Preparation for Law School: An Introduction

For the academic year 1996-97 there were 128,623 students enrolled in the some 179 accredited law schools across the country.  All of these students went through the same process in getting into this professional study.  There is no question that planning early is important.  Far too many do not look ahead: their senior year is the first time that they  think about law school.  This is not the way to go.  This information should assist you in properly planning for law school.

 

Hundreds of UTM graduates have obtained their JD's from a variety of law schools, including premiere institutions like Harvard, Yale, and Chicago. UTM offers superb preparation for legal study.  The proof of this lies in the hundreds of our graduates who are successful members of the bar.  It is up to you to make the necessary commitment now!

DO YOU REALLY WANT TO ENTER THE LEGAL PROFESSION?

All undergraduates considering post-graduate school should consider the following questions:

 

1. Think in terms of a career, not a job.

Even if you can get a job with your college degree, what are your prospects for career advancement without further study? Think long-term, look at your interests v. the career scene. Try to imagine yourself twenty years from now. Where will you want to be? What will you want to be doing?.

 

2. "Am I going to law school for the right reasons?"

You need to be clear on your goals before committing the time and expense of law school. Sometimes it is the wrong reason that pushes you to apply for law school. Some students may feel burnout after college or may not be ready to choose a career they want to pursue. It is alright to take a year or a couple of years to sort things out. In some law programs, work experience and maturity enhance your admission chances. Also, you do not want to continue your education because school is a safe place away from the demands of "real life." It is important to understand what motivates you. A career in law should fit your individual interests, abilities, values, and priorities.  Whatever you decide, you must know that in order to succeed in law school, you need intelligence, initiative, and self-discipline.

 

3. Self-Assessment: Your skills v. career demands.

Answering the questions below will help you decide if you will like the demands of a law profession:

1. Do you have strong oral and written communication skills?
2. Do you like to read? To analyze and think critically?
3. What personal values are most important to you?
4. How important is creativity to you?
5. What past experiences and achievements have been rewarding?
6. How good are your people skills?
7. Can you manage and prioritize your time well?
8. What are your strongest skills? What skills need improvement?
9. Are your parents, friends, or other people pressuring you to go to law school?
10. What drives you to go to law school and form career plans?

 

4. "I do not have a 4.0 GPA and my LSAT score is average."

Although your GPA and LSAT scores are arguably the two most important factors in the selection process, there is room for other factors as well, such as strong reference letters, meaningful university activities and extensive work experience (See section "Preparing for Law School" for more information).   Another key appears to be diversity.  Law schools throughout the country have been making special efforts to have diversity in their student bodies; most of these schools emphasize the recruitment of minorities (See section "Special Opportunities for Minorities").

 

5. "Will I be happy once I get my law degree?"

 Law school involves three years of intense study and costs huge sums of  money.  You should not determine if you want legal study by trying it; there is too much of an investment involved.  Look ahead while in undergraduate study.  Talk with attorneys. Visit with your pre-law advisor. Attend court sessions. Visit law schools, and be sure to talk with law school students.  In addition, read about the legal profession. In recent years, studies have indicated many attorneys have not been happy in their profession. You need to avoid being in such a situation.  These four publications are excellent in developing an understanding about law school.

 

 (1) Stephen Gillers, Editor.  Looking at law school: a student guide from the society of American law teachers .  New York:  Meridan, 1990.

This is an excellent guide for a pre-law student.  It covers many aspects, including deciding on a legal career, selecting the right law school, financing legal education, the law school curriculum, and special concerns of law school students.  There is also special focus on advice for minority students and gay and lesbian students.

 

(2) Walt Bachman.  Law vs. life: what lawyers are afraid to say about the legal profession .  Rinebeck, New York: Four Directions Press, 1995.

 

This writer has been a practicing attorney and a prosecutor for some 25 years. He notes the many changes occurring in the legal profession.  This book reveals what it is really like in the legal profession in the United States. Bachman gives ten survival lessons not found in any law school curriculum.  This book was recommended by several pre-law
associations, including the Southern Association of Pre-law Advisors(SAPLA).

