While few colleges offer “pre-law” programs named as such, choosing the right college – and performing well — will definitely help you get into law school.
But if you don’t go to Harvard for college, don’t fret: you don’t need to attend the most prestigious schools to become a lawyer. In fact, the “right college” means something different for every student. In this article, we’ll explore the path to law school and what colleges can set you up for success.
The Road to Law
Becoming an attorney requires that you earn a bachelor’s degree (undergraduate) and attend three years of law school (graduate). You must subsequently pass the bar exam in the state in which you intend to practice law.
It’s a long road that can leave you loaded with school debt if you aren’t cautious. But it is also – for many – a reliable path to a high salary. While the salary can be attractive, the rigor and challenge level of law school tends to weed out candidates who are only interested in the money. However, if you are passionate about the legal systems of the world and how we can make them better, it could be the right path for you!
What Should I Study in College?
Students preparing for law school are not expected to take specific courses (like pre-med students who have to take organic chemistry, for example).
Instead, law schools look for students whose undergraduate degree demonstrates critical thinking and writing ability. This includes – but is definitely not limited to — history, English, psychology, political science, economics, and philosophy.
There are a few specialized types of law where specific coursework can be a benefit. For example, patent law has its own separate bar exam, and students typically take STEM courses as an undergraduate.
Thinking about what area of law you might be interested in will help here. For example, if you are interested in corporate law, a course in economics would make sense. Showing consistent interest in one potential area of law can help you craft your law school application essay.
Why Choosing the “Right” College is Not So Critical
You needn’t worry about pursuing a “pre-law” program in college, because almost none exist, and they don’t carry much weight with law schools.
This is because all law schools teach students from scratch. They follow a long-standing curriculum that involves the same courses during the first year (criminal law, contracts, constitutional law, real property, and legal research & writing). These are designed to teach you how to “think like a lawyer.” As such, what you study in college is not considered overly significant.
GPA is Important
GPA can be important in your law school applications, but it is not everything. A low GPA doesn’t mean you can’t become a lawyer! However, it’s important to understand that law schools are often talked about in terms of first-, second-, and third-tier schools.
First-tier schools can help you land prestigious summer internships at top-flight law firms. It’s true, hese schools look for undergrads with “A” averages.
But many highly successful lawyers attend third-tier law schools. These are often schools that cater to working adults – usually with night classes. These schools are less GPA-sensitive because they place more weight on the applicant’s work experience after graduation from college.
GPA and Cost
Legal education is expensive, and you’ll want to consider what you can afford. Are you weighing the soaring tuition for private schools, or the more affordable (but still costly) tuition for state schools?
You don’t have to sacrifice either. Many state universities like the University of Virginia and the University of California at Berkeley offer first-tier law programs, while being on the affordable side. The downside, instead, is that because their application processes tend to be more impersonal and number-driven, your GPA and LSAT may count more.
Your LSAT Score Is Very Important
The LSAT is the requisite exam for law schools, and it can carry a lot of weight.
The LSAT is graded on a score of 180. If you can break 175, for instance, you can get away with a poor GPA. If you score below 145, you will have trouble getting into an accredited law school.
Two parts of the LSAT – reading comprehension and logical reasoning – bear a resemblance to the SAT/ACT. The third part – analytical reasoning, a.k.a. “logic games” – is new.
You’ve probably seen these “logic games” before:
“If Mike wears a blue hat on even calendar days and a red hat on odd calendar days, and the bus only picks up people with red hats on Monday, Wednesday and Sunday, if Mike gets on the bus and there are passengers with blue hats…” etc., etc.
Essentially, these are thought exercises involving contingencies that require you to keep a lot of random information in your head. Detail orientation is a key skill of lawyers.
If you’re truly serious about going to law school, download a practice LSAT and score yourself. Just like the SAT, learning the exam format and taking practice tests can help. But watch those logic games – this is the part of the LSAT that is the bane of many law school applicants.
Lawyering is a Tough Job
As one Supreme Court justice said, “Everyone thinks about becoming a lawyer at some point.”
Just because practicing law does not involve open-heart surgery does not necessarily make it any easier than other demanding professions. Lawyers are well-compensated because the work is difficult, the hours are long, and there is little tolerance for error.
That being said, the law is a vast field with many different fields in which you can practice. Take some time now to learn more. It can pay off in college and law school.
Empowerly Can Help
If you know you want to be a lawyer but don’t know where to go to college, Empowerly’s team of experienced counselors can help. Schedule a free, 30-minute video consultation today.