The Admission Interviews, are meant to provide insights into LLM admissions right from the law school itself. The idea behind this series is to provide that little bit of extra information that may not be available on the law school’s website.

In this edition, I speak with Trent Anderson, the Associate Dean of External Affairs at St. John’s University School of Law.

(Edited excerpts)

Trent Anderson, the Associate Dean, External Affairs at St. John’s University School of Law 
Trent Anderson, St. John’s University School of Law

Alright, let’s get the most obvious one out of the way –  how has St. John’s School of Law adapted to the changed circumstances? And what do you think is likely to happen in the fall semester?

The law school switched from in-person instruction to 100% synchronous online instruction within 48 hours in March. That model continues for the summer, but we are planning a return to in-person instruction in August in a hybrid, simulcast model where all classes that are in-person will also be broadcast so that students or faculty who need to self-isolate may do so and maintain instructional continuity.

In addition, we’ve spent the summer training faculty on best practices for online and hybrid instruction to guarantee students the best educational experience.

Law Schools in the United States must comply with both national rules set by the American Bar Association and state-level rules, in our case set by the Court of Appeals in New York. Both regulatory bodies have extended a waiver through the fall semester to their rules that legal education must be primarily delivered in-person.

But, as of now, that waiver does not apply to our spring semester and thus we anticipate returning to in-person instruction at that time.

Also, how have you personally had to change the way you work? Any surprising learnings made along the way?

With everyone working remotely, often from home, the traditional start and end to each work day has blurred. I am working much longer hours, later into the night, and on weekends. There is limited opportunity to travel and socialize outside the home, so many people, like me, are attending online events.

During a regular summer, the pace of work at a law school slows.

This summer, however, as alumni, faculty, and students are all working remotely, people are looking for virtual opportunities to socialize, to learn, and for professional growth and networking, Thus, we are often hosting 3-4 events per week for our community.

We’re busier now with events than when school was in session!

The abrupt switch from in-person to online learning left many people who are not comfortable with technology feeling overwhelmed. A fortunate silver lining in this disruption is the necessity for people to figure things out and try new ideas. People are acting as their own desktop support services and more willing to try new technology.

“A fortunate silver lining in this disruption is the necessity for people to figure things out and try new ideas. People are acting as their own desktop support services and more willing to try new technology.”

This openness to new things and willingness to experiment are beginning to influence the ways in which professors design lessons and interact with students, which is leading to more effective and efficient instruction.

When it comes to the LL.M., what do you think are some of the more valuable aspects of the program? I ask this specifically from the point of view of the international lawyer.

St. John’s University School of Law provides three primary advantages for international lawyers. The first advantage is preparation for the New York bar examination. We have unrivalled bar support and integrate specialized classes, tutorials, and practice in our bar-track LL.M. programs.

The second advantage is an opportunity for practical training doing legal work both while in school (Curricular Practical Training) and for up to a year on a student visa after a student graduates (Optional Practical Training).

The third advantage for international lawyers is the network they will build at St. John’s Law. LL.M. students don’t just study and network with other LL.M.s, but are integrated into the law school community taking classes with J.D students and networking with alumni (over 8,000 of whom work in the New York area).

Nearly five years ago, you came to St. John’s Law tasked with the responsibility of, inter alia, helping recruit “right-fit” students

St. John’s Law is a truly global law school, in no small part because of the diverse legal talent that has joined our community and the many contributions that our international students have made in our classes, our student organizations, and our alumni family.

So, we are looking for “right-fit” student who can benefit from our program strengths in advancing their careers and who will be valuable, diverse contributors to our community and strong global ambassadors as alumni.

You have had a very interesting prior to St. John’s as well  – one of the things that stand out for me is the fact that your JD helped you in areas as diverse as technology and publishing – any real world examples that you can share in this regard? 

Fortune 500 companies are littered with MBAs in entry level and mid-level management positions and J.D.s tend to be clustered in legal departments. So, I found that having a J.D. on the business side was a huge advantage.

I was given the benefit of the doubt by C-suite executives in such things as negotiating deals, developing products for new markets, and writing MOUs and contracts. This meant I could be more nimble and productive in my work.

It also increased the variety of work I got to do (from technology to publishing to education to entertainment) which was intellectually engaging and motivating. I believe a law degree is one of the best, if not the best, ways to prepare for the business world because it trains you to think and write.

“I believe a law degree is one of the best, if not the best, ways to prepare for the business world because is trains you to think and write.”

Given your background with Kaplan and Cablevision, any predictions on the future of learning at the post-graduate level? How do you foresee law schools changing the way they function going forward? 

I started delivering online courses in the mid-1990’s (Kaplan test preparation courses for the LSAT, GRE, GMAT, and SAT) by digitizing VHS recordings and pairing them with PDFs of the material being covered.

It was cutting edge at the time, but a poor substitute for in-person instruction.

Over the years, the technology and the understanding of how to effectively teach with it have dramatically improved. However, even the best online instruction can’t match the effectiveness of an in-person classroom where the teachers and students can see and react and interact with one another.

And, as much learning happens outside the classroom in a law school as in. Informal student study groups are essential to really understand what is being taught in the classroom.

“As much learning happens outside the classroom in a law school as in. Informal student study groups are essential to really understand what is being taught in the classroom.”

There are also certain skills a lawyer needs like client interviewing, negotiation, deposition preparation, and clinical work that can’t be done well, or sometimes at all, remotely.

So, I believe that law schools, including St. John’s will continue to use technology robustly when appropriate for background materials, integration of multimedia to facilitate different modalities of learning, and checks for comprehension, but that ultimately law school should always have an in-person component.

The move to simultaneous in-person and online synchronous instruction does mean that students will never again get a “snow day” because class is cancelled for inclement weather—instruction will just be online that day!

Lastly, any words for the Indian law graduate who may be considering applying to St. John’s Law?

Welcome! If St. John’s seems like a fit for you to help you advance your career, please contact us to set up a time to talk with us!

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