No one denies that the notion of going to law school is sexy, even after L.A. Law's cancellation. It's a move that suggests direction, smarts, and at least on one level, a commitment to high-minded ideals such as justice and public service. Just look at law school admissions brochures - you've never seen so many happy faces, so many fascinating-sounding programs, study abroad opportunities, and fabulously successful alums.
Similarly, however, no one can ignore the sad reality of the multitudes of unhappy law students or, worse, law school grads and lawyers who dread the profession they chose all those years ago. Thus, before choosing law school, some soul-searching is in order.
Most career specialists agree that before taking the LSAT, you should look deep inside. Simply put, are you law school material? Professor Richard Badger, Associate Dean at the University of Chicago Law School, touches on perhaps the most important point here with the following observation: "Interaction among the students is an important feature in a legal education, and those who enjoy engaging in discussion in and outside of class are more likely to flourish in this atmosphere." When it comes to law school or lawyering, a passion for argument is worth its weight in gold. Why? Law students (and lawyers) dwell in the realm of arguments, and the confrontative will be much happier.
Naturally, other qualities come into play for a successful law school experience, and career specialists recommend several ways to test your legal career fitness. First, as with any career endeavor, one should talk the matter over with as many lawyers and law students as possible (they're usually happy to do so, for better or for worse). Second, sitting in on law school classes is highly recommended. Finally, for those unconvinced by gut reactions and soul searching, career centers usually offer aptitude testing that can clarify career decisions. ~
Cracking the law school nut
Once you've plumbed the depths of your soul, the next step is actually getting into law school. Here, there are really only two important items: grades and the LSAT. Regarding the first, the prevailing wisdom isn't too shocking- get good ones. Career specialists even suggest that one should drop extracurricular activities that might drag down one's GPA. Regarding the LSAT, there's also not much surprise. The LSAT measures aptitudes important for legal thinking, and law schools use the LSAT score as a predictor of first-year grades. The exam itself consists of five 35-minutes sections divided between reading comprehension, analytical reasoning (or logic games), and logical reasoning. Only four of the sections count for scoring purposes - the fifth section is experimental.
Note that some colleges and universities offer "pre-law" programs. Are these advisable? One of our law student contacts recounts the following tale: "My first day of civil procedure class, my professor asked us if any of us had taken 'pre-law' classes. When no one raised their hand, he breathed a big, sort of "oh thank God" sigh of relief." For its part, the ABA does not recommend any particular major, but suggests that students have a grasp of the following: American history; political thought; economics "ethical theory and theories of justice;" math skills; "a basic understanding of human behavior and social interaction;" and the interaction between cultures and communities both at home and abroad.
As for choosing schools, there are also two central items to consider. First, remember that despite the fact that many law schools cast themselves as "national," geography still plays an important role in legal education and career development. Through professors and alumni, law schools build significant contacts within their communities, and as career advisors at the University of Richmond note, "gaining placement outside of the school's region may require additional effort on the part of the student." Second, while prestige alone should never determine a choice of law school, keep in mind that lawyers have notoriously always admired pedigree. For more insight on this, peruse some of the "getting hired" sections of Vault.com's law snapshots. ~
Picking up the bill
Finally, law school doesn't come cheaply. The Law School Admissions Council (LSAC) estimates that the "cost of a three-year law school education could exceed $125,000." To deal with the financial burden, most law students turn to a variety of financing, including scholarships, work-study programs, grants, and loans (federal or private). For its part, the LSAC suggests that the starting point and primary source of information for financial aid possibilities are the schools themselves. LSAC's web site also provides an excellent run-down on eligibility, planning, and steps to take to improve chances of getting aid.