Preparing for Law School
There is no fixed Pre–Law Curriculum that will ensure that you will get into the law school of your choice. Indeed, getting into law school is primarily a question of numbers. Applicants to law schools are selected upon their GPA and LSAT score before anything else is considered. The applicants’ experience – academic and others, recommendations and personal statements are considered second, to select among students within the same range of numbers.
Accordingly, if you want to go to law school, you must pay special attention to your GPA right from outset.
While there is no specific curriculum that will get you into law school, there are curricular choices that may help you succeed in law school and within your career in the Law.
Below are some guidelines about:
- Your major
- A Broad-Based Education
- Writing Skills
- Analytical Skills
- Study Abroad and Extracurricular Activities
- List of classes by department
Pre–Law students are required to choose a major in which they specialize. There are at least three different approaches to selecting an undergraduate major.
- The General Education Option: Because law schools generally do not give “admission points” for a particular undergraduate major, a broad-based undergraduate major has its advantages. A broad-based undergraduate major allows you to explore a variety of disciplines with the hope having the broadest possible education prior to entering law school. Even if you choose this approach, you will want to consider some of the specific courses in our “recommended” list, but the general education approach provides a great deal of flexibility and the exposure to the broadest education. This approach results in choosing a major that reflects your intellectual interests and abilities more than career development.
- The Specific Major Option: Another approach is to choose an undergraduate major that will enhance the law degree in terms of a specific career. Are you thinking of a career in the environmental area? An undergraduate degree in environmental science would be a logical choice. Likewise, combining engineering and law, medicine and law, business and law, or criminal justice and law are logical examples of this approach. This approach to choosing a major favors career development over the broad-based undergraduate education.
- The “What if I don’t go to law school” Option: Although law school may be your goal now, circumstances may change. If you do not go to law school (or find that law school or the practice of law is not for you), which undergraduate major would be best? This analysis takes you back to Options 1 and 2, but is certainly something that should be considered in your planning process.
No matter which of the three categories above you fall into, what will be crucial is the overall grade point average. Accordingly, students should choose a major that reflects their intellectual interests and abilities. Choose a major that you find interesting, challenging and inspiring. A final note: our experience is that double majors will not help you get into the law school of your choice, but may be a way of dealing with the issues presented above.
A Broad-Based Education
Law and legal institutions do not operate in a vacuum. They operate in, and thereby reflect, a governmental, historical, cultural, political, economic, sociological, and philosophical context. This means that it is difficult to understand the development of law without understanding the ways in which these contexts shape the law. Our law reflects, for example, (1) our Judeo-Christian and Western European heritage; (2) our political and economic institutions; (3) the ideals and traditions of the 18th century enlightenment; and (4) our specific history, including the histories of slavery and the treatment of native peoples. Pre-law students would thus be well served by a program of study that is strong in liberal arts courses, which provides insight into these contexts of law.
Gaining insight about the human experiences, the social institutions, and the values to which law responds means more than merely gathering information. It means, in particular, learning how to think critically about the various features of our social lifeÃ¢â‚¬â€�to make sound judgments based on factual evidence, as well as social and moral principle. A broad-based education is one that provides this critical habit of mind. Such an education goes beyond mere description and unquestioning acceptance. This is the education that best equips the undergraduate pre-law student for the analytical challenges of law school.
Lawyers do an enormous amount of writing. They draft correspondence, memoranda, briefs, contracts, wills, and other documents daily. Your law school education will prepare you for practice by requiring a demanding regimen of written composition. You are encouraged to prepare for law school by electing undergraduate courses that (1) require substantial written work, (2) provide a system in which the instructor regularly reviews and comments, and (3) allow students to rewrite their written work. Also, foreign language study improves both your understanding of the world and your ability to read and write English.
Attorneys must have the capacity to comprehend complex facts and difficult texts and think critically about complicated issues. To prepare you for your law school training, you should take courses in which you must read closely and analyze difficult concepts. Courses that focus specifically on problem solving are also worthwhile. Examples include deductive and inductive logic; economics, mathematics, social science research methods, engineering, natural sciences; comparative religion; and philosophy.
