PLANC: More Than Just A Board

Gerald L. Wilson, Duke University
With Contributions from Past Chairs and Additional material from Jerry Polinard

Many tales begin, “It was a dark and stormy night.”  This one begins, “It was a hot and humid day”!   At the invitation of Willa Folch-Pi, the President of NAPLA: 1983-84, four Presidents of Regional Pre-Law Advisors Associations attended the NAPLA Conference at Rosemont College, Rosemont, Pennsylvania, June13-15, 1984.  This invitation suggested that the Presidents engage in conversation on ways in which the Regional Associations could and should cooperate for their mutual benefit.  Old timers in the pre-law advising process will remember two things: (1) the founding of PLANC at this conference and (2) realizing it was the hottest it got that summer as we slept, or tried to sleep, in un-air conditioned dorms.

The establishment of PLANC at this conference was not, however, the result of an immaculate conception, but rather represented the culmination of a number of factors long in the making.  Four years earlier, on April 19, 1980, at the O’Hare Hilton in Chicago, a meeting of four APLA Presidents and several APLA Presidents – Elect, along with LSAC representatives, discussed the establishment of a national steering committee to link the APLAS and “assist the LSAC in promulgating programs of benefit to pre-law advisors and their advisees.”  Though there was no direct follow up, by 1984 in view of the growing strength of the Regional Pre-Law Advisors Associations, it became clear that the concerns of each were the concerns of all and these concerns could have a better hearing by both the LSAC and the law schools if voiced in a common voice.  In addition, some Associations were engaging in individual independent projects simultaneously when a common shared project might have saved time, effort, and money.  Pre-Law Advisor Handbooks provided a good example of such a project.

On June 14, 1984, PLANC was formally established with Gerald L. Wilson, Duke University (SAPLA), designated to serve as Chair of the Council; and with Michael A. Cappeto, Washington and Lee University (NAPLA), and Robert H. Gibson, SUNY – Albany (NAPLA), as the first newsletter editors.  The newsletter was tentatively named The Advocate until someone observed that there was already a publication called The Advocate.  Thus, PLANC POINTS was born and has continued as a quality publication under the direction of subsequent co-editors Frank Homer, University of Scranton (NAPLA), and Jerry Polinard, University of Texas-Rio Grande Valley (SWAPLA) .

Four initial problems appeared from the outset.  First, the concept of a National Coordinating Council had to be accepted by the existing five APLAS.  This was accomplished quickly, albeit with some debate. More than one person commented on the irony that we were in Philadelphia, where a couple of hundred years earlier, the issue of whether the states (aka, APLAS) were sovereign, or whether the central “government” (aka PLANC) controlled. Elements of that debate continue today.  Second, the skeleton was there, but it needed the flesh of organization.  On October 14, 1984, with edits, amendments, and re-edits, PLANC’s first set of By-Laws was adopted, and the organization began to take shape.

The third problem facing the pre-law organization was recognition.  Immediately upon the formation of PLANC, the Chair approached the Law School Admission Council, and as a result of a series of conversations, the first of what is now an annual meeting of the PLANC Board with LSAC (now Law Services) was scheduled.  It would be a bit of an overstatement to say that LSAC welcomed PLANC with open arms, but the LSAC officer then assigned to liaison with PLANC, Paul Richard, proved to be a great friend in those early days.  The first meeting of the PLANC Board with LSAC was a stormy one with one angry LSAC official walking, no, “storming” out of the meeting not to be seen again. Through the subsequent years of PLANC’s existence, with strong leadership and the assistance of wonderful friends at Law Services like Phil Shelton, Beth Cobb O’Neil and Anne Brandt, much progress has been made in terms of bringing pre-law advisors and Law Services into a much closer working relationship.

The fourth major issue was that of finances.  A “shares” system was developed whereby each APLA contributed on the basis of number of members.  Funds for the first issues of PLANC POINTS were generously donated by law schools.  One of the two early accomplishments of PLANC was its contribution to the reestablishment of PCAPLA in April, 1985.  The other was the preparation of the document “The Role and Responsibilities of Pre-Law Advisors” which was completed and published in the Spring 1986 PLANC POINTS.  Through the subsequent years of PLANC’S existence, with strong leadership and the assistance of wonderful friends at Law Services like Phil Shelton, Beth Cobb O’Neil, and Anne Brandt, much progress has been made in terms of bringing pre-law advisors and Law Services into a much closer working relationship.  What follows are some of the high points of PLANC’s twenty year history.

