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  Features
     
   

Nurturing Legal Eagles at Holy Cross 

By Allison Chisolm 

The summer he was 10, Keon Carpenter '98 was shining shoes in Pontiac, Michigan's City Hall when he met a judge. The man told Carpenter he could observe the courtroom trials if he wanted. Compared to shoeshine work, Carpenter recalled, watching trials "wasn't as lucrative, but much more entertaining." One day, he decided, he'd be part of that world. 

Dan Kozusko '00 and Scott SandstromWhen Dan Kozusko '00 was in third grade, the trials he liked to watch were on television, on The People's Court. He's been a fan ever since. Carpenter, Kozusko and many other Holy Cross students are working hard to get into court themselves. Participants in the pre-law program, they've caught the legal bug and have set their sights on law school.

They join a long line of predecessors. For many alumni, it's been a well-trodden path - go to Holy Cross and then go to law school. But in the 1990s, the market for lawyers has tightened up. Going to just any law school isn't a guaranteed ticket to prosperity and success anymore. Where a student attends law school has a lot to do with employment options after graduation.

According to Scott Sandstrom, professor of business law and accounting, the last decade has seen student debt loads triple. If law school graduates end up in low-paying jobs, he said, they've "taken on a mortgage-size debt without the salary commensurate to pay it. This creates tension and anxiety. We are doing everything we can to get our students into schools with solid reputations."

Over the past several years, Holy Cross has revitalized its pre-law program. In 1994, Sandstrom became faculty advisor to students like Carpenter and Kozusko, and some 550 other advisees. In addition, he works with many alumni applicants. His specific mandate was to improve the numbers of Holy Cross graduates accepted into the nation's top law schools.

"With college costs at $30,000 a year, students and parents want to feel confident that their investment will pay dividends when they apply to professional schools," said Sandstrom. The College administration and trustees felt "we could and should do more for pre-law students than we were doing."

Sandstrom prepared a plan which included more extensive hands-on advising, the launching of a law publication, and participation in collegiate mock trial competitions. By February 1998, all had been implemented. And since 1994, the numbers of top law school acceptances have more than quadrupled, and matriculations have tripled. 

Expanded Advising Program

"I'm big on goal-setting," said Sandstrom, a philosophy he shares with incoming first-year students each year. He meets with first-year students interested in law school within the first month of school, "while they're still listening,"  he said. The major theme of his talk is that building a solid academic record is important and that "grades matter." One bad semester can lower a GPA enough to place them out of the running at the top law schools. He encourages students to adjust to the pace of college life quickly and to stay on top of their workload.

Sandstrom shares with them a "range finder" that correlates median GPA and LSAT scores with law school admissions records. If students want to attend one of the top 15 law schools (tracked by the magazine U.S. News & World Report), they will need a GPA of 3.5 and LSAT scores in the mid 160s (on a scale of 120-180).

"I view my role as coach and motivator," said Sandstrom. "I try to get them to set high academic goals and do their best to reach them." Once he's met with interested students, Sandstrom has a mailing list to keep them informed about upcoming events designed to broaden their thinking about entering the legal profession. His work is beginning to pay off, as the seniors he spoke to in their first year apply to law school this year. "We've done well and seen real, measurable improvement," he said.

The numbers prove his point. About 100 students apply to law school every year. In 1994, the year Sandstrom began as pre-law advisor, 10 Holy Cross graduates were accepted at the country's top 15 law schools, and six matriculated. By 1997, Holy Cross numbered 44 acceptances and 15 matriculations at schools including Harvard, Yale, University of Chicago, Columbia, New York University, Georgetown, Virginia, and Cornell. The College continues to send large numbers of students to law schools such as Fordham, Boston College, University of Connecticut, and Suffolk. 

