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Putting the law into practice at MSL


 Nov 16, 2008

ANDOVER, MA

The folks at the Massachusetts School of Law in Andover do things a little differently than other law schools.

And, after 20 years, the school has a proven track record of success, said Associate Dean Michael Coyne.

The school doesn't require students to take the Law School Admission Test (LSAT) to apply. It also tries to keep students' expenses down to make the law school accessible to as many people as possible.

MSL's courses do not revolve so much around books and lectures, Coyne said, but rather on practicing real-world situations.

"The entire law school is developed more like (a) medical school model, rather than law," Coyne said. "No one want to go to a doctor who hasn't touched a body until get they to you, and you're the first one. That is what happens at a lot of law schools."

Virtually all of the professors, even those who teach full time, still work in the world of law, Coyne said, so they can show students what it's like to practice law.

"(Students) go to court with the professor and see what it's like, even try to assist clients," Coyne said. "Many courses are focused on simulated experience; they prepare cases from beginning to end. It gets them to a comfortable level speaking and thinking on their feet."

The simulation has translated to success for MSL students in mock trial competitions with other law schools, Coyne said. The school's team won the Northeast competition last year and finished third place in a national competition.

MSL attracts people looking to boost their careers or change fields.

"We tend to cater to working professionals, and we have a very diverse student body - both in terms of age and the background from which they come into the school," Coyne said.

Life experience counts a lot, Coyne said, when MSL officials look at applicants.

"We think it is valuable to have some additional background beyond school, if you are ultimately going to handle people's problems and handle the maze of the court system," Coyne said.

As a result, MSL's students tend to be older than those at most other law schools, Coyne said. The school has a day program and an evening program. The average age of those taking classes during the day is 31 years old, Coyne said, and students going at night are around 35 or 36, on average.

"What you have is a lot of working professionals, people who delay entry into law school because life got in the way," Coyne said. "They are looking to return to school and are looking for different opportunities."

Most graduates find work at small law firms or go into public service jobs, such as working as a prosecutor in the district attorney's office. Others find work in the courthouse or in legal services working with those who cannot afford an attorney.

They are able to do this, Coyne said, because the school keeps tuition low.

"Our tuition is $14,500 (a year), and the average in New England is probably around $33,000," Coyne said.

That, in part, enables MSL to attract a racially diverse student body, Coyne said.

"Over 20 percent of students would be classified as minority," Coyne said. "What that means is the graduates are much more like the society they represent."

Instead of the LSAT, MSL asks prospective students to answer an essay question where they present both the pros and cons of an issue.

"That's what they will be doing in classes," Coyne said. "We think it is a better indicator of whether they will be successful."

The school generally draws students from within an hour's driving distance from its Andover campus, but with entry into law schools becoming more difficult, Coyne said the school now gets students relocating from as far as Connecticut, New York, New Jersey and Pennsylvania.

The Massachusetts School of Law enrolls students in the fall and spring, Coyne said. For more information about the school or applying, go to the school's Web site, www.mslaw.edu, or call the law school 978-681-0800 and ask for Admissions.