My name is Mike Hamper III and I grew up in Jefferson, Ohio in Ashtabula County, a short distance from the Pennsylvania border. I attended Ohio Northern for my undergraduate degree, graduating in 2011 with a degree in Political Science.
Blog Post 1: Why ONU Law?
When deciding on a place to attend for law school, I wanted three things: to feel comfortable, somewhere that would best prepare me to pass the Bar Exam, and a tailored experience. I found all three of these things at Ohio Northern. And it really wasn’t that hard since I was an ONU student already. I was very familiar with the campus as a whole, though I was less familiar with the law school. My main interactions with the law school before becoming a student were through Dean Crago and Dean Veltri through my position as the President of Student Senate for two years. We worked together in various campus committees and I sought Dean Crago’s counsel for a variety of law school issues as I mulled over what to do after undergrad.
I was also given advice by some of the Board of Trustees members who of course urged me to apply to ONU and had many wonderful things to say about the school and profession. Dean Crago told me that if I was looking at a school in Ohio, that I had better look at Ohio Northern, and of course it was an easy choice. But I took Dean Crago’s advice seriously and made Ohio Northern the only Ohio school to which I applied.
Once I decided law school was my next step, I began to prepare for the dreaded LSAT. The classes were too expensive for me so I sought advice as to how to prepare in other ways. The answer was: Practice! So, I took 7 practice LSAT tests over the three weeks before the test to become familiar with the format and types of questions, and it paid off. I stopped practice tests 48 hours before the actual test though to allow my mind to prepare.
The greatest advice I have for any student looking to go to law school is that you need to be true to yourself. Ask yourself where you really want to go to law school and what you really want out of a career in law. Get the applications done as soon as you can because you will want to enjoy that last semester in college, and you want to have the best chance possible to earn a spot too. And practice for the LSAT.
The best advice I can give to any current first year law student are things that I have been told many times, but I didn’t believe or take seriously in my first year. I hope you take them seriously, and that you believe me. If you can make it past the first semester everything gets easier because you are used to the work. Don’t slack off on your readings, you’ll only regret it later, maybe even in class. Work hard to earn A’s, but don’t expect them, even if you were a 4.0 student in college. Law school is a different beast.
Blog Post 2: An Environment Designed for Success
Ohio Northern’s academics and curriculum are challenging, but very interesting. Law school is expected to be challenging, and it will not disappoint, but the amount of knowledge you gain from the classes is worth all of it. My favorite class in my first year was Civil Procedure. It had the basic lawyer mechanics that I never thought of, while also helping me understand the basic litigation techniques and procedure. Professor Hill was also great and helped to make the concepts easy to understand by applying them to real life through his own experiences and stories from his time in private practice.
The professors are always available for help, with office hours and after class. You can usually also find them within the school during regular hours. Their offices are right near all the classrooms and the informal student lounge, so you’ll commonly see them walking around and talking with students in the informal lounge.
Academic support for your classes is easy to find. There are TA sessions scheduled throughout the semester that are fairly easy to fit into your schedule. Outside of TA sessions and professors, the upperclassmen, librarians, and your peers are helpful resources. The upperclassmen can help you to know what the important concepts covered in the past have been and the library contains past exams that you can look at for some of your classes. The other important source of help is supplements that are recommended by professors. All of these things are easy to come by and great tools to help you be even more successful in your first year. Even your peers will be helpful in studying. Even though they will be going through the classes for the first time as well, they will be going through the same situation and can approach the problems differently from you, giving you a new perspective. Contrary to the common perception of law school, I never personally experienced any mean competition at ONU even though we all understood we were being graded on a curve and against each other.
Legal Research and Writing is probably the most involved class you take in your first year, but the amount of time put into it pays off when you go out into your internship or clerkships after the first year. The class involves creating forms and pleadings that will be very unfamiliar to you, so the help you get is most valuable. The research librarians, especially Professor Armstrong, helped me significantly in my completion of the Legal Research and Writing “Wonder Ponder” exercises where I first went through and learned how to properly research legal issues in the physical books. The research librarians also helped me to figure out how to determine what keywords to use in research. Of course, the most helpful thing about this process was that the librarians did not tell me how to do the research or what exactly to research, but instead made me think about the issue and helped me sort out the important issues.
