W.A.P.L.A.   -- A Brief History

Jim L. Riley

Summer, 2009

          It was a dark and stormy night!  Flashes of lightning silhouetted her shimmering nightgown as she descended down the dimly lit spiral staircase; an alluring smile faintly dancing around her luscious lips.  A shot rang out and …..   

          Wait, that’s the wrong story!  Actually my involvement in prelaw matters began shortly after my arrival at Regis College in January, 1976.  As the junior member of the Department of History and Political Science at Regis University I had unceremoniously and informally been given the responsibility of serving as prelaw advisor.  Knowing next to nothing about this subject and wanting to please my new employer, I was very interested in learning of the existence of the Rocky Mountain PreLaw Conference.  In November of 1977 I attended that year’s conference at the University of Denver.  Keynote speaker Dean Richard Badger of the University Of Chicago Law School addressed a large group of students and prelaw advisors on the subject of legal education and the legal profession.  When this plenary session ended there was a brief gathering of prelaw advisors to discuss matters of common interest. 

          From this session I became painfully aware of the depth of my ignorance regarding prelaw matters.  Even the terms and acronyms bandied about seemed intimidating and strange:  LSAC, LSAT score, admissions application deadlines, wait lists, personal statements, and of course the mysterious law school admissions office formula/index.  Somehow I had to understand this stuff if I was ever to give accurate advice to my students who wanted to get answers from me about law school and legal careers.

          In the following months I began reading and asking questions of colleagues regarding law schools, the application process and the legal profession.  In addition to written material I discovered that there was to be held in the Denver area a Law Career day under the rubric of the Rocky Mountain Region PreLaw Advisor’s Workshop.  The Law School Admissions Council (LSAC) sponsored one of these in March of 1979 at the Brown Palace Hotel.  Among those in attendance was Phil Shelton, then Associate Dean of the Washington University School of Law.  Phil was to later play an integral role at LSAC (becoming its CEO) and the PreLaw Advisor’s National Council (PLANC).

Also it became known to me that undergraduate prelaw advisors had established their own organization in the northeastern part of the U.S. to assist them in their responsibilities.  Eventually the name Northeastern Association of PreLaw Advisor (NAPLA) surfaced in my awareness.  At the suggestion of one of the members of NAPLA I contacted LSAC by letter (no e-mail in those days) asking for support (i.e., money) in an effort to establish an association of prelaw advisors in the Rocky Mountain region of the U.S.  Somewhat to my surprise I subsequently received a check for $100.00 to help defray organizational costs.  (Like most faculty prelaw advisors at that time I had no budget whatsoever from my college for such matters.)  With this prodigious (and much appreciated) sum of money, I contacted prelaw advisors in nearby states to discern if there was interest in forming a western association.  Finding there was an interest, I organized a meeting in 1979 to accomplish that end. 

The initial organizational meeting was linked to the Fourth Annual Rocky Mountain PreLaw Conference.  On November 4, 1979 the Charter meeting of WAPLA was held at the Executive Tower Inn in Denver.  A Constitution was adopted, officers were elected – WAPLA was born.

          Its purposes were:

1.      To enhance the skills of pre-law advisors;

2.      To advocate the interests of undergraduate students and institutions in the counseling and admissions processes leading to law related careers; and

3.      To promote communication between pre-law advisors, individual law school admissions officers, and Law School Admissions Council, the Educational Testing Service, and other law-related organizations. These purposes will be accomplished through periodic meetings, through training of new pre-law advisors, and through such other means as the organization may devise.


The initial officers elected were: 

       President:  Jim L. Riley (Regis University)

       Secretary:  Warren Weston (Metro State College)

       Ann Cundiff (University of Denver)

  The members of the Executive Board were:

       Robert Lawrence (Colorado State University)

       William Barton (Colorado College)

       Linda Wilkinson (University of Colorado/Boulder)

       Ila Warner (University of Colorado/Denver)

       Paul Hodopp (University Northern Colorado)

       Jane Rein’l (Arizona State University)

Peter Winograd, then Chairman of the LSAC, and Associate Dean of the University of New Mexico College of Law was the LSAC representative to WAPLA.  He was extraordinarily helpful to me in holding WAPLA together during its formative years.

