Seasoned law students advise first-years

By Gus Bode

The first week of law school is like being thrown into the deep end of a swimming pool without knowing how to swim, according to Lucas Wenthe.

Wenthe, a third-year law student from Effingham, said he is one of several upperclassmen who chuckle to themselves when they see the overwhelmed look on the faces of first-year students as they begin their second week.

He and a group of other third-year students who sat in one of the Lesar Law Building’s lounges between classes Monday said they can relate all too well with the feeling.


Fortunately for those stressed first-year students, upperclassmen such as Ryan Barke, a third-year law student from Jacksonville, advise new law students through the Academic Success Program.

Assistant Professor Suzanne Schmitz said the program was formed four years ago to combat first-year students not understanding terms and standard procedures mentioned in class. As a result, life seems improved for students compared to before.

This year’s incoming class of 112 students was broken into groups of eight and paired with one of the 11 Taylor Mattis Fellows – the upperclassmen mentors. Barke, who leads three of those groups, said he encourages newcomers to take breaks from their studies to develop a social life. He said taking that time prevents students from burning out.

“If you come in your first year and the only thing you do is study law – it’s not healthy,” Barke said.

But despite the rumors and stereotypes, the first week is challenging but not as bad as expected, said first-year student Holly Grimes.

Before coming to law school, Grimes said she was advised to warn her family and friends that she would not be very communicative for the next three years.

Luckily, she said, that hasn’t been the case so far.


Schmitz said the first semester is not graded except for five comprehensive final exams in December that take almost four hours to complete.

“That’s quite scary if you have not looked at any (exam) examples in the past,” she said.

Justin Volker, a first-year student from Clinton, said being in an Academic Success group has helped him with reading cases and summarizing them before being questioned in class. Though Volker said he feels confident in his studies now, there will not be any hesitation if he needs to consult his group leader.

First-years were expected to have read a case and written a brief about it before classes began last week. Before Academic Success, that meant more stress for students who had never worked with a law firm or otherwise been exposed to the daily tasks of a lawyer.

“Well, those days are over,” Schmitz said.

Barton Lorimor can be reached at

536-3311 ext. 263 or [email protected]