Blog Post 3: Engagement Outside the Classroom
One of the great things of Ohio Northern Law is the camaraderie of the student body. We are small enough for people to know just about everyone in their class and a good many in the classes above and below. That close relationship provides many opportunities to become involved in just about everything you could desire, provided it fits into your already busy schedule of course. There is a great variety of organizations at ONU that include a host of advocacy, experiential, political and professional organizations. We have everything from the Federalist Society, which looks at the U.S. Constitution and its proper interpretation and application, to International Justice Mission, which focuses more on international law and advocating for those who are oppressed by local authorities, especially in the realm of slavery. Also, if there is something that you want to do but an organization does not yet exist, you can create one.
As alluded to earlier, there is a need to balance your involvement in organizations and activities with school work. Of course, it is easy to become so overly-involved that you seemingly can never find time to simply relax just as it was in undergraduate. But the helpful thing in law school is that everyone here is nearly just as busy, or busier, than you and they schedule shorter meetings in a more spread-out fashion than might have happened in your undergraduate organizations. They also are not overly-demanding and you can drop into or out of organizations as you need to. I have never heard anyone say, “Hey, why weren’t you at the meeting?” in an upset way. We all see each other each day and any business we needed to get done at the meeting can be done later.
On that point, the other great thing about going to school here is that I see all of my friends outside of class, albeit usually in the library. But on the weekends when we get our work done early, or when we postpone it to Sunday, it’s very common to see students hang out with each other. Obviously, part of that is living in Ada where the options for fun are pretty limited to a few sets of activities. But another part of it is that your classmates will know you and you will know them. We all know who are the class clowns, the serious library studiers, and the 9-5’ers. And we all also have our set of friends who you pretty much do everything with from class to lunch to studying.
Blog Post 4: Life in Ada, OH
I am from the village of Jefferson in northeast Ohio. My house is about twenty minutes from the lake and thirty minutes from Pennsylvania. It is a village of about 3,100 people and my graduating class was 168 people. So, as you can imagine, my adjustment to Ada was pretty easy because they are of similar sizes and make-up. My undergrad degree is a B.A. in Political Science from Ohio Northern. My dad owns his own landscaping business and my mom has done odd-jobs for family friends and she loves quilting. I came straight to law school from undergrad because I was pretty sure this was what I wanted to do.
I live off-campus about two and a half blocks from the law building. Living in Ada was slow at times as an undergrad, but as a law student I hardly ever notice it. But that could also be due to this being my sixth consecutive year living in Ada. I’m comfortable with my surroundings and what there is to do in Ada. The warm months are great because there is a community pool and a very nice park right in Ada. There are also a few community events in the warmer months like the Harvest and Herb festival and farmers markets to attend. Winter months present more of a challenge, but the town is by no means dead. There is a multitude of restaurants with a surprising variety for the small town of Ada. The closeness of the law school community also means you always have a friend who is doing something that you can join. Outside of Ada, the cities of Kenton, Lima, and Findlay are all about 30 minutes away and have Wal-Mart, Kroger, Meijer, and other shopping possibilities.
As far as living in Ada, there is plenty of on-campus or off-campus housing, it’s just a personal preference and cost assessment for each individual. I had to email and talk with about three or four landlords to find a place that my roommate and I both liked, but the cost of all of the apartments was pretty reasonable. And the location of the law school is such that off-campus housing is pretty close, as close as two blocks away. There are a lot of other apartments that are five blocks or more away, but a commuter parking permit only costs $65 for the year and there are three commuter lots in very close proximity to the law school. The preferred on-campus housing is Courtyard Apartments. They are only a block away from the law school and you get a commuter pass so if you were driving from somewhere and wanted to park at the law school instead of at your apartment first, you would have that option. Polar Place is about ten to fifteen minutes of a walk away from the law school but they do not have a commuter pass so driving to class is not really doable.
