Pre-law advisor role changes hands

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After 27 years of guiding pre-law students as they earn their undergraduate degrees and prepare for law school, Professor Robert Lane has officially handed over the position of pre-law advisor to Professor Lee Trepanier.

The pre-law advisor’s job is to contact and advise students early in their academic career to help them decide whether they want to go to law school. The pre-law advisor regularly meets with those students who choose the law school track, helping them decide on a law school, get scholarships, apply to law schools and provide them general academic mentoring and advice.

Lane immediately took on the role of pre-law advisor when he joined SVSU’s political science faculty in 1990, and he has served in that role ever since. While Lane hasn’t practiced law, he brought a deep passion for constitutional law into his work at SVSU. Lane minored in constitutional law while completing his doctorate at University of Wisconsin–Madison.

“The only thing I’ve ever wanted to do was be a teacher, so I never considered being a lawyer or anything,” Lane said. “But I really enjoyed the law and those law classes.”

Lane feels that he really professionalized his role as an advisor to potential future lawyers after he attended a professional conference for pre-law advisors in 2002.

“Fifteen minutes in, I said, ‘This is the most practical academic gathering I’ve ever been to,’” said Lane. “That’s when I came back with ideas, resources and information, and then it just grew from there.”

Lane then developed the political science 230 class, “Exploring the Legal Profession.” The political science department also set up a pre-law spending account for things like student trips to law school forums.

“I feel like we’ve really developed a program here,” Lane said.

For Lane, the rewarding nature of being pre-law advisor lies not just in helping students navigate the higher education system, but in learning about themselves and what they really want to do after graduation.

“The easy part is explaining the application process or the Law School Admission Test (LSAT) process, and that is important; those are the steps you take to get there,” Lane said. “But you need to have a lot of conversation before you start those steps.”

Trepanier, who had previous experience advising pre-law students before teaching at SVSU, has informally assisted Lane with pre-law advising for years. While Lane does not plan to retire in the immediate future, he felt that it was best to scale back his responsibilities and assist with the transition of the role.

The two professors collaborated on the transition before Trepanier officially took on the role this semester.

“(Dr. Lane’s) been very successful and has laid down the foundation for good programs, which I hope to continue,” Trepanier said.

While the pre-law advisor position remains in the political science department with Trepanier, he advises students from many majors. Trepanier has made a point of working closely with the academic departments most likely to generate students interested in studying law and with the pre-law club. He stressed the importance of good advising when preparing for law school.

“(Every semester), I can see the scores of all the students from SVSU who took the LSAT,” Trepanier said. “What’s unfortunate is, I’ll only recognize half the names on there. The other half haven’t seen me, and that’s correlated with the scores. The students I know tend to do better on the LSAT, the students I don’t know tend to under-perform.”

Trepanier advises students interested in law to see him early and to check in every semester. Students tend to get the most out of pre-law advising when they work with an advisor early to plan their path to law school, he said.

“It’s really to the advantage of the student to see me early,” Trepanier said. “If they meet me too late, if they’re a senior and it’s the first time I’ve seen them, there’s not a lot I can do for them.”