The scales of justice: exploring legal careers first-hand
Ever thought about taking a legal career? For many, the answer is yes. Last spring, Assistant Professor of Political Science Zachary Baumann, and several fellow employees joined together to discuss pre-law advising at Nebraska Wesleyan University.
The result? A course entitled Exploring Legal Careers.
Professor Baumann is working on supporting students interested in legal careers by providing them with background information to understand what a legal career path requires, and how diverse legal careers can be. Its goal is to enable students with the necessary skills needed to be successful in the industry.
There are many steps to this process. Exploring Legal Careers is the beginning course of action. Held in the fall semester, the course is aimed at students interested in legal careers or those simply wanting to learn more. The beginner’s course is set to introduce the fundamentals, and answers questions, such as What can someone do with a law degree? Or even, Is this a good fit for me?
Professor Baumann joined Nebraska Wesleyan in the fall of 2020 and previously taught at Florida Southern College and Pennsylvania State University. “Law is a very interdisciplinary field that relates to everything from science and technology, criminal justice, political science, social work, the arts, business, finance and more,” said Professor Baumann. “It has been helpful creating a cohort of students who are all interested in the same thing and giving them to chance to connect with others across campus. They support one another on their learning journeys,” said Professor Baumann.
The Exploring Legal Careers course was taught for the first time this past fall. Students completed journal entries and experience papers, read Robert Miller’s Law School Confidential: A Complete Guide to the Law School Experience, and presented a final presentation of their research and discovered skills at the end of the semester. Freshman Genna Blakely is a psychology major, and she felt more knowledgeable after taking the course. “The best experience I took from the class was conducting an interview with an NWU alum of my choice who practices law here in Lincoln. I was able to ask her a multitude of questions, and I learned so much about the field from her. It's beneficial that I got to have this experience at the very beginning of my career at Wesleyan,” said Blakely.
Students also have the opportunity to experience guest speakers that show the different facets of legal careers. “I assembled a panel of NWU alumni in law school or those who had recently graduated to discuss their experiences. We learned how they approached the application process and their advice for current students,” said Professor Baumann. The speakers included Katelyn Richardson a first-year at Northwestern University, Natalie Graves a third-year at Vanderbilt University, and Ashley Bykerk who graduated from Emory University and is currently legislative counsel to Assistant Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives, Katherine Clark.
Baumann also brought several of his Nebraska Wesleyan colleagues and numerous community members to speak about the values of a law degrees, they included: Adam Morfeld, state senator for NE 46 and founder of Civic Nebraska, Mary Choate, executive director for the Center for Legal Immigration Assistance, Justice Francie Riedmann from the Nebraska 3rd Judicial District Court of Appeals, and Jack Wightman, associate general counsel at Fiserv.
Law school does not necessarily mean lawyer
Students are given the opportunity to venture out into the world of justice to see what this career path looks like in the eyes of judges, lawyers, attorneys, and more. Students gain critical knowledge in ethical responsibilities and how to represent clients in court, among other skills. Freshman Zachary Weis is a double major in philosophy & religion and political science, and minoring in criminal justice. “I chose to major in political science because it explores many concepts that are applicable to law. I am unsure what I will do with a law degree, but I have not ruled out a career in politics. We learn in Exploring Legal Careers that one does not have to be a practicing attorney for a law degree to be beneficial,” said Weis.
Freshman Madeline August is currently in the process of declaring a political science major with an international policy and family studies minor at Nebraska Wesleyan University. After taking Baumann’s pre-law class, she feels confident in applying for law schools and potential career paths.
"Dr. Baumann has taken NWU’s core value of ‘personal attention to students’ and made it an integral part of his curriculum."
Professor Baumann’s class receives a lot of praise from students and his colleagues. It is evident that pre-Law is not biased to only political science students, but open to all majors and minors. “The experiences and resources Dr. Baumann provides his students are fantastic,” said Graciela Caneiro-Livingston, provost and head of academic affairs. “This class is a great opportunity for students to explore legal careers first-hand from industry professionals. Dr. Baumann has taken NWU’s core value of ‘personal attention to students’ and made it an integral part of his curriculum. He truly cares about these students and their future careers.”
This is an out-of-the-box learning experience for those interested in a legal career. No matter the major or minor, any student at Nebraska Wesleyan University can venture out into the scales of justice.