Applying to Law School
A guide for applying to law school
Law schools are most interested in candidates with rigorous undergraduate academic backgrounds--precisely the kind of undergraduate program offered by Samford. This brief guide explains how you should think about and plan for a career in law.
Choosing a Major
The American Bar Association does not recommend a particular major, and law schools do not prefer a specific major.
The first two years in college give you the opportunity to explore the offerings of various departments in preparation for choosing a concentration. Many students make the mistake of thinking that law schools favor certain disciplines.
Indeed, a high percentage of law school-bound students do concentrate in the Social Sciences, English, Economics, Political Science, History. However, your chances of acceptance have little to do with your undergraduate major. You should pick your major not with an eye towards law school, but rather based upon its intrinsic interest to you, your ability to meet its demands and to do well in the courses and, finally, upon whether you feel that the department offers sufficient support and resources.
Before you make your decision, talk to upperclass students, your adviser, faculty members, and undergraduate department chairs. Attend lectures, meetings, and social events offered by departments to gain an idea of the kinds of people you will be working with for the next few years.
Whether you finally go to law school or not, you will gain the most from your time at Samford by being happy with your choice of concentration. (Chances are, your GPA will benefit, too!)
You should be aware that law schools generally do not look more favorably upon your application if you fulfill the requirements for two majors, although your efforts will be noted if each of them is renowned for its difficulty. Therefore, complete a double major if you desire, but not because you believe it will significantly improve your chances for admission to law school. You should also note that double majors often discover, much to their chagrin, that their opportunities for taking interesting electives are severely curtailed by their exclusive focus on two disciplines. There are riches to be found at the end of the rainbow if you complete one major with distinction.
Timetable for applying
The basic steps to follow when applying to Law School:
*Contact the Prelaw Advisor, Dr. Marissa Grayson, DBH 108, to receive material about the prelaw program. List pre-law as a concentration on your registration form.
*Join the Samford Prelaw Society and attend its monthly meetings and special events.
*Register to take the Law School Admission Test (LSAT), through Law Services, Newtown, Pennsylvania either during the spring of your junior year or during the summer/fall of your senior year.
*Take the LSAT at a time and place convenient for you. June between your junior and senior year, and October of your senior year are the recommended dates. December is also a possibility. Plan on setting aside several weeks to study. Preparation is essential for good performance.
*Subscribe to the Law School Data Assembly Service (LSDAS), Newtown, Pennsylvania. See the website at www.LSAC.org.
*Request that the Student Records Office, Samford Hall, send an official copy of your transcript to LSDAS.
*Obtain applications from each law school to which you will apply.
*Mail applications to each law school.
*Select your recommenders and provide them the appropriate forms for each law school to which you apply.
Deciding to become a lawyer: make an informed choice
Careful thought should be given to the decision to attend law school and become a lawyer. Law school is rigorous, and too many people find out too late that the actual practice of law does not meet their expectations.
The best course here is to talk to lawyers about their jobs. Your family may have an attorney, or perhaps one of your relatives or your parents' friends is an attorney. Ask them to sit down with you and tell you about the good and bad aspects of their job. You can also contact the office of Career Services.
You might also want to find a summer job or an internship in an attorney's office. These can be found through friends and family, or through the office of Career Services, which maintains a list of local attorneys who need law office employees and interns.
Choosing a college curriculum
Samford, like most schools, does not have a "prelaw" major. "Prelaw" majors that are designed solely to prepare students for law school are regarded by many law schools as too narrow to provide a well-balanced education. Most law schools prefer a broad liberal arts education.
You should strive for breadth and rigor in your undergraduate education. Law schools will not think much of your high GPA if you earned it by taking all the easiest courses; they will be more impressed by a student who has maintained a rigorous course load, even if he or she has a slightly lower GPA. Likewise, a student who can demonstrate ability in a variety of subjects will be more impressive than one whose focus is extremely narrow.
You can browse the list of recommended courses in the Samford University Catalog, under the Prelaw Program in the current university catalog.
More important is that your courses build skills that will help you in law school and as a lawyer:
Writing ability. Writing ability is important in law for many reasons. A successful lawyer must be able to draft clear and precise documents, and to craft coherent and convincing arguments. Expository writing courses and course with expository writing components will help you develop these skills. Literature courses, history courses, journalism courses require writing.
Critical Thinking. Ideally, all of your academic courses at Samford will help you develop your critical thinking skills, but you should make a conscious effort to do so. Courses in Philosophy, Psychology, Sociology, Math help develop critical thinking.
Knowledge of Governmental Institutions. Many law schools, surprisingly, teach very little about the mechanics of the legislative and judicial processes. It will be useful for you to have some background knowledge of American governmental institutions and process, particularly from courses in History and Political Science.
Knowledge of accounting and business finance. Legal education includes the study of business law and tax law. A student with some knowledge of business finance will have an advantage in courses such as Economics, Accounting, and other business courses. Liberal arts majors often say that they wish they had taken more business-related courses to prepare for Contracts, Property, and the tax courses in law school.
Public speaking. Whether they are representing a client in the courtroom, or negotiating behind closed doors, attorneys need to be able to present arguments clearly and persuasively. Courses in public speaking, communications, or drama can help you improve these skills.
According to the ABA's statement on "Preparation for a Legal Education," potential law students should possess:
A broad understanding of history, particularly American history, and the various factors (social, political, economic, and cultural) that have influenced the development of the pluralistic society that presently exists in the United States.
A fundamental understanding of political thought and theory, and of the contemporary American political system;
A basic understanding of ethical theory and theories of justice;
A grounding in economics, appropriate to the profession itself;
Some basic mathematical and financial skills, such as an understanding of basic pre-calculus, mathematics and an ability to analyze financial data;
A basic understanding of human behavior and social interaction; and
An understanding of diverse cultures within and beyond the United States.
