For Joel Nori, passing the bar means staying focused on the books instead of walking to the next venue to socialize.
Given the choice, the South Newton Township man went with Carlisle instead of State College when he applied to the Dickinson School of Law back in 2006.
Nori, 26, said the party scene of Penn State’s main campus and the surrounding college town held way too many distractions for him.
He knew going into the first year of law school can be especially tough on students who, between class and study time, can expect to spend up to 10 hours per day on studies.
It is not unusual for law professors to assign hundreds of pages of material per week just so the first-year student can be ready for class discussion, Nori explained.
“With the competitive grading system, everybody wants to look good,” Nori said. Law professors are notorious for their tendency to “cold call” random students in class, he added.
“You have to be prepared,” Nori said. “Given the nature of law school, there was no way I could effectively do it in State College.”
The dual-campus concept, in effect at Dickinson School of Law, gives students the ability to choose which campus they want to attend.
Ultimately, it is a personal preference, but there is worry over whether Carlisle can continue to draw qualified applicants when the alternative is Penn State’s main campus.
In the 2003-04 school year, DSL had 639 students, said Kelly Rimmer, director of marketing and communications for DSL. This year, the law school enrolled 574 students – 318 of whom are taking classes in Carlisle.
While the drop is precipitous, Rimmer said the school predicted these enrollment numbers when the dual-campus idea was approved.
“This is playing out exactly as we predicted,” she said.
Now a third-year law student, Nori is getting ready to graduate in May. He said there is concern among current students that Penn State may be slowly phasing out Carlisle.
“If that concern is unfounded, that would be fantastic,” Nori said.
At Carlisle, Nori’s perception is that the majority of first-year students seem to be those who worked for a few years after college before entering law school. As a result, he added, these students seem to be older.
Meanwhile, the majority of first-year students going directly from college to law school seem to favor the main campus, Nori said.
Nori was among the first students to enroll under the dual-campus configuration. While, at first, there were technical problems linking Carlisle to State College, those problems have been resolved and the system is working well, Nori said.
Penn State put a lot of money into the teleconferencing system that interconnects the classrooms of both campuses, he added. The university is supposed to put similar technology into its Trickett Hall site.
Nori draws hope from the investment Penn State has made in renovating and expanding the traditional campus of Dickinson School of Law. That project is underway and expected to be ready for classes by January 2010.
“I hope they just don’t close the Carlisle campus, because it does so much good for the community,” Nori said. He noted how the campus tax assistance office helped more than 500 needy people prepare their tax returns.
Local lawyer James D. Flower Jr., a DSL graduate, also mentioned how Carlisle has well-developed and established clinics in such areas as family law and children advocacy.
The Carlisle campus also has close ties to state government and many large law firms based in Harrisburg, he added.
“If a law student wants to be out there in the world, they can do that from this campus,” he said. “There would be many fewer opportunities at State College and Centre County.”
Attorney Victor Stabile also graduated from the Dickinson School of Law. He said that Carlisle’s proximity to all three branches of state government offers opportunities that cannot be replicated at State College.
Stabile disagreed with the perception that State College can offer Dickinson law students greater specialization through joint degrees due to the large number of academic colleges present on main campus.
“I have been practicing law for 26 years,” he said. “It is my opinion that three years of law school is barely enough time to prepare someone to practice law. Specialization in various fields is no substitute for the traditional core curriculum.”
Stabile said law students should focus most of their attention on learning the fundamental principles of law, because those core concepts form the basis of everything attorneys do — whether they are a generalist or a specialist.
“There is no way you can get away from the rules of evidence, for example,” Stabile said.
He explained how even drafting a contract involves analyzing any evidence that could be admissible from the document should a dispute arise.