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Law courses attract Barrett students
Law courses attract Barrett students
First-year law student Terry Crist (center), and
Barrett students Noah Binder and Gaby Traxler
have enjoyed Project Excellence.
A select group of ASU students will choose next semester from a menu of courses that includes nanotechnology and the Law, Ethics of Punishment, Criminal Procedure, and Sexual Orientation and the Law, among others.
And they're not even law students. Not yet.
The students, all enrolled in Barrett, The Honors College, can take courses at the Sandra Day O'Connor College of Law through Project Excellence, a partnership between the two colleges.
The program was established four years ago and has since recorded about 120 participants. It's open to Barrett juniors and seniors in good standing (3.25 GPA), who've completed a year-long freshman honors seminar, The Human Event, or an upper division honors seminar, where they've learned analytical skills necessary to succeed in law courses.
Usually, from 20 to 25 Barrett students take law courses in any given semester. Orientation for spring semester, when 11 Project Excellence courses will be offered, is planned for Jan. 11, with a make-up orientation on Jan. 15.
What's new for 2007-08 is that Project Excellence now has a dedicated staff person, Tom Williams, the College of Law's Director of Student Development. He's adding structure, expanding the course list and urging more Barrett students to give law school a look.
"I don't know of any project like this at any other university in the country," said Williams, a 2007 alumnus of the College of Law. "From the law school point of view, many of our law professors like to hear a different voice, a different mindset, from students in their classes, and this gives them that chance. From the Barrett point of view, this is an opportunity for their students to learn what a law-school class is like, to receive a good challenge and to have an advantage when they do come to law school."
Will Roberts, Barrett's manager of academic advising, said the biggest benefit to honors students is becoming familiar with what law school is like before going through the rigorous process of studying and passing the admissions test and making application.
"And for students who currently do not plan to go to law school, these courses are really interesting, and they may provide perspective on something they're studying in their undergraduate degree," Roberts said. "They get to meet law professors who could be helpful in gaining admission perhaps to the Sandra Day O'Connor College of Law or in writing letters of recommendations for other schools."
The students receive honors credit, but are not graded on the curve, as are law students. Project Excellence students also choose to receive regular grades or pass/fail.
Terry Crist, a first-year law student and former Barrett student, took three Project Excellence courses as an undergrad - Federal Courts, Philosophical Foundation of Natural Law, and Constitutional Liberty. That helped Crist figure out that he really did want to attend law school, and it helped him prepare for the real thing.
"It gave me a little bit of a leg up those first few weeks when everybody else (first-year students) is opening the book for the first time, and so it was not as stressful for me," said Crist, who earned a political science degree from ASU last spring.
Williams cautioned that Project Excellence isn't for everyone. Students learn to write case briefs, and they read (and read and read) cases to learn about laws. Some law professors "cold call" their students for answers, too. "If you're shy about talking in class, you may have problems," he said.
It's not a problem for Gaby Traxler. Since the Chicago native was in the second grade, she's wanted to be president of the United States. Back then, she thought you had to be a lawyer to run for president; now she knows better, but her goals haven't changed.
Traxler, a Barrett student who'll graduate in December with a history degree, has taken two law courses through Project Excellence, Human Rights and Genetics and the Law. As a result, she is interested in attending the College of Law and of someday practicing health law.
"Taking classes with law students can be very intimidating for the first few weeks, but it also can be so exhilarating because there's such a higher level of discussion," said Traxler, a National Hispanic Scholar. "I've had such nice professors -- James Nickel, Gary Marchant and Guy Cardineau -- who really dispelled some of the scary law-school rumors and made me a lot more at ease with my decision to apply. Professor Nickel even brings snacks."
Traxler's writing skills have improved, as a result of writing 25-page papers for each law course and receiving feedback from the professors.
Noah Binder, a junior majoring in Chinese, is a Barrett student who's taken three Project Excellence courses - Law, Science & Technology, International Contracts and Law, Literature and Life. Binder plans to attend law school, and thinks he may choose a career in international law.
"A lot of people go into law school thinking they want to be a lawyer, and they realize once they're there, `Forget it. It's not for me'," he said. "For me, Project Excellence has really cemented what I want to do."
Binder has learned to do legal research through WestLaw and is getting used to the idea that the semester grade in a law course is based on one test, not the norm for undergraduates.
The only downside, he said, is that law school courses run on a different hourly schedule from his undergraduate classes, which makes synchronization difficult.
Crist noted that he felt welcomed by both law faculty and students. "I was a little worried when I started, afraid of talking out of turn or saying something stupid, of being looked down on because `Are you supposed to be here?'" he said. "But I found everyone friendly, and I even got tips for applying to law school."
In addition to the 11 Project Excellence courses, the law school during spring semester will offer two courses - Introduction to English Legal History with Professor Jonathan Rose and Legal Method and Process I with Michael Berch - to Barrett and other ASU students. The professors are among the favorites with law students.
"It's our hope some of them will be so impressed with our professors that they'll want to come here," Williams said.