Interview With Shannon Davis

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Shannon Davis

BETTER KNOW A DEAN

"Our Lewis & Clark Grants are based on a combination of need, diversity, and a desire to work in the public-interest. We also award a few..." - Shannon Davis - Assistant Dean for Admissions, Lewis & Clark Law

Dean Davis received her BA degree from Santa Clara University and a MS degree in Higher Education and Student Affairs from Indiana University. She has worked in admissions at Lewis & Clark Law School for nearly 12 years. Prior to her law school admissions career, she worked at the undergraduate level in admissions, judicial affairs, student activities, career services, and residence life in Indiana and in the California Bay Area. Dean Davis’ interest in student affairs began when she worked as a work-study student in the Career Services Office as an undergraduate and then as a college/career advisor at a high school for a few years. Her professional background also includes experience in marketing communications and advertising.

In addition to heading up the admissions office at Lewis & Clark, Dean Davis has served on the Law School Admissions Council’s Annual Meeting Planning subcommittee and the Misconduct & Irregularities in the Admissions Process subcommittee. She has also presented at conferences including NASPA (National Association of Student Professional Administrators), LSAC, and several prelaw advisor conferences covering a range of topics related to higher education.

AD Thank you for taking time to answer some questions that an applicant might have about admissions to Lewis & Clark Law School. Are you ready for some hard questions?
SD Like how to reform health care in the U.S.? This would be a short interview since I don’t know how to fix that.
AD Ha! I love it! Let’s start out with some admissions process questions. What does the admissions process of Lewis & Clark Law School consist of, and how are the various parts of an application reviewed/weighted?
SD Lewis & Clark is a place that tends to involve everyone in the important decisions. Crafting our student body is seen as pretty important so in that spirit, we have several faculty members on our admissions committee, as well as students who are elected (by other students) to serve on the committee. They meet weekly to discuss applications and each person on the committee has equal voting rights. Members rotate from year to year, so we always have some returning and some new people. It’s quite involved, but I like the fact that our process is open, people are invested in it, and it ensures that our admitted students are getting a very fair and through review.
AD So students serve on the admissions committee? This isn’t very common from my discussion with other admissions deans. What role do they usually serve, and how much weight is their opinion given?
SD Yes, they do! Students actually serve on many of the administrative committees at Lewis & Clark including those dealing with curriculum, budget and faculty hiring. They typically serve the same role that the faculty reps serve, and they have equal voting rights. I don’t know about the other committees, but in the admissions committee, their opinions are considered as strongly as anyone’s. In fact, our students can sometimes be more critical than the faculty. I believe that’s because they are looking at applicants from the perspective that they could be the ones sitting next to them in class, and so the student reps are definitely invested in the selection process.
AD How about the LSAT? I think we can agree for the sake of the sanity of the test-taker, that you probably only want to take the LSAT once. However, as someone who reviews law school applications for a living, does it set off any red flags when you come across an applicant who has taken the test multiple times?
SD We see a lot of people taking the LSAT twice and it’s not uncommon to see someone take it more than that. In such cases, we prefer to see some improvement in scores. My personal philosophy is that if you have the time, and the money, to put into this test, then go for it and try to increase your chances of admission. However, if someone isn’t actually improving over time, that just tells us that they are in fact testing at their best ability and probably should stop taking it.
AD I take it that Lewis and Clark uses the highest LSAT score when making its admissions decision?
SD Yes, for the most part. We look at the different scores, but unless someone has several lower scores, but just one high one (or vice versa), then the highest one is what really counts to us.

