Preparing for Law School
There are several things you can (and should) do to increase your chances of getting in to law school and preparing for law school.
Keep High Grades
Your admission chances to law school are largely determined by your (GPA) and your Law School Admission Test Score (LSAT) score. Everything else is usually secondary except in relatively borderline cases. Focus on good grades over employment, extracurricular activities, or community service. These other things are helpful to your law school admission only if your grades do not suffer because of them.
The relative weightings of the GPA and LSAT score will be roughly equal, but can vary across schools. A high LSAT score will help compensate for a low GPA, and vice versa. However, there is no particular GPA or LSAT score that will guarantee you admission, although your combined GPA and LSAT score might automatically admit you depending on the school. Thus, reduce your other activities for you to have enough time to study in order earn a high GPA, and to study intensively for the LSAT. This includes reducing employment, even if this means taking out additional student loans to pay for your undergraduate degree. If you really want a career in law, then you must view additional student loan debt as a long-term investment in your future--that is, a necessary short-term sacrifice for your long-term gain.
To estimate your chances of admission, see the admission data grid provided by many law schools in the Official Guide to Law Schools at the Law School Admission Council (LSAC) at www.lsac.org.
Conquer the LSAT
How to prepare? The LSAT tests skills, not knowledge. The only way to prepare is therefore ractice, practice, and more practice at taking the exam, using old exams from the LSAC and from commercial preparation guides. If you a disciplined self-learner, many commercial preparation guides are relatively cheap, such as Barron’s Guide, Princeton Review, Cliff Notes, Arco, LSDAS Official Guide, etc. Or, if you can afford it, and are unable to teach yourself, then take a preparation course like Kaplan, Princeton Review, LSAT Intensive Review, etc. Although review courses should help improve your LSAT score, you must decide for yourself if the amount of improvement you expect (which can not be predicted) is worth your investment, and could not be achieved on your own.
Also, if you do poorly on the LSAT, don’t necessarily give up—you can take it again, and many law schools will average your results or even take the higher score. However, beware that law schools are not required to do this, and many do not. Also beware that of LSAT repeat test-takers, only a relatively small minority actually improve their scores significantly, and about a third of repeat test-takers actually see their scores drop (sometimes substantially). Thus, choose carefully whether to retake the LSAT. Ideally, you should take it only once.
Law School preparation materials are also on permanent reserve at the circulation desk of UL's Dupre Libary, under the course listing "POLS 382." These materials are available for in-libary use for a four-hour time limit per use. These materials include LSAT information, advice, and previous LSAT exams (some with answers and explanations). Also available are a guide to law schools, and advice for writing personal statements, including numerous sample essays.
For more LSAT information, read the detailed LSAT Preparation advice on the Political Department website, or visit the Law School Admission Council website, where you'll register for the LSAT.
Choose the Best Courses
There is no “best” or “better” academic major to increase your odds of admission to law school Law school student bodies generally represent all possible college majors, including even art, theatre, and music. According to the official recommendation of the ABA and LSAC regarding pre-law curriculum, the academic courses you take should primarily develop skills in addition to teaching certain content:
- Analytic reasoning and problem-solving skills—e.g. pre-law courses like constitutional law or business law, as well as courses in logic, philosophy, math, computer programming, etc.
- Communication skills—political science, public policy, history, English, rhetoric, and other courses with strong critical writing, speaking and listening components, as well as courses that develop general research and task management skills.
- Substantive knowledge of the law’s basis —political science, public policy, history, economics, philosophy, sociology, anthropology, criminal justice, business, etc.
Get Letters of Recommendation
For your letters of recommendation, generally choose professors familiar with your capability to perform academic work. This means you want to impress your professor starting early during your time in college, and stay on good terms with them. For example, offer excellent regular contributions to class discussions, and you'll make a positive memorable impression on your professors. Their letter recommending you will be stronger than if they weren't impressed by you or can't even remember you. Employers are okay as recommenders, but only if those employers can personally testify both as to your intellectual capabilities and work ethic.
Whoever your letter writer is, however, always ask them first if they are willing to write you a letter, and if they will be able to write you a strong letter of recommendation. Pick the three letter writers who are willing and able to write you the strongest positive letters.
Three letters are better than two, but more than three is usually unnecessary because additional letters will give you rapidly diminishing returns. Also, pay attention if the law schools to which you apply specify how many letters they want.
Write a Personal Statement
The personal statement is a chance for you to tell the admissions committee relevant things about you that aren't in the rest of your application materials. For example, if you have unique life experiences, or If you have a disadvantaged background, or have overcome other obstacles or hardships in your life (including financial or medical hardships that interfered with your grades), or have some other exceptional skills, attribute, or successes, emphasize this on your personal statement. The key, though, is to explain how your particular experience will uniquely contribute to the diversity of the law school and profession of law, and thereby make you a better lawyer than other applicants.