Each year, Sandstrom tries to bring a prominent speaker to campus and convene a panel of Holy Cross alumni who are third-year law students. One recent speaker was Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas, a visit that generated much debate, legal and otherwise, on campus. Third-year students discuss both the current job market and the process they went through to get into law school. Their stories reinforce Sandstrom's message that law school admissions offices weigh heavily students' academic records and LSAT scores. 

Birth of a Journal

Pre-law students needed an outlet for their interests, Sandstrom believed, and a publication was one way to channel their energies. He felt working on a law journal would give them an opportunity to do some legal research, perform cite checking, and polish their editing skills. In 1996, a group of 18 students launched The Holy Cross Journal of Law and Public Policy, a first for Holy Cross, and most likely a first among undergraduate institutions. The path to publication was a long and thoughtful one.

The group, together with Sandstrom, considered a number of models, including a traditional law review style, as published by many law schools. This model was rejected since articles in law reviews are very technical in nature and often deal with an obscure rule of law. Another model would be to publish articles which took sides on controversial issues, a kind of point-counterpoint approach. Examples might include both sides of an issue such as whether or not a terminally ill patient should have the right to physician-assisted suicide.

The students met with law review editors at Suffolk Law School (where Sandstrom received his juris doctor degree), and received job descriptions for editorial roles, printing, layout work, and other advice. Ultimately, it was decided that thematic issues would be too restrictive and the choice was made to concentrate on subjects of broad interest to the general community. There would be no shortage of contributors, as many law students want to publish their work.

The student editorial board incorporated that advice into The Journal's overall mission, which is, as the first issue's preface explained, to be a "forum for undergraduate pre-law students to examine some of the more difficult problems facing our society as we approach the next millennium." Solicitation letters yielded 40 submissions, which the students reviewed, short listed to six, edited, checked citations and secured copyright permission to print in final form.

The inaugural issue, published in the fall of 1996, featured six articles in a professionally produced 201-page paperback volume. Holy Cross students contributed two articles, and an alumnus wrote one. The second issue, 216 pages published in late 1997, featured five articles, one by a fourth-year student and one by an alumnus. The third issue is underway now for late '98 publication. 

The project was underwritten by a grant from trustee and attorney Agnes N. Williams, which has helped fund a computer and software used to lay out the publication, as well as the printing costs.

The idea on paper had become a reality and source of pride for the students involved. As Sandstrom wrote in the first issue, "the hundreds of hours spent organizing the format of the journal . . . has been a fantastic experience for our students. . . . I am enormously proud of their effort." Editors and staff members are encouraged to include a copy of the journal with their law school application. The Journal is also shown to parents at Admission open house events, and it appears to be helping in the recruitment of pre-law students. 

Lawyers in Training at Mock Trial Competition

Pre-law students don't just want to write about the law - they want to be lawyers themselves. A "mock trial" competition gets students into a courtroom setting and lets them role-play as prosecutor, defense attorney and witness.

For the past four years, Clark University has hosted the New England Regional Intercollegiate Mock Trial tournament in February, and this year, Holy Cross fielded a team. Seven stalwart students argued their way through State v. Darnell, a fictitious murder case set in the state of "Midlands." Students were given case summaries, witness statements, autopsy and toxicology reports, and 24 pages of the Midlands Rules of Court governing procedure, evidence, conduct and decorum for all mock trial participants.

Keon Carpenter '98 was thrilled to join the team. "A pre-law program means nothing if you don't get the chance to try being a lawyer," he said.

About 20 students started attending the year's first meetings last fall, Sandstrom said, but once they saw the workload involved, the numbers dwindled to seven by the time intensive practices began in January. "Everyone wants to be lead attorney, but few want to learn the rules," he said. "Teamwork was important for this exercise, and they worked as a team very well."

Sandstrom tapped two alumni as coaches, Worcester attorneys Ed McDermott '79 and classmate Carey Smith. Most of the students had never participated in an undergraduate mock trial before, but one of the team members, Ryan Hayward '01, had been on a high school championship team in Bergen County, N.J. The New England competition lasted two days, and the Holy Cross team competed four times, against Harvard, Boston University and two teams from Tufts. Each three-hour trial was judged by volunteer judges and attorneys from the Worcester area.