AD How about someone who cancels a score once (or more than once)?
SD Good for them. We really don’t put much consideration into a cancelled score or two. I completely understand not wanting to have a low LSAT score on your record, and I trust that most candidates know when they didn’t perform well. This could be for several reasons – they were sick, realized they didn’t prepare enough, had some family issues going on at the time, whatever. I don’t feel the need to punish someone for exercising the choice to cancel a score and try again another time.
AD Is that the prevailing attitude at most law schools with respect to canceled scores? Do you have a sense how your colleagues at other schools view canceled scores?
SD I get the sense that most of them feel the same way, but there may be a few out there that have a different opinion. It’s always best to check with the individual schools to see how they are going to consider something like that. I think it could be a red flag to any school if an applicant has several canceled scores since it might indicate they are having serious trouble with this test, or are using the actual test just to practice, but it is rare to see an applicant with more than two canceled scores.
AD When it comes to the personal statement, are there any particular subjects that should be covered? Or one that you hope students avoid at all costs? What makes someone personal statements stand out in your mind (in a good way)?
SD This is probably the hardest area in which to advise an applicant because there is no one perfect personal statement. We want all statements to be different, otherwise, they’d just be boring and for the most part unhelpful. That’s why all law school admissions officers will generally say that the statement needs to be well-written and with each law school’s question in mind. For example, at Lewis & Clark, we specifically ask applicants to note why they are applying to our school. So many applicants ignore this request, but we really do want to know, which is why we point it out in our prompt. Beyond that, I personally like statements to express an applicant’s interest in law to some extent, to show some level of maturity and growth, and to give us an idea of his or her personality. I admire the person who can point out a mistake she made, show some insight as to why it was a mistake, and to tell us what she learned from it. I also like stories, but the applicant needs to think about why he is telling the admissions committee that particular story. In other words, it needs to be relevant.

Things to avoid? How about things that personally drive me a little bananas? Other admissions people might like these approaches, but for me, they’re not my favorite.

1) I don’t like the use of quotes from famous people, dead or alive. I know people use them to set the tone, develop a theme, or discuss a personal philosophy, but I’ve usually read the quote a hundred times and feel like they are used as filler. I tend to skim over the quote and references to it in order to find more substance about the applicant.

2) Philosophy majors who write about philosophy. I should point out that philosophy majors can make really good law students, so I hate to pick on them, but many of them use the personal statement to write about their favorite philosophers or why their major will make them a good law student. The essays are often dry and theoretical. I just don’t find that type of essay very helpful in learning more about the person. This is really a good lesson to anyone, not just philosophy majors – stay away from writing about your major, why you chose it, and why it would make you a good law student. It’s boring!

3) Leaving us guessing as to why law school. This topic doesn’t have to consume the entire personal statement, but it should be answered to some degree. It should also be well thought out and genuine. One doesn’t have to know exactly what he wants to practice, but he should be frank about that and let us know what draws him to the field in general. If an applicant says she is interested in doing public interest work, it should be reflected somehow in the activities and work that she has chosen to pursue. Just because a school has a strong program in something doesn’t mean the applicant should tell us that is what she wants to study, unless it’s true. Be honest; otherwise we think you are just saying what you think we want to hear and it doesn’t come across as sincere.

4) Being extremely vague about something. Many people do this regarding adversity, hardship, and diversity. They make some reference to it, but then don’t flush it out. While applicants don’t have to dive into every detail, if they say they had a tough life, then they should at least give us a decent picture as to what that meant for them, and how it might have affected their education and/or goals.

I should say that the same goes for explaining bad grades or a criminal charge in an addendum. Please, please, please take the Character & Fitness part of the application seriously and give us a real explanation, as well as the outcomes and what you learned, and assure us that you won’t be a repeat offender. The last thing we want to hear is that an applicant lied on his application and now that he’s a third year law student and is filling out the bar exam application, he realizes he didn’t reveal something in the law school application.
AD You mentioned diversity. Does Lewis and Clark ask for a diversity statement in addition to the personal statement? If so, do you have any advice about crafting a good diversity statement?
SD We do encourage people to write an optional statement discussing diversity, challenges overcome, or anything that they feel would have affected their performance in school or the LSAT. A good diversity statement (if we want to focus on that) would be well-written of course, and give the reader a good sense of how one views his or her own ethnic, racial, cultural and language background. It would address the applicant’s involvement in his or her cultural community, feelings about identity, and/or how that might impact one’s study and practice of law. Because we want to create a class with differing perspectives, diversity in general is greatly valued, but we can’t know these things about our applicants unless they tells us.
AD If you were speaking to a sophomore or junior in college, aside from a strong GPA and LSAT score, what things would you hope they do now in order to strengthen their application in the future?
SD Hone their writing skills; get some real-life experience (work, volunteer, travel); do their research on the legal profession to make sure this is an area they really want to study and/or practice; get to know their professors; take on a leadership role in something; don’t do so much that they sacrifice their academics.

