Thursday, July 30, 2009

Zenterview with Dean of Students, Kristine Henderson

Our initial interview is with Kristine Henderson, a graduate of the University of Virginia School of Law who has years of experience in corporate law, law school admissions, and presently serves as the Dean of Students at the University of Richmond School of Law.

  • How would you describe preparing for the LSAT, in three words or less?
"Essential for success," or "essential for confidence."

  • Where did you apply to law school, and what led you to Virginia?
I applied to a number of law schools—all on the East Coast. I was looking for a school that would give me a broad selection of courses and opportunities. I was looking for a quality faculty that would prepare me for practice but also possessed an intellectual curiosity since I did not know what type of practice I was interested in. I had attended Virginia as an undergraduate and enjoyed Charlottesville. I had heard wonderful things about the law school and had asked a number of practicing lawyers their thoughts of UVA. I applied before the US News rankings had really taken off. All paths led me to the University of Virginia.

  • What did you do after law school?
I practiced civil litigation (securities fraud) with a firm in DC and later general litigation with a firm in Boston.

  • Why did you decide to change careers from corporate to education?
I was really feeling like a square peg in a round hole in practice. Litigation by its very nature is very adversarial. I loved the law in its purest sense but the practice just left me wanting more. I had had such wonderful experiences in education and because I truly believed in the “product” of education, I began considering a career change. I switched from the firm to law school admissions, and later branched out to student services. I have been working with students for 19 years now and have never regretted my decision to switch career paths. You have to love your work to be happy and I truly do.

  • As Dean of Students, what type of interactions do you have with law school students?
I work with students on a variety of issues (and I LOVE it). I work with students on issues of personal and academic struggles, financial aid and career advice. I am the disability officer for the Law School so I handle all requests for ADA accommodations. I also serve as the advisor for the Student Bar Association and an informal advisor for all the student groups. We have over 30 groups here at URichmond, hosting a variety of speakers and symposia each year. Every day is different. I get the chance to see students grow through the 3 years that they are with us. It is a real kick.

  • What issues do you see 1Ls struggling with the most as they adjust to law school?
Law School is such a different experience from the undergraduate world. Every student here (and at just about every law school) was a wonderful student academically before arriving here. Many make the mistake of approaching law school the same way they did college. It is very different, requiring more work, more focus, and in some cases a complete change in the way a student views things.

  • So you’re saying that law school changes the way a student thinks?
You start approaching a situation or a problem in a different way once you have had exposure to the law. It is also an adjustment to be in a setting where everyone has done well academically on the undergrad level. If you ask students if they will be in the top 1% of their class after the first year, 99% will say yes. The math just won’t work out.

It is an eye opener for many. Law involves thinking, not just memorizing.

  • What activities/accomplishments/demographics of applicants do you think best predict success at law school?
A student needs to have done well academically no matter what their major. Having experience juggling a number of activities is a good indicator that the student will handle law school well. A successful student also shows passion in some area. Hopefully, that will guide them to an area of practice.

I have seen a significant portion of students who have work experience after law school do very well. I want to stress that students need to approach law school in a different way than they did college, which might be a bit easier for folks who work before applying to law school.

  • Do you think that students should stop trying to please admissions officers by choosing a certain major?
You do NOT need to be a political science major to be successful.

You DO need lots of experience writing, analyzing facts and thinking critically about issues. English, Philosophy, Art History – all fit the bill as well as many other majors.

  • So a high GPA, passion and depth of commitment, and working before applying are bonuses; any negatives?
What doesn’t work is a student who goes to law school because he or she doesn’t know what else to do. The commitment of time and energy is too great for someone without a genuine interest and commitment.

  • If you could advise students beginning in their first year of undergraduate work, what should they do to prepare to succeed in law school?
I would suggest that they try to experience as many disciplines as possible. They should try to take classes that will require them to examine issues and facts critically; most importantly, they need to write about them!

Lots of engineers and other hard science majors have done well in law school. In fact, if you are interested in going into patent or other areas of Intellectual Property, that background is essential. Those disciplines fit my advice well – they require a student to examine facts or issues ritically (and logically).

I would also suggest students get involved in activities that will help them find their passion. They should not, however, join every group they can, just to pad a resume. Padding doesn’t work because admissions can tell and it often burns a student out. Students should join groups that will help them develop who they are as a person and to determine what they can do to contribute to society.

  • Thanks so much for your thoughts! We know it will help our readers think about law school in more terms than just LSAT and admission cycles.
I love working with law students. They are passionate committed people who truly make a difference in this world. All lawyer jokes aside, law is the glue that holds our society and our way of life together. It is a real privilege to work with people who believe in its importance and want to make the world a better place.