The Trinity University Pre-Law Society, formerly Phi Alpha Delta, invited students to talk last week with Charles Cantàº, the former Dean of St. Mary’s Law School in San Antonio.
“Every semester, Dr. Hermann does something for the pre-law students [for] law school, and he does excellent work. But as students we kind of wanted to branch out and say while Dr. Hermann is an excellent resource, there are lots of other resources we can be talking to,” said Courtney Iverson, a senior at Trinity. “St. Mary’s is the only law school in San Antonio, and I found the former dean, Cantàº. He has had some very close ties with Trinity, and many people had recommended him as a possible speaker.”
Cantàº has been on faculty at St. Mary’s Law School for almost 50 years and has had experience in many areas of the law.
According to the St. Mary’s Law School website, “Cantàº is among the longest tenured Hispanic law professors in the country. He has been a Fulbright Scholar, teaching at the Universidad de René Gabriel Moreno in Santa Cruz, Bolivia. An engaged member of the San Antonio community, Cantàº serves numerous civic organizations, including the boards of the Witte Museum, San Antonio Hospice and the Winston School. He served as dean of the School of Law for seven years, concluding his deanship in 2014.”
Cantàº structured his discussion around three broad categories: the personal statement, a first year law student’s schedule and the benefits of a legal education. Having been the chairman of the admissions committee at St. Mary’s, Cantàº provided unique insight on the law school application process.
“Each folder is reviewed by our admissions office. Quite truthfully, the admissions office at St. Mary’s “” and I think this is true for most law schools in the country “” will first look at the LSAT grade, what you made on the Law School Admissions Test, and [then] your GPA. If it is above a certain mark you are automatically admitted into law school and if it is below a certain mark you are not accepted into law school. It is that gray area in between that goes to the admissions committee,” Cantàº said.
In regards to the personal statement, Cantàº states that it shows law schools two important things that every law student needs to have.
“When it comes to the personal statement the individuals on the admissions committee are concerned with two things. Number one from your personal statement: are you going to contribute to the fabric of the student body? Do you bring something from your personal background that is going to enhance the fabric of our student body? I’ll talk about the individuals that stand out in my mind after all these years. One individual that applied had been an architect and he had worked shoulder-to-shoulder with Walt Disney in designing Disneyland. Another individual wanted to come to law school for the sole purpose of marketing his mother-in-law’s salsa. Another one had been a nurse in the operating room in Vietnam and she brought a lot to the student body, she enhanced it a great deal. So the first thing we look for in the personal statement is not only. What do you bring to the student body? but also What do you bring to the profession. And secondly, we are looking to see if you can write. Good lawyering requires good communication skills, not only oral but written,” said Cantàº.
He also offered advice on taking a gap year to gain maturity and life experience.
“All of my evidence is anecdotal, but I have found that all of the individuals that have spaced undergraduate and law school with military service, working or whatever generally makes better law students, and I attribute that to an element of maturity that has come into play,” Cantàº said.
Next, Cantàº discussed the general schedule of law schools. While most first-year law students will take the same basic classes “” contracts, property, torts, federal procedures, constitutional law, criminal law, etc. “” a law student’s schedule depends on both the person and the time they are in law school.
“I like to tell my students that the law, as all first-year law students are prone to speak of, is nothing more than a set of rules that governs the behavior of individuals… As society evolves, the law changes. At one time women could not vote. That has changed. At one time women could not contract, sue or be sued or own property in their own name. In my lifetime we had segregation. In my lifetime we had miscegenation laws, which said an African-American could not marry a person of the white race. That has all changed. And as society evolves, laws change and as law changes curriculum in law schools changes,” Cantàº said.
Cantàº suggested that you build your schedule around what kind of law you want to practice and what kind of lawyer you want to become.
“Which ones should you choose? Which classes should you take? Well, what kind of lawyer do you want to be? Do you want to be a tax attorney? Then take the tax courses. Do you want to be a sports law individual? Then take those courses. Civil rights; follow that. You have the choice, but what kind of lawyer do you want to be? I suggest that you select those courses for which you have a passion,” Cantàº said.
Cantàº also discussed the benefits of a legal education.
“I went to law school because my father told me to. He was a businessman and I had majored [in business] at the University of Texas”¦. My plan was to become a CPA, and he came to my room one night and said he thought I should go to law school, and he was right. The first semester of law school I worked harder than all four years at the University of Texas. I loved it. It was like coming home. It was so fulfilling for me. So, what do you get out of law school? Well, you might find yourself as I did. It will expose you, if nothing else, to this process of analytical reasoning,” Cantàº said.
His last piece of advice for future law students is to prepare for the Law School Admissions Test and go to the best law school you can get into. The Trinity Pre-Law Society will host several other events this year for students interested in law school.
“Later this month Kaplan [Test Prep] is coming to campus, and a representative will say what Kaplan offers in terms of LSAT preparation,” Iverson said. “In the spring semester one of the ideas we have is to have a session where both someone in the District Attorney’s office and a defense attorney come to speak, just to give the two sides of the law, prosecutor and defense, in terms of litigation laws and what it entails and what an average day is like.”