By the end of the second day, Holy Cross had won twice and lost twice, each by slim margins. The team won more individual awards (3) than any other school, but finished in the middle of the pack overall. The competition was fierce, with experienced teams from eight other schools, including Amherst, St. John's, Harvard, Tufts, Boston College and Princeton. Princeton proved the overall winner.

"It was very competitive," said Sandstrom. "But it's a competitive profession. A large part of lawyering is coming out on top."

And the judging?  "Let's just say the judging was unusual," he said. "We 'lost' a case we felt we had won overwhelmingly, then won a case we thought we may have lost. We had a really strong group. We just need practice. I think we've got something to build on." 

What's Next?

With the law journal and mock trial team established, Sandstrom's next project is technological. He is constructing a pre-law program website that should be up and running by the fall of '98. Besides providing information on pre-law program activities at Holy Cross, the website will allow users to access sites where they can register and pay for the LSAT, access LSAT preparation information, apply directly to law schools, and use search engines for summer job listings. The Holy Cross Journal of Law and Public Policy will be online, and there will be links to the website for the student law organization, the St. Thomas More Society. 

The environment for pre-law students at Holy Cross has changed materially in the past four years. "We try to engage students in the pre-law program early, and to provide meaningful things to do that have a legal twist. I think we've turned a corner." 

Interested Alumni are encouraged to contact Scott Sandstrom, the pre-law advisor, for information about the law school application process. Sandstrom can be reached via e-mail at ssandstr@holycross.edu  


 Undergraduate Law Journal Stands Alone

By Allison Chisolm 

Holy Cross undergraduates have produced something unique, and they've told American law schools about it. Now in its third year, The Holy Cross Journal of Law and Public Policy is believed to be the only law journal in the United States published solely by undergraduates. About 600 copies of each issue are printed, and the distribution list includes the dean and the library at every law school in the country.

Last year's editor, Michelle Cadin '98, sees the publication playing a number of important roles. On an individual level, she said, "it's a good opportunity to do legal research, read articles and talk to law students to see if law school's for you." Plus, working on a journal "looks good on the resume."

On the school level, she said, the journal could change the nature of the campus environment. "Considering the level of intellect here," she said, "it's not a politically charged campus. This could create a forum for debate."

The charter editorial board was a small one, headed by Michael Baillargeon '97. His responsibilities included organizing the staff, establishing acceptance guidelines, setting up the initial layout and design, using Pagemaker 6. He worked with Damian Schaible '98, and in about eight hours, according to faculty advisor Scott Sandstrom, they learned the software and established a basic layout format.

After determining the overall concept and purpose for the publication (see main story), they began to solicit articles. Letters went out to law review editors as well as student bar associations, asking them to notify their students about publishing opportunities at Holy Cross.

Their requests yielded 40 submissions and the real work began. From that point on, Sandstrom said, "it was an all-student production." Editors read five articles each over the summer, rating their suitability based on agreed-upon criteria. Each article is read by two editors. With the best articles selected (six for the first issue), they began checking the articles' citations and editing the copy for clarity. Some manuscripts, Sandstrom said, are 80 pages or more, but students have to edit them down to 40 or 45 pages.

"Most of our students have authored a wide range of papers at College," said Sandstrom, "getting them back with comments, corrections, and a grade from their professors. Few of them have reviewed the work of others. For many of our students, editing a law article is the first time they are 'on the other side of the table.' They work with these authors on presenting legal issues in a clear and concise manner."

Sandstrom pointed out that the hands-on nature of the process is invaluable. "Students have to go to the law library downtown to do much of the citation checking," he said, "and this year our students will learn to use Dinand Library's new LEXIS-NEXIS service. It's a great way to give our students some exposure to what lawyers do frequently in practice. Reading, writing, editing, and paying attention to detail."

