Pre-Law School FAQ

 

  • What are the general requirements for becoming an attorney?
    • Earn an undergraduate degree from a four-year accredited college or university.
    • Earn a Juris Doctor or equivalent degree from a law school accredited by the American Bar Association.
    • Apply to take the Bar Exam in the state in which you hope to practice.
    • Be approved by the Character and Fitness Committee of the State Bar to which you apply.
    • Pass a written examination (the Bar Exam) for admission to that State’s Bar.
    • Complete formal swearing-in process for the State Bar.
  • What major is the best preparation for law school?

    Short Answer: The field in which you have the most interest and are most likely to excel.

    Long Answer: Unlike preparing for many graduate and professional schools, there is no single field of study that is either required or especially helpful for students hoping to attend law school. There is no such thing as a “pre-law major;” students from every field have the potential to be great lawyers. More important than your major field of study is your overall academic record. Because most of us tend to excel in those areas of study that we find most interesting and challenging, the best advice is to major in what you love, and then do really well in the field you choose!

    While there is no single best “pre-law major,” there are specific skills that are critical to the future lawyer: critical thinking, analysis and problem-solving, and written and oral communications skills. You have been developing these skills for years before coming to college, but some undergraduate courses are particularly helpful for increasing your skills in these areas. Mathematics, English, music, philosophy, the physical sciences, engineering, political theory — all of these, and more, have a place in the spectrum of disciplines that can help make you a good prospect for law school.

    So focus first on what you love and will excel in, and fill in your electives with courses that will develop further your core thinking and communications skills. Courses that emphasize writing and oral discussion, such as upper-division undergraduate seminars, help develop these skills. Courses that are challenging to you and that require self-discipline in order to do well are also important. Department or school-based honors programs are especially good at helping you develop these skills.

  • Is law school admissions really a numbers game?

    No, but two numbers will significantly impact the range of law schools interested in admitting you: your undergraduate GPA and your score on the Law School Admissions Test (the LSAT). If these are within a school’s expected range, the admissions staff at that school will then look closely at all the other material you submit in your application.

    The good news is that, with some exceptions, the numbers are the starting point and not the final determinant for your application. Just as top scores don’t guarantee you a spot at your first-choice law school, neither do low scores necessarily spell the end to your law school dreams. You have to have the numbers, but in the end it’s the total package that counts.

    Admissions officers sometimes describe the process like this: We look first at the numbers and, based on those, put your application into one of three stacks —

    • If both GPA and LSAT numbers are really high, you go in the “Presumptively Admit” stack. You’re not a shoo-in, but unless we see a real problem in your other application materials, you will probably be admitted.
    • If both numbers are below our usual range, you go into the “Presumptively Deny” stack. Not an automatic denial, but unless we see something really stellar and appealing in the rest of your package, we will take a pass on your application.
    • If the numbers are acceptable but not extraordinary, you go into the “Possibly Admit” stack. Now we have to really dig into your personal statement, take a close look at your transcript, study your resume to see what special experiences and skills you bring to the table, and see what the letters of recommendation tell us about what kind of law school student you may become.
  • If my GPA and LSAT scores are good, what else matters?

    In addition to “the numbers,” admissions officers look at your undergraduate transcript, letters of recommendation, resume, writing samples, and your personal statement (you may also submit a diversity statement and, in some cases, an addendum.) Be sure to review the information on all of these on the LSAC website, but here are some general points:

    • The transcript: Only your undergraduate GPA counts on the numbers, but admissions staff will look at your transcripts from both undergraduate and, if you have one, graduate school transcripts. If your GPA was brought down by a tough freshman year, but you have demonstrated consistent improvement since then, they will take notice. They will also look at what courses you chose to take; a B in higher mathematics is worth more than an A in a less intellectually demanding course.
    • Letters of recommendation (LOR): Give them a lot of thought, as they can make the difference. You should generally request a letter of recommendation from at least one professor in your major field of study and, if you have significant work history, someone who has worked with you and can comment specifically on your work ethic, inter-personal and team skills, and specific accomplishments. It is always wise to go in person to request an LOR; tone of voice and body-language can tell you a lot about how enthusiastic the individual is about your candidacy and how strong a letter they expect to write.
    • The personal statement: After your GPA and LSAT scores, this is probably the most important piece of your application. It is your opportunity to show admissions staff why you are uniquely qualified to be a valuable part of their respective law school community. You should begin thinking about what you want to say in your personal statement early in the admissions process, and then refine as you move toward final submissions. Identify the two or three points you really want to make and plan out how you can best present those points. As you begin to develop a final draft, share it and get feedback from someone who knows you well and also with someone who does not know you well and can bring a “stranger’s eye” to how you present yourself. Admissions staff look at how well written your personal statement is as well as reading for content, so reserve plenty of time to proof-read and double-proof-read and triple-proof-read.
  • How should I prepare for the LSAT?