Attorneys play a powerful role in society. Not only do they operate essential legal institutions, but they also help to shape them and other institutions. Lawyers also enjoy a special privilege: their monopoly on the practice of law. With this privilege comes substantial responsibility. How lawyers conduct themselves is important to individuals, their communities, and the legal profession. Consequently, in their personal and professional lives, lawyers must adhere to the highest standards of ethical conduct. This requires both that lawyers bring a strong moral character to the study and practice of law, and that they be able to reason effectively about ethical matters. Student who are preparing for law school should thus take courses in ethics, at least one of which should focus on the great traditions of ethics in the western world, and at least one of which should focus on the special ethical problems faced by professionals.
Undergraduate Law Courses
Learning about the contexts in which the law operates is part of a broad-based education. You should therefore study subjects such as political science, philosophy, sociology, economics, management, and history.
You should also sample one or two undergraduate law courses (constitutional law, journalism law, business law, or the like). Taking such courses enables you to test your own interest in the legal system. Then spend the rest of your time improving your writing, reading, and analytical skills, and getting a broad–based education. Purely legal training will come in law school.
Study Abroad and Extracurricular Activities
Lawyers do a considerable amount of research, reading and writing, but this is not the whole story. Communication and negotiation skills, interpersonal relationship management and leadership abilities are also crucial for a career in the Law. Spending some time abroad and/or engaging in extracurricular activities within your community can help you develop such skills.
There are no specific set of activities which increase your chances to get into and succeed in law school. In particular, your activities do not need to be law-related. That said, law schools will favor consistent and deep commitment in a few activities over superficial involvement in many disparate activities. You extracurricular activities should reflect your personality, values and personal intellectual path.
List of classes by department
The members of the Pre–Law Advising Committee suggest the following classes as relevant for Pre–Law students:
- Business Law BADM 257, also listed as Business Law IST 257
- ENLT 325 (now LIT 376): Literature and other Disciplines: The Trial in Literature
- ECON 201 Principles of Microeconomics
- ECON 301 Intermediate Microeconomics
- ECON 320 Public Finance
- ECON 404 Introduction to Econometrics
- ECON 405 Game Theory
- EVST 302 Intro to Environmental Regulation
- EVST 367 Environmental Politics and Policy
- EVST 477 Environmental Justice Issues and Solutions
- EVST 487 Globalization, Justice and the Environment
- Comm 377/EVST 377 Rhetoric, Nature and Environmentalism, cross-listed with EVST.
- HSTA 380 Ã¢â‚¬â€œ Problems in American Constitutional History
- HSTA 382 Ã¢â‚¬â€œ History of American Law.
- PHIL 100 or 105 Introduction to Philosophy
- PHIL 200E Ethics: Great Traditions
- PHIL 201E Political Ethics
- PHIL 215 Philosophical Reasoning
- PHIL 210 Introduction to Logic Deductive Logic
- PHIL 211 Introduction to Logic: Inductive Logic
- PHIL 223E Business and Ethics
- PHIL 300E Moral Philosophy
- PHIL 325E Morality and the Law
- PHIL 427E Ethics and the Environment
- PHIL 429E Feminist Ethics
- PHIL 443E Ethics and Public Affairs
- PSCI 210, Introduction to American Government;
- PSCI 352, American Political Thought;
- PSCI 370, Courts and Judicial Politics (an introduction to the American judicial process);
- PSCI 461, Administrative Law;
- PSCI 471, American Constitutional Law; and
- PSCI 472, Civil Rights Seminar.
- SOCI 211 Introduction to Criminology.
- SOCI 221 Criminal Justice System.
- SOCI 318 Sociological Research Methods
- SOCI 312 Criminal Adjudication
- SOCI 435 Law and Society
- In addition, the Sociology department offers special topic, writing intensive seminars as SOCI 438, 441, 460, or 488.