By Laura Zell, ’15 J.D.
Congratulations on your acceptance to Notre Dame Law School! When applying to law school I had no idea where I eventually wanted to work, which is why Notre Dame’s strong national reputation and alumni network stood out to me from the start. After visiting campus on Admitted Students Weekend, I was sold.
I felt integrated into the law school’s small, collegial community from the start of my law school career because of orientation, the formal pairing with a faculty advisor, the informal mentoring from upperclassmen, and the professor’s involvement and dedication to their students. Many 1L teachers take groups of students for coffee or lunch during the first few weeks of classes, and some even invite an entire class over for dinner. It was just as easy, if not easier, to get to know classmates through class, the variety of student organizations, and social events such as volunteer opportunities and intramural athletics. Beyond the law school, students join the Notre Dame family, composed of current students and alumni all over the country who are willing to help fellow Domers however they can.
While at NDLS I knew I was receiving a strong legal education that would prepare me for my current job, working at a law firm in Pittsburgh, but I had no idea how prepared I was until my employer sent me (by myself) to a deposition in Houston a month after passing the Pennsylvania bar.
Notre Dame Law School provides a variety of ways for students to gain first-hand, practical experience, including clinics, legal volunteer opportunities, and skills classes. The most beneficial class I took was deposition skills, where adjunct faculty — comprised of practicing attorneys in the South Bend area — taught important deposition skills ranging from techniques on how to best gather information about conversations or policies/procedures to testing case theories to preparing a witness. One day a week the adjuncts taught us a new technique, and then a few days later, we had the chance to practice that skill by examining a witness, while an adjunct observed and provided feedback. Being able to practice questioning a witness on a mock case where you create legal theories, decide how to handle negative or bad facts, and gain invaluable feedback from practicing attorneys gave me insight and hands-on experience into a big and important aspect of litigation even before becoming an attorney. It also gave me the confidence to head into a deposition with 30 other attorneys just a month after becoming a licensed attorney.
What strikes me about my time at Notre Dame is how this school became much more than a place to receive a legal education. Don’t get me wrong, I expected, and did receive a great legal education that I know will serve me well for the rest of my life, regardless of where I want to practice or in what capacity. But what I didn’t expect was the lifelong friendships and experiences that occurred outside of the classroom. For example, I became close to a professor from South Africa, learned about apartheid and South African food during a dinner at her home; heard former President Jimmy Carter, his wife Rosalynn Carter, Condoleezza Rice, and two U.S. Supreme Court Justices speak; and became a big time football fan, after having lunch with Notre Dame’s head coach Brian Kelly and the entire football coaching staff!
A member of Notre Dame Law School Class of 2015, Zell earned her bachelor of arts in government and politics from the University of Maryland in 2012. While in law school, Zell earned the Dean’s Award for Deposition Skills. She also served as the Admissions Chair of the Student Bar Association, the Executive Notes Editor for the Journal of College and University Law, and a legal intern with the University of Notre Dame’s Office of General Counsel. Currently, Zell is an associate in the litigation group at Metz Lewis in Pittsburg, Pa., specializing in labor and employment law.