Blog Post 5: Real Life Experience
I have not participated in a clinical program, but I just finished an externship last semester, so that is the subject matter of this.
I became interested in the externship program because I wanted to find some experiential training so I could apply what I learned in the classroom. I heard about it in orientation and then again at application time at an informational meeting. From everything I heard from the meeting and other students, it seemed that the experience was what I was looking for and so I decided to sign up.
The process of getting an externship is relatively simple. I first had to submit a short application to the program with a resume and set up a meeting with the externship coordinator. The application had my GPA, rank, and areas of law that interested me as well as the court level I was hoping to work at for the semester. At the meeting, I talked over each of my potential choices with the coordinator, decided in which level of the court system I wanted to work, and chose from the available appointments where I wanted to be placed. It was a very relaxed meeting and a painless process. The process was also very independent after the meeting with the program advisor. After I started the externship, I only met once or twice with the advisor to go over some things plus a site visit. Other than that, I was on my own like a “real person” for the rest of the semester. The only other thing I had to do was write about my expected experience and my actual experience for the class.
The most important reason I had for taking part in the externship was to learn about how all the classroom knowledge I learned is applied as well as understanding what it is like to practice law. But participating in the externship program was more than I had hoped it would be from both an educational and experiential standpoint. The externship helped me hone my researching and writing skills through the tasks the judge gave me where I researched and wrote memoranda on some very unfamiliar issues. Beyond that, I also learned the importance of networking and being a good fellow attorney. The key concept I pulled from the entire experience was that working as an attorney can be made a lot easier by being pleasant and responsive to the opposing attorneys. By being pleasant and responsive, there is more room for the attorneys to work and the middle ground is easier to find. I also learned a lot about courtroom etiquette, the pretrial process, and the life of a judge and attorney in small town practice just by observing and in brief conversations that I never expected to learn. Overall, it was a great experience that really opened my eyes to how law is practiced.
Blog Post 6: The January Term Experience
January Term is the two and a half week academic term we have in January for picking up an extra class. It is required in the first year with a class called Legal Problem Solving and Analysis where you learn how to better write a law school exam answer, among other things. Legal Problem Solving and Analysis, (also called LPSA), also introduces you to the multi-state Bar exam multiple choice questions and Bar exam essay questions. I failed to appreciate that experience at first, but as my time in law school is already half over, I now understand how important the class was for my success and studying.
January Term is optional in your second and third year of law school and you are not limited to taking any single class. There are some classes, like the one I just finished called Legislative Process and Drafting, that are not offered in the course of a regular semester but that are offered during January Term. This is helpful because you can take a class that otherwise might never have been offered. January Term is also nice because, whatever class you take, you are taking the class by itself without any other courses demanding attention. This allows the January Term to be a more intense study of a specific area of the law, but not overwhelming because you have an entire day except two hours to prepare for the next class and still relax.
On top of the regular readings, my Legislative Process class took a trip to Columbus to meet with the Legislative Services Commission and to have lunch with a recent ONU grad as well. That is something that likely would not have happened during a regular semester without missing another class or classes, and that is always uncomfortable for students because of how notes-intensive law school is for most classes. There are other classes offered to students who wish to take part that go overseas as well. This January Term, a class went to The Hague in the Netherlands with Professor Lewis, which is pretty awesome.
In sum, the January Term can be fun because it is a bit more relaxed thanks to the extra time, and the classes offered are different from regular semesters so if you have a specific area of the law that interests you, make sure to look for those classes. Also, the class grade counts towards your spring semester GPA and credit hours, in case that helps you make a determination. January Term classes are not easy as pie, but the amount of time available for studying makes preparing for them and learning the material easier, especially when compared to a five or six class semester.
