By Lori Dresner, Managing Editor/ News Editor
Legal experts shared their insight and offered advice to students considering law school at the Choosing a Law School and Legal Career Symposium in Century Room C of the Millennium Student Center at the University of Missouri–St. Louis on the afternoon of March 16.
The symposium, which was hosted by the College of Arts and Sciences, opened with an hourlong moderated panel discussion featuring UMSL alumni who have careers in various legal professions.
The panelists included Ebonie Reed, a staff attorney at Legal Services of Eastern Missouri; Donte Tamprateep, a second year law student at Saint Louis University (SLU); Daniel Kolde, a self-employed attorney who specializes in litigation, civil rights, and animal law; and Jack Duepner, who retired from the St. Louis County Prosecuting Attorney’s Office after 25 years and now works part-time as a municipal judge.
Each panelist shared their experiences applying to law school, preparing for the LSAT, and succeeding in law classes. They also offered insight as to what students should expect while studying in law school and searching for a career in the legal field.
Kolde said that some of the career options for those who have a degree in law include working for the government, nonprofits, and private firms, and even professions outside of being a lawyer.
“There’s a lot you can do with a law degree,” Kolde said. “We have a lot of freedom in our careers. If you don’t like your job, you can go to another one pretty easily. If you don’t like working for somebody else, you can try to work for yourself.”
Duepner, who attended law school later in life, worked for an insurance defense firm for two years out of law school, but decided that it was not what he wanted to do as a career. He was then hired as an assistant prosecutor in St. Louis County by the late Buzz Westfall.
“That became my vocation, and I was very happy with it,” said Duepner. “[It was a] very fulfilling … practice with law.”
Dr. William Dunaway, the pre-law advisor at UMSL and moderator of the panel, asked the panelists to share with the audience what they believed students should know about pursuing a career in law.
Reed said, “I would make sure that [law is] something that you’re passionate about and that you actually want to do, and that you’re not focusing just on what you think you’re going to make financially because you most likely will not make that financially.”
Tamprateep emphasized the importance of students who are thinking about law school making connections with those around them as undergraduates.
“This isn’t true just when you’re in your professional life; it’s also true now,” he said. “You’re developing relationships with a lot of professors right now, and make sure that you really nurture those relationships, because when you’re applying for law school, you’re going to need letters of recommendation, and you want to make sure that you build a really good image.”
The panelists also offered advice based on balancing work and law school.
“In general if you want to finish law school in three years, I don’t think you should have a job,” said Tamprateep. “I think that law school should be your main job, and you’re going to be doing a disservice to your clients later on if you’re not actually learning what you’re supposed to be learning.”
Reed offered insight as to how students can afford law school and the resources that are available to assist with those costs.
“Law school is expensive,” said Reed. “However, I think that if you put in the work to find the scholarships and find the money, it exists.”
She continued that she was able to find funds for her law school education from outside sources, including other organizations and through two firms for which she worked.
“You have to take responsibility for your career path, for what you’re going to have to pay for financially. But you can definitely position yourself where you won’t have a ton of student loans,” she said.
Students also had the opportunity to speak with representatives from UMSL and the Princeton Review who offered resources for preparing for the LSAT as well as admissions officers from local law schools, including St. Louis University, Washington University, Southern Illinois University Carbondale, the University of Missouri–Columbia, and the University of Missouri–Kansas City.
UMSL also currently offers an LSAT prep course.