          Coincidental to the time WAPLA was being formed, efforts were being made to coordinate the activities and develop a better understanding of the challenges facing existing APLA’s.   In April of 1980 a meeting of the Presidents of all APLA’s and LSAC representatives was held at O’Hare Airport in Chicago.  Having no funds in our treasury adequate to cover the costs of my attendance, NAPLA agreed to reimburse me for the costs of my travel to this meeting.  This initial meeting was one among several events that eventually led to the formation of PLANC (The PreLaw Advisor’s National Council) in 1984 under the leadership of Gerald Wilson of Duke University.

          PLANC has as its purposes:

1.      To act as a liaison among the regional Pre-Law Associations and between the associations and Law School Admission Council and such other organizations as are relevant;

2.      To advocate the interests of the various regional associations of Pre-Law Advisors;

3.      To assist through appropriate means in the improvement of the skills of Pre-Law Advisors.


Through its twice yearly meetings (one of which is at LSAC headquarters in Newtown, P.A.) and quadrennial National Conference of PreLaw Advisors, PLANC has established itself as a formidable participant in the entire realm of prelaw matters.  Having served as its Chairman (as have two other WAPLA Presidents), I know well the significance it has.

          There were also in the mid-1980’s various attempts to form an APLA for the west coast region of the country.  Although for many years a West Coast Consortium of Law Schools had informally organized a recruitment caravan in California, there was no formal association of prelaw advisors.  Initially I tried to spark the formation by a visit with prelaw advisors in the Los Angeles area including those at Pomona College.  The intended spark fizzled. 

Later a group of us from PLANC and LSAC attempted to encourage the creation of such an association with a visit to UC/Berkley.  Although we were not initially successful, years later PCAPLA (Pacific Coast Association of PreLaw Advisors) came into being.  Once its formation was reality there existed a regional APLA for every region of the country.

          Apart from issues outside of the WAPLA region, the paucity of the WAPLA treasury became impossible to ignore.  At an early meeting of the Executive Board at Regis our treasury held approximately $46 (after the cost of a couple of pizzas and a jug of wine had been purchased for consumption by the members attending).  Something had to be done!  I recalled that the Rocky Mountain PreLaw Conference had on previous occasions held what amounted to a prelaw fair on the campus of Denver University.  Approximately two dozen law schools sent representatives to recruit applicants largely comprised of undergraduates at DU.  It occurred to me that WAPLA could organize similar events on other campuses.  DU had expressed its disinterest in continuing to sponsor such events.  Why not the University of Colorado at Boulder, I thought.  Why not other universities in our eleven state region (as identified by the LSAC)?  The Midwestern Association of PreLaw Advisors (MAPLA) had been running a caravan of prelaw days for some time so there was precedent for this.  All we had to do was make it happen.

          In 1980 WAPLA teamed with CU and ASU to hold prelaw days on those campuses.  Not only did students from the campuses attend the event but so too did members of the public generally.  Law school admissions officers were thus able to meet with many prospective applicants.  WAPLA handled the registration of law schools for each of the events, scheduled their timing such that travel arrangements of admissions officers were accommodated, organized and disseminated school specific information to law schools about logistics and other matters essential for a successful prelaw day.   Maximum administrative discretion was encouraged for the campus on-site prelaw advisors who were each then members of the Executive Board.  With the funds generated from registration fees paid by attending law schools, WAPLA was able to cover all costs at the hosting campus and retain some operating revenue to help defray annual conference costs that would enhance the skills of prelaw advisors.  All of the participants in these law fairs benefited:  the hosting institution served their students; the prospective applicants had opportunity to speak (at no cost to them) with multiple law school representatives; law schools had hundreds of would be applicants present to learn about their programs; and WAPLA fulfilled an important part of its stated purposes.

          One of the law school representatives attending one of the early prelaw days at CU was a feisty, outspoken, and tenacious recruiter for Lewis and Clark law school:  Ann Kendrick.  She took me aside and, in no uncertain terms (with an index finger poking me in the chest) told me that I needed to bring into the WAPLA fold two Utah schools:  University of Utah and Brigham Young University.  In particular she singled out Marilyn Hoffman at U. of U. as a knowledgeable and energetic prelaw advisor with whom I should establish contact.

