American Bar Association Preparation for Law School
Preparing for Law School
There is no single path that will prepare you for a legal education. Students who are successful in law school, and who become accomplished professionals, come from many walks of life and educational backgrounds. Some law students enter law school directly from their undergraduate studies without having had any post-baccalaureate work experience. Others begin their legal education significantly later in life, and they bring to their law school education the insights and perspectives gained from those life experiences. Legal education welcomes and values diversity and you will benefit from the exchange of ideas and different points of view that your colleagues will bring to the classroom.
Selecting a Law School
Many factors are important when selecting a law school. The ABA collects data each year from all of the approved law schools and shares it publicly so that law school applicants can select the best school for themselves. The following links contain information that may be helpful to law school applicants:
- ABA Statement on Law School Rankings
- Enrollment Information
- Bar Passage Statistics
- Employment Statistics
The ABA does not recommend any undergraduate majors or group of courses to prepare for a legal education. Students are admitted to law school from almost every academic discipline. You may choose to major in subjects that are considered to be traditional preparation for law school, such as history, English, philosophy, political science, economics or business, or you may focus your undergraduate studies in areas as diverse as art, music, science and mathematics, computer science, engineering, nursing or education. Whatever major you select, you are encouraged to pursue an area of study that interests and challenges you, while taking advantage of opportunities to develop your research and writing skills. Taking a broad range of difficult courses from demanding instructors is excellent preparation for legal education. A sound legal education will build upon and further refine the skills, values, and knowledge that you already possess.
Undergraduate institutions often assign a person to act as an advisor to current and former students who are interested in pursuing a legal education. Your Pre-Law Advisor can help you find ways to gain exposure to the law and the legal profession, and assist you with the law school application process. If you are still pursuing your undergraduate degree, your prelaw advisor can be a resource in selecting courses that can help you achieve your goal.
Financing Law School
Legal education is an investment in your future. As with any investment, it is important to consider the pros and cons of entering into a significant expenditure of effort, time, and money. Particularly in uncertain financial times, a realistic assessment of why you are seeking a legal education and how you will pay for it is critical. Today, a large majority of law school students rely on education loans as a primary source of financial aid for law school. These loans must be paid back with future income; the more you borrow, the longer the debt will have an impact on your life after graduation. Scholarships, grants, and fellowships also exist, but are limited; loan repayment options are available for graduates seeking public interest or public service careers. For more information, visit Student Loan Repayment and Forgiveness.
Changes in financial aid rules and regulations are ongoing, and law school policies vary. It is your responsibility to stay current and to educate yourself about financial aid. Two good resources for learning how to pay for law school are the Law School Admission Council’s Financing Law School page and Access Group.
Core Skills, Values, Knowledge, and Experience
- Problem Solving
- Critical Reading
- Writing and Editing
- Oral Communication and Listening
- Organization and Management
- Public Service and Promotion of Justice
- Relationship-building and Collaboration
- Background Knowledge
- Exposure to the Law
There are important skills, values, knowledge, and experience that you can acquire prior to law school and that will provide a sound foundation for a legal education. If you wish to prepare adequately for a legal education, and for a career in law or for other professional service that involves the use of lawyering skills, you should seek educational, extra-curricular, and life experiences that will assist you in developing those attributes. The student who comes to law school lacking this foundation will face a difficult challenge. Some brief comments follow.
Discussion and Analysis
You should seek courses and other experiences that will engage you in critical thinking about important issues, challenge your beliefs and improve your tolerance for uncertainty and criticism. Your legal education will demand that you structure and evaluate arguments for and against propositions that are susceptible to reasoned debate. Good legal education will teach you to “think like a lawyer”, but the analytic and problem solving skills required of lawyers are not fundamentally different from those employed by other professionals. Your law school experience will develop and refine those crucial skills, but you must enter law school with a reasonably well developed set of analytic and problem solving abilities.
Preparation for legal education should include substantial experience at close reading and critical analysis of complex textual material, for much of what you will do as a law student and lawyer involves careful reading and comprehension of judicial opinions, statutes, documents, and other written materials. You can develop your critical reading ability in a wide range of experiences, including the close reading of complex material in literature, political or economic theory, philosophy, or history. The particular nature of the materials examined is not crucial; what is important is that law school should not be the first time that you are rigorously engaged in the enterprise of carefully reading and understanding, and critically analyzing, complex written material of substantial length.
Writing and Editing
As you seek to prepare for a legal education, you should develop a high degree of skill at written communication. Language is the most important tool of a lawyer, and lawyers must learn to express themselves clearly and concisely.
