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Pre-law program says farewell to its director

Confidence, hands-on skills and a powerful network prepares MSMU pre-law students to thrive in law school.

September 16, 2022

Helen Boutrous, PhD, JD, associate professor and former director of the pre-law program at Mount Saint Mary’s, arrived at the Mount two decades ago.
Helen Boutrous, PhD, JD, associate professor and former director of the pre-law program at Mount Saint Mary’s, arrived at the Mount two decades ago.

In the first week of law school, someone will stand up in front of your class and tell you to look at the students next to you. And then they’ll say that one of you isn’t going to make it to graduation — or maybe even to the end of the year.

Over the past 20 years,“Dr. B”— as many students affectionately refer to Helen Boutrous, PhD, JD — took over pre-law studies and created a dynamic, interactive program within the supportive environment the Mount offers and used it to get students up on their feet and ready to thrive in the high-pressure, competitive world of law.

The environment in law school can be a totally different experience from that of a student’s undergraduate years. “Law school is tough and competitive,” says Boutrous. “You have to arrive with the mindset and the confidence that you’ve got everything within yourself to succeed.”

Boutrous, associate professor and former director of the pre-law program, is scaling back her day-to-day responsibilities as she heads into retirement this fall. But, the program is poised to thrive with the help of Mount alumnae returning to teach and mentor.

"Mock trial and moot court taught me practical skills, such as public speaking, critical thinking and argumentation, and the substantive coursework enabled me to hit the ground running in law school.”
– Melanie Sava ’17, JD

 

Learning to think and act like a lawyer

Boutrous and Melanie Sava'17, who has returned to the Mount this year to teach in the pre-law program.
Boutrous and Melanie Sava'17, who has returned to the Mount this year to teach in the pre-law program.

At the heart of this pre-law program are the highly competitive mock trial and moot court competitions. Pre-law minors hone their litigation skills by arguing cases in simulated courtroom scenarios against students from other universities. Each experience steels them to handle unique challenges and pressures. In mock trial, they prepare, present and defend cases in front of a judge, while also managing objections thrown at them from the other team. In moot court, they study real case law to craft arguments for appeals in front of the simulated U.S. Supreme Court. Participation is intense and takes a big commitment of time. And it’s worth it.

“Both experiences teach them not only how to be a law student, but also how to be a lawyer. They are up on their feet, being quizzed by judges and marching around in their suits and litigation bags. It’s exhausting, but it’s such great training,” says Boutrous, who helped found the California Classic Moot Court and hosted its first edition at the Chalon Campus in 2009.

The Mount’s Moot Court and Mock Trial teams have competed in tournaments with students from across the country, winning 35 competition awards since 2005.

Mount Moot Court or Mock Trial participants who chose to pursue law have been accepted into law schools around the country, including the Ivy Leagues and every one of the top 10 law schools. Boutrous says Mount alumnae have excelled in law school and continue to thrive in the legal profession.

Sarah Bessell ’06, JD, was a founding member and captain of the first MSMU Mock Trial team. In 2015, she graduated from George Washington University Law School and earned an MA in Conflict Resolution from Georgetown University. Now, she works as counsel at the Washington Lawyers Committee in Washington, DC, where she supervises the Committee’s Workers’ Rights Clinic.

“Mock trial competitions and moot court hearings encourage students to think creatively, gain public speaking experience and stand on their feet,” says Bessell. “Participation in these programs was integral in preparing me for challenging coursework at the graduate level.”

“I teach my students how to give an opening statement, and then I have to go and do it for work. When I get
nervous, I tell myself that if my students can do this, I can do it, too.” – Viridiana Aceves ’14, JD

 

The Network of Power

The Mount has a formidable group of pre-law alumnae affectionately referred to as the Network of Power. Over the last two decades, the program has cultivated a strong community of graduates who come back to coach current students and who are always on the lookout for opportunities to hire another Mount grad or connect students with internships. It’s incredibly inspiring and energizing for students to look at these successful female attorneys who, just a few years ago, were sitting where they are now. It helps them really understand that they’re built for this kind of work — and that if these women can make it, they can, too.

Professor Helen Boutrous with former Mount pre-law students competing at a moot court.
Professor Helen Boutrous with former Mount pre-law students competing at a moot court.

Current students are thankful for this community — whom Boutrous jokingly calls her army of lawyers — for their generosity to give back to the University and share their knowledge, despite their busy work schedules. “When I first started at the Mount two decades ago, I wanted my students to feel like they have a community under them, with them, and working for them — and now, we’ve got that,” says Boutrous.

It is this Network of Power that gives Boutrous the confidence that the program will continue to thrive, secure in the knowledge that those she so expertly trained are ready to help and support the program as she turns over the reins. She knows that their pride in the program is motivation to ensure its continued success.

And who knows? Maybe one of them will discover that their life’s passion is teaching, much the way their mentor, Dr. B., did.

 

Professor Boutrous: A mentor for life

Professor Helen Boutrous, former director of the pre-law program at Mount Saint Mary’s.
Professor Helen Boutrous, former director of the pre-law program at Mount Saint Mary’s.

Helen Boutrous, PhD, JD, associate professor and former director of the pre-law program at Mount Saint Mary’s, arrived at the Mount two decades ago. Boutrous explains that she immediately felt a connection with her students. “Their dedication and the amount of work they are willing to do to fulfill their dreams is really impressive,” she says.

In addition to directing the pre-law program, teaching a full load of pre-law and American politics courses, providing academic advice and preparing the teams for different legal competitions every year, Boutrous helped her students through the entire law school application process, from raising funds for students’ LSAT courses to mentoring them with their personal statements.

“There could be nothing more fulfilling than seeing my students go off and succeed in their careers,” says Boutrous. “It is just a pure and utter joy.”

Boutrous has financially supported several Mount funds, including the pre-law scholarship fund. She is now bolstering the pre-law program by creating the Dr. Helen G. Boutrous Pre-Law Excellence Fund to help ensure its continued success.

“Dr. Boutrous was, and continues to be, a pillar of support during law school and as I progress further in my legal career,” explains Sarah Bessell ’06, who was part of the first MSMU Mock Trial team.

Boutrous decided to pursue a career in law after participating in a moot court competition herself during her undergraduate degree at UCLA. “I was both thrilled and infuriated by the experience. I knew I wanted more.”

After receiving her JD from the University of San Diego School of Law, she moved to Washington, DC, to work as a government attorney. While still working as a lawyer, she took a legislative process class from the PhD program at Georgetown University. “I took another class, and another, and ultimately decided to stop practicing and pursue my PhD in American government. I loved being around academics, and I was enthralled by the study of government process,” she explains.

Professor Boutrous shares a farewell message with Mount students and alumnae

Celebrating Helen Boutrous

If you’d like to make a contribution to a fund celebrating Helen Boutrous’ impact on the pre-law program, please contact Carly Bidner, director of development, principal gifts, at cbidner@msmu.edu or visit Give to The Mount

A reception recognizing Helen Boutrous’ tireless commitment to the pre-law program will be held during Alumnae Weekend on October 15. Contact Kevin A. Barry for more information at kbarry@msmu.edu.