Niagara pre-law students meet with law school deans and faculty at the Greater Western New York Law School Fair in 2019.

Students in Niagara University’s pre-law advisement program often find it provides both a career focus and a pathway to graduate studies at some of the nation’s most prestigious law schools, including William & Mary.

This was the case for Elisha Teibel, ’16, now an associate attorney at Gibson, McAskill & Crosby, LLP, in Buffalo, N.Y.; Kelsey Ruszkowski, ’16, her former classmate and now, colleague, at Gibson, McAskill & Crosby; and Ethan de Rosa, ’19, who will begin studies at William & Mary in the fall.

All three students, who started out in Niagara University’s Academic Exploration program, said they were uncertain of their professional aspirations until they took a pre-law course.

“I had no idea what I wanted my major to be when I started college (or that I wanted to be a lawyer for that matter),” said Teibel. “After voicing an interest in a history or political science major, my advisor in the Academic Exploration Program suggested I take the Introduction to Law course, which is the foundational course for the pre-law minor. It was after taking that class, which was my first experience with anything law-related, that I realized I found my niche.”

Ruszkowski said that she had considered becoming a lawyer since middle school, but enrolled at Niagara as an AEP student to explore her options in both law and psychology. Like Teibel, her first pre-law course convinced her to pursue a legal career.

“After I took my first pre-law course, I fell in love with the complexity of law,” she said. “Even if a matter seemed simple, there was not necessarily a straightforward solution. This ambiguity allowed me to complete extensive research (which I love) and allowed for some creativity in arguments while participating in a moot court in class and when preparing for exams.”

De Rosa, whose father is a lawyer, said he “tried to become almost anything else” before choosing the legal profession, and took courses in a number of other fields, including economics, business, sociology, and political science.

“I explored these topics and enjoyed them,” he said. “However, I found that I was enjoying my pre-law courses the most, and that I was treating my other classes like they were law classes.”

As students in the pre-law advisement program, Teibel, Ruszkowski, and de Rosa were introduced to the themes, styles, teaching methods, and strategies they would encounter in law school, and oftentimes even used the same textbooks and cases in their studies.

“It goes without saying how beneficial it was to have that exposure,” said Ruszkowski. 

The program and its pre-law association offer additional insight and resources to students, including seminars, presentations by guest speakers, preparation for the LSAT, internships, and trips to Washington, D.C., to watch oral arguments in the U.S. Supreme Court. They also have the opportunity to attend regional and national law school conferences, participate in academic research, moot court competitions, and mock trials.

Teibel said a mock trial during her junior year confirmed that she was meant to be an attorney.

“I was assigned as co-counsel for the defendant,” she said, “so I was putting on his theory of the case in the hopes of convincing the jury that the state couldn’t meet their burden of proof. I remember being pretty stressed about the whole thing, because I had never examined or cross-examined a witness before, or written a memorandum of law, or done anything trial-related. Despite the fact that I had no idea what I was doing, I distinctly remember experiencing this exhilarating feeling at the conclusion of the mock trial, a feeling that told me I was on the right path and that litigation was the right fit for me.”

A mock trial was a memorable experience for de Rosa, as well.

“We were arguing over a fictional case that involved whether a transaction was considered interstate commerce, and thus under federal jurisdiction,” he said, noting that the commerce clause is a topic that frequently arises when discussing law. “What made this so memorable was how diligently we all prepared, how nervous we felt during our arguments, and how fun it ultimately proved to be—afterwards.”

Ruszkowski credits the flexibility of the pre-law program with helping her secure a fellowship at William & Mary with the Center for Legal and Court Technology.

“The pre-law curriculum allowed me to take psychology and philosophy courses, in addition to traditional legal ones,” she said. “This background was a major draw for the director of the center, and I accepted a position completing legal psychology research throughout law school.” She added that the pre-law program, and its advisor, Kevin Hinkley, enabled her to build a personal network of legal practitioners that led to both internships and her current employment.  

“I will always be grateful for my time there,” she said.

Teibel, who recently was chosen as one of 10 law school recipients of the Law360 Distinguished Legal Writing Award for the 2020 Burton Awards, added that she would not have pursued a career as an attorney if it weren’t for the Academic Exploration Program and its “dedicated advisors,” who gave her the opportunity to take courses in different subjects to learn more about her own interests. And once she decided on a pre-law major, NU’s faculty and staff offered her the assistance she needed to go on to graduate school.

“I wouldn’t be where I am today if it hadn’t been for the selfless and supportive professors, advisors, and mentors at NU that guided me and helped shape me into the person I am at this moment,” she said.