So You’re an Undergrad (or High School) Student and You Want to Go to Law School?

by HelloYesThisIsDog

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This post and thread is for users who are interested in law school but aren't sure what to do with their time before they apply to law school.

What do I need to apply to law school in the US?
A bachelor's degree in any subject from an accredited undergraduate institution, and an LSAT score (or, for some schools, a GRE score). That's it. No need to overthink this. There are no other educational prerequisites.

If you're an international student, the question of whether it's accredited is trickier and I don't know the answer, but at the very least, it should be a real place and not a diploma mill.

If you're a US student wanting a foreign legal education, bear in mind that may not at all qualify you to practice law in a US jurisdiction, and requirements can be radically different, as some countries offer a professional legal degree (typically an LL.B.) as an undergraduate course of study. Also, this guide is not tailored for you. There are too many idiosyncrasies to cover with respect to foreign legal education and requirements for admission to the bar.

But really, what should I major in?
No really, you can study ANYTHING you want. Which means, you should study what interests you! "But law interests me," you say. Well, there are indirect ways to explore that interest academically. International studies and political science often have coursework that will discuss or involve legal institutions, although they do not typically teach substance that would be similar to what you encounter in law school. If your field of study involves a lot of public policy, that may provide some exposure as well (I'm thinking majors like public policy, government, public health, etc.). Again, these are indirect and won't resemble law school or what you might learn there or how you would learn it.

I'm sure other forum members will share below their suggestions for getting exposure to law in academia as an undergraduate, so peruse those. The important thing is to at least enjoy or be interested in what you're studying. That will help you put in the effort to get good grades.

Addendum: See if your school has an undergraduate mock trial team, or start one if it does not. Mock trial is often coached by lawyers/folks with JDs, and the process can be akin to some (not all) aspects of your future legal education. You also will gain valuable public speaking skills. Anecdotally, one of my law school classmates that did undergrad mock trial was an absolute boss in law school, consistently winning each mock trial competition she participated in.

The only limitation on your undergraduate studies crops up if you want to practice patent prosecution as a lawyer (that is, appearing before the US Patent and Trademark Office and helping with patent filings). You will need a BS degree and possibly more to take the patent bar exam. There should be (if there aren't already) guides on requirements for the patent bar. See those for more detail. This is a niche area and not a requirement for many lawyers entering the profession (who don't do patent work).

Are some majors better than others?
You may wonder what field of study makes you better at law school or being a lawyer. Anything that helps you develop strong critical thinking skills and improves your writing will suffice. Good writing is definitely valued in law school and in the profession, and ironically, many lawyers are bad writers and poor communicators.

Edit: a couple of different people have attempted to quantify this by comparing LSAT scores to major. Pre-law, criminal justice, and social work tend to be near the bottom. Philosophy, classics, and math tend to be near or at the top. I don't think you should pick a major based on likelihood of succeeding on the LSAT, but it's worth considering whether your major helps you develop important critical thinking skills.

http://excessofdemocracy.com/blog/2014/4/the-best-prospective-law-students-read-homer

http://taxprof.typepad.com/taxprof_blog/2009/09/physics-math.html

Anything else I can do in college to prepare for law school?
Relationships matter in your education and in any career. Networking (and networking well) will pay off in spades for years to come. That means forming key relationships with friends, colleagues, mentors, and faculty, and then nourishing those relationships as you go forward in your life.

Specifically with law school and undergrad, you should seek out faculty that you enjoy taking classes from. Take more classes from them, and develop a rapport. Go to office hours, volunteer to work with them on other projects (if possible), and make the effort to form a relationship with them.

Why? In the short-term, you will need letters of recommendation (LORs) for your law school applications, and you will want them to be high-quality and from faculty who actually know your capabilities. Picking any random professor you had a single class with is not a good idea. Best case scenario, you get a neutral letter of recommendation, which does nothing for your application, and worst case scenario, the prof may write a bad letter and put something critical in it about you. I sat on an admissions committee during my 3L year, and the bad letters really tanked applications that were "on the margin," (i.e., splitters between LSAT and GPA or low LSAT/GPA, or other issues in the app). Putting your best foot forward is important in your application, and having high quality LORs are key.

