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A different perspective

4:29 PM  Jan 5th, 2012
by Thomas M. Columbus

Scot Ganow’s old office has perhaps the best view in the city of Dayton. A westward-facing wall of windows reveals a panorama including the Deeds Carillon, the Arena Sports Complex and the downtown Dayton skyline. From his desk, Ganow could see raptors soar on massive up currents in front of a backdrop of blue skies and distant green hills.

As senior contracts and grants administrator for the University of Dayton Research Institute, Ganow was among the first Research Institute employees moving into its new home, the 1700 South Patterson Building, where its former owner, NCR, used to have its world headquarters.

Ganow, who joined the Research Institute after graduation from the School of Law in May 2009, found the Institute’s sense of community a wonder even greater than his office view.

“These people don’t leave,” he said. “And they don’t leave for a reason. These folks are great. The Institute provides a unique environment where people can do what they love and work alongside people who share a passion for their work and UD. There is indeed a sense of family. And UDRI is doing exceptional work that benefits Dayton, Ohio and the world. It really is.”

Yet Ganow left.

The reason is both simple and complex. Ganow came to the University of Dayton School of Law with a definite goal; he wanted to practice law, specifically in the areas of data privacy and intellectual property. Thus, when an opportunity materialized to build a practice in these areas with Burton Law, he left the University to do so.

The intense focus on a goal is a feature shared by many of Ganow’s fellow graduates of the two-year program. Descriptions of the differences between students coming into the two-year program and those coming into the traditional three-year program are generalizations rather than characteristics universal to each group. And, since the two-year program’s first students graduated in 2008, there exists so far only a small sample for generalizing.

But applicants to the two-year program do seem to have definite characteristics. They are of nontraditional age. (“That is code,” Ganow said, “for old.”) They are highly motivated. They have work experience. And they are particularly concerned about cost, in terms of both money and time.

The ability to “get in and get out” was an attraction to Ganow, who when he began law school was 35 and had two children. The timeframe was also a selling point to Lauria Lynch-German, who before starting law school at age 38 was working as a private investigator and had, as she said, “a husband who wasn’t portable.” Three years out of college when he began law school, current student James Kezele was younger; but, also with a spouse and work experience, he found the prospect of “getting back to work a year earlier” an appealing attraction of UD.

Ganow’s path to the practice of law grew out of his work experience. As an undergraduate at Baylor University, he majored in premed. His career took him into the corporate world of health care data and technology. For five years before law school, he served as a corporate privacy and ethics officer. “We didn’t have inside counsel,” he said. “People would act like I was the lawyer.”

Aware that he wasn’t a lawyer, he also noticed, he said, “as a privacy officer, I was getting the ball 99 yards down the field and they were putting it in. I realized I could do that.”

One day Ganow had a discussion with the outside counsel with whom he worked — a person who later became a mentor — about the possibility of going to law school. Ganow pointed out, “I’ll be 37 when I get out.”

The reply: “If you don’t go, you’ll be 37, too.”

Recently, Ganow had a conversation with one of his former bosses on the value of an advanced degree. They agreed, Ganow said, “It’s not just the substantive material. It’s the interaction, the collective experience. You’re never too old to benefit from that.”

While Ganow gradually discovered he wanted a career in law, Lynch-German said, “I always wanted to be a lawyer. I got sidetracked.” She majored in journalism, spent 14 years in that field and then worked as a private investigator. With a husband and a career and of a nontraditional age for law students, she decided she still wanted a career in law.

Having done work for Michael Ganzer ’81 of the Milwaukee firm Hodan, Doster & Ganzer, she talked to him about law schools. He recommended his alma mater. After learning of Dayton’s two-year program, she was very interested. When she was not immediately accepted but wait-listed, she said, “I called and asked, ‘What do you want me to do?’”

The response was helpful. Since her application was five months old, the admissions staff suggested writing a letter for the admission committee about what she had been doing.

