Now that we are full into the fall college semester, my thoughts go to the many college and university seniors who are applying to law schools—-and the many other college and university students who are thinking about applying to law schools. Some of the students in their first years of college must be wondering how best to prepare for a law education. If they are not, they should be!
Although there are no guaranteed prescribed programs and no one path to law school, there is some good advice floating around out there, and I feel compelled to add my own. Some of this and more is covered in my first book, Best Friends at the Bar: What Women Need to Know about a Career in the Law (Wolters Kluwer/Aspen Publishers 2009), and I recommend it to you. It is considered to be one of the best books on the market today to give you a realistic view of law school and the law profession, especially for women.
You might expect the American Bar Association (ABA) to be a source of information on how to prepare for law school, but the ABA does not make any specific recommendations about undergraduate majors or class choices. However, in its materials published by the Pre-Law Committee, the ABA includes majors that are traditionally good preparation for law school—majors like English, philosophy, history and political science. It also includes economics or business in that group, but I am not persuaded concerning the value of those courses for law school. Most of what you need to learn in law school that is related to business and economics is taught in your Contracts and Uniform Commercial Code classes, and that is pretty basic stuff that can be grasped without either a business or econ background.
In my experience, English, history and political science are particularly helpful majors because the emphasis in those courses is on research and writing skills. However, any courses that emphasize analytical thinking and problem solving, writing skills, oral communication and listening skills, and research will be very helpful in preparing you for a legal education.
Good training in careful and analytical reading of complex materials is essential. That is so much of what lawyers do. Long before they pick up the file and run to the courthouse—which is the image you see far too often on TV and in the movies—there is a lot of reading and studying of judicial opinions, laws, documents and other written materials. This is not always the most fun part of being a lawyer, but it is absolutely necessary for proper preparation and best representation for your clients.
In addition to choosing courses and majors that will help you most in law school, you also should consult with your school’s pre-law advisor if there is one. Many undergraduate colleges and universities assign a person or persons to fill that role, and their services my be available to graduates as well as students.
This is very important because today many people do not go to law school immediately after undergraduate school. In fact, my husband and I advised our children to work for at least two years after college graduation before going to graduate school. Our daughter started law school two years after college graduation, and our son has been accepted to law school after more than three years working in the private sector.
Work experience is valuable in terms of understanding the world of business and putting future career plans into perspective. It is important to learn to work in difficult environments and with people who challenge you. Learning to push back when appropriate and to accept criticism when appropriate are extremely valuable life lessons and are excellent preparation for law school. Law school is a very competitive environment, and the lessons you learn in the work environment will serve you well and will help you to keep confident and emotionally healthy under the pressure that is sure to accompany a law education.
Last but not least, any course work or project that teaches you to gather and organize information, form a framework for that information, and effectively present the information is very important to preparation for law school. It really does not matter what the subject of that information is. It can be organizing a political rally, heading up preparations for a sports tournament, chairing a charity function—anything that builds and refines organizational skills. As you may know, law school classes very often are graded on the basis of one exam, which is given at the end of the semester. Having the skills to organize a semester’s worth of information in an effective format can be the difference between success or lack of success in law school.
In all this preparation for law school, however, remember not to eliminate undergraduate courses that “float your boat” and may not fit the descriptions above. Lawyers also need “life”—as compared to “work”— to keep them happy, and pursuing subjects that just plain entertain you and broaden your horizons is critically important to developing a satisfying and successful life. That is the subject of my second book, Best Friends at the Bar: The New Balance for Today’s Woman Lawyer (Wolters Kluwer Law & Business 2012). Get it and read it when you have the time. You will be happy you did!
For more information on preparing for law school, I recommend the blog Girl’s Guide to Law School and the on-line magazine Her Campus article at http://www.hercampus.com/dormlife/so-you-want-go-law-school-how-get-there.