Once the articles have been accepted and edited, the students request copyright permission from the authors, a crucial step. The articles are desk-top published as they are completed, with the final production preparation taking about a week.

The last editorial meeting is a very long proofreading session. "We go over it with a fine tooth comb," says current Editor in Chief Dan Kozusko '00. The printing is done by Holy Cross' graphic arts department, and binding is bid out. The finished product is very professional looking, very similar to what a typical law review looks like.

Issue 2, edited by Michelle Cadin, saw a huge jump in student participation, from 18 to more than 40. An organizational structure had to be established to tap everyone's talents. Each editorial board member (elected by the previous year's group) had four or five students assigned to them. They all worked together on the same article. Cadin developed a constitution for the organization and started working on a home page for the World Wide Web.

"I felt really great to have done something to establish this," said Cadin, who worked as a staff member on the first issue. The second issue had five articles and information on subscriptions for future issues ($25 annually).

"Our goal is to become self-funding," said current editor Kozusko. "But it will take some time." He thinks Cadin has left the publication in good shape, and has no plans to change its direction. Approximately 25 law schools have ordered paid subscriptions already.

One procedural change he introduced, however, has already produced results. He created an "early action" deadline; submissions sent in February receive a response by March 1. This approach netted two articles: one on women in combat, written by a woman who was a Marine and written "without military jargon" according to Kozusko; and a second on all the affirmative action cases considered by the Supreme Court, from education to congressional redistricting issues. "It's a tour de force," he said.

Another change was to extend the regular submissions deadline from April 15 to May 15 so that more law students could submit their final papers. Issue 3 should be published later this year. While the final list of articles has yet to be determined, Kozusko hopes the journal will someday publish articles on international law, a legal examination of the independent counsel's office, and the line item veto.

Although the journal is written primarily by law students for law students and their professors, the goal is to increase the number of undergraduate submissions. Several articles by Holy Cross students have already been published. "It's something for students to aspire to," said Cadin.

"I knew we could do it," said Sandstrom with evident pride. "Our students are vary talented and have the ability to do this level of work."

Copies of the journal have been requested from a number of undergraduate institutions who are now considering starting an undergraduate journal of their own. 

Was It Self Defense? Holy Cross Takes the Stand 

By Allison Chisolm 

Lee Darnell's son lay dead on the floor, bleeding from four bullet wounds in his chest. Edwin, a heavy cocaine user, had just finished summer school to get his high school diploma. When the police came to investigate the next door neighbor's report of gunshots, Lee Darnell, a local cable television news anchor, opened the door and surrendered. Once in the police station, Darnell's only words were, repeated over and over, "My son is dead." One week later, Darnell's lawyer announced the murder was committed in self-defense.

This fictitious case of State v. Darnell was argued by a team of seven Holy Cross students four times over two days during an intercollegiate "mock trial" competition at Clark University in February. While they'd spent months since October analyzing the case and practicing different roles, they had only 30 minutes' notice to transform themselves into defense attorneys, prosecutors or witnesses for either side. The defense had to provide a reasonable version of events to support the assertion of self-defense. The prosecution had to prove premeditation and "malice aforethought."

Operating on adrenaline, the students had a great weekend. "I loved it. I enjoy that pressure," said Keon Carpenter '98. "I feel comfortable with my client's life on the line."

The first match was against the Harvard/Radcliffe team. The team may have seemed like intimidating Ivy Leaguers to some, but Carpenter was relieved. It was a chance to see the more experienced Harvard team's style and examine how they conducted the case.

The match was a draw but Holy Cross won on overall points. After three more matches, against Boston University that same night and then two teams from Tufts, the Holy Cross team finished in the middle of the pack.

