Students seek jobs, education at law school fair

Jeremia Schrock / Sun Star Reporter
September 7, 2011

If shows like Law & Order or Boston Legal are for you, then get ready for the University of Alaska Fairbanks (UAF) annual law school fair. Representatives from 20 law schools will discuss their programs with students from 11:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. on Wednesday, Sept. 14 in the Wood Center. The law fair also includes an information session with Alaska Superior Court Judge Michael McConahy.

Although the UAF Community and Technical College (CTC) offers an associate’s in paralegal studies, UAF does not have a law school of its own. Alaska is currently the only state without a law school. While state representative Scott Kawasaki (D-Fairbanks) wrote a bill to establish an Alaska law school, the bill has been stuck in committee since January.

Justice student Jordan Culver, a senior, looks forward to the fair. Culver’s excited to speak with representatives from different schools, she said, but added she hadn’t decided whom to talk to first.

Culver decided on law school out of a desire to make a difference in the world, she said. “I want to be a voice for those who can’t find their own,” she said.

Alice Palen, the employer relations coordinator at Career Services, works with students interested in law school. She helps students brainstorm career choices and research potential graduate schools.

Palen has one tip for students interested in the law fair: ask questions. According to Palen, there are four questions students should ask a school’s representatives:

  1. What are your school’s job placement rates?
  2. What practical legal experience will I have after graduating (e.g. internships)?
  3. What is the percentage of students in your school who pass the bar exam the first time?
  4. What nonloan-based financial aid does your school have (e.g. scholarships, grants)?
The bar exam is a test to determine if someone is knowledgeable enough to practice law.

Kendall Bethune is another justice student planning on going to law school. Bethune prepared a list of questions for law school representatives, including asking about a school’s GPA and LSAT requirements and the annual percentage of students who pass the bar exam. Bethune also works with Dani Wilson, a communications student, to organize a pre-law club.

Few UAF justice graduates go on to law school, according to Mike Daku, a justice professor. “It’s not a huge number,” he said. “Somewhere between maybe five and 10 percent.”

There are several career alternatives for potential Alaska law school graduates outside of practicing law, according to Daku. These alternative jobs include probation and parole officers, court system administrators, law enforcement, and special investigators for federal organizations like the FBI and DEA. “They’re looking for folks who have really strong analytical skills,” Daku said.

There are also few law school-seeking graduates from the CTC paralegal studies program. “What they’ll do is finish with us and then go on and get a justice or political science degree and then go on to law school,” said Ed Husted, the program’s coordinator. The paralegal program at CTC is a two-year program while law schools require a degree from a four-year college.

The paralegal program graduates between 12 and 15 students a year, Husted said. Out of that number, half enter the job market and a quarter seek advanced degrees.

Law schools are having a difficult time luring new students because there are fewer post-graduate jobs, Alan Zagier wrote in an Associated Press article. Post-graduate employment rates are at their lowest levels in 15 years, according to the article.

Culver and Bethune know that finding a post-graduate job is tough. “Who knows, maybe in about five years when I’m graduated [there] will be another need for attorneys, after [other attorneys] starts retiring,” Bethune said.

Culver hopes that by the time she graduates from law school job numbers will be on the rise again. “If not I might have to come back [to UAF] and get a master’s degree,” Culver said.

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