Real Law in a Simulated Context

The LEAP Center typically invites Professor Val Ricks from the South Texas College of Law–Houston to campus in the spring, but we made it a fall event this year. And so it was that, last week, Professor Ricks spoke to 35 SHSU pre-law students who signed up for an educational event–without extra credit, a class assignment, or give-away prizes.

They came because they wanted to learn, and they were willing to do some dense reading beforehand. The reading involved a contract, and this was no accident. Professor Ricks is one of the leading experts in the country on contract law; in fact, some of our alumni who have gone on to law school have informed us that they were assigned his book in their classes!

Professor Ricks began the course by informing us of his goals for this and any class that he teaches: (1) Get the words of the law – law is words, (2) Set the words out in a workable way, (3) Practice applying them, and (4) Consider what is “right” – the law is a moral exercise.

He went about this through the Socratic method since everyone loves being called on and questioned until they cannot answer. At least, we will have to if we plan on practicing the law, especially, in the courtroom. Through his random number generator, he called on those people to answer his questions regarding the G.D. Holdings, INC v H.D.H. Land & Timber, L.P., 407 S.W.3d 856, 2013, after delivering the facts and procedures of this case.

Many of us believed we were prepared but we did not know what to expect, so were we really prepared for Professor Ricks to hit us with questions like, What is the legal issue being addressed? How did you draw this conclusion? What is the ruling of the Court? A few of us addressed this question with the trial court’s ruling which led Professor Ricks to ask us, Where did you read that? Why do you think that is the final ruling? In these instances he let us help each other out when the person he called on was stuck, which we later learned that in an actual law class he would have picked that individual’s brain until they provided the answer he was looking for.

We continued this process as we provided evidence that we thought best fit or would prove the three different clauses of Promissory Estoppel- the legal issue of the case – (a) a promise, (b)foreseeability of reliance by the promissor, and (c) substantial reliance by the promisee to his detriment. It was at this moment, that we felt the high pressure that lawyers feel in a courtroom the most. With us acting as lawyers and Professor Ricks as a judge, who questioned us to help fill in the gaps in the story and understand what we were thinking. This proved to be a lot harder than we thought since proving that a promise, the first part of Promissory Estoppel, had been made was difficult and some of us soon learned that in this context a promise was defined as a commitment.

Following the class, most of us were more certain than ever that we wanted to attend law school. This was a sentiment Professor Ricks encouraged, as we learned when he stayed after to encourage us, answer questions, and take photos.

Mock Law Class: Version 2021

With a random number generator in hand, Val Ricks, Professor at South Texas College of Law, introduced himself to 16 pre-law students who registered to attend a virtual Mock Law School class on March 3, 2021. The class was taught by Professor Val Ricks, whose qualifications include a Juris Doctorate from Brigham Young University’s J. Reuben Clark Law School, legal work as an associate attorney with Kirton & McConkle, and almost 25 years teaching at South Texas College of Law. The Mock Law School class is a unique partnership between SHSU’s Center for Law, Engagement, And Politics and South Texas College of Law.

SHSU, LEAP Center, Center for Law Engagement And Politics, South Texas College of Law, Professor Val Ricks, Pre-Law

The students came to class prepared; they had already read and briefed the case which involved a contract dispute between the singer Mariah Carey and her stepfather. After Professor Ricks recited the facts of the case, he used the random number generator to select a student to discuss the legal issue of the case. Employing the Socratic Method of questioning, Professor Ricks skillfully led the pre-law students through the analysis of the legal issues in the case, the rule of law, and how the court applied the rule of law.

SHSU, LEAP Center, Center for Law Engagement And Politics, South Texas College of Law, Professor Val Ricks, Pre-Law

In evaluating the Class, several students commented that the Mock Law School Class gave them an opportunity to experience the real feel of law school while still being an undergraduate. Jessica Cuevas was grateful for the “amazing opportunity for a glance into the future of how my law school experience may be like regarding study habits and classroom settings. Attending the Mock Law Class solidified my decision to attend law school.”

In working through the logic of the Mariah Carey case, Professor Ricks homed in on some specific word choices in the opinion and mentioned synonyms for the legal terms. In this way, Ricks alluded to how language and law are closely linked.

