Erin Decker, a second-year law student, tests well.
OK, that’s an understatement. She’s one of only a handful of test-takers who aced her LSAT, close-reading and problem-analyzing her way to a perfect 180 score.
Now Decker is taking those skills to the next generation of future law students, teaching the fine points of the LSAT to both college students exploring the idea of law school and collegians and career-changers getting ready to take the test.
“Of all of the graduate admissions tests, the LSAT is the one most strongly correlated with grades in the first year,” Decker says. “Part of it is understanding what the questions are asking. You’re going to have to be able to read very, very precisely. If you’re just skimming the paragraph, you’re not going to pick up on the details. And once you’re in school, that’s how you’re going to have to read statutes, to pick up on the nuances of them.”
Decker, a Buffalo native, earned her bachelor’s degree in mathematics at SUNY Potsdam, then a master’s in math at Binghamton University, before deciding that she’d rather be a lawyer than a math professor. She earned her MBA in an intensive one-year program at Cornell University’s Samuel Curtis Johnson Graduate School of Management before returning to her hometown and to SUNY Buffalo Law School.
In the interim, she worked for Kaplan Inc., the national test-prep chain, as a trainer and eventually a product development manager. Teaching the LSAT in that context, she says, “got me thinking about law school. I never saw a disconnect between math and law. When you get to a certain level of studying math, it’s all theorems and following the particular logic and being very precise with your use of language. It’s not about numbers. You have to make sure you really follow the letter of the law as well as the spirit of it.”
Last summer Decker taught an LSAT skills course for Discover Law, the Law School’s exploratory program designed to encourage members of underrepresented minorities to consider law school. She plans to do it again this summer: “I think it’s hugely important to promote minority access to law school. Buffalo has a big focus on that.”
Now she has fleshed out that class into a daylong LSAT preparation course for college juniors and seniors, as well as older people thinking about a career change. The Law School’s Office of Admissions and Student Life pays her a stipend to teach the course, which includes six hours of instruction punctuated by a lunch hour at which Law School staffers lead a question-and-answer session about the admissions process. Decker is planning to lead the course for the fifth time in mid-May.
The class is limited to 30 potential law students, and it’s oversubscribed – no doubt at least in part because the instructor’s perfect-score credential is part of the appeal.
But is it really possible to help someone get a better score on the LSAT, which after all is supposed to measure innate skills? Of course, Decker says: “We talk about the structure of the test, what you’ll experience on test day, the sections of the test and how to handle different questions within each section. You absolutely can teach that.”
As for her own law school experience, it turns out the LSAT was right: She’s up to the task. “I always knew that I would enjoy law school,” Decker says. “It’s very, very challenging, but it’s the kind of challenge I love. The internship opportunities have been fantastic, and the school’s alumni are always willing to help.” Her SUNY Buffalo Law career has included being part of the New York City Program in Finance and Law.
Decker also volunteers with Lawyers for Learning, an Erie County Bar Association project in which students, lawyers and judges tutor pupils in Buffalo’s Public School 18 – a school with a large immigrant population and a lot of poor families. She has been working with two sisters, a third-grader and a fifth-grader. “We do reading and math exercises, make sure they’re doing their homework, answer any questions they have,” Decker says. “Just having another adult care about them makes such a difference.”