By Molly Andrews
Looking back, can you remember why you chose to fulfill a career in the legal field? What inspired you to go to law school?
These are the questions that students are asking themselves early on in their undergraduate careers as they begin to navigate what classes they are passionate about. After speaking with two students at the University of New Hampshire, it became clear that no path to law school is the same. However, the interest in the field and the passion to succeed is what drives students to choose the pre-law track.
Gabriella Chianese and Emily Dennison are co-presidents of the UNH Pre-Law Society at the Durham campus. They both found interest in the law differently but are passionate about what the Society has to offer students.
Chianese, from Long Island, New York, is set to graduate in the spring of 2024. She is majoring in biomedical sciences with a concentration in medical microbiology, as well as political science. UNH stuck out to her as an option because of the biomedical sciences major. Here, she was able to take classes that aren’t offered at other universities until the graduate level.
Because of her coursework and double major, she has a diverse background in which she was able to combine her passion for both science and the law.
“Even though I am not necessarily in pre-law-designated classes, I feel like I’ve been rounding out my portfolio a little bit by trying to take the writing intensive courses that are necessary for being in the law profession,” Chianese says.
Dennison, a senior from Acton, Massachusetts, picked a more traditional pre-law track, majoring in political science and justice studies. Her interest in the law started in high school when she took a political science class and was surprised at how much she liked it. It was the constitution law course that she took her freshman year that sold her on the idea of being an attorney.
Both Chianese and Dennison feel strongly about the law and have fostered their interest and passion into the Pre-Law Society. The Society is run by five executive officers who are all women. Their goal is to create a community of students who can bond through their interest in the law.
“We are just building a community of people that want to go to law school or are interested in the law because we don’t really have a major like that at UNH,” says Dennison.
In addition to weekly LSAT preparation before their meetings, the Society also focuses on professional development, which includes resume and interview preparation, networking, and how to brand yourself, to name a few. Besides focusing on professionalism and the law, they also like to have fun and lighten the mood with an occasional movie night.
“We’re a student org. We are professional, but we try to have some fun with things too, and build community,” Chianese says. “I would argue that it’s just as important as the professional development aspects of it.”
Chianese and Dennison stress how important it is to make connections, not just with their peers but with attorneys, as well. They welcome lawyers to come to their meetings and give tips on studying and practicing the law.
Attorney Joanne Stella from Durham Criminal Law attended a Pre-Law Society meeting where she spoke with students about her experiences with law school and how she got to where she is today.
“I’ve been practicing in Durham for many years, so I feel like I’m part of the UNH community,” Stella says.
In addition to sharing her own experiences, Stella was sure to answer the many questions students had that pertained to all things law. She says she finds value in talking with students and answering their questions to help solidify their choice in attending law school.
“Not everybody gets the opportunity to ask an actual lawyer very specific questions that they might have about their career choice or how to get into law school or what law school they should go to,” Stella says.
If there is one piece of advice Stella has for students thinking about law school, it is to take time off between college and law school because of the commitment.
Dennison has worked hard to get to where she is and to be a good leader. Besides being a co-president of the Pre-Law Society, she is also Student Body President.
“My experience at UNH has completely changed the person I am. I have become more confident,” Dennison says. “The environments and the major itself has made me more confident in my knowledge of the legal field and understanding of what’s going on. I am very prepared for what’s ahead of me and going to law school with the justice studies major that I’m in.”
Seeing as her graduation date is approaching next semester, she is beginning to think about her law school applications. She feels good about the position she is in and is excited for the future. She is currently interning at the Rochester City Attorney’s office and hopes to go into the public sector.
“I have a lot more to learn, but I feel more confident going into law school,” Dennison says.
Being a Massachusetts native, she is hoping to return home for law school but doesn’t rule out the idea of practicing in New Hampshire in the future.
Chianese has a year before she graduates in the spring 2024. Before going to law school, she intends to get her master’s degree in molecular and cellular biotechnology. This puts her on the trajectory to start law school in the fall of 2025. Her goal is to practice intellectual property law, with a focus in patent law for biotechnology and biopharmaceuticals.
When asked if she could see herself attending law school or practicing in New Hampshire, she doesn’t rule it out.
“A little too soon to see what the future will hold, but I could definitely see myself attending UNH Law and practicing law in New Hampshire, whether its both or one or the other,” Chianese says.
Chianese and Dennison had different paths to finding their passion with the law, but they are both excited to see what the future brings for them as they continue their paths to becoming attorneys.