When to go to law school
Many students in the College feel pressured to begin their professional education immediately after graduation, but it is never too late to consider applying to law school. Today, the median age of people entering law school is 25. If you begin law school the same year you receive your B.A., you may be disadvantaged in two ways: (1) you will be among the youngest members of the class, and (2) you will not have a "professional" perspective on legal education.
Although being the youngest in a class may not seem important, the difference in the students' ages is much greater in law school than in college. Though students do enter law school right out of college, they often find that many of their classmates are in their late twenties or thirties, are married, and may have children of their own. Furthermore, the majority of their classmates will have had some professional experience. Imagine yourself in a classroom where the professor asks a student to interpret a legal point in the context of her professional experience as a real estate broker!
Although your going to law school will not necessarily hinge upon a prior career, it is becoming increasingly important. Many admissions committees now view some professional experience as a significant part of the candidate's profile (business schools, for example, view it as a prerequisite).
It is not necessary, however, to gain your professional experience in the legal field itself. In fact, many law firms will not hire undergraduates. Those that do are likely to assign the most menial jobs, jobs that are neither demanding nor interesting and do not involve any real exposure to the profession itself. While such a position might be appropriate for a summer, or as part-time work while attending school (and can help you decide whether you wish to attend law school), you should not accept such a position once you have a college degree. You are much more likely to gain a meaningful professional experience in education, finance, industry, or commerce. You will, almost certainly, start in an entry-level position, but the time you spend as a teacher, analyst, marketing specialist, or salesperson will be invaluable later on.
Some potential benefits of waiting a year or more:
You can work in a law firm or other law-related capacity to get a better sense of whether the legal profession is right for you.
You can earn money toward paying the high costs associated with a legal education.
You can gain work experience which may assist your admissions chances at particular law schools.
You can relax before undertaking the intellectual rigor associated with a legal education.
Some potential disadvantages of waiting a year or more:
You may lose some of the reading, writing, and analytical skills vitally important to success in law school. You may find it difficult to motivate yourself to go back to school (this may also be a benefit, as it may indicate that your desire to go to law school was not as strong as you had thought). The longer you wait to get started with your legal education, the longer it will take to finish it. In terms of the application process, some schools will allow applicants who are admitted to defer enrollment for a year. Check the specific law school's admissions materials for that school's deferment policy.
When to apply
Send off for the application forms for the law schools you are interested in. Dr. Horn has the updated application forms for most law schools around the country, but you can also find the addresses online or through books such as The Official Guide to U.S. Law Schools, which you can check out in Dr. Horn's office (DBH 108) and in Career Development (Room 205, Beeson University Center), and in the reference sections of the Davis Library.
Applying to law school is a very time-consuming process. Most law school applications are due in January or February. But you should begin working your way through applications as early as possible (i.e. in the summer or fall the year before you plan to attend law school). Most law schools allow you to submit applications starting in September or October. This is to avoid having to rush to get things together at the last minute, which increases the likelihood of mistakes. Starting early also allows you to provide writers of your letters of recommendation with the necessary material well before applications are due.
What criteria do law schools use for admission
There are numerous criteria that law schools may consider when making admissions decisions. The primary factors for most, if not all, law schools are the applicant's score on the Law School Admissions Test (LSAT) and Grade Point Average (GPA). Law schools vary in the relative level of importance they place on these two criteria, though most seem to weight LSAT score more heavily.
A 1990 survey of law school admissions officers (DeLoggio, Loretta.1992. DeLoggio Achievement Program) asked that they rank various criteria (other than LSAT and GPA) on a scale of 1-7. The criteria are discussed below in order of importance, based on the averaged answers to the 1990 survey. Remember, these are ranked based on the average response, so law schools will differ in their respective ranking of the criteria.
Factors in law school admission
1. GPA and LSAT
Two primary factors effect your chances of being admitted to the law school or your choice: your grade point average (GPA), and your Law School Admissions Test (LSAT) score. Law schools vary in the weight they accord to each, but some schools give the LSAT significantly more weight. Thus, it is important both to keep your grades up, and to prepare thoroughly for the LSAT. Most schools will take account of trends in your undergraduate performance; if you had a bad first year and then improved your grades, this will be noted.
Other admission factors:
2. Personal and Academic Integrity
The dean of your school or the dean of students will submit a statement of your personal or academic integrity at Samford. This letter confirms the fact that you will graduate in good standing, without honor code or values violations.
3. Letters of Recommendation
Most law schools require 2 or more letters of recommendation. These letters should be from professors or employers who know you well enough to comment on your abilities, work habits and character. Vague letters from people who do not know you well are not helpful. The LSDAS application now gives you forms to give to each of your recommenders, who attach their recommendations on letterhead to the form and send them both in an envelope directly to LSDAS, where they are distributed to the law schools you designate.
4. Your personal statement
Your personal statement gives you the chance to set yourself apart from other applicants. What accomplishments have you made? What unique experiences have you had? What about your life story is important to show your potential for law school success? The personal statement gives you the chance to express yourself candidly and set the tone for your application. The personal statement is one of the first items that admissions officers scrutinize because, in the absence of a personal interview, it amounts to the closest thing to a dialogue with you, the applicant.You should view the personal statement, therefore, as a prose interview and embrace it as a welcome opportunity to let law schools know something about you that is not reflected in your academic and extracurricular record or in your letters of recommendation.
Resources for applying to law school
Not only does this site provide information about applying for law school it also provides good background on the LSAT.