would you give to underclassmen that are considering law school?
JS: I would recommend that they talk to more people about the legal practice ... because I talked to a lot of law school students but I didn't get to talk to people who are already practicing law. They should talk particularly to people who have only been doing it for 5 to 10 years because they have a lot of perspectives on what is important as you prepare and as you move through law school.
I think it would have helped me decide what type of law I would have liked to practice if I had talked to different people. I am still unsure as to what kind of law I want to practice; I know what I want to study, but I don't know if that is the type of law I want to end up in, because I didn't do enough research.
YS: What did you find most useful about the Pre-Law Program?
JS: What I thought was really useful was that you [Yvette Simpson] have advising hours and I can talk about what I should be doing and looking at and what not to worry about. I got a lot of help with my personal statement and it turned out so different. I would let anyone read it, but having a real face to talk to about these very anxiety-inducing issues was an invaluable resource for me. I feel so bad for the students who didn't have it.
YS: What suggestions do you have for improving the Pre-Law Program?
JS: I know you get really busy in the fall semester when students need advice; it took three to four weeks to get an appointment. I think if you could have someone else to help with advising that would be a good idea so you have more time to do the things that need coordination. Another advisor, but other than that it is a great start. I also love the programs; every one that I attended was extremely interesting and useful.