    Different approaches work for different people, but you should definitely prepare! And be strategic in your preparation work. Basic options include:

    • Take some of the sample test questions available on the LSAC site. This will give you an initial idea of what the questions are like and which types of questions are apt to be most challenging for you.
    • Take a number of full sample tests, under conditions simulating the actual LSAT testing experience. You can purchase sample tests through the LSAC site or buy hard copy books from private publishers at the university book store, Snoozy’s, Amazon, or other sources.
    • Register for an LSAT preparatory course with a recognized company. You may take these as in-class courses over a period of weeks, or you can take them on-line.
    • When you discover, through the sample tests, which types of questions pose the greatest problem for you, focus on those areas. You may want to talk with one of your professors about pointers for improving your performance on those sections.
  • If I don't score well the first time, should I take the LSAT again?

    Students often ask if they should consider taking the LSAT more than once if they are disappointed in their initial scores. Most law schools will look at the higher score, if you choose to do this, but some may average the scores. You should review the information from the specific schools you hope to apply to if this is an issue for you. Research shows that most students score within a five-point range no matter how many times they take the LSAT; it is unusual to make a significantly better score across multiple tests (unless there were unusual circumstances, such as illness, that influenced your ability to do your best on a particular test day).

    However well you are doing on your sample tests, it is always advisable to plan to take the LSAT no later than October of your senior year, and preferably in June following your junior year. This will give you the opportunity to retake the test, should you choose to do so, before January deadlines for admissions and financial aid.

  • What if I've been out of college for several years?
    For students who have been out of undergraduate school for more than a couple of years, your undergraduate GPA will generally be less important in the application process than it is for recent graduates. Law school admissions committees will instead focus even more on your LSAT score and on your accomplishments since leaving school. While graduate or professional training and accomplishments are considerations, community activities, child-rearing, political involvement, and other real-life achievements will also be considered by admissions committees.

    Pursuing an advanced degree in the hope of overcoming a poor undergraduate record will usually not be a successful strategy, as the only GPA that counts is your undergraduate GPA. Taking more courses, either graduate or undergraduate (or even earning an advanced degree in another field), just in hopes of enhancing your law school application is probably not a good investment of your time or your money. But if you are truly enthusiastic about pursuing graduate study in a different field before going to law school, your accomplishments in that field can enhance your law school application.
  • What should I consider in choosing a law school?

    There are generally three question to think about in deciding to which schools you should apply: how the law school ranks as compared with other law schools, whether the school offers a strong program in a particular area of law that appeals to you, and where the law school is located. There are also some basic issues that you should consider regardless of how these three criteria apply.

    • Choosing the “best” law school. As a general rule, you should begin by aiming for the best schools at which you are likely to gain admission. When you have your LSAT score you can use that and your GPA to narrow your search. National level schools such as Chicago, Yale, Stanford, Michigan, Harvard, and UCLA, are extremely competitive; unless you have the GPA and LSAT scores they are looking for you may want to save your application fees for the regional or state schools, many of which offer as excellent a law school education as do the schools at the top of the charts.

      • Engage in a realistic self-assessment of your GPA, LSAT score, extracurricular activities, and other achievements. Most law schools publish average LSAT scores and average GPAs for their incoming classes. You can access these through the LSAC website as well as on the web sites of individual law schools. If you find your numbers are significantly below the averages or ranges for a given school, you should probably think twice before investing time and application fees into that school.

    • If you have an interest in a joint degree program or in a particular area of the law — environmental, family law, intellectual property, constitutional, public interest, or trial advocacy — you should apply to schools whose curricula and faculty members focus on such areas. Check school websites for special programs or concentrations and for clinical programs that will give you hands-on experience while you are still in law school. If you are interested in a joint degree program, this will also help you narrow the field. (Be sure to check the admissions policies for each such program; some schools require separate applications to each of the graduate programs you hope to pursue — JD/MBA, JD/MPA, JD/MPH.)

