For undergrads thinking about law school, the number of things to consider can be overwhelming. What classes should you be taking? Is law the right career for you? How can you make sure that you’re a good applicant for the school you want to attend? Grades matter, and there are many resources available to help you manage your time and maintain your academic standing. Still, getting through college and into law school depends somewhat on your background, and what it is that you want to achieve with a law degree.
The following are some steps that you can take to improve your chances of getting through law school.
The first question that you need to answer is why you want to attend law school in the first place. What do you hope to achieve with your law degree, if and when you receive it? Many universities have career centers that can help students to work through these questions, and some even publish the advice that they give.
At the University of California, Irvine, they encourage law students to learn about the careers available to graduating lawyers. In order to understand the employment environment, they suggest that people look at the National Association for Law Placement’s website, which can offer some honest insights into job prospects for recently minted attorneys. They also recommend examining the way in which the law school application process is run by the Law School Admission Council (LSAC)—especially the Law School Admission Test (LSAT), which they administer. (1)
Columbia University’s Office of Preprofessional Advising tells students to read widely, to determine whether their interests really align with the profession. They recommend the first chapter of Robert Miller’s Law School Confidential, as well as the book Should You Really Be A Lawyer by Deborah Schneider and Gary Belsky. All of this research should help you to tap into your motivation for studying law, and therefore encourage you to pursue this passion to the completion of your degree. (2)
If assignments are putting a strain on your schedule and your grades are suffering as a result, there are many ways to help you to maintain your grades (and sanity) while you finish college; you could consider private tutoring, time-blocking your week and studying with your classmates, for instance.
While balancing your work and personal life, it’s important to keep in mind that your disciplinary and criminal records matter for law school applications, as does your credit. Many students end up pursuing private loans in order to pay for their legal education, so finance is an important consideration. If you’re thinking about refinancing an existing loan, sites like EducationData.org offer a live calculator and details on various providers, to help you make an informed decision.
While a prelaw course might seem like the obvious choice, some academics who study legal education believe that this narrow focus can ultimately leave you less prepared. Older generations have long argued that current students learn less than those who came before. Rebecca Flanagan, Assistant Professor and Faculty Director at the University of Massachusetts School of Law, points to data that shows they may have a point. From 1961 to 2003, the time that undergrads spent studying dropped by one third. The difference, she argues, may come down to viewing college as a credentialing process and not an “academic experience.” This, in turn, has led to a “decline of the liberal arts and humanities in favor of more career-oriented courses and majors.” All of this leads to first-year law students who lack some of the skills that their professors expect from them—especially around reading, writing, and critical thinking. (3)
The list of courses that might help you in law school is a long one. Classes that focus on logic can be helpful, especially in preparing for the LSAT. Some of these include:
There’s also much to be said for the ways in which the humanities can prepare you for the experience of law school. Majors that may keep you interested while teaching you valuable skills include:
Why do these “unrelated” subjects help law students to succeed? According to Associate Professor of Legal Writing, David Samuelson, one of the misapprehensions that his students have is that the law will help them to find “neat” solutions to “neat” problems. When teaching legal methodology, he helps students to discover that the law involves a great deal of complexity and ambiguity. Courses that have helped students to develop the rhetorical and logical skills needed for legal reasoning will be a major benefit. (4)
In their book Relationship-Rich Education, Peter Felten and Leo M. Lambert argue that relationships might be the most important part of a person’s education. Not only are “relationships the beating heart of the undergraduate experience,”, but the authors argue that the “research on the significance of relationships in education is clear and long-standing.” Students’ relationships—not only with faculty, but with staff and their peers—can “positively influence the breadth and depth of [their] learning, retention and graduation rates, and [have] a wide range of other outcomes, including critical thinking, identity development, communication skills, and leadership abilities.” Those effects are even more pronounced for first-generation students and students of color. (5)
While universities are responsible for ensuring that all students have the opportunity to build high-quality relationships, there are things that you as a student can do to get the most out of your education. Attending office hours, meeting with academic support staff, and taking part in peer advising or study groups are all good habits to practice.
College is a big commitment. It’s important to understand why you’re aiming towards a particular goal, and what it will take to achieve it. Making a plan to pay for it, maintaining important relationships, taking interesting classes that cultivate important skills; all of these methods will help you to successfully make it through college and into law school.