What field should I major in, and what courses should I take to prepare myself for a career in law?

Contrary to many assumptions about law school, there is no prescribed major to ensure that you will be a successful law school applicant or student.  Many law schools are seeking students from a variety of majors who demonstrate stellar skills in analysis, synthesis, critical thinking, written and oral communication, and advocacy.  In other words, there is no single “best” route to law school — other than successfully obtaining a sound liberal arts education. Because there is no “best” major for pre-law, you should:

  • 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.

Regardless of what major you choose, keep in 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.  Similarly, take courses that help to develop your critical thinking and analytical skills, logical reasoning skills and evidence-based argumentation skills.

How can I know if law school is right for me?

Law school is a professional school designed to train students for a particular career (i.e., to become lawyers).  You should not plan to go to law school unless you plan to secure a career in the legal field or to enter related fields, such as politics or business.  However, if you do have a genuine interest in becoming a lawyer, seek out a broad range of lawyers to talk with and observe; listen to what these lawyers say about their work. Consider the type of work that those in the legal profession do on an everyday basis: some engage in major court cases, while others deal with complex corporate mergers, family disputes or real estate transactions.  While some work for giant industries, others work for private firms, governmental agencies, non-profit organizations or lobbying firms.

Summer jobs or internships in law firms can provide you with excellent insight into legal practice. You might also consider reaching out to lawyers and attorneys as well as others in the legal profession, such as judges, paralegals or legal advisors, to discover the type of work they do on an everyday basis, their salaries and their lifestyles.  Only then can you decide whether the personal and financial costs of law school are outweighed by the eventual rewards of this career path.

Finally, you might want to enroll in an undergraduate course related to the law, such as Introduction to Legal Studies, American Constitutional Law I or II, International Organizations, or Business Law to test your interest in the subject matter. The Pre-law Advisor can also assist you with such a selection.

What should I do throughout my undergraduate career to prepare for law school? What should I do in my first, sophomore, junior or senior years?

Generally speaking, your first two years of undergraduate school should be spent determining your major, career goals and vocational calling.  This is the time to determine if law school is the right path for you and to begin to develop a strong GPA.  In your junior year, you should begin to prepare for the Law School Admissions Test (LSAT) and to narrow down the types of law schools to which you will apply. In your senior year, you should complete the law school application process.  Visit our detailed Pre-law Timetable for more information about how to prepare for law school.

What factors are considered in admission to law school?

Admissions Committees at law schools primarily consider your cumulative GPA (grade point average) and your score on the LSAT (Law School Admissions Test). These are the two most important factors that they consider.  Beyond these, admissions committees seek students who have developed strong skills in:

  • Comprehension and expression in words (e.g., written and oral communication)
  • The ability to think deductively, inductively, and by analogy
  • Creative power in thinking
  • Subjective factors such as faculty recommendation letters, 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.

Although the GPA is critical, taking easy courses to boost your GPA 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.

What type of financial assistance can I receive as a law school student?

Attending law school is a serious financial investment.  The Law School Admissions Council reports that the costs of attending law school can exceed $150,000, considering tuition, housing, food, books, transportation and personal expenses.  Although some scholarships, grants and fellowships exist, they are quite limited.  These are often obtained through the individual law school or local organizations, businesses or social clubs.  The vast majority of law students rely on educational loans provided by the federal government. These typically offer more flexible repayment options than loans obtained from private sources, but they are only available to U.S. citizens.  Some schools do offer stipends through the Federal Work-Study Program in the second or third year of law school.  First-year students, however, are expected to focus on their studies; keep in mind that the American Bar Association places a limitation on the number of hours a first-year, full-time law student may work.  For more information on financial aid, visit the Law School Admission Council’s Financial Aid Overview page.

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.

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 LSAT exams.  PC regularly offers workshops to aid in LSAT preparation as well as LSAT Practice Tests to give you practice with an actual exam in real-life conditions.

Should I take one of the commercial prep courses for the LSAT?

The Law School Admissions 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 LSAT preparationbooks 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.

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 (no later than December 31). Although application deadlines are often spring dates, early applicants have a distinct advantage. Plan to have everything in the mail before the new year. For a detailed list of the application process, see our Pre-law Timetable.

When should I ask professors to write my letters of recommendation?

You need not solicit these recommendations until the start of your senior year, but you can begin now by 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 and they will feel confident in writing about your abilities and talents.  For more information about obtaining a strong letter of recommendation, visit our Recommendation Letters page.

What’s the job market like for lawyers?

According to the National Association for Law Placement (NALP), the overall employment rate for new law school graduates has fallen for the sixth year in a row to 84.5%, although the Class of 2013 did see a slight increase in the number of job opportunities and a slightly higher average salary.  The employment rate has fallen by 7.2% since the 24-year high of 91.9% in 2007.

Although the employment rate has fallen, average starting salaries have been increasing over the past three years, though they remain below the averages prior to 2009.  The overall median starting salary in 2013 was $62, 467 (compared with $60,000 in 2011 and $72,000 in 2008).  Keep in mind that 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 and 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 investigate the bar passage results and the placement results of their graduates.

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 esmcadams@presby.edu 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.