Ozark grad has pick of law schools for the fall

Release Date: 4/3/2012

Sam McFall is going to law school when he graduates from Ozarks in May. As with any aspiring law student, he applied to a lot of places, hoping naturally to be accepted in a good program, with maybe a back-up acceptance just in case.

So far he has been accepted at UALR, Tulsa, St. Louis University, and Michigan State - and waitlisted at Washington University, the latter a top 25 law school. "He's catnip to admissions personnel," says Dr. David Strain, division chair of Humanities and Fine Arts and a prelaw advisor.

"Actually I started out thinking I might go to medical school," says McFall. "Then I took some pre-med classes and decided that wasn't for me. In my sophomore year I was an accounting major for awhile. Finally I settled on English, with minors in History and Economics, and decided I wanted to study the law."

Sam McFall

Sam McFall, a senior English major, has received acceptance letters from a number of law programs.

He says there are several components in the law school application, and he worked hard on all of them. "You write your personal statement," he said, "as well as taking the Law School Admission Test (LSAT). You also have to get your letters of recommendation. You do all that stuff as early as you can."

McFall says he put all his writing skills to use in his personal statement. "A lot of the purpose of the personal statement is to show the law school how good a writer you are," he said. "I really concentrated on making sure my writing was crisp and clear. It feels good to know I have a good grasp of the language, that I can make an argument and justify my statements on paper."

One major factor everyone applying for law school is the LSAT. McFall attributes much of his success there to Dr. Strain's course "Critical Thinking for Pre-Law Students." He recommends the course for anyone in his position.

Dr. Strain explains the course: "I developed it six or seven years ago, when I began doing pre-law advising in the humanities," he said. "I spent a summer taking old LSAT exams and testing out the advice I found in various prep books.  In the process, I boiled everything down to what I consider the basics.  That's what I share with the students I work with.  Because a good LSAT score demands speed, method is extremely important.  However, what's important about method is developing one that works for them, not mastering somebody else's.  After I've shared with them what works for me and they've gotten used to the exam itself, we begin trying to identify weaknesses in their individual performance - a certain section of the exam, a certain type of game or question, a certain portion of a given section.  We then work on ways to compensate for that weakness.  They do literally dozens of sections from sample tests, and before they take the exam, they sit for three mock exams - 3.5 hours each - under simulated test conditions." 

So far, Dr. Strain says, every student but one who's taken the course has scored above the national median, and three of the thirteen have scored in the 90th percentile or above. "Most people think a high score is important because it helps gain acceptance at prestigious schools, and that's been true for several of our students," he said. "However, even more important is the fact it can help to secure very generous scholarships for law school.  Since many graduates leave law school as much as $120,000 in debt (not counting student loans from college), a scholarship can keep career options open that might otherwise be unaffordable.  I can think of five or six of our recent pre-law students who have been offered renewable scholarships in $15-20,000 range."

McFall says he's thinking of accepting the offer from UALR "unless I hear good news from Washington University."

What has the Ozarks experience meant to Sam McFall? "I've always been a quiet person," he said, "but since I've come to campus I feel that I've opened up as a person. And the academics - especially in the English major - is really reading and writing intensive, and since that's something I'm going to be doing constantly in law school, I feel that the U of O curricula, not only in English but in Economics, History - it has really prepared me well for what I am about to deal with. It made all this possible for me."