 

(3) Deborah L. Arron.  Running from the law: why good lawyers are getting out of the legal profession.   Seattle: Niche Press, 1989.

 

Deborah Arron was a civil litigator and bar association leader in the Pacific Northwest for ten years; her book addresses the growing dissatisfaction among our nation's lawyers.  It examines why many of the country's attorneys are unhappy with their work.  The book offers insight and inspiration for those wrestling with doubts about the legal profession.

(4) Paula A. Franzese.  Throw your fears out the window: a book of wisdom, inspiration and guidance for law students and lawyers .  Newark: RR Donnelley Financial Services, 1997.

 

Professor Franzese teaches at the Seton Hall Law School and focuses on the promise and hope of the legal profession.  She encourages people to study law and to change the society.  This faculty member is very positive about the opportunities offered by the study of law.


PREPARING FOR LAW SCHOOL

Once you have investigated and decided that the legal profession is for you,  you need to begin preparation.  The Law School Admission Council in cooperation with the American Bar Association and the Association of American Law Schools publishes annually a superb resource for all pre-law students.  It is the OFFICIAL GUIDE TO U.S. LAW SCHOOLS.  This is published by Broadway Books of New York City each year.  It is about $20, but well worth the investment.   This annual publication has the most up-to-date admission requirements and program descriptions of the 179 accredited law schools in the nation, salary and placement statistics, information on financing legal education, and LSAT/GPA profiles.  There is no doubt this is the most authoritative reference on law schools in the United States. The UTM Pre-Law Advisor has a copy of this text, as well as a wide variety of LSAT prep books.

 

The Law School Admission Council also has available an array of other pertinent publications, including previously-administered Law School Admission Tests(LSATS). One can call Law School Admissions Services at 215/968-1001, write them at Box 2400, Newtown, PA 18940-0977 or seek more information on the World Wide Web:  www.lsac.org.    Moreover, UTM gives practice LSAT's on two occasions each Fall: contact Dr. Mosch if you are interested.   Two other web sites that may be useful include the following:

http://www.review.com
http://www.kaplan.com


THE  MAJOR CRITERIA FOR ADMISSIONS TO LAW SCHOOLS

(1) The LSAT
All 179 accredited law schools in the United States require taking the Law School Admission Test (LSAT).  This test is administered four times a year: June, October,  December, and February.  The test consists of five 35-minute sections of multiple-choice questions in three different categories:  Reading Comprehension, Analytical Reasoning, and Logical Reasoning.  There is also a 30-minute writing sample given at the end of the regular examination.  The basic fee for this examination is $118.  LSAT scores range from 120-180.

 

These tests are the actual examinations that had been given  at the June administration.  Test experts at the Law School Admission Services claim that taking previous tests is the best way to prepare for this important examination.  DO NOT TAKE THE REGULAR LSAT FOR PRACTICE!  The scores will be part of your record.  In addition to the LSAT, most law schools require applicants subscribe to the Law School Data Assembly Service (LSDAS), which provides a means of centralizing and standardizing undergraduate academic records to simplify the law school admission process.  The LSDAS prepares a Law School Report for the law schools.  Students must send official transcripts of all schools to this service.   The LSDAS subscription fee is $109. Reports to the law schools cost $12 each.   Thus, just taking the LSAT and applying for the LSDAS  and getting the reports to various law schools will come to well over $200.  And this does not include the application fees required by law schools.  Already the applicant has made a considerable investment.

(2) GPA
Generally speaking, one should have at least a 3.00 GPA to really obtain serious consideration.  However, a 2.80 with a high LSAT should gain acceptance to many schools.  There are computer programs available to indicate one's chances for acceptance at the various law schools; these are based on the LSAT and the GPA.  Law schools will take the adjusted GPA reported from the LSDAS.  This is important to realize.  The LSDAS will eliminate some courses in their calculation, including internships.  The service will consider all grades. Thus, if a student receives a D in a course and retakes it, and earns an A, UTM, will only consider the A for the final grade point calculation; the LSDAS will consider both the D and A.  Thus, one's GPA as calculated by UTM may well be lower than that reflected in the Law School Report.  Because of the competitiveness of law school, avoid taking courses again: students cannot afford a poor semester !  The Law School Data Assembly Service Report is the most important document concerning law school admission.