AD Lewis & Clark Law School application deadline is March 1st. There is no early application deadline. When is the earliest you start receiving applications? When is the best time to apply, and is there any benefits to applying early?
SD We start receiving applications on October 1st. The best time to apply is in October, November and December. We don’t actually start to review applications until around Thanksgiving, but we try to review the files in the order that they were completed so in a sense, it’s “first come, first served”. It is also important to apply early if one wants to be considered for scholarship, because we run out of scholarship money before we stop admitting people to the class.

Also, we extended our deadline this year to March 15th. One of the reasons for extending the deadline is because the February LSAT was held a little later than usual, and we felt this would give applicants more time to complete their applications.
AD Lewis & Clark Law School received high rankings in U.S. News & World Report 2012 edition of “America’s Best Graduate Schools” with its environmental law program ranking 2nd. What sets Lewis and Clark Law School apart from any other environmental law programs in the country?
SD What doesn’t set us apart? There really isn’t enough room here to highlight everything we do and why we are so recognized in this area. In a nutshell, our environmental & natural resources program grew out of the interest of our students and faculty, the northwest progressive community, and the needs of the legal profession. It’s the oldest formal program in the country, with the premiere environmental law review, internationally-recognized professors, alumni all over the globe practicing environmental law, amazing clinics and practical skills opportunities, a joint JD/LLM degree program, and really strong complimentary programs in business law, global law, animal law, Indian law and public interest law. It’s a real area of pride for us, yet, there’s also a plethora of other wonderful programs and opportunities at L&C for people interested in other areas of the law. Lewis & Clark isn’t an “environmental law school.” We’re a great law school that has an amazing environmental law program.
AD Many law schools have mixed emotions when it comes to the U.S. News Law School Rankings. What are your thoughts on the rankings?
SD I actually did my graduate capstone research on rankings, so I am pretty opinionated about this subject.
AD Oh, I'm glad. So, what do you think?
SD I don’t think most applicants, or the general public, really understand the nuances of how the rankings are determined, or question the methodology enough. I get why people want to have a general resource to use to compare schools, and there is clearly a need for that. However, U.S. News’ methodology could be more useful, and could do a better job evaluating what is most important in education. For example, way too much of the weight is placed on “reputation” which is determined mainly by academics and judges who mostly went to the top-ranked schools, thus perpetuating the high-rankings for those schools. Further, U.S. News doesn’t ask lawyers in government agencies or non-profit organizations to rate law schools. This greatly punishes schools that graduate service- and public interest-minded students, because they don’t show up as well in the rankings. The message is that a law school is only good if its students go to work in large private firms, and that if the students don’t work there, it’s because they can’t get those jobs rather than it actually being their choice not to. Law schools therefore end up spending an enormous amount of money and energy in wooing those who are selected to rate the schools, hoping to increase their reputation ranking. I believe such time and money would better be spent on things such as granting need-based scholarships, developing more clinical programs, and improving learning outcomes. You may say it’s the law school’s choice to go that route, but when there is a lot at stake you end up seeing priorities set differently than you would otherwise.