SHSU, LEAP Center, Center for Law Engagement And Politics, South Texas College of Law, Professor Val Ricks, Pre-Law

After discussing the case, Professor Ricks asked some thought-provoking questions regarding the policies underlying the rule of law in the case and whether the court reached the correct result. In addition, like a question on a final law school exam, Ricks presented a hypothetical set of facts and asked the class to analyze the issue of the hypothetical based on the facts. Then, using the Mariah Carey case as precedent, he asked how a court would rule on the issue in the hypothetical case and what reasoning the court would use.

SHSU, LEAP Center, Center for Law Engagement And Politics, South Texas College of Law, Professor Val Ricks, Pre-Law

Professor Ricks followed up with some valuable advice for the pre-law students. He explained that law school is about studying old settled law so that as a practicing attorney, you have confidence in applying the law correctly to new fact patterns presented by clients. He suggested that students in law school take the Socratic questioning by law professors in class as a challenge and an opportunity to have a conversation with the professor. Ricks emphasized that the process of learning the law and applying it is more important than the specific legal cases. Yvette Mendoza commented, “ I loved this last part of the class because I was able to ask the law professor questions about law school.”

Professor Ricks advised the students of the importance of clearing everything off their calendar and devoting time to law school, especially in the first year of law school. Ruona Odharo asked a question about paying for law school. Ricks pointed out that South Texas College of Law strives to keep tuition as low as possible.

In response to Yvette Mendoza’s question on whether a student needs to go to a prestigious law school to get a good legal job, Ricks said that every law school teaches the same material using the Socratic Method, and that “excellence depends on you.” A great lawyer can come from any law school.

SHSU, LEAP Center, Center for Law Engagement And Politics, South Texas College of Law, Professor Val Ricks, Pre-Law

Pre-Law Society: Getting into Law School

By Heather Barodi

Our second meeting of the semester was another success. With a total of 70 members (a spring record), the organization continues to grow and meet the needs of one of the University’s most diverse organizations.

The meeting began with us updating our finances, approving minutes, and discussing upcoming opportunities, including: Mock LSAT, Mock Law class, the 10th Court of Appeals, and many others.

SHSU, LEAP Center, Center for Law Engagement And Politics, Pre-Law Society, PLS, Legal Kats, Kattorneys, South Texas College of Law, Dean Alicia Cramer

With this preliminary work out of the way, we introduced our guest speaker, Dean Alicia Cramer, who oversees admissions for South Texas College of Law (STCL).

SHSU, LEAP Center, Center for Law Engagement And Politics, Pre-Law Society, PLS, Legal Kats, Kattorneys, South Texas College of Law, Dean Alicia Cramer

Dean Cramer wasted no time with tips to get into, not just STCL, but also other law schools in which students might be interested.

Her first point that she stressed was that doing well in our undergrad years matters a lot.  Your grades, LSAT, major, grade trends, organizational leadership, and experience can all influence whether you are accepted to law school.

SHSU, LEAP Center, Center for Law Engagement And Politics, Pre-Law Society, PLS, Legal Kats, Kattorneys, South Texas College of Law, Dean Alicia Cramer

Dean Cramer stressed that being prepared for your LSAT and taking it once was a key strategy: poor scores, even if they are replaced by higher scores, stay on your record.  She did recommend prep courses, highlighting the free Khan Academy, which she has seen benefit many students.

SHSU, LEAP Center, Center for Law Engagement And Politics, Pre-Law Society, PLS, Legal Kats, Kattorneys, South Texas College of Law, Dean Alicia Cramer

Dean Cramer also told us that the personal statements should stay to a 2 ½ page maximum, unless otherwise stated. She said think about it like an interview on paper, so say what is important, but do not repeat your resumes, since the schools will have it. Be concise with your statement and do not lose sight of what your topic is.

