Interview with Carla Pratt, Dean and Professor of Law, Washburn University School of Law

Top Law Schools would like to thank Carla Pratt (CP), Dean and Professor of Law, Washburn University School of Law, for taking the time to answer our questions!

Law School Reputation/Public Perception

TLS: Tell us about Washburn University School of Law. What would you most like applicants to know that they can't glean so easily from U.S. News rankings or from your law school's website?

CP: Washburn Law is a small community where every student is known by name. The faculty is comprised of strong teachers who are committed to helping students learn. There is no hiding the ball at Washburn Law; students do not have to teach themselves the law. We take pride in teaching and helping students learn.

TLS: Whether or not they apply to or ultimately attend Washburn University School of Law, what do you think applicants should consider when choosing a law school? If you had a son or daughter applying to law school this year, how would you advise them to choose between schools?

CP: Applicants should seek a law school that values teaching students more than anything else. To assess teaching, applicants should visit campus or speak to a few faculty members to assess their views on teaching and their accessibility outside of class. Applicants should also consider their overall cost to attend law school so that post-graduate debt loads are manageable.

TLS: What is your view on the role the U.S. News and World Report rankings play in the law school recruitment and admissions process? How do the rankings affect Washburn University School of Law?

CP: U.S. News drives the student admissions process too much at many law schools. At Washburn, we are mindful of rankings, but we are looking for students who are committed to the study of law and have demonstrated a strong work ethic whether through LSAT and UGPA or through working their way through college.

TLS: Is there value to additional metrics (e.g., new rankings like the ones promulgated by Above the Law)?

CP: U.S. News and World Report is only one ranking model. It does not measure or value diversity in its rankings nor does it measure a law school's ability to help students outperform their numerical predictors (LSAT and UGPA). So if these factors are important, other rankings are needed to assess these and other factors.

TLS: Are there any exciting things on the horizon at Washburn University School of Law? Any new developments, programs, or opportunities you'd like to share with our readers?

CP: There are many exciting new things on the horizon at Washburn Law, including a new JD/Masters in Criminal Justice joint degree. Our most exciting project is to build a new building that will honor the Brown family from the landmark U.S. Supreme Court case of Brown v. Bd. Of Education of Topeka. Aspects of the building will also honor the Scott family lawyers who filed the case in Topeka and were Washburn Law School graduates.

Student Life

TLS: How would you describe the students at Washburn University School of Law?

CP: The students at Washburn Law come from all walks of life. Some come from farms in Kansas, others from cities such as Kansas City, Dallas, Houston, Denver, Washington D.C., and New York. But the one thing they have in common is that they are very down to earth, kind-hearted and supportive of one another.

TLS: How many students participate in student-run legal journals?

CP: 40 to 45 students participate in the student run law journal.

TLS: Aside from journals, what are the most popular legal extracurricular activities available to students of Washburn University School of Law?

CP: Appellate moot court and trial teams are probably the most popular extracurricular activity, but there are also intramural sports and student organizations focused on a variety of interests.

TLS: What sort of clinical opportunities are available for students? Are there any clinics Washburn University School of Law is especially proud of?

CP: Washburn has several clinical opportunities in both a litigation and a transactional setting. We are proud of all of our clinics, but we are especially proud of the work that we do to support Native American tribes in Kansas.

TLS: What are the best and worst things about going to school in Topeka?

CP: The best thing about going to school in Topeka, KS is that the cost of living is extremely low so students will have money to spend on things other than rent. The law school is in the state capital, which affords students a wealth of practice opportunities prior to graduation. The worst thing is that we occasionally get a tornado warning.


TLS: Many law schools have emphasized practical, skills-based learning in recent years. Has Washburn University School of Law taken any steps in this direction?

CP: Washburn Law strongly emphasizes skills-based learning. We encourage all students to practice law in some context before they graduate. Between our clinics and our externship placements, students have that opportunity and 99% of our students have some practical experience prior to graduation. Our intensive trial advocacy program affords students the same trial training used at large law firms around the country.

TLS: What role do you believe law schools should play in preparing students for the bar exam? And how have your graduates fared with bar passage in recent years?

CP: We feel strongly that it is the duty of law schools to prepare students for the bar exam. Overall our graduates have enjoyed bar pass rates consistent with the pass rate in the respective jurisdictions of examination.

TLS: Most law schools have a core 1L curriculum requiring civil procedure, contracts, torts, constitutional law, property, criminal law, and legal writing. Does Washburn University School of Law stray from these requirements? Are there any additional classes students are required to take before graduation?

CP: After the first year students must take Criminal Procedure, Evidence, Professional Responsibility, and Constitutional Law II and an upper level writing requirement.