There are also some very important areas that get completely ignored by U.S. News, such as student satisfaction and retention rates. There is a very well-known survey, the Law School Survey of Student Engagement (LSSSE), which measures student engagement and satisfaction. I don’t know if U.S. News has ever tried to access LSSSE data or conduct similar surveys to include in their rankings, but one would think that the students’ value of their own educations would be highly weighted; in U.S. News, it’s non-existent.

There are too many issues surrounding the topic of rankings than we have time to discuss in this interview. The bottom line is that U.S. News has so much power as to how institutions of higher education function. The rankings don’t seem to be going away and schools are always going to try to compete. U.S. News could be using their influence to make schools compete in more valuable ways than they are currently doing, and still sell millions of magazines.

AD During the past four years, Lewis & Clarks USNEWS law rankings the past 4 years have changed quite a bit (#73 in 2009, #61 in 2010, #64 in 2011 and #67 in 2012. What should future students consider when reading into the rankings?
SD Students should realize that the difference between a school ranked #55 and one ranked #65 isn’t actually very big if one looks at the data closely. US News also tweaks its methodology frequently which often causes shifting in the rankings; so even if a school makes zero changes, its ranking can adjust from one year to the next.
AD Another recognition that Lewis & Clark Law School has received is Best Law Schools for Public Interest by National Jurist Lewis & Clark offers Public Interest Law Project (PILP) ) could you describe what the PILP entails and what is Lewis & Clark’s goal for this project?
SD PILP is our public interest student organization. They are one of the most active groups on campus and are consistently an amazing bunch of people. The main goal of PILP is to help students financially who wish to work in the public interest sector. Their fundraising events, including a live & silent auction each year, result in the granting of stipends to students who want to do public interest work over the summer. I believe their goal is always to raise as much money as they can so that they can help as many students as possible.

The public interest law program at Lewis & Clark includes the chance to be a PILP member and to apply for one of the stipends, but we also have a public interest law certificate, a pro bono honors program, a public interest career fair, a loan repayment assistance program, and a public interest law coordinator who works in career services and caters to the needs of our public interest-minded students. We also have more graduates working in the public interest sector than many other law schools.
AD In the fall of 2012 Lewis & Clark is starting an Animal Law Program What does the Center for Animal Law studies at Lewis & Clark offer?
SD Lewis & Clark isn’t starting an animal law program this year – we’ve actually had one for several years! Maybe you mean that we’re starting the nation’s first LL.M. program in Animal Law this year?

In a nutshell, CALS offers the ability for students to focus their legal studies and around issues affecting animals, and then to go out and practice animal law, or other areas of law while keeping animal welfare in mind. Such issues can include animal abuse, animal testing, property rights, endangered species protection, wildlife law, companion animals, etc. Animals are affected in such a wide variety of legal matters, even tax lawyers encounter issues relating to animals on occasion.
AD I read that in 2008, the school came together with Animal Legal Defense fund and created the Center for Animal Law Studies (CALS) What is the center for Animal Law studies?
SD I think our website best sums it up….The Center for Animal Law Studies (CALS) is an animal law think tank and the umbrella organization that houses the programs related to animal law at Lewis & Clark. CALS educates future leaders who want to practice animal law or work in public policy, and conducts legal research to advance the field of animal law. The Center also offers guidance and support for the Student Animal Legal Defense Fund, the Animal Law Review (Animal Law), the annual Animal Law Conference held at Lewis & Clark, the National Animal Law Competitions, and the Animal Law Clinic
AD What makes Center for Animal Law Studies (CALS) different from other organizations or programs?
SD Lewis & Clark is the only law school in the country to offer such a comprehensive program in animal law. If you’re looking at animal law as your career goal, you have to seriously consider Lewis & Clark. Even if you go elsewhere, you’ll end up working with L&C grads one day, reading our professors’ casebooks, reviewing legal research in our Animal Law review, attending our national animal law conference, taking our intensive summer law courses in animal law, and/or hearing from our faculty and alumni experts as they are consulted on high profile legal issues related to animals .