SHSU, LEAP Center, Center for Law Engagement And Politics, Pre-Law Society, PLS, Legal Kats, Kattorneys, South Texas College of Law, Dean Alicia Cramer

With all the new found knowledge and tips we obtained from Dean Cramer, we ended with a Q&A session just in case students had some questions on topics we had missed.  More than most sessions, the students engaged and asked good questions, a sign, perhaps, of our students becoming closer and more engaged.,

Our next meeting will be March 18.  We will meet in CHSS 252, where we will follow-up Dean Cramer’s presentation with a workshop on law-sch0ol selections–with us serving as the selection committees and reviewing actual resumes and letters of recommendations.

The Dos and Don’ts of Your Law School Application: PLS in October

Photos and text by Heather Barodi

Our second meeting of the semester went on without skipping a beat. There were very few minor things to take care of before we got right down to business with our guest panel, which included three law school deans or recruiters.

We started our meeting with some housekeeping, which included an acknowledgement and congratulations for our most members (yet) and ended with a discussion on our upcoming volunteer event, Scare on the Square.

Afterwards, we were introduced to our admissions panel. We had Megan Henson (Associate Director of Admissions at University of Tulsa), Shawn Adams (Assistant Director for Recruitment at Texas Tech Law), and Jens Sandberg (Admissions Recruiter at South Texas College of Law).

SHSU, Pre-Law Society, LEAP Center, Center for Law, Engagement And Politics, Texas Tech Law, University of Tulsa Law, South Texas College of Law, Pre-Law

Our president, Sawyer Massie, started our Q&A with a few basic questions, but our members quickly jumped in and had some interesting questions of their own.

SHSU, Pre-Law Society, LEAP Center, Center for Law, Engagement And Politics, Texas Tech Law, University of Tulsa Law, South Texas College of Law, Pre-Law

Our panelist informed on things to put on our applications, what not to put, how to write the “perfect” personal statements, retaking LSATs, and many other things.

SHSU, Pre-Law Society, LEAP Center, Center for Law, Engagement And Politics, Texas Tech Law, University of Tulsa Law, South Texas College of Law, Pre-Law

Each panelist offered their own unique advice fit for their school, as well as their own personal advice that they endeavored when they applied for law schools.  They were very informative, while also injecting some humor into the discussion.

SHSU, Pre-Law Society, LEAP Center, Center for Law, Engagement And Politics, Texas Tech Law, University of Tulsa Law, South Texas College of Law, Pre-Law

The common denominator for that all three came into agreement on one thing: be yourself. That is the one thing most applicants miss on because they focus on what they think the admissions office wants to hear rather than the truth.

SHSU, Pre-Law Society, LEAP Center, Center for Law, Engagement And Politics, Texas Tech Law, University of Tulsa Law, South Texas College of Law, Pre-Law

At the end of this meeting, we can all say we left with more than we expected know and feel a little less nervous for our applications. Our final meeting of the fall semester is November 20, and we expect to have another exciting and educational meeting!

SHSU, Pre-Law Society, LEAP Center, Center for Law, Engagement And Politics, Texas Tech Law, University of Tulsa Law, South Texas College of Law, Pre-Law

Learning the Law–Mock Law Class with Professor Val Ricks

Every Spring, the Center for Law, Engagement, and Politics invites Professor Val Ricks to teach a Mock Law class on the SHSU Campus. He teaches a class on contract law exactly as he teaches it down in his own classroom at South Texas College of Law in Houston. Students that sign up are emailed the cases about a week before the class and are expected to read and brief them by class time. Professor Ricks teaches the class using the Socratic method, a form of interlocutory discussion, which is commonly used in law schools to develop critical thinking in students.

SHSU, LEAP Center, LEAP Ambassadors, Pre-Law, South Texas College of Law, STCL, Professor Val Ricks, Center for Law Engagement And Politics

The lesson focused on the concept of consideration and how it is an essential element of every contract. We learned all about how both parties in an agreement must each offer something in exchange for the agreement to be considered valid.

SHSU, LEAP Center, LEAP Ambassadors, Pre-Law, South Texas College of Law, STCL, Professor Val Ricks, Center for Law Engagement And Politics

We answered questions about the facts of the case and discussed several different scenarios in which consideration from one of the parties in an agreement was lacking and how it affected the ruling in each case.

