1. What field should I major in, and what courses should I take to prepare myself for a career in law?
Many students at PC when asking these questions of their advisors, receive the answer that there is no prescribed major or required prelaw courses. It is not a “cop-out” when an advisor refuses to suggest a single “best” route to law school. It is merely a recognition that the careers of those trained in the law are widely varied and therefore call on widely differing skills.
Whether you find this fact to be liberating or frustrating, it means that you will need to develop your own rationale for making choices during your undergraduate years. It also means that your undergraduate education can be both specialized and richly diverse. But keep in mind that the spoken and written word are the principal tools of the legal profession. If you intend to study law, you must develop an excellent knowledge and grasp of the English language as well as a clear and concise style of expression. Seek out courses, in whatever departments, which require substantial writing assignments and provide a thorough critique of your efforts. A sound liberal education is often best for most pre-law students. Courses in political science, history, economics, statistics, and philosophy help a student to understand the structure of society and the problems of social ordering with which the law is concerned.
To study philosophy, literature, fine arts, foreign languages, and other cultures imparts familiarity with traditions of universal thought and trends which have influenced, or tend to influence, legal developments nationally and internationally. The examination of human behavior in sociology and psychology will aid a prospective law student in understanding the types and effects of human behavior with which law is involved.
The systematic ordering of abstractions and ideas acquired by studying logic and the sciences contributes much to a pre-law student’s capacity to analyze, understand, and rationally organize his or her thoughts. And, in some fields of law practice it is useful for a student to have a fundamental knowledge of technology, engineering, computers, and accounting.
This long answer can be condensed into two basic points:
- Since there is no “best” pre-law major, choose to concentrate in a discipline which holds genuine interest for you and in which you will be motivated to produce your best work.
- Seek breadth in your undergraduate program keeping in mind the need to hone your writing skills and your abilities of logical analysis.
2. What factors are considered in admission to law school?
Admissions Committees at law schools look at your GPA (grade point average) and your score on the LSAT (Law School Admissions Test). Beyond that they look for a program of studies that was designed to develop basic skills and insights in:
- comprehension and expression in words
- the ability to think deductively, inductively, and by analogy
- creative power in thinking
Subjective factors such as faculty recommendations, extracurricular interests, and work experience are also considered by many law schools, but they are less important and typically do not compensate for mediocre academic performance.
To pad your GPA by taking easy courses at the expense of gaining a diverse and rigorous education and sharpening your analytical and writing skills will work to your disadvantage in scoring well on the LSAT and being prepared for the rigors of legal study.
3. When should I take the LSAT?
The best times to take the LSAT are in June after your junior year or in the September/October test date of your senior year. Taking the LSAT early not only gives you the latitude to retake the test if necessary, but also improves your chances with admission since you can submit your application well before the stated deadline.
4. Shouldn’t I take the LSAT once for practice?
No, definitely not. When you eventually apply to law schools, all of your test scores are reported. Since most schools average the scores or deduct points from the second score if it is higher, you should plan to take the test only once. If you do poorly, then take the test again – you have nothing to lose.
You could, however, become familiar with the LSAT by reviewing copies of the old LSATs, in Barron’s or LSDAS sample books. It’s up to you to take the test under test-like conditions.
5. Should I take one of the commercial prep courses for the LSAT?
The Law School Admission Council does not recommend any particular course. In addition to commercial courses, there are also self-study guides. Regardless of how you prepare, your performance on the LSAT will be maximized after a thorough (4-6 weeks) review of the test’s format and content. Whether you study on your own with sample test materials, by using books such as Barron’s to guide your review, or by paying for a commercial course is up to you. If you feel that you are not a skilled test-taker, a commercial course might reduce your anxiety and give you tips for working quickly. While LSAC claims that commercial courses produce no substantial improvement in scores, the Stanley Kaplan course, for one, claims a 5-7 point performance higher than the mean for its students. Such improvements are much more likely in the middle range of scores than at the upper end.
6. When should I apply to law schools?
If you want to attend law school right after college, you should apply during the fall of your senior year. Although application deadlines are often spring dates, early applicants have a distinct advantage. Plan to have everything in the mail before Christmas.
7. What about recommendations?
You need not solicit these recommendations until your senior year, but you can begin now seeking out courses and teachers for whom you are motivated to do your best work. Put out the extra effort to get to know your teachers now so that you will feel comfortable and confident requesting a recommendation later on.
8. How can I know if law is right for me?
Listen to what lawyers say about their work. Seek out a broad range of attorneys to talk with and observe. Summer jobs in law firms can provide you with excellent insight into legal practice. Read about law school and legal careers. The following books are recommended:
- One L: An Inside Account of Life in the First Year at Harvard Law School
- An Introduction to Legal Reasoning
- The Spirit of the Common Law
- The Bramble Bush
- Going to Law School? Readings on a Legal Career
- John Marshall, A Life in Law
- The Washington Lawyer
- The Growth of American Law
Finally, you might want to enroll in an undergraduate course such as American Constitutional Law I or II, International Law, or Business Law to test your interest in the subject matter. Your advisor can assist you with such a selection.
9. What’s the job market like for lawyers?
Despite reports of a glut of new lawyers, the National Association for Law Placement reports a 90+% placement rate for all ABA-approved law schools in the country. The market for law graduates varies widely depending on several factors: the law school’s ranking, the graduate’s rank in class, the area of the country, the type of law you wish to practice. Generally speaking, the higher paying jobs with large city firms go to top-of-the-class graduates from top national or regional schools. When gathering information about law schools, be sure to notice the placement results of their graduates.
6. Where can I get more information and advice about prelaw studies and law schools?
The college Pre-law Advisor is Dr. Erin McAdams, assistant professor of political science. You may contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org or visit her office in Room 305 in Harrington-Peachtree. Reference books and pamphlets are also in the political science department with information about the legal profession and law schools. There are also catalogs of most of the law schools to which Presbyterian College students ordinarily apply.