In 1989, Robert Gibson of SUNY-Albany (NAPLA) became the second Chair and under his leadership discussions were begun about the possibility of a national conference.  At the same time, PLANC developed a strong statement opposing the growing trend among law schools to use “self-completing applications” whereby the students collected recommendations and submitted them with their application.

The third chair, Jerry Polinard, University of Texas-Rio Grande Valley (SWAPLA), oversaw the first National Conference held in New Orleans, with a focus on “Professional Development.”  As a sign of how things have changed, the Conference Committee charged with organizing the national conference was composed of four (!) members. There was no email or I phones! And, at great personal sacrifice, the 4-person committee had to make several trips to New Orleans to oversee the conference development.

In Polinard’s years as chair, further evidence of the increased recognition of PLANC came when PLANC was invited to send a representative to the ABA’s newly formed committee on Pre-Legal Education, which had as one of its goals the revision of its forty year old statement on pre-legal education.

In 1993, Jim Riley of Regis University (WAPLA) became the fourth Chair and under his guidance PLANC recommended a common law school application as a means of streamlining the application process for both applicants and law schools.  The subsequent Chair, Sally Derrwald, Wisconsin – Milwaukee (MAPLA), continued the forward thrust of PLANC and played a major part in strengthening our ties with Law Services.  During her term, the second National Conference, focusing on technology, was held in Orlando.  Like the first conference, it was a huge success.  Sally was followed by Chair-elect, Tom Brown, Saint Mary’s College of California (PCAPLA), but he left his institution for another position and resigned his Chair’s position shortly after his term began.

Charles Neal, McDaniel College (NAPLA), succeeded Tom, serving out his unexpired term as well as the term to which he was elected.  During Chaz’s term PLANC established a Web site and held its third National Conference in San Diego, centering around the theme, “The New Century:  Issues and Challenges.”

Eileen Crane, Brigham Young University (WAPLA), became the eighth Chair in 2001 and under her aegis ties with PLANC Partners (NALP, ABA, CLEO, Law Services, and Law Access) were greatly strengthened.   She oversaw the revising of the PLANC By-Laws including more attention to fiscal matters, budget planning, and distribution of funds.

Eileen was succeeded by Nim Batchelor, Elon University (SAPLA), who was active in the planning of the 2004 conference “Sailing into the Future:  Revolutionary Ideas for a Diverse Profession.”  In addition to revising further the By-Laws and his continuing of Eileen Crane’s process of self-evaluation by PLANC, the Board under Nim’s leadership also passed a resolution requesting law schools to discontinue the use of Dean’s Letters. 

James Calvi, West Texas A & M University, (SWAPLA) became PLANC Chair on July 1, 2005. Jim’s years as PLANC Chair, in addition to planning the 2008 National Conference in Las Vegas (2008), saw the continuing development and strengthening of PLANC’s role in two areas 1) our relationship with our PLANC partners; and (2) gaining more recognition for pre-law advisors on their campuses. Jim is very proud of the fact that PLANC was better off financially after the 2008 National conference.

Frank Guliuzza, Weber State University (WAPLA), became the Chair of PLANC in 2007 while the Council was preparing for the Conference in Las Vegas. From the outset, he was determined to take an active role in administering the 2008 Conference. Further, he was an advocate for a more significant role for PLANC because PLANC is in a unique position to serve the pre-law community together with its “partners” (LSAC, CLEO, NALP, AccessLex Institute--formerly Access Group, and the ABA.)

Guliuzza, believed that PLANC had a vital role to play representing the interests of pre-law advisors and pre-law students to the leadership at several accredited law schools. He also envisioned PLANC forging new relationships with other organizations including: those that sponsor competitive simulated legal activities (e.g., AMTA and ACMA,) the commercial preparation companies, and the larger community of college and university advisors (e.g.’ NACADA.)