SHSU, LEAP Center, LEAP Ambassadors, Pre-Law, South Texas College of Law, STCL, Professor Val Ricks, Center for Law Engagement And Politics

It was a unique opportunity for many of the students who had never been exposed to law school to experience what it’s like inside a law classroom.

SHSU, LEAP Center, LEAP Ambassadors, Pre-Law, South Texas College of Law, STCL, Professor Val Ricks, Center for Law Engagement And Politics

Toward the end of class, Professor Ricks invited anyone who had questions to approach him and ask, to which many students did.

SHSU, LEAP Center, LEAP Ambassadors, Pre-Law, South Texas College of Law, STCL, Professor Val Ricks, Center for Law Engagement And Politics

Before bidding us goodbye, he shared that we performed about as well as his usual first-year students that he teaches down in Houston. As a group, we thanked him for making the drive up to Huntsville and expressed hope that he’d join us again next spring.

SHSU Students LEAP into Law Class

On Wednesday, 31 fortunate SHSU students gathered in a classroom to experience a one-of-a-kind opportunity. The Law, Engagement, and Politics organization, otherwise known as LEAP, partnered with South Texas College of Law of Houston to bring a “Mock Law Class” to Sam Houston State University.

South Texas College of Law Professor Val Ricks and the STCL Assistant Dean of Admissions, Alicia Cramer, both arrived at SHSU on Wednesday, ready to make an impact on the pre-law students’ lives. The students who were fortunate enough to take part in the Mock Law Class were all prepared with days worth of reading and trying our best to comprehend the two assigned cases. When the day came, all of the scholars, dressed in business attire, were prepared and ready for class to start. Everyone, from freshmen to seniors, have begun to feel the pressure of law school, and yet we were all excited to get started with the Mock Law Class. I personally, was very nervous at the prospect of attending a Law Class, as I did not know what to expect. But was sure that whatever happened this would be one more new learning experience to get me closer to law school.

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Everyone took a deep breath as Professor Ricks entered and began the class by introducing himself and telling us about his law experience. Then he began with the really fun part we had all been waiting for. First, we reviewed the cases and deciphered how each rule applied to them. And then, Professor Ricks started conducting the class in a very interesting manner. As we read over the cases, he would ask different individuals questions. Of course, not really having much experience, some of us came to the incorrect conclusions. But instead of correcting us in the regular fashion, Professor Ricks used the Socratic method so that the students could find their way to the correct answer (or, sometimes another incorrect answer) all on their own (or with the help of their peers). The class continued in this style that many students are intimidated by, but all of the students in the class seemed eager to be called upon.

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When one student would get stumped on a question, over half of the class had their hands raised, ready to assist. Most students thought that this type of method worked extremely well and allowed them to feel as if they were already in law school. “I thought it was extremely informative,” stated Brittany Lightfoot, “I liked how he treated us like actual law school students, and how when he asked us questions, he helped us get to the right answer instead of just asking and expecting us to know!” This classroom filled with likeminded people who were ready to learn and prepared made me even more excited for my future law school endeavors!

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Afterwards, Professor Ricks remained behind for a moment to answer any questions we had concerning any aspect of a law class setting, grades, or professors. Then he turned the attention over to Mrs. Alicia Cramer, the Assistant Dean of Admissions. She presented to us the various requirements needed to get into South Texas College of Law and even other law schools.

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It is true that the class was rigorous and a bit hard, but everyone was fully engaged in the class and welcomed the questions. It was a very enjoyable experience and thanks to Professor Rick’s guidance, we were all able to succeed and leave with an invigorated spirit. “Beforehand, I was nervous because I thought that it was going to be hard, and I didn’t feel as prepared as I was. Afterwards I found that I really enjoyed myself, because it taught me how to better prepare for issues that of the utmost importance, not just in law but in life itself,” said fellow classmate, Jamaus Williams.

Many thanks to Professor Ricks and Assistant Dean Alicia Cramer, for taking the time to come to SHSU and teaching us such valuable lessons and giving us a new sense of purpose and motivation. The Mock Law Class provided us with the opportunity to discover if this path was right for us and if it was, then be motivated even more to accomplish it.