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Jobs and Careers:
Law School

Applying to Law School

> Major and Course Selection
> The Law School Admissions Test
> Choosing a Law School
> How to Find Out About Law Schools
> Letters of Recommendation
> Transcripts
> Personal Statement
> Resources

The big question you should ask yourself before you commit yourself to law school is, “why do I want to go to law school?” Think about the kind of education you want to pursue, and the kind of career you would like to have after you are finished with your education. You will find it much easier to go through the law school application process if you are clear about why you want to go to law school. Spend some time thinking about your goals, your ambitions, your skills, and your dreams for your life. Once you decide that law school is in your plans, you can turn your attention to the details of application.

The earlier you start thinking about applying to law school, the more you can do to strengthen your application. Wise course selection (which can mean different things for different people) can help you make the most of your Hope College experience. In considering your choice of major, and your selection of courses, you might find these ideas helpful.


 

There is no set pre-law curriculum. Law schools care less about what you major in than about whether you challenge yourself and achieve a strong undergraduate preparation for graduate work. Many different majors serve as good preparation for law school. We like history, of course, but you should choose what is best for you. Keep in mind that you should major in something you enjoy, so you will be willing to work hard at it. Grade point averages matter in law school admissions. The study of law involves lots of reading, lots of writing, and lots of analytical work. Choose courses that will allow you to develop these skills.

  • Writing: Because law school requires strong analytic thinking and writing skills, you should choose classes that require you to write significant analytic papers. Many departments provide such courses. History courses are terrific preparation for the writing you will do as a law student. In the History Department, consider HIST 140 (History Workshop). It is offered on different topics in every semester, and concentrates on teaching research and writing skills. History courses at the 300 level all require significant research papers. Other departments also offer courses which will help you develop your research and writing skills. Consult with your departmental advisor. Tell him or her that you want to work hard on writing, and see what he or she recommends.

  • Reading: Law school requires you to read at a very sophisticated level. Challenge yourself to develop your critical reading skills. When you read non-fiction, identify the author’s thesis and the elements of the argument. You can enhance your reading skills by reading widely. Do not limit yourself to textbooks or to one particular genre of writing. Remember that critical reading is not simply disagreeing with or criticizing the author. Think hard about arguments, evidence and writing style.

  • Economics: Consider taking at least one course in economics; the language of law often uses economic concepts. Economics 211 (Principles of Macroeconomics) fulfills the general education requirement Social Science IB, and is also a good introduction to economic principles for students interested in law school.

  • Business: If you are interested in practicing corporate law, you might consider taking an accounting course. Reading a balance sheet is a valuable skill if you plan to work in a business context.

  • Logic: Consider taking a course in formal logic (PHIL 201) or analytical skills in communication (COMM 160).

 

Most law schools require that you take the Law School Admissions Test (LSAT). You can find more information about the LSAT, and about law school admissions generally, by going to http://www.lsat.org.

The LSAT is offered four times a year: June, September or October, December and February. Most of the dates are Saturdays; the June test is offered on a Monday. For students who celebrate Saturday Sabbaths, alternate dates are available. For deadlines, see the LSAT Web page: http://www.lsat.org/jd/LSAT/test-dates-deadlines.asp Be sure to register far enough in advance so that you get your preferred testing site.

You should take the LSAT no later than the October of the year you plan to apply for law school. It is technically possible to take it in December for admission the following fall, but that is pushing things in terms of deciding where to apply and in terms of getting your application in on time. Most (though not all) law schools accept students only once a year, in the fall semester or quarter. Application deadlines will be in the fall or winter of the previous year. If you want to enter law school directly after your graduation from Hope, you will apply in the fall of your senior year.

According to the LSAT web page, “the test consists of five 35-minute sections of multiple-choice questions. Four of the five sections contribute to the test taker's score. The unscored section, commonly referred to as the variable section, typically is used to pretest new test questions or to pre-equate new test forms. The placement of this section will vary. A 35-minute writing sample is administered at the end of the test. LSAC does not score the writing sample, but copies of the writing sample are sent to all law schools to which you apply.” http://www.lsat.org/JD/LSAT/about-the-LSAT.asp

The LSAT Web site provides free practice and preparation materials for the LSAT. Commercial materials are available at bookstores or booksellers’ Web sites. There are also a variety of test-preparation services that some students use. You should practice taking the LSAT before you actually take it, and be sure you are familiar with the types of questions asked.


 

There are many fine law schools in the United States. Which one should you choose? To some extent, your choice will be limited by your achievements as an undergraduate. Your LSAT score and your GPA matter in law school admissions. Most schools give the median LSAT scores and GPAs of the entering class in their admissions information. You may use those as guides. Students often choose one or two “reach” schools, a few schools for which their scores seem to be good matches, and a “safety” school or two.

