Most people practice law with it. Legal practice is extremely diverse in its subject matter, however. Legal specializations include corporate, securities, criminal, insurance environmental, employment, family, health, intellectual property, real estate, tax, civil rights and others. In a general sense, however, most lawyers do similar things—they analyze problems and use their writing and oral skills to solve those problems. This takes place in a variety of settings including the private sector, government offices, and nonprofit organizations.
If you are interested in government or policy-making, you should know that many policy-making positions in the public and not-for-profit sectors do not require a law degree. For those, a master's degree in Public Policy or Public Administration, or an M.B.A., may be more useful.
Only you can answer that question, but there are several ways to increase your chances of making a good decision. Work, intern, or volunteer at a law office or rights-based organization. Even if you are unpaid, it will be worthwhile for you to work at a law firm, government law office, or some other legal setting to see how lawyers actually work.
Talk to lawyers. Ask your parents and friends if they know a lawyer. Ask this person for an informational interview and quiz them (politely) about their professional lives.
In figuring out if the law is a good fit for you, ask yourself the following questions:
- Do you like to think of ways to solve other people's problems?
- Do you take pleasure in writing papers?
- Do you enjoy doing research?
- Do you like thinking on your feet?
- Are you comfortable speaking in front of people?
- Do you find history and current events interesting?
- Do you work well under the pressure of deadlines?
- Do you juggle multiple tasks well?
- Do you thrive in conflict situations?
While not all legal occupations require all these skills, the majority do.
There is no preferred course of study or major that will increase your chances of getting into law school. Law schools want intellectually curious students with well rounded liberal arts backgrounds. In their undergraduate years, students should actively develop their interests.
The lack of a prescribed course of study often frustrates students who are looking for a clear roadmap that will lead to a legal degree. However, this flexibility allows students to study what they enjoy, and students are more likely to do well in those subjects.
Take courses which will help you hone the skills which will eventually be important to you as a law student. Such "lawyering" skills include:
- analytical thinking,
- problem solving,
- critical reading,
- oral communication,
- and task organization and management.
As long as you develop these skills, you can major in virtually any subject.
Common pre-law majors include political science (which provides insight into the formation and operation of the governmental institutions which underpin the American legal system); philosophy (which emphasizes critical thinking); and history and English (which tend to emphasize analytical and writing skills). Exposure to economics and finance is also helpful. A science background is useful to students interested in pursuing legal careers related to intellectual property.
The law schools also look to see that you take progressively more challenging courses as you move through your college years.
Applications should be submitted as early as possible in the fall of the year prior to starting law school. It is ideal to be ready no later than Thanksgiving, admission occurs on a rolling basis. The process becomes more competitive if you apply later. However, it is very important that you do not apply before you are ready. A weak application that is early will not serve you well in the admissions process. Thus, planning the application process is essential.
Law schools look at a variety of factors in making their admissions decisions, but three items have predominant weight:
- Law School Admission Test score (LSAT);
- prior academic performance (GPA); and
- the application form, particularly the applicant’s personal statement.
Law schools also require 2-3 letters of recommendation, preferably from college professors who know you well. Students are encouraged to develop relationships with their professors. If you have just had a successful class with a professor – particularly a professor with whom you have taken more than one course – go ask for that recommendation now for an internship or summer position. You can “bank” the recommendation in a private credentials file such as Interfolio (see www.interfolio.com) and have it updated later when you apply to law school. Approach your professors in the semester prior to applying to law school – do not wait for the last minute.
- Go in person to office hours.
- Ask if the professor is comfortable writing you a “strong” letter.
- Thank the professor.
- Follow up.
Be sure to plan ahead so you have all the components of the application ready on time.
The test is comprised of four scored 35-minute multiple-choice sections including:
- one reading comprehension component,
- one analytical reasoning portion,
- and two logical reasoning sections.
There is an additional multiple-choice section that is experimental and unscored. The student is not informed, however, as to which of the five multiple-choice sections on the test is the experimental one. There is also an unscored 35-minute writing sample; copies are sent to each law school where you apply. The scoring scale for LSAT ranges from 120-180; 150 is about the average score.
Register online at LSAC.org (the website for the Law School Admission Council) four to five weeks in advance of the test.
