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Faculty Panelists Give Preview Attendees an Early Peek at Michigan Law

By John Masson
March 23, 2013

A roomful of prospective Michigan Law 1Ls got a firsthand look at a sampling of faculty members—and what they can expect to learn from those faculty members—as part of the school's Preview Weekend Friday afternoon.

The panel—comprising professors Beth Wilensky, David Santacroce, Kristina Daugirdas, Nick Bagley, and future Michigan Law Dean Mark West—shared their differing areas of expertise and fielded open-ended questions in an hour-long session introduced by Senior Assistant Dean Sarah Zearfoss, who heads up the admissions team at Michigan Law.

What began as a discussion of academic specialties became a broader conversation about what to expect from a Michigan Law legal education, and the foundations of success in law school.

Prof. Wilensky, a legal practice professor, talked about the importance of the writing and reasoning skills taught in the Legal Practice Program. Prof. Santacroce, who helps lead the school's 17 clinics, talked about gaining crucial experiential learning. And Prof. Bagley, a health law and administrative law expert, shared the depth and breadth of expertise available on the faculty.

And, of course, there's Michigan Law's trademark collegiality—although Prof. West emphasized that, although Michigan Law is rightfully proud of its warm and welcoming environment, there's a whole lot more to the school than that.

"This is a very serious, rigorous academic institution," Prof. West said. Just because the faculty are eminently approachable doesn't mean they don't demand and expect the best from their students.

Prof. Daugirdas, an international and environmental law expert, had something else to add, as well.

"Is a town of this size really the best place to study international law?" she asked rhetorically. "The answer is, emphatically, yes."

If ready access to your professors is a goal, she added, there's no place like studying in Ann Arbor to take full advantage. Most members of the faculty live within a couple of miles of the Law Quad.

Prof. Daugirdas' assertion prompted immediate agreement from other panelists, including Prof. Santacroce, who moved to Ann Arbor from New York and who said he's definitely here "for good.

"I wasn't so much burning the candle at both ends as I was deep-frying it," Prof. Santacroce said, to general laughter, of his life in New York. "But now, you couldn't get me out of this town."

Prof. West, who came to Ann Arbor after living in Tokyo—and after commuting between New York and Tokyo for a time, as well—agreed. "We all feel connected to this special place—to each other, to our students, to the campus, and to the city."

But fundamentally the discussion was about law school. Some key points: How do I know what area I may want to practice in? Well, if you're not sure, or even if you are, Prof. Bagley said, "You'll find that a course along the way that just lights you up."

How do I pick the best courses? "Approach course selection kind of the way you'd approach nutrition—you want some starch, you want some vegetables, you want some protein," Prof. Daugirdas said.

Will I get that clinic that I really want? Well, there's definitely competition, Prof. Santacroce said, but if it doesn't go your way the first time, "If I see your name twice, you're probably going to get in."

Then, the most important question: what makes a successful law student? "It's a way of thinking...just take a deep breath," Prof. Santacroce said. "Relax. Learn about whatever you feel like. You can do anything when you leave here."

The overall effect seemed to be a good one, judging from the reaction of Preview attendee Danny Ravitz, who is completing his undergraduate degree at Michigan and liked what he saw of the Law School:

"Everything I've been hearing this entire weekend has been making it very hard to see myself not staying here."

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