(3) Other Criteria:
For those who want to apply to some of the best law schools in the country, it is important to have meaningful activities and awards.  Participation in student government,  internships, overseas study, honors programs are in that category.  Also it is vital that your personal statement is carefully prepared.  The pre-law advisor has specific guidance on the personal statement.   It must be innovative.  Do not simply write why you want to attend law school!  See this Web site for assistance with personal statement:  http://www.accepted.com.

(4) Program of Study:
Many potential law students wonder what classes they should take as undergraduates.  There is no specified pre-law program according to the Council on Legal Education.  Generally, pre-law students major in arts or sciences or in business.  Law school students  come from a variety of backgrounds.  All law schools recommend that students have well-developed communication skills, analytical ability, and background on human institutions and values.  Students should keep this in mind when deciding on majors and also in selecting electives.  Of course, a superb command of the English language is essential.  Thus, any course where writing is involved will provide useful preparation.  UTM offers a variety of programs and courses that will adequately prepare students for law school.

(5) Special Opportunities for Minorities:
The annual law school forums have special sessions on minority recruitment.  Many schools have special scholarships for African-Americans, Hispanics, and Native Americans.  Tennessee has been a leader in trying to recruit African-Americans to professional schools. Each year special sessions are held at Tennessee law schools for minority pre-law students.

In addition, there is the Tennessee Pre-Law Fellowship Program which is open to African-American residents.  The program offers three distinct levels of participation:

                                         Associates:  freshmen and sophomores:
                                         Scholars I:   juniors
                                         Scholars II: seniors or graduates.

Associates are eligible to take up to six credit hours of free college course work in the summer and also participate in an internship experience with legal professionals.  Associates are required to have at least a 3.00 GPA.   Scholars I  must have a 2.5 GPA, be a junior, and have completed two semesters each of English, college mathematics, and social studies.  After their junior year, Scholars I participants enroll in an eight-week academic enrichment institute on the campus of the Cecil C. Humphreys School of Law at the University of Memphis.  The focus is to increase student comprehension and ability in logic, jurisprudence, law school type courses, writing, oral communication, and the Law School Admission Test (LSAT).   Scholars II must have taken the LSAT and apply to both state law schools.  Participants have an opportunity to take four substantive law courses in addition to legal writing and legal argument in preparation for law school.  Again, this program is offered at the University of Tennessee, Memphis.  The Tennessee Pre-Law Fellowship Program has become a model for the nation; other states have been studying it.  African-American pre-law students should definitely consider this outstanding opportunity!  You may write for information at the following address, or see Dr. Mosch for more details:

                                        Tennessee Pre-law Fellowship Program
                                        Cecil C. Humphreys School of Law
                                        The University of Memphis
                                        Memphis, TN, 38l52


LAW SCHOOL FORUMS

Pre-Law students should get as much information about law schools in order to make a wise selection. THE OFFICIAL GUIDE TO U.S. LAW SCHOOLS (latest edition) is a good place to begin.  Each of the 179 ABA-accredited law schools in the United States, are included.  In addition, many of these schools have web sites and e-mail addresses.  The latest guide is available through the UTM pre-law advisor.  However, for specific questions on law schools, pre-law students should consider sending questions to the various law school admissions offices.  The Law School Admissions Council has its own Web Site:  http:www.lsac.org.    Another superb source of information is the Law School Forum.   There are usually seven forums held between July and November each year.  These are free to pre-law students.  Usually about 135 law schools have representatives present. There are special presentations at these forums, including those on the admission process, financing a legal education, and opportunities for minority students.  The forums are on weekends, the hours usually running from noon to 6 or 7 p.m. on Friday and from 10 a.m. to 3 or 4 p.m. on Saturday.  Students can obtain application materials, confer with law school representatives, talk with representatives of the Law School Admissions Services, and also obtain Law Services publications and LSAT preparation materials.   The closest forums to Martin are Atlanta and Chicago.  Taking the time and effort to attend one of these forums will be most worthwhile.

