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UMass alumni discuss professional careers with undergraduates

The University of Massachusetts College of Social and Behavioral Sciences held a networking session on Oct. 22 with five UMass Alumni now working in the field of law. Discussions with the lawyers sparked conversation about the prospect of UMass potentially acquiring the first public option law school in Mass.

“The five UMass graduates are diverse,” said Director of External Affairs for Social and Behavioral Sciences Jackie Brousseau-Pereira. “They vary in age and field, the oldest graduating from UMass in 1968 and youngest in 2004, from criminal defense to environmental law.”

According to Brousseau-Pereira, the goal of the event was to have “a lot of fun” and to encourage students to “take advantage of good opportunities” when alumni come to campus.

All of the lawyers featured during the event graduated from the College of Social and Behavioral Sciences with majors ranging from economics to English.

Students from all majors were welcome to attend the event in Thompson Hall at 5:30 p.m.

Brousseau-Pereira was pleasantly under prepared for the level of attendance. Each lawyer spoke with a rotating group of about seven students each for approximately ten minutes.

Brousseau-Pereira compared the set up to speed dating. The lawyers introduced themselves and gave their backgrounds, and then each lawyer gave advice to the undergraduates.

1968 UMass graduate and Vietnam War veteran, Dwight Merriam attended the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and Yale Law School before becoming a partner at Robinson and Cole in Hartford, Conn. as a land development and conservation lawyer.

Merriam told the students that when they enter law school they “will not be ready [to be lawyers]. [They] need to be ready to reengineer themselves.”

Merriam also said that it is “never too early to network,” but warned against “putting stupid things on Facebook and YouTube.” He also joked that it was helpful to have a unique name.

Recent Cornell Law School graduate and 2004 UMass alumnus Carrie Payne

said to her group “do not pay attention to rank.” She told a story of her friend who went the University of Buffalo and had far less debt and did exactly what she wanted.

Payne warned that being a junior partner in the Boston office of the enormous Greenburg Traurig law firm is “hard. Straight Hard. Just hard.”

Fellow attorney and UMass graduate, Colin Keefe, class of 1990, echoed her sentiment saying, “[the law firm] is fiercely competitive.”

Boston College School of Law and UMass class of 2001 graduate Michael Gove repeatedly said that the LSATs are important to get into law school and that the logic portion is “wicked hard.” Next to Gove sat Senior Vice President and Assistant General Counsel of Sovereign Bank Denise Gaudet, UMass class of 1977. She discussed the difference between inhouse and outhouse law and how to best know a client.

All of these UMass graduates attended other schools for additional degrees because  the UMass system does not have a law school. As recently mentioned in Peter Schworm’s Oct. 19 article in “The Boston Globe,” the “University of Massachusetts resumes plans for the state’s first public law school at its Dartmouth campus.” Under the proposed plan, the Southern New England School of Law would become the UMass law school.

“There is no circumstance under which UMass would acquire or purchase SNESL,” said Robert Connolly of the office of UMass President Jack Wilson in an interview over e-mail. “President Wilson is now awaiting UMass Dartmouth’s review of the situation and a potential proposal from UMass Dartmouth. If Chancellor MacCormack [the chancellor of UMass Dartmouth] does propose going forward, then the UMass President’s Office would conduct a comprehensive review of the proposal, studying all of the relevant academic and financial questions.”

Director of UMass’ Pre-law Advising Diane Curtis was skeptical of the transaction. She

explained it was complicated because there are already seven accredited colleges of law in Massachusetts, but no public option. She said the competition from the already established schools may be too much.

Curtis said it may take “a lot of investment to bring it to ABA [American Bar Association] standards.” However, Connolly stated that “UMass Dartmouth would not divert funding from any other UMass campus, certainly UMass Amherst included.”

A similar idea was proposed in 2004. The UMass Trustees voted to purchase SNESL, but the Massachusetts Board of Higher Education voted against the proposal under pressure from the private colleges in early 2005.

Sam Hayes can be reached at sdhayes@student.umass.edu.

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