    • If you know where you want to practice, look especially at schools in that state or region of the country. While it may be tempting to treat your law school years as a chance to experience a different part of the country for a little while, there are significant advantages to attending law school in the region or state in which you hope ultimately to practice law. Not only will you be more likely to network with peers who will be valuable professional associates in the future, but you will also have access to local clerking and networking opportunities during law school that can be crucial when you begin seeking your first law job.

    • Law school can be very expensive, in terms of tuition, fees, and cost of living. It is not unusual for students graduating from top-tier law schools to spend on the order of $150,000 - $200,000 on their legal educations. You need to start thinking now about how you intend to finance your legal education — student loans? scholarships? some other method? (NOTE: Most law schools either strongly discourage or explicitly prohibit their first year students from working, so that may not be an option as a way to pay for school.)

      • There are relatively few scholarships in law schools, and those that exist are typically conditioned on your maintaining a certain class ranking throughout your three years in law school. There are many loan programs, but the terms vary greatly. Never assume that you can simply compare the dollar amounts offered by competing schools and know which is the better financial choice. A good way to explore how to finance your law school education is to review material on the LSAC site and participate in a workshop at the LSAC Forums.

    • Once you've settled on a set of schools, check out the placement rate of the schools' recent graduating classes. Ask the admissions people questions like "What sort of firms come to your campus to recruit graduates?" "How successful have been their graduates at finding jobs with these firms?" "Is there a full-time placement office at the school?" Schools that do not have a full-time placement office or that don't have many major firms recruiting their graduates should probably be avoided.

    • Ask the school(s) you're interested in about how recent classes have fared on the state bar examination. Schools whose graduates have a record of doing poorly on the state bar exam should probably be avoided.

    • Believing that becoming a lawyer is an "excellent way to make a lot of money" is not a good reason to pursue a legal career. Salaries of attorneys vary dramatically according to the type, size, and location of their employer. Further, lawyers who own their own practices usually earn much less than those who are partners in large law firms. In fact, lawyers starting their own practice may need to work part-time in other occupations to supplement their income until their practice becomes established.

    • If you apply to and graduate from a non-ABA-accredited law school, you will likely not be able to take the bar exam in another state until you fulfill various prerequisites, such as having practiced law for a set period.
  • What is a "fee waiver" and how do I get one?

    Law schools, like colleges and universities, generally require you to pay a non-refundable fee when you apply. Many schools will waive this fee for students who demonstrate that payment would be a financial hardship. You should check the website of the individual law schools you want to apply to for information on their waiver policies.

    Sometimes law schools will also give waivers to students who demonstrate a serious interest in the respective law school through an on-campus interview, participation in a law school open house, or personal contact made at one of the Forums hosted by the LSAC around the country each year. The UAB This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. may also be able to obtain a waiver for you in some cases.

  • How do law school forums, open houses, and on-campus interviews fit into the admission process?

    It is always a good idea to visit any law school that you are seriously considering, but that is not your only option. A great way to talk with admissions officers from a number of law schools is to attend one of the annual LSAC Law School Forums. The closest forum for UAB students is held in Atlanta in the fall. Representatives from hundreds of accredited law schools around the country are present to talk with you, and there are also workshops on how to choose a law school, how to prepare for the LSAT, how to finance your law school education, and other topics of significance for law school applicants. There is no fee to attend the Forum, but you should register in advance on the LSAC website.

    Most law schools also host annual or semi-annual open houses for prospective students, and some host “mini law school fairs” with representatives from a number of regional law schools. While the offerings are not as extensive as at the forums, they can be a valuable resource. For information on many of these opportunities, as well as dates for the Forums, go to the LSAC site for Future JD Students.

    UAB’s Pre-Law Program offers assistance with transportation to the Atlanta Forum and sometimes to other events. Check with the UAB Pre-Law Society Facebook page or contact the This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

    Finally, as you narrow your search, you may want to request an on-campus interview with the admissions offices of your preferred schools. Meeting an admissions counselor face-to-face can be an important part of your application process. For more information on how these are usually arranged and how to prepare for your interview, contact the This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

Sources: University of Notre Dame School of Law; LSDAS; US Bureau of Labor Statistics; University of Michigan School of Law.