Law schools accept students from all majors and backgrounds. Besides pursuing personal, professional, social and civic development activities during undergraduate school, students should stay committed to attaining the highest undergraduate GPA possible and a strong score on the Law School Admissions Test (LSAT). The following are recommendations for undergraduates who are considering law school.
One of the most important steps students can take is the development of a mentor relationship. This is strongly suggested by all law school admission offices. Students should consider finding a mentor among faculty and community members. Someone who attended law school and understands the student's particular situation could be especially helpful. Mentor relationships can provide students with knowledge about a range of factors they might not have considered in relation to law school and a career in law.
Skills and Qualities
To succeed, students need strong writing skills and demonstrable ability in communication and reasoning. Pre-law students should gain skills in the English language through practice in expression in writing and speaking, and in comprehension in reading and listening. Both expression and comprehension require a developed sensitivity to the fluidity and the potential deceptiveness of language.
Lawyers must analyze complex and often conflicting cases and statutes that demand logical, analytical thinking and the ability to express their reasoning with clarity and precision. A lawyer understands courtroom strategy and is skilled in applying relevant law to the facts of each case. In addition, the practice of law requires a good vocabulary and memory, the ability to think quickly, and ease and authority in public speaking.
Pre-law students should develop skills in the following:
- Critical reading
- Constructive synthesis
- Decision making
- Handling facts
- Oral communication and listening
- Problem solving
- Task organization and management
Besides developing particular skills, students interested in law should consider the qualities needed for a successful legal career, such as dedication to justice and the public good, integrity and high ethical standards, motivation, attention to detail, thoroughness of preparation, and respect for others and the system of law. Pre-law students should be interested in serving the interests of others faithfully and civilly while promoting justice.
Knowledge and Insights
Besides developing specific skills, students should also seek a critical understanding of human institutions and values. Important in developing insight into these institutions and values is a grasp of the following:
- A background that will help the student gain a full appreciation of the legal system in general, an understanding of how disputes might be resolved, and an understanding of various legal principles and standards and how to apply them.
- The nature of human beings and the physical world of which they are part.
- A basic understanding of human behavior and social interaction.
- A broad understanding of history, particularly American history, and the various factors (social, political, economic and cultural) that have influenced the development of our pluralistic society.
- A fundamental understanding of political thought and theory, and of the contemporary American political system.
- A basic understanding of ethical theory and theories of justice.
- A grounding in economics, particularly elementary microeconomic theory, and an understanding of the interaction between economic theory and public policy.
- An understanding of diverse cultures within and beyond the U.S., of international institutions and issues, and of the increasing interdependence of the nations and communities within the world.
- Basic mathematical and financial skills, such as an understanding of precalculus and an ability to analyze financial data.
In order to build a strong skills and knowledge base, pre-law students take classes in a wide variety of subjects. These courses, in conjunction with the requirements for the student's major, are what constitute the pre-law program. For those who plan to undertake the study of law upon completion of their undergraduate work, course work should be chosen carefully, with the assistance of both the major department and pre-law advisors.
Seminar format courses that accentuate writing and discussion usually contribute to developing these skills. Mathematics, philosophy and engineering majors may find they are developing logical skills that may not have a specific application to the law but will be of enormous use in general application to the study of law. If the student feels their major does not adequately prepare them to write well or to think logically and analytically, they should take electives that will. Take challenging classes, and exercise the self-discipline to do well in those courses.
Students should not neglect extracurricular activities that will help to separate them from other applicants with similar qualifications. Any responsible leadership role taken helps to show admissions committees the varied talents beyond the student's academic ones. Study-abroad experience, honors and work experience all enhance the student's application.
Choosing a Major
Law school admission policies do not favor one major over another, provided the majors contain equally substantive courses. Therefore, students can choose to major in whichever discipline they desire. Law schools require strong writing and clear thinking. Students can gain these skills in any major that will challenge them in these areas. Students should choose a major that they enjoy. If they enjoy what they are studying, they are likely to earn better grades, which in turn enhances their application to law school.
Students who have declared a major should inform their advisor of their pre-law aspirations so that appropriate resources can be discussed and the student can be enrolled in the My ASU Pre-law Community site.
Law school programs do not have prerequisites. As a pre-law undergraduate, students should choose courses that are intellectually challenging for them and which broaden and deepen their understanding of the world. Also essential are classes in which students develop skills in writing, critical thinking, reading comprehension, research, oral communication, public speaking, analysis and logic. Consider the following types of courses to develop these skills:
- Writing/Reading/Comprehension/Critical Thinking: it is recommended that students take as many Literacy and Critical Inquiry (L) courses as possible, to learn to write accurately and effectively. Rather than courses that simply test ability to recall facts via multiple choice or true/false exams, classes that test analysis and synthesis skills through essay exams and research papers are recommended.
- Speaking: classes in which students speak their thoughts and views in front of an audience should be chosen.
- Listening: classes in which students have to develop an ability to comprehend others' ideas should be chosen.
Students should also select courses that develop strong quantitative skills that will assist in analyzing and synthesizing data. Also beneficial to students would be choosing courses in which students practice comparison/contrast, and/or courses in which students critique viewpoints and data.
Taking too many classes with an "Y/E" (pass/fail) grade designation should be avoided. Law schools are unable to assess applicants' academic qualifications in pass/fail classes.
Ultimately, the most important aspect of any pre-law curriculum is the time and effort invested in each class. Students should do more than simply satisfy course requirements; rather, they should seek to understand the deeper significance of course materials and identify how each class contributes to an intellectual and skill base that will be the foundation of their law school experience and future career in law.