AD Let’s discuss the job market. You might know where I’m going with this question! The law suits against Law schools regarding inaccurate data that is misleading job prospects upon graduation to applicants. What steps is Lewis & Clark using to ensure that its prospective applicants receive accurate employment data upon which they can base their decision?
SD Lewis & Clark has always been very careful to report accurate data to the ABA, NALP, U.S. News, and other inquiring agencies about our placement rates, bar pass rates, admissions data, etc. We have a very extensive process of checks and balances, and an internal whistle-blower policy for those who might report something suspicious going on. We have always reported exactly what those agencies are asking for and made that available to the public. That said, the lawsuits and frustration with the economic reality of the legal market have brought to light some of the problems in the way the agencies have been collecting the data. The ABA is currently asking for much more detailed and specific information from law schools as a result. We are making sure we give them the fullest data possible, and this will also be made easily available to prospective students. I don’t think most law schools were trying to be misleading, but obviously there were assumptions being made that are now being checked. Ultimately, the changes are good ones and will provide a more realistic picture of the job market to those considering law school.
AD Given the current legal hiring market, how have Lewis & Clark recent graduates doing?
SD Pretty well, but there’s no question it has been tougher than usual. There are some areas of law where placement has been easier, and other areas that have been difficult. The Pacific Northwest has its own unique challenges. While the economy didn’t hit the legal market as hard here, it has been slower to recover. There are signs things are improving, but the legal field itself is changing the way it hires new grads and we are doing our best to anticipate those changes in order to best assist our students. We are finding that our students are getting a lot of opportunity to work in the legal field while they are in law school, but it has been harder for people to find those entry level jobs right after graduation.
AD Has Lewis & Clark’s Career Services taken any extraordinary steps to help students navigate the difficult legal hiring market over the past few years?
SD Yes, they have and they have been very resourceful and diligent in creating opportunities for students and graduates to network and gain legal experience. They really seem to go above and beyond, and I’m impressed at how they are constantly finding ways to do more. For example, they implemented a Graduate Fellows Program for recent graduates, which provides professional training, intensive job search assistance, and additional networking opportunities. They also do a lot of individual counseling to help the student tailor his job search strategy; they work very closely with employers and alumni across the country to further develop employment leads; and they assist students in finding part-time paid and volunteer opportunities which often turn into permanent job placements. The law school most recently hired someone to work exclusively on behalf of our new graduates to assist them with their job searches, which has proven very effective and helpful.
AD According to the recent ABA Data 89.6% of graduates are employed after 9 months of graduation. Do you most of your graduates stay in Oregon or the west coast? Besides Oregon, are there any other areas where you see Lewis & Clark alums being drawn too?
SD Many of our new graduates do stay on the west coast. Outside of the Pacific Northwest, a large number of grads each year move to places like California or Washington, D.C., where we have large concentrations of alumni. The number of grads that return to their home state (or relocate outside Oregon) varies from year to year, but our alumni base is spread out across the country. Our grads who choose to work outside of Oregon and the Pacific Northwest region tend to do very well. Sometimes it can be easier to place someone outside of our region because when people move here, they fall in love with the quality of life and want to stay, but that can be limiting to some degree. It makes sense that those who keep their minds open about where they work end up having the most options.
AD Students are looking more and more into financial aid & scholarships. How has the current economy impacted financial aid at Lewis & Clark?
SD For starters, federally-subsidized loans were eliminated, so students will have to factor in the interest that will be accruing on their loans throughout law school. This further adds to the burden students will have to carry after graduation.

As for scholarships, the economy has limited the growth of our endowment which limits our ability to grant more, and larger, merit-based aid to incoming students. On the flip side, we have received funding for smaller scholarships from generous donors who are trying to help alleviate the cost of education for some of our students. Those were awards we didn’t have even a couple of years ago.

Certainly the economy has affected people’s decisions on whether to apply to law school, and has influenced to a larger degree where they choose to apply, and where they end up going. I see more people who used to be more concerned about a school’s ranking, and now they seem to be more concerned about the cost.

