Political science at Columbia College

Successful program is springboard to law school, then practice.

Columbia College may not have a law school, but it does have a thriving, small-by-design pre-law program headed by Dr. David Roebuck, professor of political science. This program, part of the History and Political Science Department, has in recent years seen its students accepted into the country's best law schools, such as Harvard, the universities of Virginia and Missouri, New York University, William & Mary, Chicago-Kent and Rutgers.

Roebuck says the program rarely graduates more than a dozen students a year and that the small class sizes guarantee students the freedom to pursue their own path, with encouragement and attention from instructors. Columbia College does not employ grad students as teachers.

The program has also been so successful, Roebuck says, because it selects skilled, hard-working students:

"We expect a lot from them," he says, including already having a good grasp of analysis, writing and careful and thorough research. In return, undergraduate political science students enter law school with the ability to read and brief cases — essential skills which many new law school students have not acquired.

Here are some of these students’ stories.

  • Geoff Blackwell '10, Bachelor of Arts in Political Science, who has been accepted to Rutgers, the state university of New Jersey. Blackwell took a class on the nuts and bolts of the American electoral process taught by Dr. Terry Smith, executive vice president and dean for Academic Affairs, "an incredible practical experience of what politics really is," Blackwell says, "the door to door retail." This experience led to a great essay, which led to acceptance from Rutgers.

    "Going through the political science program at Columbia College has opened a lot of avenues, especially in an economy like this,” he says. “It's good to give yourself a lot of options."
  • Richard Moore '99, bachelor's degree in political science and history, went to the law school of Southern Illinois University-Carbondale and is now assistant general counsel and director of regulatory affairs for the Missouri Chamber of Commerce and Industry. Moore interned at the state capitol in Jefferson City for three of his four years. Columbia College's connections with and proximity to Jefferson City provides internships with the public defender's office, prosecutors, local senators, even national politicians.

    Moore's first job out of law school was as a nonpartisan staff attorney for the Missouri Senate representing all 34 senators. He's also worked at the Missouri Public Service Commission and been legal counsel for the state Department of Natural Resources and for the state treasurer's office.

    "I appreciate his [Roebuck's] style of teaching," Moore says. "It prepared me for law school, the kind of interactive teaching of law school."
  • Jared Vessell '00, bachelor's degree in political science, has recently co-founded his own law firm, Vessell Bridges Law Offices LLC, in Columbia, Mo. Vessel switched majors from pre-med to the political science program and Columbia College's professors “were a big part of that decision," he says.

    Vessel had an internship with then-Senator Christopher "Kit" Bond in Washington, D.C., during President Clinton's impeachment trial and worked for a local law firm for seven and a half years before he and a friend struck out on their own. Vessel now helps out with regional and national mock trial tournaments where students digest then argue hypothetical criminal or civil cases.

Employment outlook

According to payscale.com, the starting salary for attorneys and lawyers in the United States today is $55,955. The service says, however, that pay can vary greatly by location. And according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), approximately 26 percent of lawyers were self-employed in 2008, practicing either as partners in law firms or in solo practices. Most salaried lawyers held positions in government, law firms, corporations or nonprofit organizations. Most government-employed lawyers worked at the local, not federal level.

BLS also says employment of lawyers is expected to grow 13 percent through 2018, about as fast as the average for all occupations, but that competition for jobs will be keen. Increasingly picky employers are seeking graduates who have advanced law degrees and experience in a specialty, such as tax, patent or admiralty law, says BLS.

Read the BLS 2010-11 occupational report here.


Park Ranger Cadet Mandy said...

Nice job on the video Steve!