Finally, he urged PLANC to work directly with the large group of those persons assigned to serve as pre-law advisors, but who still do not receive essential training. Accordingly, he maintained that PLANC should do more to directly prepare PLAs; it can help support the burgeoning scholarship of pre-law advising; and it can serve PLAs by aggressively directing new advisors to their respective APLAs for excellent training and preparation. 

Mel Hailey, Abilene Christian University, (SWAPLA,) served as chair from 2009-2011. The good work started by PLANC under his predecessors was continued and expanded. Hailey showed particular interest in providing support and PLANC expertise in strengthening regional APLAs while strongly supporting PLANC as the national voice of pre-law advisors to its partners (LSAC, CLEO, NALP. AccessLex Institute--formerly Access Group and the ABA) and to ABA accredited law schools. The PLANC Board responded quickly and professionally on issues of best practices in pre-law advising. As the Chair in a period where there was not a national conference, Hailey worked behind the scenes in preparation for the 2012 Conference in Washington D.C. Believing that major contributions in pre-law advising should be recognized, in 2011 PLANC established the Dean Gerald Lee Wilson Award for Excellence in Pre-Law Advising.

Heather Struck, Cornell University, (NAPLA,) served as chair from 2011-2013, assumed an active role in the planning of the 2012 Washington, D.C. National Conference. Also, as Chair, she also took the lead in efforts to strengthen PLANC’s ties with the ABA and in urging undergraduate institutions to invest resources in pre-law advising and not shift responsibility to their own law schools and thereby creating a potential conflict of interest.

Gwyn Wallander (MAPLA), University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, served as chair from 2013-2015. During this time the listserv was migrated from Elon University and Nim Bactchelor, who had hosted graciously to Google Groups which is a non-university system. The PLANC board will continually now appoint a listserv manager and webmaster.

The planning also began for the 2016 national conference and Chicago was selescted as the conference site. Coordination of the six Chicago law schools was underway along with an extensive conference committee structure.

Wendy Vonegut (SAPLA) from Methodist University served as chair from 2015 to 2017. She had an active role in working on the 2016 Chicago Conference and has been appointed to the AccessLex Institute (formerly Access Group) Educational Committee.

Cornell College's RJ Holmes-Leopold (MAPLA) is the current chair of PLANC. His term runs from 2017 to 2019.

This brief history, really more fragments than narrative, is basically a skeletal outline of what will become a more comprehensive history in the next few years.  Readers and Board members, past and present, are invited to add both to the skeleton and the flesh.  Especially welcome are vignettes that bring color to this ongoing history.  It is the hope of those who have, and do currently serve on the PLANC Board, that PLANC can continue to live up to its purposes as stated in the Preamble to its By-Laws of advocating the interests of the APLAs, acting as a liaison between and among the APLAs and between the APLAs and Law Services, and assisting in the improvement of the skills of pre-law advisors through a quadrennial National Conference and other appropriate means.




  • Gerald L. Wilson, Duke University (SAPLA) 1984-1989
  • Robert Gibson, SUNY-Albany (NAPLA) 1989-1991
  • Jerry Polinard, University of Texas-Rio Grande Valley (SWAPLA) 1991-1993
  • Jim Riley, Regis University (WAPLA ) 1993-1995
  • Sally Derwald, University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee (MAPLA ) 1995-1997
  • Tom Brown, Saint Mary’s College of California (PCAPLA) 1995
  • Charles Neal, McDaniel College (NAPLA) 1996-2001
  • Eileen Crane, Brigham Young University (WAPLA) 2001-2003
  • Nim Batchelor, Elon University (SAPLA) 2003-2005
  • James Calvi, West Texas A & M University (SWAPLA) 2005-2007
  • Frank Guliuzza, Weber State (WAPLA) 2007-2009
  • Mel Hailey, Abilene Christian University (SWAPLA) 2009-2011
  • Heather Struck, Cornell University (NAPLA) 2011-2013
  • Gwyn Wallander, University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee (MAPLA) 2013-2015
  • Wendy Vonegut, Methodist University (SAPLA) 2015-2017
  • RJ Holmes-Leopold, Cornell College (MAPLA) 2017-2019