Law School Preparation
Applications to law schools have hit record highs. The downturn in the economy has caused a spike in law school applications. Total enrollment for J.D. programs rose by 2.9%, from 141,031 to 141,433 students attending the 196 law schools accredited by the ABA. First-year minority students enrolled in J.D. programs increased 0.9%, but as a percentage of the first-year class, they dropped from 22.4% to 22.3%. Among all students enrolled in J.D. programs, 75,383 were men and 66,050 were women.
While this trend and the statistics are important to consider, they should not deter students from pursuing a career in the Law. Indeed, they should only make students more determined to prepare early and prepare well for the law school admission process. Undergraduate Legal Studies will help students prepare and become more attractive candidates to law schools. Check out the following:
- LSAT preparation offered as a course within the Political Science Department
- Workshops and discussion groups with legal professionals
- Community and civic service opportunities
- Internship opportunities
- Mock Trial Team
- Career and academic advising
- Events and activities through the Legal Studies Student Association
- Other opportunities presented through Paralegal Studies courses.
While law schools still weigh GPA and LSAT scores heavily in the admissions process, it is becoming increasingly important for applicants to demonstrate overall potential through experience, service, part-time employment, and extracurricular activities. Consider the following tips to prepare to apply to law school (Note: not just "apply to," but "prepare to apply to").
- First, have realistic expectations and know what you are getting into. A common mistake made is to pursue law school as a goal based upon family or societal pressures or because you simply don't know what else to do. The Law is a difficult profession and many don't last. Go to law school because it is what you want to do.
- Second, give yourself lots of time. A second mistake often made is that students think they can prepare for law school mid-way through their senior year. They are shocked to learn they probably should have taken the LSAT by the time they start thinking about law school applications. The earlier you start, the better prepared you will be. This is not to suggest getting your letters of recommendation in your freshman year, but start developing relationships that will lead to letters of recommendation in later years. Think about the jobs you take and the extracurricular activities pursue with an eye toward preparing for law school. Remember, unique experience in addition to your studies is critical for personal growth as well as a great personal statement.
- Research the law schools. You wouldn't go to a job interview without first conducting some research on your prospective employer, so do the same for law schools. Find out all you can about the school's culture, specialties, faculty, etc. Do not base your decision solely on rankings.
- Develop a good "story" to tell the admissions committees. Think about who you are, your life experience, why you want to become a lawyer, and what makes you unique. You will learn to be an advocate in law school. Applying to law school is being your own advocate. It will be easier and more efficient to complete your applications once you know what your story is. Develop your personal statement carefully drawing upon your "story." Make sure you take the time to write a separate statement for each law school. Each application is different and each is looking for particular information. Give the admissions office what they want.
- Prepare for the LSAT adequately. If you can afford to make the 3 year investment and you are willing to spend thousands to get your degree, you should certainly invest the time and money it takes to get ready for the LSAT. Purchase good LSAT prep books and/or take a prep course with a reputable instructor.
- Invest the "up front" time to determine which law schools and programs are best suited for you. Once again, this is a huge investment that you are about to make. You don't want to attend a school where you will not be happy and/or that will not adequately prepare you for your future career.
- Consult with an advisor. Consulting with an advisor will help you solidify the reasons you are applying to law school in the first place. Solicit advice from an advisor on your story and ask for assistance reviewing your personal statement. Recognize that such an advisor may have had a very different experience that you will have going through the process, so take advice with a grain of salt.
- Obtain strong letters of reference. Again, think about what the admissions office is looking for and select your references accordingly. Try to get references from people you know well and can highlight your strengths. If you do not know those people yet, get to know them now! Tell them what you would like them to say and explain your "story" to them so they can substantiate that story.
- Make sure you and your application are authentic. It is easy to spot a phony story. Make your application is perfect. It should reflect the very best you. Any errors, including typos, will be noticed and will cost you. Review your application from a third person's perspective. If you have an interview, anticipate what questions they will ask you from your application and arrange one or more mock interviews to ensure you have your story down and it flows naturally.
- Relax. You've done everything you do. With some luck, you'll be deciding which of your many offers to accept!