“I was doing PI work on serious sexual crimes,” she said. Writing about that — and, like a good journalist, including quotes that she obtained from people saying how valuable she was — got the attention of the admissions committee. She was accepted. In less than a month, she had to wind down her investigation business, find a place to live and move to Dayton.

When she arrived, she said, “I went to my room and then to the law school and became completely ensnared by the family values attitude.” She was even asked by a helpful staff member, she said with remembered appreciation, if she knew where the local grocery stores were.

That sense of community persisted through law school and after graduation even though she claims that during her time at Dayton, “I was constantly in trouble.”

Nevertheless, “During my first year of practice, I talked to four or five of my profs,” she said. “They were available, helpful and made a great deal of fun of me. I can still pick up the phone and ask about something like an ethical dilemma.”

She contrasted that experience with those of some people she knows from other institutions: “The first contact they have after graduation is from somebody asking for money.”

It was probably good that somebody from Dayton didn’t come calling right away about opportunities available to her to support future generations of lawyers. Lynch-German was concerned about her own income. When Ganzer offered her a job and named a salary, she called Dayton again, this time asking Tim Swensen, assistant dean and director of the career services office, what she should do about Ganzer’s offer.

His response was succinct: “Take it.”

She did.

Of her aspirations before studying law, she said: “I wanted to be the guy in To Kill a Mockingbird.” Her life now, however, is less that of a fictional lawyer and more that of a real one.

“I spend half my life doing research on arcane civil stuff,” she said. “And I love it. It has the same adrenalin rush as in journalism with a higher sense of risk. As a journalist, if you make a mistake, you write a correction. If I screw up now, somebody could go to jail.”

And she likes her work environment. Of Ganzer, she said, “He’s my friend; he’s my boss; sometimes it gets silly. I don’t know how to behave like an associate.”

That’s perhaps one reason she got a big raise after her first year.

James Kezele doesn’t know what will happen after his first year in practice. He’s now in his last year of law school. He’s spending his time now studying to become a lawyer and searching for job opportunities once he finishes at Dayton. He’s applying to midsize and large firms. And “working for the government is one of my top choices,” he said.

With a degree in government and legal studies from Claremont McKenna College and three years of postgraduate experience working in the Environmental Defense Section of the Department of Justice under its Honors Paralegal Program, he has formed an opinion of what to expect in such work.

“I loved working for the Department of Justice. It has exceptional attorneys,” he said, “with a lot of mentoring abilities.”

Kezele didn’t hurt his job chances by landing an externship last summer with Chief Judge Susan Dlott, United States District Court, Southern District of Ohio. He found the research interesting, the writing extensive and the opportunity to observe court proceedings enlightening. And, as for the mentoring, he said, Dlott is “an exceptional legal mind, and her full-time clerks are great attorneys.”

Kezele also works as a law clerk for Richard Skelton of Skelton Law in Dayton, which specializes in complex civil litigation and federal defense work. That experience, Kezele said, “has provided more great legal experience and legal mentoring.”

When he spoke to a UD prelaw class, he faced the question, “What is law school like?” His answer: “It’s a different kind of animal. It’s difficult, but definitely doable.”

He told them that law school is more work than a full-time job and a lot more work than college. He told them of the large amounts of reading, digesting, analyzing and writing but added that, with proper time management, it can be made a lot less daunting than it may seem.

Starting in May and finishing in May two years later can appear even more daunting than the traditional path of three academic years. That first summer, students have to hit the ground running with a heavy academic load. In their first fall term, summer-starts encounter a phenomenon, observed by Swensen, that makes their job search a bit different from students on the traditional three-year path. As the two-years return in the fall, they are suddenly aware that they will graduate with students, the 2Ls, who started 12 months earlier. And they notice that many of those other students are walking around in suits, going to interviews. Without even having received grades for their first term, the summer-starts have no record yet to present to prospective employers.