          Not wanting to get on the bad side of Ann, I took a one day round-trip flight to Salt Lake City to meet with Marilyn and the prelaw advisor from BYU to gauge their interest in joining what had become known as the WAPLA Caravan.  Indeed they were interested.  Within a few years these Utah schools became among the most successful participants in the WAPLA Caravan (as measured by the number of law schools sending representatives and the number of potential applicants attending).

Although Phil Shelton once introduced me as the “present and forever President of WAPLA,” I decided to step down from that office in 1993.  Since that time there have been a succession of leaders each of whom has contributed significantly to the growth and improvement of WAPLA:  Chuck Fimian (ASU); Eileen Crane (BYU); Frank Guliuzza (Weber State); and Tim Garrison (Portland State).  WAPLA owes much to each of these individuals for their hard work, innovative leadership and substantive contributions to the organization. 

          As I did in the early 1980’s, subsequent Presidents have spread the word about WAPLA to prelaw advisors at other universities in the Rocky Mountain West.  Eileen Crane, Frank Guliuzza and Tim Garrison have each been successful in bringing in new institutional members to the WAPLA Caravan.    Their involvement in WAPLA is typified by Tim’s experience.  He wrote:  “I had never heard of WAPLA when Eileen Crane called me out of the blue and asked me to establish a law fair in Portland.”  Tim not only established the PSU law fair but has become the WAPLA President.  Eventually the WAPLA Caravan expanded beyond these schools to include the Universities of Arizona, New Mexico, and Nevada at Las Vegas.  (UNM has recently withdrawn from the Caravan.) 

It has become a very complicated task to schedule, organize and administer these multiple prelaw days but the skill, effort, ingenuity and commitment of the WAPLA Executive Board and on-site supervisors has resulted in what is widely recognized as one of the very best series of prelaw days in the United States.  We have hundreds of putative applicants at each of the law fairs in the Caravan and often more than a hundred ABA approved law schools in attendance.   We continue to explore Caravan expansion possibilities ever seeking to serve additional advisors and prelaw students. 

          WAPLA prelaw advisor Conferences originally were tied to one of the law fairs in the fall Caravan.  Although the timing may change, these events were and remain designed to bring prelaw advisors together for the purpose of professional development and motivation, information dissemination, collegial interaction, and the raising of issues important for future consideration and confrontation.  Among the most valuable services provided by WAPLA to its members is financial support to attend these annual meetings.  Very few prelaw advisors have budgets sufficient to cover costs associated with their attendance at and participation in professional development conferences.  By defraying a significant portion of these costs, WAPLA has been able to directly assist members in the acquisition of knowledge and skills essential to their professional obligations.

          The WAPLA Newsletter has benefited greatly from the innovative efforts of its editor Marty Sommerness of NAU.  Serving as both a tool for recruitment and information dissemination, the newsletter has included professional articles, personal vignettes, organizational information and other articles of interest to prelaw advisors.  It is now available on-line at the WAPLA web site < http://wapla.org/>.

          No examination of WAPLA would be complete without reference to its involvement in PLANC.  As noted earlier, PLANC was formed in 1984 under the leadership of the Godfather of prelaw advisors, the Reverend Gerald Wilson of Duke University.  Three members of WAPLA have served as the Chairperson of PLANC:  Eileen Crane, Frank Guliuzza and Jim Riley.  Our designated members of PLANC (as provided for by the PLANC Statement of Purpose) have included Marilyn Hoffman (University of Utah), Frank Guliuzza  (Weber State University), Verlaine Walker (University of Arizona), Marty Sommerness (Northern Arizona University).

            Although the story doesn’t continue with a melodramatic gun shot in the dark, WAPLA thrives nevertheless to this day.  Being involved in its creation and growth has been a memorable and most satisfying experience for me.  Colleagues have become friends.  Professional growth has been enhanced.  Students have been well served.  These are rewards enough.