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Jackson location appeals to non-traditional students

MC law school sees steady stream of applicants

Mississippi College School of Law admissions have remained steady despite a declining trend in enrollment at law schools in the Southeast, said Pat Evans, director of admissions for the law school in Jackson.

Even though law school applications are down 9% in the southeastern U.S., enrollment at MC`s law school remained relatively the same. More than 400 students were enrolled last year, said Evans.

“We`re pleased that our applications did not go down,” said Evans, an 11-year veteran at Mississippi College. “Law school applications have been declining for several years for a number of reasons. For example, `L.A. Law` is off the air. When it was on (network TV), there was a lot of interest in the legal profession. Also, the economy is very good, which is bad for professional schools. When the economy is bad, people sometimes delay entering the job force. When the economy is good, people usually go directly into the work force.”

Lawyer jokes haven`t helped, she said. “People used to feel differently about the legal profession than they seem to now. Years ago, the general perception of lawyers was more highly regarded. With so many lawyer jokes, I think that has skewed the public`s perception.”

Most law students “had lives before they came to law school,” Evans said. Of last year`s enrollment, 74% had some work experience, with the biggest majority having worked a year before entering law school. The average age is 26, and 12% of law students have master`s degrees. Several practicing physicians have even returned to law school, said Evans.

The number of minorities and female students has remained relatively the same. About 40% of enrollees are women, and 11% are minorities, Evans said.

“Because of our location in Jackson, we have probably attracted more non-traditional students,” she said. “It seems that every year, we particularly get womenwho decide that it`s their time to come to school.”

Patti Gandy, a non-traditional student who recently graduated from Mississippi College School of Law at the age of 43, did not start college until she was 30, when her oldest child started elementary school. At the time, she was divorced, and worked temporary jobs as a legal secretary. By the time she finished with an undergraduate degree in accounting, she had remarried and was pregnant with her second child.

With a degree in hand, she decided to start a legal secretarial firm, The Gandy Agency. At the age of 40, Gandy had a total of four children when she entered law school at Mississippi College.

“The first year of law school, I was trying to run my business, go to law school, and take care of my family and it was very tough,” Gandy said.

At the end of the first year of law school, she sold her business to Amicus Legal Staffing. Gandy is currently working as a law clerk at the Mississippi Court of Appeals.

More than 50% of students are from Mississippi, including traditional student Steve Kennedy, a second year law student from Laurel.

“I`ve known since my freshmen year of high school that I wanted to go to law school,” said Kennedy, who was president of the student body in his senior year of undergraduate work at Mississippi College. “My interest in the legal profession originated at a young age after working with several political campaigns. I thought the legal profession was a good avenue to get into politics.”

Kennedy, whose family does not include lawyers or politicians, said he considered taking a year off and working in Washington, D.C. “I admire non-traditional students who can leave a career cold to return to law school,” he said. “There`s a disadvantage to traditional students, though. Nothing in undergraduate school prepares you for legal studies like life experience.”

More than 90% of the law school`s 1997 graduating class have secured full-time legal employment, Evans said. About 50% chose private practice, where the average beginning salary was $42,000. About 70% are working in the southeastern part of the U.S., she said.

The law school previously offered a four-year night school program, which ended up with a high dropout rate. MC now only offers the three-year, 88-hour daytime law degree program. “We had a lot of people with wonderful intentions start law school at night, but we ended up running a night program for a limited number of people,” Evans said.

About Lynne W. Jeter

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