Nonetheless, early data on the two-years as compared to traditional students indicate similar credentials on entering, similar performance while here and similar job placement. The summer-starts’ job and life experience may give them an advantage.

Another phenomenon that differentiates starting in the summer from starting in the fall is the simple fact that in the summer there are fewer people in Keller Hall. The cohort is smaller; the classes are smaller. Many of the students have the similarity of embarking on a second career as well as family responsibilities. In that, and in the sense of being pioneers in a new program, they may resemble those students who graduated in the early years after the School of Law reopened in the 1970s.

Class dynamics also differentiate a summer start from a fall start.

“Sometimes in the fall,” said Lori Shaw, dean of students and professor of lawyering skills, “a student can go five or six weeks without being called on.”

With the summer classes for the summer-starts, each student might be called on several times a week. “That heightens their intensity,” Shaw said. “It keeps them on their toes.”

She also sees an advantage they have in the summer of a greater opportunity to meet with their professors. “Individual attention is important to them,” she said, many having been out of school several years.

And, “they take care of each other,” she said. “If a student notices another missing a class he was expected to be in, he’ll inquire about it. Everybody finds a slot in study groups — it’s simply easier with a small group to see if somebody is left out.”

Then, in the fall, she said, “They blend in.”

Ganow, Lynch-German and Kezele all pointed to a bond beyond that which tied their starting cohort together in their first summer, to a sense of community permeating not only the school but also the local bar and its relationship with UD. Long gone are local suspicions from the founding days of the law school that Dayton grads pouring into a market — previously the largest city in Ohio without a law school — would provide unwelcome competition with older law schools for local jobs. Present now is a culture of mutual support.

Jobs and salaries, however, are major concerns today as well. The economic crisis that derailed the economy has across the country hit the legal profession particularly hard. In the boom times for the investment and banking industries, legal services for those industries were in great demand. They competed to hire the best graduates of the nation’s law schools, thus driving up salaries throughout the profession. Then the bubble burst with the aftershock rippling through the market for lawyers.

What the next economic cycle will bring, no one knows. But it is clear that law school is a serious financial commitment including time out of the workforce. By eliminating one year of lost income, Dayton’s two-year program provides a strong benefit to aspiring lawyers.

How many people will take advantage of it? The answer to that question is also unclear.

“Recruiting for two-year students is different,” said Janet Hein, assistant dean and director of admissions and financial aid. Since the potential students are generally at least a year out of school and working, traditional methods of recruiting — such as on college campuses — don’t uncover them. For example, Lynch-German said she did not know of Dayton’s two-year program until she applied.

Getting the word out to those who may be interested requires new techniques — perhaps through workplaces or through advertising. In the words of Marianist founder Blessed William Joseph Chaminade, often quoted by members of the University of Dayton community: “New times call for new methods.”

While the School discovers and pursues new methods to get students to Dayton, the two-year students on their way out of school appreciate an established method to get them from campus to work: the Road to Bar Passage Program.

Of the bar exam, Lynch-German said, “You spend two years cramming, and then you are expected to belch it out.” She said she was well-prepared, however, for the bar exam in her home state (“And Wisconsin has some goofy rules”) because of Dayton’s bar passage program.

“Becky Cochran,” she said of the law professor who conducts the program, “was value-added, running around, smacking you up, making sure you did the work.”

Ganow shares Lynch-German’s opinion of Cochran and the program: “She’s as enthusiastic as anybody can be about the bar exam. All you have to do is show up and do the work. And it’s free!”

The two-year program offers a path to becoming a lawyer that has advantages of cost and time. Its success will depend on the interest of prospective students and the results it produces. Pursuing that two-year path requires a person to make a major decision about interrupting what may be a settled life. Ganow put into a few words perhaps a major reason for doing that: “To me, law school is an opportunity to build up skill sets but also to gain the autonomy to do what I wanted where I wanted.

“Today I have flexibility. I like that.”

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