In the long-term, a faculty mentor or another mentor at the university will give you amazing advice on navigating your career and help guide you through the tricky shoals of college and into the world beyond. I think very fondly of the relationships I have with some of my undergrad professors. Some of them occurred during school, and some developed afterward as I attended volunteer and social functions as an alumnus. But they all were and are valuable to me and I find my friendships with my former professors grow in a new, wonderful way every time I see them.

Never approach networking or mentorship transactionally. That is, don't come at it with the angle of "I will give you something if you give me something." Instead, pick out potential mentors based on your genuine desire to learn from them and do interesting work with them. For example, if you can do some basic undergrad research for a professor, don't come at it because you want an LOR and think of that as your purpose for doing it. Your purpose should be that you actually find the research interesting and you like the professor. You will find the experience vastly more rewarding, you'll do a better job, and you will absolutely get an LOR out of it as a result, without having to make a case for yourself, because you've already made the case with your passion, hard work, and connection with the professor.

I'm in high school - which college should I attend to prepare for law school? Translation: will going to Harvard improve my chances of attending Harvard Law School?

The single most important factors in your application to law school are your undergrad GPA and your LSAT. There is some debate that will crop up on these forums about whether there is a difference at the margins regarding undergrad prestige between two applicants with all other factors being equal. But even if such a difference exists, it's absolutely at the margins. If you have a 3.9 GPA and a 175 LSAT, your odds of admission to a Top 6 law school are extremely good. High GPA and LSAT are the best guarantees of admission to a school of your choice.

So how should law school factor into your decision of where to go to undergrad? In my opinion, it should not be a factor at all. There are other websites, consultants, and non-profits devoted to this, but you should attend an undergraduate institution that (1) keeps your costs (and debt) low; (2) is a supportive and helpful environment that will both challenge you and help you grow; (3) provides access to educational opportunities that you deem useful. There is no perfect answer for this, and I encourage you to research the benefits of different types of schools to find the right fit for you. A large public research university will offer certain things that small public universities will not, and small private liberal arts schools will have certain benefits that public and (larger) private schools might not have. You have to weigh those costs and benefits for yourself. They won't affect your shot at law school, unless they cause something else to happen, such as your unhappiness at a particular institution undermining your grades, or a high amount of debt changing which law school you might pick because of concerns regarding more student debt.

Universities that also have a law school won't necessarily have opportunities for you to take law school classes. There is not a lot of cross-pollination usually (with some exceptions). The law schools are their own islands. Some have started to branch out to undergraduates a little bit with some upper-level interdisciplinary coursework and an occasional 100-level course, but again, these will not truly resemble law school and will not give you a leg up, other than just showing you have an interest. It won't necessarily reflect competence/aptitude or otherwise weigh in your favor. You should not make this a deciding factor into where to go to undergrad. There are far more important considerations (discussed above and elsewhere on the internet) that should take precedence.

How soon should I prepare for the LSAT?
While you're enrolled in undergrad, you should not think about the LSAT at all. The two most important factors for getting admitted to law school are your undergraduate GPA and your LSAT score. If you try to do well at both simultaneously, you are likely to undermine one for the other. There are no retakes for your undergrad GPA. In the words of Ru Paul, don't fuck it up.

Once you graduate with your best possible GPA and you've secured some employment for at least a few months (any job will do), then turn your attention to LSAT prep. Other guides on this site can address how to prep the right way.

Why are you telling me to wait on my dream of being a lawyer?
I don't want you to feel like we're crushing your dreams. But undergrad is the time for you to learn about yourself and develop a lot of skills that will serve you in law school, your career, and your life. Spending your time fixating singularly on law school will distract you from these much more important things that are critical to your development as an adult.

Take each day as it comes, and explore the world that college is opening up for you. Law school will be ready once you're ready. And you will be ready at a minimum when you graduate. Not a day sooner!

 

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