TLS: Other than the core required classes, what courses would you suggest students take before graduation?

CP: Administrative Law, Business Associations, Tax, Employment Law and a Clinic.

Application Tips

TLS: Could you please explain the weight or emphasis given to each part of a student's application, such as GPA, LSAT score, personal statement, and letters of recommendation?

CP: Washburn does not assign numerical weight to the parts of a student's application. Instead, we conduct a holistic review of each application to determine the applicant's commitment to studying law, as well as the challenges that the applicant has had to overcome to make it through high school and college. We want GRIT!

Personal Statement

TLS: The personal statement seems to be the part of the application a prospective student can most independently influence. Can you offer applicants any advice regarding writing the personal statement?

CP: Tell us what you have had to do to make it this far in your academic journey; why you want to be a lawyer and why you think you will succeed in law school.

TLS: How often do you find statements that really stick out from the crowd? What do these statements consist of?

CP: We want to know you as a person. Students who tell us about an experience where they stepped outside of their comfort zone and learned something from and/or about people who are different from themselves stand out as well as applicants who have accomplished something rare such as starting their own business or writing a book.

TLS: Are there any personal statement topics that applicants should probably steer clear? Any clichés or pitfalls to avoid?

CP: The personal statement is the applicant's opportunity to tell us what the applicant wants us to know, so there is no wrong answer to the personal statement. We are happy to read what the applicant deems appropriate to share. We recommend that applicants avoid highly politicized statements.

TLS: Do you come across personal statements that actually hurt the applicant's chances?

CP: Yes; a poorly written personal statement can hurt an applicant's chances of admission, so be sure to use proper grammar and proofread your statement carefully before submitting it.

TLS: Some schools allow students to submit a "diversity statement" separate from the personal statement. How does Washburn University School of Law view such statements? If such statements are potentially helpful, can you discuss when a diversity statement is or is not appropriate?

CP: We value getting to know the applicant, so we welcome and encourage a diversity statement from all applicants. It can tell us why you value diversity or how you define it, or about an experience that you had with people who are different from yourself.

TLS: Could an applicant significantly improve his or her chances of admission by drafting a personal statement specifically discussing an interest in Washburn University School of Law?

CP: Absolutely! Applicants who apply early to Washburn Law and know that they want to attend Washburn over any other school are given priority in our admissions process, and all applicants who express a strong interest in Washburn are highly favored.


TLS: Realistically speaking, how large a part of the admissions process are factors other than a candidate's GPA and LSAT?

CP: The other components of the application can and often do make the difference for applicants who are slightly below our desired numerical credentials.

TLS: How does Washburn University School of Law view applicants who apply with multiple LSAT scores? Do you only look at the highest score, or do you consider all scores in the aggregate?

CP: We view students with multiple LSAT scores very favorably. It tells us that this is a tenacious student who is willing to try and try again. We accept the highest LSAT score.

TLS: If an applicant cancelled an LSAT score, does the school like to see an addendum explaining why?

CP: No; that's not necessary.

TLS: What is the latest LSAT administration an applicant can take and still qualify for admission during the admission cycle? If an applicant is placed on the waitlist, can a new summer LSAT score help his or her chances?

CP: Applicants can take the June LSAT and still apply for admission to matriculate in August of the same year. Students on the waitlist are encouraged to take the June LSAT to increase their LSAT score which would definitely increase their chance of admission.

TLS: Beyond undergraduate performance and LSAT score, what else does Washburn University School of Law look at when reviewing applications?

CP: Washburn considers all accomplishments that applicants have achieved including degrees earned, service to the United States military, service to the community, work history and recommendations from professors and employers.

TLS: How much do you value pre-law school work or life experience?

CP: Washburn values work and life experience, but an applicant should not delay attending law school in order to secure work experience. Most applicants come to us straight from undergraduate school.

TLS: What can "K through JD" applicants do to stand out in the application process?

CP: You can stand out by engaging in community service and leadership opportunities. You can also email us and let us know how interested you are in Washburn Law.

TLS: Applicants often have difficulty choosing and approaching potential recommenders. Can you offer some general advice regarding letters of recommendation?

CP: The professors who have taught you have made an investment in your future so they want to see you succeed. Most of them are honored to be asked to write the recommendation letter and will gladly do so.

Transfer Applicants

TLS: Tell us how Washburn University School of Law treats transfer applicants. How many transfer students do you take each year? Where do these students come from?

CP: Washburn welcomes transfer students and we work hard to make sure that all learning opportunities are equally available to transfer students. We have not imposed a limit on the number of transfer students that we would accept. Students transfer to Washburn from all over, not just Kansas.