When the tournament was over, Carpenter and Ryan Hayward '01 each received Best Attorney awards (out of 10 awarded altogether), and Michelle Cadin '98 won as Best Witness (one out of 10 awards). Cadin credits two years of theater classes for her award. Playing defendant Lee Darnell, she said, "was good - I was crying, pleading I was innocent." As a witness, she said, "I could wiggle my way out of their questions and answer them with something else."

Carpenter attributed his award to "courtroom presence, being competent, clear and concise." He recalled with relish his closing argument against Harvard. "They allowed me to tie my stories together, do some damage control, reiterate my strongest message and sell them on the vision. I got the other side to buy into my story," he said. "I looked at the Harvard team and saw their faces drop as their case slipped away."

The team got underway early last fall when Scott Sandstrom, pre-law faculty advisor, contacted Boston attorney Ed McDermott '79 about coaching. Ed called classmate Carey Smith, a trial attorney in Worcester. They accepted Sandstrom's offer, although neither had participated in a college-level mock trial competition before.

When Smith and McDermott discussed their approach for mock trial training, they decided to listen to the students and adapt their ideas. After everyone had read through the case materials, the coaches asked them to choose which side had the stronger argument. Based on those choices, students split up into teams and practiced examining witnesses, raising objections, and making effective opening and closing arguments. Results of that work helped identify those best suited for each character, prosecution or defence.

Cadin helped the team in its initial strategy sessions, as she'd enrolled in a trial advocacy course at Clark last fall, taught by Clark's mock trial coaches (and overall coordinators of the event). Participating in an actual competition, however, was much different from class. "It's a lot harder than it looks," she said. "It's easy to get off your main line of questioning when a witness says something unexpected."

Cadin's insider information was complemented by Hayward's experience the previous year as a member of Bergen (N.J.) Catholic's state finalist team. Carpenter had also done high school mock trial competitions four years ago at Academic High School in Jersey City.

The team met for three hours in Stein every Tuesday night, and again on weekends as the competition got closer. "Most of the meetings were debates over strategy," said Carpenter. "How did we want to use witnesses? What facts did we want to bring out with them?" Each student worked hard to "close all the holes and get our story solidified," he said.

"I wanted to start doing scrimmages [trial run-throughs] by late November, but in reality, we didn't do those 'til early February," Carpenter said, only a few weeks before the actual competition. "A lot of our prep work was on the actual case," Cadin added.

"They all had something to contribute and did an excellent job," said coach Smith. He'd done mock trial competitions while at Suffolk Law School, "but you never know what particular quirks are involved in each competition."

"It was good to see the students grow into their roles," he said. "They really devoted themselves to it. As we got closer to the competition, the students didn't look to us so much. We evolved to the point where they assumed 99 percent of the responsibility for getting their particular tasks ready."

"We learned a lot about thinking on our feet," Cadin said. "But I don't think we grasped fully how things would be scored. We're still learning how to do a cross-examination, direct questioning, and an effective closing argument."

This year, the team plans to build on its experience and has accepted an invitation to compete in the "Ivy League Mock Trail" competition in November. Hayward and another student plan to co-captain the team and undertake some personal recruiting. Over 45 students have signed up already for 1998-99, allowing the College to enter several teams in competitions. As Hayward did in high school, students will read through the case and argue which side is more winnable, assume a witness role and memorize an affidavit and list of facts.

"We're only a step away from winning," Hayward said. After the competition at Clark, the team got some useful pointers from Judge Herbert Travers Jr. '49. It boils down to force or finesse, they were told. Know when to object, be more assertive, and they'd be a force to contend with.

This year's team has its sights set on getting a bid to the national competitions in Iowa or Minnesota. But winning isn't the only goal of a mock trial competition. During the proceedings, judges sometimes helped a team understand their decisions. "Some took off points for something you did, some for something you didn't do," said Cadin. But one judge told Cadin something more important, saying, "Someday you're going to make a terrific lawyer." Win or lose, she said, that made it all worthwhile. 


Allison Chisolm is a free-lance writer from Worcester. 

 

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