Agreements signed in October and December between WPI, Suffolk University Law School in Boston and Franklin Pierce Law Center in Concord, N.H., will provide WPI applicants, freshmen and sophomores the opportunity to seek early admission to either law school. Both Suffolk and Franklin Pierce specialize in high-technology law and intellectual property.
"Lawyers working in intellectual property law and other fields will have to fully understand technology, science, and mathematics," says outgoing Provost Diran Apelian, who calls the affiliations a great marriage.
As the WPI Journal noted in its Spring 1993 issue, "A growing number of WPI graduates are using their engineering and science degrees as stepping-stones to other types of professional occupations."
Kent J. Rissmiller, a lawyer and associate professor of social science and policy studies at WPI, agrees. "Young people thinking about law should also be thinking about training in science or technology," says Rissmiller. "Opportunities are best for lawyers with a solid grounding in a technical field, especially in fields such as intellectual property and environmental law."
Rissmiller says the new program evolved in recognition of the background and experience of the faculty and in response to the demands and interests of the students. "I've been advising students in pre-law since my arrival here in 1988, and there were students with interest in law before that."
Rissmiller pointed out that in 1990 there were about 20 students who expressed an interest in law; today that number has more than doubled to 42. "What we've done in the last two years is put some resources into the program," he says. "We're now on the cusp of doing greater things. The signing of the agreements with the two law schools last fall was a watershed for the program. In addition, the WPI faculty helped to strengthen our pre-law curriculum by approving the new minor in law and technology."
The program, supported by an Interface Discipline Initiative grant, is another way that WPI can broaden its appeal to new students. "We'll be marketing the program to the entering Class of 2000," Rissmiller explains. "In the more distant future, we see a six-year, joint-degree program with closer ties between the faculties of all three institutions."
WPI professors have been advising student projects in law and technology for some time. Mechanical Engineering Professor Raymond Hagglund, for example, has been advising projects in product liability. Other projects have focused on international patent law harmonization treaties, the patenting of computer software, applications of the Safe Drinking Water Act, and land-use controls in watersheds. "In the future we hope that students who enter WPI under the joint degree programs will work on projects that originate from the law faculty at the two schools," says Rissmiller. "This will be an excellent way to introduce WPI students to these law schools as undergraduates."
Students interested in law at WPI have the opportunity to participate in the Pre-Law Society, which meets throughout the year. In early April, Professor William Hennessey of the Franklin Pierce Law Center talked about international patent law with the members of the society. Shelby Walker, a senior majoring in biotechnology, says, "Society and my discussions with Rissmiller and others helped me decide to pursue a law career. I'll be attending Franklin Pierce next year to get my J.D. and master's of intellectual property degrees."
Anyone interested in obtaining additional information about the joint program is invited to contact the WPI Admissions Office or Rissmiller. Prospective students must be able to demonstrate exceptional academic achievement in their high school studies and WPI course work.
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