New Brightspace course provides LSAT resources and application advice for pre-law students

The course, launched by NBLSA and VSG last fall, has more than 350 students currently enrolled.

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Hunter Long

Side of Vanderbilt law school as photographed on Oct. 26, 2020. (Vanderbilt Multimedia/Hunter Long)

Emma Mattson, Copy Editor

Vanderbilt pre-law students have a new collection of resources at their disposal: a self-enroll, pre-professional advising Brightspace course, located under the “Self Registration” tab

The course, launched in September 2020 by the National Black Law Student Association (NBLSA) and Vanderbilt Student Government (VSG), contains free LSAT prep materials, links to internship opportunities and recommended course progressions for pre-law students. 

Growing Need For Pre-Law Resources

Unlike pre-health students, pre-law students have no specific advising office. Instead, they often utilize Carrie Russell, assistant dean of undergraduate education and director of pre-law advising. Russell estimates that she meets with 150 students per semester to think through their law school application timeline and point them towards appropriate resources. Before September 2020, these resources were primarily housed on Vanderbilt’s pre-law advising website

The demand for such resources has been growing on a national scale. The Law School Admission Council, for example, found a 34.4 percent increase in law school applications in the past year alone. 

“The law school admissions committee calls the last four years ‘a Trump bump,’ because so many students recognized the role that protecting the Constitution and being a lawyer can play,” Russell said. 

Creating a Pre-Law Home on Brightspace

VSG has long been invested in enhancing the pre-law experience at Vanderbilt, Academic Affairs Committee Chair Puja Jagasia said. The Health Professions Advisory Office (HPAO) offered one model for doing so: HPAO had created a pre-health professional advising course on Brightspace, which made pre-health resources easily accessible for the whole Vanderbilt student body. 

According to Jagasia, the process to create a Brightspace page runs through the Brightspace Support team at the Vanderbilt Center for Teaching. Non-credit bearing courses such as pre-professional advising courses are categorized as “non-SIS,” meaning they do not integrate with YES, Vanderbilt’s student information system (SIS). 

Per Academic Affairs Vice-Chair Margaret Hood, the pre-law Brightspace course now maintained by NBLSA was created during the 2019-20 academic year by Nico Gardener, the then-chair of Academic Affairs. After the creation of the course, however, COVID-19 and the switch to online learning effectively halted the project for the remainder of the 2019-2020 academic year, Hood said. 

Building a Collection of Resources

When NBLSA’s then-president Bitania Endalkachew heard about the stalled project, she reached out to Jagasia, who had since taken over as Academic Affairs chair. The two decided their organizations could work together to flesh out the page, Jagasia said. 

VSG and NBLSA used the existing resources on Russell’s website as a starting point for building the Brightspace course, Hood said. Then, NBLSA began collecting pre-law schedules, LSAT practice tests, law school application advice and internship opportunities to upload to Brightspace.

Per Hood, NBLSA helped address a topic that had been missing from the pre-law website: economic barriers to entering law school. The new Brightspace page now includes information on paying for law school and free LSAT prep resources. 

Current NBLSA president Jaren Pierce said some of the resources—like recommended class lists and application advice—came from Vanderbilt grads now in law school. Other resources came directly from the original sources, including LSAT prep companies.

“Some [companies] responded back with a little bit,” Pierce said. “They didn’t give us much, and we wanted to keep it legal, of course, without any copyright issues. But some did respond, and they gave us what they could give us.”

Pierce and Endalkachew also stocked the page with pre-law internship opportunities they found through online research. These internships are all centered in Nashville, but the two hope to expand the list to include Washington D.C. and other areas in the coming months, Pierce said. 

Per Hood, NBLSA and VSG launched the completed Brightspace course on Sept. 25, 2020.

Keeping the Page Up and Running

Besides the resources on her website, Russell also provided the Academic Affairs Committee with the pre-law email listserv she had cultivated. VSG then manually enrolled the current Vanderbilt students on the list into the Brightspace course to give them access to the resources there. 

In January of this year, however, VSG and NBLSA converted the page into a self-enroll course so that any interested Vanderbilt student can join. Now, the course is housed under the “Self Registration” tab on Brightspace, next to courses such as “Pre-Professional Advising: Pre-Health” and “MCAT Prep Material.”

Per Hood, more than 35o students were enrolled in the course at the time of publication.

Hood and Jagasia both emphasized the importance of advertising the course—and all Brightspace self-enroll resources—this spring. 

“There are so many students who decide to be pre-law even their senior year and maybe never enroll with Carrie Russell, but these resources could be really, really useful to them,” Hood said.

Per Russell, the new Brightspace page is one step in a larger process to provide more resources to students seeking non-medical professional degrees. VSG and NBLSA have played a vital role in that, but the work is still ongoing and, per Pierce, the page administrators are all very open to feedback. 

“Our emails are on the page, so you can contact admin, and we will definitely take into account your input and try to make the page better,” Pierce said. We want it to be a huge resource for all students.”