Remember that the admissions offices in almost all law schools will be happy to accommodate you.  Many law schools have special orientation weekends for prospective students.  DO NOT ENROLL IN A LAW SCHOOL WITHOUT FIRST VISITING THAT SCHOOL.  You need to know what you will be facing for three years.

Other opportunities that you might want to utilize include the following:

  • In recent years, Vanderbilt University has invited UTM pre-law students to attend their Career Day, which is held each fall. This takes place during the week, usually between 4 and 6 p.m.  Recently, as many as 50 law schools have sent representatives to this gathering.  UTM pre-law students who attended found it most helpful.
  • Law School Admission Services has published an invaluable little booklet entitled THE RIGHT LAW SCHOOL FOR YOU.  This can be ordered through Law School Admissions Services.   Check their web site  http://www.lsac.org or write:  Publications Division, law Services, P. O. Box 40, Newtown, PA 18940.
  • Talking with representatives of the law schools is essential; the admissions deans from the two state law schools, the University of Tennessee and the University of Memphis, visit UTM each fall.  They will also be at the various law school forums.

SELECTING THE RIGHT LAW SCHOOL -A CHECKLIST

Following is a checklist of questions that may be helpful in deciding on a law school. This was developed by the UTM Pre-Law Advisor after attending several sessions at the national Pre-Law Advisors conference in 1996.

  • Faculty:   What kind of legal training has the faculty received? What are their specialties?  Is the faculty diverse?  Is the faculty accessible?
  • Financial Support:   What loans and scholarships are available?  What type of work opportunities are available?
  • Housing:   Does the school have inexpensive and convenient facilities?  What are the apartment rates in the area?   Is parking a problem?
  • Academic Support: What kind of tutorial and academic support programs are available?
  • Internships:  Is there a variety of internship programs available?  How many are paid?
  • Environment:  What are the crime rates in the area?  What type of recreational opportunities are available?   What are the physical facilities like.  What are the classrooms like?  Does the school have adequate  student lockers and student meeting areas?
  • Student organizations:  Does the school have organizations geared for me?   (e.g.  minorities, gays/lesbians, women, religious)
  • Attrition rate:  What is the specific failure rate at the university? .
  • Placement of graduates:  Are jobs only available for those in the top percent of the graduating classes?  Where are these jobs?  What kinds of jobs?  What is the starting salary for these jobs?
  • Library facilities: How much computer support is available? What are the hours of the library?   Does the university provide law students with keys to their library, permitting 24-hour use?  What is the availability of other campus libraries?
  • Alumni involvement:  What do alumni say about the school?
  • Study body:  Is the student body diverse? (e.g.- sex, race, age, religion)  What are the backgrounds of the students?
  • Reputation:   What is the status of the undergraduate/graduate institutions of the university?
  • Costs:  What are tuition costs? Fees? Will students be paying one set rate for their entire legal education?  What is the likelihood of an increase in tuition and fees?  Will the tuition decrease if I become a resident of that state?
  • Bookstore:  What are the holdings at the bookstore?  What is the availability of special study guides?
  • The Bar:  What is the university's pass rate on bar examinations?   What review courses are offered?   What are their costs?
  • Speakers:  Who are the most recent speakers? Who will be speaking in the future?
  • Involvement of law students:  Are the students involved in the admissions process?  Are they involved in curriculum selection?  Are they involved in the administration of the law school?
  •  Philosophy: What are the school's priorities?
  •  Administrators:  Who are the key administrators?  What are their backgrounds?  Their focus?
  •  Joint programs:  Is there any flexibility in terms of students tailoring their own programs?
  •  Enrollment:   What is the law school's enrollment?  What is the average class size?