Other than that, in your personal statement simply be honest, persuasively present your motivation for going to law school and for practicing law, and be well-organized, articulate, and creative (but not bizarrely creative) in your writing. If you believe your grades or LSAT score do not reflect your true abilities because of illness, tragedy, or some other factor, include a brief (one paragraph) explanation as a separate addendum.
For more information about personal statements, read the more detailed personal statement advice on our Political Science website, or visit the Law School Admission Council website.
Prepare a Professional Resume
For detailed on information about preparing a high-quality professional resume, visit the Department of Political Science Resume Advice section, or visit the Office of Career Services.
Applying for Law School
Law School Admission Council
Assuming you've prepared yourself and your materials, how do you apply for law school? The Law School Admission Council (LSAC) website is the official one-stop location for everything related to applying to law school. The LSAC no longer distributes printed information booklets; all their information is now located entirely on-line on their website at www.lsac.org. The official information and resources on the LSAC website include:
- Information and advice on choosing a legal career.
- Information and advice on selecting a law school
- Advice on developing skills to succeed in law school
- Law School Admission Test (LSAT) registration, information, and practice.
- American Bar Assocation--Law School Admission Council (ABA-LSAC) Official Guide to U.S. Accredited Law Schools
- Financial Aid information for law school
The Credential Assembly Service
The Credential Assembly Service (CAS) is run by the LSAC. Therefore, to resigter fo the CAS, visit the Law School Admission Council website. Nearly all law schools require applicants to use the CAS to apply to them. It’s convenient, though it does cost money. You'll send the CAS your transcripts, resume, and personal statement. The LSAC will give the CAS your LSAT score. You'll also list your letter writers with the CAS, and the CAS will then send an e-mail to your letter writers with a link where they can upload the letter to the CAS. Then CAS will send your entire application package to the law schools you indicate.
Besides the materials you have the CAS send law schools, so be sure to look at each individual law school to which you're applying to see if they have additional application requirements. For example, many law schools want you to fill out an additional separate application form, answers specific questions on your personal statement, or provide additional statements besides your personal statement.
Apply to Several Schools
In an ideal world, money would be no object and you'd apply to every law school to maximize your opportunities. However, realistically, a commonly suggested guideline is to apply to at least five law schools to increase both your odds of admission and your options of attendance. Use the ABA/LSDAS Official Guide to U.S. law schools or other law school guides, and talk with pre-law advisors, law school admissions directors, law school students, law school alumni, practicing attorneys, bar associations, etc., to find out what law schools are right for you. Attend regional law school fairs if you can. There is no "best" law school, but only the law school that is "best" for you depending on the criteria that you mostly highly value in a law school. Then, based on your preferences for cost, location, resources, size, faculty, ranking, course and program options, networking and future employment possibilities, student diversity, etc., pick at least five schools (the average number applicants apply to) in roughly the following manner:
- One “dream school” you would really like to attend but your odds of admission are relatively slim (i.e., a “long shot.”);
- Three schools that you would be satisfied to attend, and you think your odds of admission are reasonably good (i.e., you have a “competitive” chance of being admitted.); and
- One “fall-back/safety-net” school that you would settle for attending and you think your odds of admission are relatively high. However, beware of unaccredited (non-ABA accredited) law schools—they should be a “last-ditch” fallback, and you might not get licensed to practice with an unaccredited degree.
Do Not Lie
Don’t lie on your application. Be honest about your residency even if it means higher out-of-state tuition. Also, If a law school asks for such information on its application form, admit criminal arrests or convictions, school disciplinary records, or other unflattering information. Law schools care much more about if you’re honest about your past, than the particulars of what you did, unless a conviction involves dishonest conduct, such as perjury, embezzlement, forgery, identity theft, plagiarism, business fraud, etc. After law school, an extensive background check will be done on you when you apply for admission to the bar. If it's found out that you lied on your application, this is dishonesty, and your law degree could be withdrawn and/or you might be denied admission to the bar.
Once you’re in law school, it’s unlikely you’ll be able to transfer to another law school if you’re unsatisfied with the law school you’re attending--less than 10% of all law students transfer to other law schools. Transferring is frowned upon, and allowed only in uncommon circumstances. So, you should make your plans on the assumption you will stay in the same law school for all three years. Thus, if you know you want to practice in a particular state, going to a law school in that state might be somewhat helpful in passing the bar in that state. It might also be helpful in your ability to network and find a permanent in-state job after law school, but it is not necessary. In fact, you should have little trouble finding a job in any state if you do reasonably well in any law school of decent reputation. So be sure that whatever school you decide to attend, you're content to finish all three years at that school and thus receive a degree from that school.
If you don’t get admitted to any law schools the first year you apply, don’t give up. Work in a professional capacity for some years and then re-apply. It should actually improve your chances of being admitted because it will give you a richer professional work background, and it should show a greater emotional maturity and seriousness in your admissions attempt. However, also remember that there are many, many, many, many, MANY other career options that can help make your life happy and fulfilling, so you should enthusiastically consider your other career interests and options.