A Pre-Law Advisor Isn’t a Luxury. It’s a Necessity.
Over 40 undergraduates from Yeshiva University are expected to apply to law schools this year. But though YU claims to offer pre-law advising, it has no qualified pre-law advisor. This state of affairs is neglectful, irresponsible and unacceptable. The deans must mend this problem immediately.
When Dina Chelst abruptly resigned as the Wilf Campus pre-law advisor last February, the Dean’s Office stated that they were in the process of searching for a replacement. At the end of last semester, Lolita Wood-Hill, who had previously served as Yeshiva College’s primary pre-health advisor from Fall 2010 through Spring 2018, was appointed to a newly-created Pre-Professional Advising role in which she would oversee both pre-health and pre-law advising on the Wilf Campus.
Since the time that Wood-Hill has taken on this new role, Yeshiva College has effectively had no full-time pre-health advisor. This situation is unfair to the dozens of Yeshiva College pre-health students, whose complex medical school application process involves writing personal statements, gathering letters of recommendation and practicing for interviews. They require an advisor who can devote a significant amount of time and attention to their needs. There simply are not enough hours in the day for Wood-Hill to effectively oversee advising for both pre-health and pre-law students.
Moreover, Wood-Hill is unqualified to advise pre-law students. She has no law degree and little experience in networking with law school admissions officers or administrators. Having never worked in law, Wood-Hill is not equipped to effectively advise students regarding the pivotal LSAT exam or to guide them through the law school application process, both of which are absolutely critical components of being a pre-law advisor.
Wood-Hill’s inexperience and lack of a deep understanding of the law school application process have more than theoretical implications. Already, she has misdirected pre-law students. Three weeks ago, Wood-Hill sent several emails to pre-law students urging them to bring resumes with passport-sized pictures of themselves to a Law School Admission Council (LSAC) Forum. But as explicit instructions on the event’s website made clear, students were not supposed to bring any resumes to the forum. Wood-Hill’s advice was thus misguided and irresponsible.
Wood-Hill’s expertise is in pre-health advising. She has no credentials to be a pre-law advisor, and pre-law students have no reason to trust her guidance.
While Wood-Hill offers meetings to pre-law students and looks over their resumes, the role of reviewing pre-law students’ personal statements has been tasked to someone else. At the start of the current fall semester, Dr. Betty Sugarman joined the Academic Advising team as a “Personal Statement Writing Coach” for pre-law students.
Sugarman has no official YU email address or office. She is present on campus extremely infrequently, most weeks for only one afternoon. It is unclear whether Sugarman has an official salary, is paid hourly or works by some other arrangement.
As the wife of Dean Fred Sugarman, Yeshiva College’s Associate Dean for Operations and Student Affairs, Dr. Sugarman appears to be a last resort rather than the best possible candidate for the job. Though she has a Ph.D., Dr. Sugarman’s degree and work experience have nothing to do with the legal field. Like Wood-Hill, she has minimal connections with law schools.
The pre-law situation at YU’s Beren Campus, which has been a matter of controversy for some time, is lacking as well. Illana Milch, who was hired as the Stern College for Women pre-law advisor last year, also has no law degree. Several pre-law students reported to The Commentator that she, like Wood-Hill, has offered dubious advice on multiple occasions. For example, one student reported that Milch advised her to bolster her resume by “making up hobbies.”
In response to the lack of pre-law advisement, many YU undergrads and recent graduates have independently hired former pre-law advisor Dina Chelst for pre-law guidance this semester, rather than using YU’s free pre-law services.
A properly conducted search should have yielded a qualified candidate in the New York area to fill the position, even if Chelst did retire in the middle of a semester. It is ultimately the responsibility of Deans Karen Bacon (the Dean of Undergraduate Faculty of Arts and Sciences) and Fred Sugarman to conduct a search once again and to find adequate pre-law advisors.
When asked recently if a search is still in effect, Dean Bacon explained that “it is certainly the plan for this year” to continue with Wood-Hill as the primary pre-law advisor and with Sugarman as Personal Statement Writing Coach. It seems that the deans have not only abandoned their search for a qualified advisor, but are content with maintaining the impractical “Pre-Professional Advising” role for the conceivable future.
In the next few weeks, dozens of YU students will apply to law schools. Many of them will be accepted and go on to become successful and influential attorneys, judges, public interest advocates and entrepreneurs, as well as possible donors to this institution. But many will be hindered by the lack of attention given by YU to their field of interest.
The abysmal state of pre-law advising at YU must be addressed. The students deserve a qualified individual with legal experience who can advise accurately and professionally. And with application deadlines around the corner, they need it now.
The undersigned pre-law students of YU affirm the messages in this editorial and likewise call on the Deans to hire a qualified pre-law advisor for the institution: