'Preview' class offers Princeton undergraduates a taste of law school

Twenty Princeton undergraduates attended a “Law School Preview” on Nov. 11, co-sponsored by the Library and the Center for Career Development, to experience a law-school-style class taught using the Socratic method.

Students in lecture hall

Princeton students consider law cases in Robertson Hall's bowl classroom. Photo by Princeton University Library

 “I loved it,” said Laura Pansini ’20, a sociology major. “I was so happy to be in a situation with a professor who knows what she’s talking about and to imagine my future.”

The class was taught by Sarah E. Light, J.D., a 2019-20 Program in Law and Public Affairs Fellow at Princeton who teaches environmental law at the University of Pennsylvania's School of Law and Wharton School of Business. 

“Many students are curious or nervous about law school,” said David Hollander, J.D., Librarian for Law and Legal Studies. “A law school class is a totally different experience than most other classes. It’s often anxiety provoking because the professor asks pointed questions about a case to tease out underlying principles.”

Most law school curricula incorporate the Socratic method to help students think critically about cases. A professor will call on a student to summarize a case, then ask a series of targeted questions. 

To offer a taste of this law school experience, Hollander emailed students a nuisance law case to brief in advance of the preview.

Light posed questions about Georgia v. Tennessee Copper Co. (1907), a case that involved noxious fumes crossing state lines, while students debated the plaintiff’s argument for nuisance. “Through the Socratic method,” Light said, “we’ve determined the need for the Clean Air Act.”

In another case involving an Alaskan village, Kivalina, v. ExxonMobil (2008), the class examined the plaintiff’s claim for flood damage reparations caused by climate change. One student argued, “it’s not tenable to say only US and European fossil fuel companies cause rising sea levels.”

At the end of class, students asked Light for law school advice and course recommendations.

Professor teaching students in lecture hall

Professor Light incorporated cases from the history of environmental law to those being mitigated today. Photo by Princeton University Library

Princeton offers law-related courses in several departments, including politics and at the Princeton School of Public and International Affairs.

Undergraduates, graduate students, and alumni interested in law school may schedule an appointment with a pre-law advisor at the Center for Career Development. Advisors help those interested in law investigate career options and maximize academic, leadership, and professional experiences for future applications.

Additionally, the Program in Law and Public Affairs sponsors talks throughout the year, bringing together the multidisciplinary expertise of Princeton's faculty and visiting scholars.


Written by Emily Judd, Library Communications Coordinator

Media contact: Barbara Valenza, Director, Library Communications