The most important thing to remember is to take the exam only when you are ready. The LSAT is offered four times a year (February, June, September, and December). If practical, you should take the LSAT no later than the June of your junior year. Based on the Hunter calendar, October and February of your junior year are good times to take this test, since you have downtime immediately before the exam.
You can take the exam in October of your senior year, but you will have a heavy schedule. Taking the test in December of your senior year will preclude you from applying early.
Allow plenty of time to prepare. Many students need six to eight months of intensive study. It is not unusual for students to spend a year studying for the LSAT. It is also not unusal for students to study for the LSAT after graduation, when they have more time. The majority of students apply to law school not as current seniors, but as alumni; this is a national trend.
Speak to the Pre-Law Advisor about Hunter’s subsidized LSAT prep course that begins in February with guided self study, and leads into a more intensive summer component. This is an ideal time for Sophomores to get started - if they are planning to go straight through without a break between college and law school. Students often spend 6-8 months preparing for the LSAT; it is not unusual to need a year of preparation.
This is a matter of personal choice. Some applicants prepare alone or with a group by buying LSAT prep tests through LSAC or other LSAT books on the market. Others find that the structured approach and prescribed test-taking strategies offered by a class are helpful. Whether you decide to take an LSAT prep course or not, the key to doing your best is to practice.
Be sure to check out LSAT preparation related materials on reserve in the second floor of the Hunter library under “Pre-Law”. Practicing on actual old LSAT exams is important. In addition, the “Powerscore Bible” series is very popular among students.
Yes, but your goal is to take this test only once. Law schools tend to average multiple scores. In addition, student scores do not usually improve significantly in subsequent exams, unless there was a substantial reason for not performing well the first time (for example, illness or a mechanical problem with the exam). In general, a good strategy is to prepare thoroughly before your first exam, and go with your first score. Never take a reported LSAT for practice.
LSAC's Credential Assembly Service (CAS) is a centralized service that handles sending an applicant's LSAT scores, transcripts and letters of recommendation to law schools. Individuals who decide to apply to law school are required to subscribe to CAS through the LSAC website. There is a subscription fee as well as a fee for each law school to which credential information is sent. (See the question #15 below with regard to fees.)
LSAC provides on-line access to the Official Guide to U.S. Law Schools which contains admission profiles to most U.S. law schools, available at https://officialguide.lsac.org/release/OfficialGuide_Default.aspx
The Boston College Online Law School Locator http://www.bc.edu/offices/careers/gradschool/law/research/lawlocator.html has a matrix by median GPA and median LSAT score as reported by law schools. Other privately published guides are available. You can obtain information directly from the law schools as well. Consider attending the LSAC forum held annually; the New York City forum typically features officials from over 100 law schools. Be sure to find out about areas of specialization of interest to you.
Also, think about where you want to practice law once you graduate. Find out where the schools place students upon graduation, and the nature of those jobs. Ask about bar passage rates. Students must pass the bar exam following law school graduation in order to practice as an attorney.
When you apply, target several schools in your LSAT/GPA range, several that are a reach (you might get lucky), and several that are below your range (safety schools). Applying to a total of 10 schools or more is not unreasonable. Since many more students apply than can be offered admission however, never assume that getting in is a “sure thing”. Make your application as perfect as possible.
Answer the question you are asked. The personal statement serves as a writing sample that demonstrates you are ready to be a professional. This is a challenging essay to write; you should expect to draft and redraft numerous times. See your Pre-Law Advisor for feedback on serial drafts. Be sure to attend Hunter’s Application and Personal Statement workshop.
Answer a prompt relating to diversity based on your judgment. Other essays are an opportunity to provide the admissions committee with more information that may enhance your application
The dollar amounts for various application services change from year-to-year. Current fees are listed on the LSAC website at: http://www.lsac.org/jd/lsat/lsat-cas-fees.
The fees inovlved in applying to law school include:
|LSAT Test Registration Fee (LSAC)
|Credentials Service Registration Fee (LSAC)
|Credentials Service Report sent to each law school by LSAC
|Application Fee Per School
Law school education costs vary, but the cost of tuition alone can easily reach $150,000. Public schools tend to charge lower fees, particularly CUNY Law, which has a public service mission, SUNY Buffalo Law, the public law school for the State of New York. Most law school students rely at least in part on loans. To the extent that scholarships are available, most tend to be merit based awards made by the individual schools. Recognize that incurring significant debt may limit your career options following law school.