Blog Post 7: Focusing on Academic Success
This semester I am taking Business Organizations 2, Constitutional Law 2, Estates, Wills, and Trusts, Legal Profession, and Criminal Procedure. I enjoy taking these classes together because they each hit on a different area of law so I feel like I am learning a whole lot of law in one semester. The variety is also nice because I do not get tired of reading any single subject matter because there is a different one waiting for me the same or next day. My favorite class this semester is probably Constitutional Law 2 because we are talking about personal rights, fundamental rights and equal protection. Those three areas of constitutional law are very interesting to me because of the unique application they have to my life. The class is also interesting because I want to know what the Constitution really means, as applied by the Supreme Court, and not what it means as it is touted by the public or commentators.
Constitutional Law 2 is also my favorite class for this semester because it is taught by one of my favorite professors: Professor Brant. Professor Brant is very energetic and dynamic in her teaching and really does a great job in helping students see all sides of a particular issue. Professor Brant, particularly, is good at showing how it is the Court arrived at its decision based on all the history of the court cases leading up to the decision, as well as where the Court departed from prior precedent. She also helps to incorporate information that she has that the textbook editors do not include in the casebook to help provide context for decisions. Professor Brant also does a great job of breaking down the nitty-gritty details of lines of decisions into a way that can be understood by just about everyone.
Another one of my favorite professors is Professor Hill. He taught my Civil Procedure class during the first year and is another dynamic professor. Professor Hill uses students in his classes as the subjects of hypotheticals that he uses to teach the substantive law of the class. The hypos are always funny, and usually ridiculous, but they do the job of helping students, especially the first year students, cut through some of the more dense material and get to the meat and potatoes of the court decision and civil procedure rules. The hypos have provided a topic of discussion during and after class as well, which likely helps to reinforce the class material.
An aspect that both Professor Brant and Hill share is that they have some extraordinary real world experiences that really help to inform their teaching. Their experiences also give a glimpse of what practicing law will be like and makes the class more engaging. Overall, I like every professor I’ve had, but these two are my favorites based on their teaching styles. And I am sure that if you come to ONU you will find a professor you really enjoy learning from as well.
Blog Post 8: Moving On
This summer I will be working for the Ashtabula City Solicitor’s Office in Ashtabula, Ohio back near where I am from. The Solicitor and the Assistant Solicitor for the City of Ashtabula are both Ohio Northern University Law graduates and the judge is an ONU undergraduate graduate. The Solicitor’s job is pretty wide open and encompasses everything from being the attorney for the city to being the prosecutor for misdemeanors that occur within the city limits. I will be doing a bit of civil and criminal work for the office, and hopefully be able to get into the courtroom some with an internship certificate. The job is a lot of fun and a wonderful experience for me because I get to experience law on the ground floor, where everything happens. I also really like the experience because it gives me a taste for what it is like to operate in government, where I hope to eventually end up working.
I worked with the city last summer as well and I truly value the relationships I built there and the guidance they readily gave me. I am from the area (Jefferson, Ohio) and I hope to go back and work in Ashtabula County as a career in the long run. By working with the Solicitor’s Office, I am getting a feel for how the lawyers in my home county operate and building a network within the legal profession. I feel that these last two qualities are very important for someone who wishes to operate in a specific area because it really helps you to build a reputation before you even pass the bar exam. I have always known that I want to go back there though because that is where my family, friends, and memories are. I want to become an elected official in the long term and all politics is local. If you wish to follow a similar path, my greatest advice is to get into local politics and take legal internships in the area you wish to become elected so you can start now building a professional network.
But overall, an internship is a great experience. There is nothing like learning how to write, edit, research, and present to a person in the field on a real case. Everything takes on a renewed sense of urgency and importance because your work is affecting real people, in the real world. There is nothing greater than the feeling of satisfaction I get from knowing that I am doing meaningful work and have an impact on peoples’ lives. That kind of dedication to the law and realization that our profession is one of service can only come from real work experience, not from any book or class. I encourage each of you to get out there and experience it for yourself, even before you come to law school, to see if it is something you really love and to experience that sense of duty and accomplishment from helping others.