AD According to the most recently released ABA data, 53% of full time students admitted to the class of 2013 received some form of scholarship or grant. What factors were considered when awarding those scholarships?
SD Our Dean’s and Faculty scholarships are merit-based which is initially based on a combination of one’s LSAT & GPA. It’s actually more subjective than that since some people’s numbers aren’t indicative of what they can do, and others might have great numbers but the rest of their application makes them less worthy of scholarship funds. Our Lewis & Clark Grants are based on a combination of need, diversity, and a desire to work in the public-interest. We also award a few scholarships called “Students First” awards. These are the small awards that I mentioned earlier and are given based on criteria determined by the people donating money for the scholarship.
AD As David Segal from the New York Times has pointed out (see article here) some law schools have come under fire for luring students to attend a particular school with a lucrative scholarship that is conditioned upon obtaining a certain GPA. Does Lewis & Clark attach any strings to the scholarships it awards?
SD I think the vast majority of schools have some kind of GPA requirement for merit-based aid. This isn’t a new thing, and it isn’t unique to law schools. The idea is that if you’re giving someone money in recognition of their performance as a student, then it seems logical to expect them to keep up that performance or else they don’t get the award. It’s recognition for doing well AND incentive to keep that up. We don’t have any GPA requirement for those that get our grants which are more need-based than merit-based.

Lewis & Clark merit scholars have to maintain a 2.95 GPA, which is a little lower than the top half of the class, to keep the full amount of their scholarship. Luckily, most are able to do that, and we try not to award funds to those we think would be at risk of losing it. We also work closely with people in danger of losing it – for example, they might lose part of their scholarship and then get it fully reinstated if they bring up their GPA. We are not trying to trick students, or to weed them out. I do think it’s wise though, for applicants to be knowledgeable about what the conditions of their scholarships are. The same goes for things like residency requirements for in-state school, cost of living, and additional “fees” a school might charge in addition to tuition. You don’t want to be surprised about your finances once you’re in law school.
AD Are there any steps that students need to consider now, at the beginning of the applications process, which will make a huge difference in terms of financing their legal education once they are ultimately accepted?
SD It’s always smart to take a look at your credit and make sure things are in order. Those who have poor credit are going to have a tougher time getting loans to help them. Knowing what kind of loan options and repayment programs are out there is also wise. Understanding these things can be daunting, but it’s worth doing the research so that you understand what to expect going in, and coming out of, law school. While I don’t recommend this for everyone, working while in school can help offset the living expenses and general costs of law school. Some schools don’t allow people to work in their first year, but others, like Lewis & Clark don’t have such restrictions. Finally, I’d advise people to be selective about where they are applying. Some schools are going to be more financially viable than others, but don’t just look at the tuition figures. You need to consider cost of living expenses, scholarship offers, etc. An in-state public school in an expensive city might actually end up costing more than a private school in a more affordable city, for example.
AD What about transfer students? Do you have a large pool of applicants seeking to transfer to Lewis & Clark every year?
SD I wouldn’t say we have a huge pool, but we have a good number of people looking to transfer to L&C.
AD From which schools do you typically see transfer applicants coming from?
SD It really can vary. Our transfers are coming for a variety of reasons, so where they come from varies as well. Some want to be in Portland, some are coming because of one of our specialty programs, and others come for personal reasons such as a spouse getting a job in the area or a family member needing their help.
AD What factors are you most concerned with when deciding whether to admit or deny a transfer applicant?
SD We look at how well the applicant did at the law school they attended, and how that law school compares to Lewis & Clark. We don’t want someone to come here if we don't think she will be able to do just as well as our current students.
AD Thank you so much for taking the time to answer my questions – I think your interview will be very helpful not only to folks considering Lewis & Clark, but really any law school.
SD It was my pleasure. I hope your site’s users find it useful!

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