PLACEMENT

Of course, a goal for all law students will be securing a job. According to the National Association for Law Placement (NALP), 77.6 percent of the 1995 law school graduates responded to their survey.  This was the type of employment listed six months after obtaining the J.D. degrees:

  •  56.1 percent  Private Practice
  •  13.4 percent  Business and Industry
  •  11.8 percent  Judicial Clerkships
  •  11.6 percent  Other Government
  •   2.7 percent  Type Unknown
  •   2.0 percent  Public Interest
  •   1.2 percent  Academic
  •   1.2 percent  Military

SALARIES

Salaries vary greatly.  The average staring salary for the class of 1995 was $45,590.  Salaries of more than $70,000 accounted for just 11.2 percent of all salaries reported.   These were the full-time median salaries for 1995:

  •  Academic   $36,750
  •  Business/Industry  $44,750
  •  Government  $33,000
  •  Private Practice $50,000
  •  Public Interest $30,800

The UTM Pre-Law Advisor has an array of books on legal study, catalogues from most of the accredited law schools in the country, LSAT Applications, and LSAT preparation courses. Most of these can be checked out on an individual basis; some need to be used in the office area.


MANAGING YOUR TIME

You should take the LSAT either in June after your junior year or in October as a senior. December is also a possibility, but is not recommended.  It takes about six weeks to obtain the scores.  You can obtain the scores earlier by signing up for telephonic notification.  However, the LSDAS will not be getting the official report until about six weeks after the examination. It is important to take the examination early; this means your application will be complete. And some law schools admit promising students early. They can only do this when files are complete.  Do not take the LSAT in February; the official reports will not be at the law schools until probably March.  Law schools generally require students to have their applications in by February.  Apply in the fall, certainly by December.  There is also a Law School  Computerized Service.  For information:

W. Margolis, LSAC, 661 Penn Street, Newtown, PA 18940, FAX 215/968-1169 e-mail:  wmargolis@lsac.org. Law schools have agreed to inform applicants by 1 April about their status.  Those with complete and outstanding records could gain official word as early as Dec ember..  By 1 April applicants should know if they were accepted, rejected, or on hold.  If one is on hold, this means the law school is waiting to learn if accepted students will join them. If not, then, the schools go down the list. Thus, a person on hold may have to wait until early August to know.  There are risks involved. You do not want to turn down a school in hopes of getting into another.  The other acceptance may never come.  The earlier you apply, the better chance for early acceptance. Also you will have an advantage in regard to financial aid.   The chart on the following page may assist you as well.

 

TIMETABLE FOR APPLYING TO LAW SCHOOL

SUMMER OF JUNIOR YEAR

  • Examine guides to various law programs, preferably over the Internet.
  • Determine test requirements and application deadlines for each school.
  • Talk to your faculty advisor about your findings, ask for guidance.
  • Request application materials from programs.
  • Talk to professionals about career choices, requirements.
    Study for the LSAT.
  • Sign up for the LSAT or even consider taking the LSAT in June.

SEPTEMBER-SENIOR

  • Research financial aid assistance. Request application packets.
  • Write a draft of your statement of purpose.

OCTOBER-SENIOR

  • Take the LSAT.
  • Begin to finalize your choice of schools.
  • Request recommendations from faculty members.

NOVEMBER-SENIOR

  • Order official transcripts from Registrar's office (preferably  including your Fall grades).
  • Give recommenders addresses of prospective schools, recommendation forms.

DECEMBER-SENIOR

  • Work on your statement of purpose.
  • Apply finishing touches to application packets and mail them (although most deadlines are late January-early February, it is always useful to get the packets in early).
  • Contact recommenders to be sure that they have mailed their recommendation.
  • Remember that this is the last month to take the LSAT!

JANUARY-FEBRUARY-SENIOR

  • If you have not done so, mail application packets.
  • Contact schools to ensure that all application material arrived by the deadline.
  • Contact law schools about possible visits.
  • Prepare and file a copy of your federal income tax return if you are applying for need-based financial aid programs.  File FAFSA for financial aid.

FEBRUARY-APRIL-SENIOR

  • Consider additional campus visits.
  • Discuss acceptances, rejections with your faculty advisor, faculty in your department.

APRIL-SENIOR

  • Pay law school deposit.
  • Have final transcript sent with indication of your graduation.
  • Let your faculty advisor know where you have been accepted.

 

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