Conventional wisdom used to be that you should go to the most highly ranked law school to which you are admitted. Some people might still give you that advice. It’s not always the best advice, though. Rankings are not everything, and they might not be measuring what is right for you. When you consider law schools, you might also consider other factors:

  • Where do you want to practice? If you know where you want to live and work, look at regional law schools serving that area. Check and see where alumni of your target law schools are placed. Do they get jobs where you want to be?

  • What kind of law do you want to practice? If a law school has a particular program in an area of law that interests you, it might be a good match for you.

  • Are there clinical legal education programs available at the schools you are considering? Clinical legal education is experiential education; law students practice law while they are still students. Clinical programs usually practice in specialized areas of the law. If you are interested in a particular kind of law, where are there clinical opportunities in that area? If you are not sure what you are interested in, are there clinical programs that catch your attention?

  • Are there opportunities for law review or other student-edited legal journals? Most law schools have at least one student-edited journal. If you enjoy research and writing, law review membership might be for you. Check and see if membership is by invitation only, or if there are opportunities for any interested students to participate. Students who think they might want judicial clerkships, or careers in legal teaching, should pay particular attention to opportunities for participation in student-edited journals.

  • What kind of educational environment does the law school provide? Law schools have different personalities. This is hard to figure out, but you should try to find out. If you will be miserable at a highly competitive law school, you might look for schools that emphasize competition less heavily.

  • What kind of financial aid package has the law school offered you? Many law school students go deeply into debt to attend law school. If you receive an attractive financial offer, it could mean that you graduate with fewer debts. That can free you to make better choices about your career after law school.

 
  • Law schools generally have Web pages. There, you can find information about application and admission, courses offered, special programs (such as law review and clinical legal education), expenses, and sometimes even placement of graduates. Do your homework!

  • Various commercial services provide law school evaluations. The Princeton Review publishes a review of law schools annually. Barron’s and U.S. News also publish law school guides.

  • There is a directory of world-wide law schools here. It has links to the official Web pages of the law schools: www.hg.org/schools.htm

  • The American Bar Association has a list of ABA-approved law schools: http://www.abanet.org/legaled/approvedlawschools/approved.html

  • On the Law School Admission Council Web site, you can search for law schools in your “likely to get in” range by entering your own GPA and LSAT scores. http://officialguide.lsac.org/release/OfficialGuide_Default.aspx

 

Most law schools require letters of recommendation. You should think carefully about who to ask for letters of recommendation. Generally, you will want letters from professors who know your work well. Try to ask people who have worked with you recently—letters from professors who worked with you only in your freshman year may not include information about your current skills and preparation. These are not character references. You want people who can talk about your fitness for admission to a challenging academic program. You also want people who will be enthusiastic about your application and who will write you a specific, highly favorable recommendation. Once you have identified potential references, you should ask them, politely and in person, if they are willing to write for you. Be prepared to tell your references what you want to do and why you want to do it. Offer to give them copies of your application essays. Give them exact details about deadlines and addresses. Ask them in plenty of time—at least a month in advance, and possibly longer than that.

The Law School Admissions Council (LSAC) provides a credential assembly service. Many law schools prefer or require that you use this service. This means that your referees will submit a copy of their recommendation letter to this centralized service, and the LSAC will forward letters of recommendation to the schools to which you apply, at your request (and upon your payment of a fee). This is on-line. http://www.lsat.org


 

Your transcript should be sent directly to the LSAC credential service by the registrar’s office. You may NOT obtain the transcript and send it yourself. You will need transcripts from every institution from which you have received or plan to receive a degree. You must also provide official transcripts from any colleges or universities from which you took summer or evening courses. Generally, you need not provide transcripts from overseas colleges and universities IF you attended them through an American-sponsored study abroad program. Check your law school’s requirements and the LSAT Web site to determine what you need to send.


 

Most law schools require you to write a personal statement. Sometimes, schools ask specific questions. In other cases, schools simply ask you to write an essay telling them anything you think they should know in order to evaluate your application. You should always write a careful, structured essay in response to these questions. Your essay should have a clear point and a clear structure. The reader should know, after reading it, who you are, why you want to go to law school, and why you are qualified to do so. Use the opportunity to tell the readers more about yourself. Do not simply list things that appear in other places in your application. Tell stories that illuminate your fine qualities. Talk about actions instead of using adjectives. For example, instead of saying that you are curious about the world around you, tell a story that illustrates your curiosity. Instead of announcing that you are committed to justice, tell a story that illustrates your commitment to justice. Plan to write several drafts of your essays. Show them to people who know you and who are good writers. Show them to people who don’t know you as well and ask what questions they bring up. Show them to your advisors or to Hope’s pre-law advisors. Get advice about them, and then rewrite them. Do this several times, until you are satisfied that the essay is as good as you can make it. Click here for more advice on writing personal statements.


 

 

 

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