Legal education will provide you with good training in writing, and particularly in the specific techniques and forms of written expression that are common in the law. Fundamental writing skills, however, must be acquired and refined before you enter law school. You should seek as many experiences as possible that will require rigorous and analytical writing, including preparing original pieces of substantial length and revising written work in response to constructive criticism.
Oral Communication and Listening
The ability to speak clearly and persuasively is another skill that is essential to your success in law school and the practice of law. You must also have excellent listening skills if you are to understand your clients and others with whom you will interact daily. As with writing skills, legal education provides excellent opportunities for refining oral communication skills, and particularly for practicing the forms and techniques of oral expression that are most common in the practice of law. Before coming to law school, however, you should seek to develop your basic speaking and listening skills, such as by engaging in debate, making formal presentations in class, or speaking before groups in school, the community, or the workplace.
Although there are many research sources and techniques that are specific to the law, you do not have to have developed any familiarity with these specific skills or materials before entering law school. However, it would be to your advantage to come to law school having had the experience of undertaking a project that requires significant library research and the analysis of large amounts of information obtained from that research.
Organization and Management
To study and practice law, you are going to need to be able to organize large amounts of information, identify objectives, and create a structure for applying that information in an efficient way in order to achieve desired results. Many law school courses, for example, are graded primarily on the basis of one examination at the end of the course, and many projects in the practice of law require the compilation of large amounts of information from a wide variety of sources. You are going to need to be able to prepare and assimilate large amounts of information in an effective and efficient manner. Some of the requisite experience can be obtained through undertaking school projects that require substantial research and writing, or through the preparation of major reports for an employer, a school, or a civic organization.
Public Service and Promoting Justice
Each member of the legal profession should be dedicated both to the objectives of serving others honestly, competently, and responsibly, and to the goals of improving fairness and the quality of justice in the legal system. If you are thinking of entering the legal profession, you should seek some significant experience, before coming to law school, in which you may devote substantial effort toward assisting others. Participation in public service projects or similar efforts at achieving objectives established for common purposes can be particularly helpful.
Relationship-building and Collaboration
To take full advantage of your legal education, and to become a successful legal professional, it is important to develop the skills that will enable you to work as part of a team and to build relationships with others. Many law school courses are designed to require working as part of a team. Much of the work that lawyers do, whether in practice or in other settings, requires collaborating with others. Moreover, these interpersonal skills are essential for attracting and working productively with clients, co-counsel, opposing attorneys, expert witnesses, and many others.
There are some basic areas of knowledge that are helpful to a legal education and to the development of a competent lawyer. Some of the types of knowledge that would maximize your ability to benefit from a legal education include:
- A broad understanding of history, including the various factors (social, political, economic, and cultural) that have influenced the development of our society in the United States.
- A fundamental understanding of political thought and of the contemporary American political system.
- 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.
- An understanding of diverse cultures within and beyond the United States, of international institutions and issues, of world events, and of the increasing interdependence of the nations and communities within our world.
Exposure to the Law
There are many good reasons to explore the law and the legal profession before entering law school. You will gain a more realistic view of the actual practice of law, the skills you will need, and the realities of the legal employment market. Greater familiarity with the legal system—its institutions, concepts, and even vocabulary—can advance your understanding of law school curriculum. You may identify potential practice areas that suit your personality, interests, and values. You may even enhance your candidacy for admission to law school, as well as your opportunities for employment during and after law school.
Take advantage of opportunities to shadow, network with, or be mentored by practicing lawyers. Seek credit-bearing or paid internships in law-related settings during college breaks and summers. Consider law-related employment between college and law school. While these experiences are not required for admission to law school, they can help you make informed decisions that lead to a successful law career. Legal employers are increasingly seeking law school graduates who are practice-ready. Your experience before law school can help you hit the ground running when you become a lawyer.
The skills, values, knowledge, and experience discussed in this Statement may be acquired in a wide variety of ways. You may take undergraduate, graduate, or even high school courses that can assist you in acquiring much of this information. You may also gain much of this background through self-learning by reading, in the workplace, or through various other life experiences. Moreover, it is not essential that you come to law school having fully developed all of the skills, values, knowledge, and experience suggested in this Statement, as you may be able to continue to develop these during the initial years of law school. However, if you begin law school having already acquired the foundation suggested in this Statement, you will have a significant advantage and will be well prepared to benefit fully from a challenging legal education.
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