TLS: What are the most important criteria for selecting transfer applicants? Is the LSAT score still relevant? How about undergrad performance?

CP: The LSAT and UGPA have little significance to us when it comes to transfer applicants. We are more interested in how the student performed in the first year of law school.

TLS: How many students transfer out of Washburn University School of Law after 1L year to attend other institutions?

CP: Generally, no students transfer out of Washburn Law. The students who come to Washburn tend to love it and stay.

Career Opportunities and Employment Outcomes

TLS: Describe the legal market in Kansas. What's the outlook for the next few years?

CP: The legal market in Kansas is very strong for Washburn graduates; there is a shortage of lawyers in Kansas, so students interested in practicing in Kansas have very strong employment prospects. Washburn's reputation extends far beyond Kansas. We have alumni in legal jobs in 49 states and several foreign countries.

TLS: What are the most common career paths for graduates of Washburn University School of Law?

CP: Roughly half of Washburn Law graduates enter private practice and over a third go into government or public interest work.

TLS: On average how many graduates leave the state for work?

CP: Historically roughly a third of the graduates leave the state of Kansas for work, but now that we offer in-state tuition to students from neighboring states and Texas, we are matriculating more students from those states and sending more graduates to work in those states.

TLS: How many students get paid law firm jobs - ones that turn in to full-time employment after school - through the on-campus interviewing process?

CP: Approximately 10 to 14 percent of students obtain their job through the on-campus interview process.

TLS: What about a student who graduates in the middle of the class - the true "median" student, so to speak. What sort of work can they realistically expect to have in 2018/2019?

CP: Most students at the median secure employment in small firms, government, legal services, or non-profit organizations.

TLS: Nearly every law school has recent graduates who cannot find permanent, full-time legal employment. What does Washburn University School of Law do to help them get on track?

CP: Washburn offers individualized career planning and assigns students a faculty mentor and/or an alumni mentor to help secure employment.

TLS: Do you think transfer students are disadvantaged at all when it comes to seeking employment?

CP: Washburn works hard to ensure that transfer students suffer no disadvantage in any respect. Consequently, transfer students are supported in their employment search and have good outcomes, especially if their grades at Washburn were strong.

TLS: What is the median (not average, but median) debt for a graduate from your law school who finished school this year? Given the employment opportunities for the average graduate, is this debt load tenable?

CP: The median debt load is $75,543.

TLS: Are law schools doing enough to ensure that prospective students get enough information to decide whether to go a quarter-million dollars into debt for a J.D.?

CP: Law schools are doing a much better job on debt counseling than they have in the past. Still many schools are not sitting students down to calculate prospective income as compared to prospective debt and what it will take to pay living expenses and service the debt. Washburn provides debt counseling to help students manage debt.

TLS: What sort of tuition increase should entering students anticipate over the next three years?

CP: Washburn Law works hard to provide a quality education at a low cost, so it is our expectation that tuition will not increase more than 5% per year, which is in line with other Kansas universities.

Financial Aid

TLS: What sort of financial aid opportunities are available for applicants? How does the school allocate these resources between need-based and merit-based awards?

CP: Washburn has many endowed scholarships that are available to students who meet the guidelines established by the donor. We also allocate significant funds to merit-based scholarships which are awarded to students who have demonstrated academic excellence. We also have some need-based funding, but not as much as we would like.

TLS: How are students selected to receive scholarships?

CP: Students receiving an endowed scholarship are selected based on the criteria established by the donor. Other students are awarded a scholarship based on academic achievement or financial need.

TLS: Is there anything prospective students can do to increase their chances of receiving aid?

CP: All students/applicants are automatically considered for all forms of financial assistance, so there is nothing the applicant needs to do other than apply to the law school.

TLS: Are scholarship packages for entering students ever contingent on academic performance? If so, why impose restrictions like this? Isn't that putting a lot of pressure on scholarship recipients?

CP: Yes; we are investing in students' futures so we want them to have some "skin in the game" and work hard in law school.

TLS: Do you offer any additional scholarship awards to retain current students based on their performance during law school?

CP: Yes. Students may apply for additional scholarship funding after completing the first year of law school.

TLS: What sort of financial aid is available for transfer students?

CP: Transfer students are eligible for federal and private loans, as well as the Washburn Advantage Award, which will afford the transfer student the benefit of in state tuition.

TLS: Describe any loan repayment programs Washburn University School of Law offers. Who is eligible for loan repayment assistance?

CP: The law school does not offer a loan repayment program, but the state of Kansas has such a program.


TLS: Thanks for taking the time to speak with us. Any parting thoughts for applicants considering Washburn University School of Law?

CP: Washburn Law students will receive a quality education at a low cost in a collegial environment. Come visit us any time!