Preparing for Law School
Law students and lawyers come from many undergraduate backgrounds, and the skills necessary to succeed in law school and as an attorney can be developed in a variety of courses across a range of disciplines. As a result, law schools do not treat any specific course or major as a prerequisite for admission. It is not a disadvantage to have majored in engineering, the physical or biological sciences, or the humanities; and it is not an advantage to double major or to accumulate minors in various fields. Similarly, law schools do not look with special favor on applicants who have graduated from a formal "pre-law" program. Accordingly, Virginia Tech does not offer a formal pre-law major. The University does offer quality education in a large number of fields, as well as counseling about law as a career, preparing for law school, and the law school admission process. Because no single major is best suited for studying law, and because law schools accept applicants with a wide variety of undergraduate majors, students thinking about going to law school should take advantage of this freedom and choose a major that interests them. At the same time, certain kinds of skills are important for studying and practicing law. Students should think about pursuing a course of study that will help them to develop and strengthen their skills in the areas outlined below.
Legal analysis typically depends on careful study of written texts, many of which contain complex forms of reasoning. Being able to understand those texts is thus critical to defending others' positions, drafting documents to deal with a range of problems, or analyzing the applicability of laws or precedents in particular contexts. Thus it may be useful for you to take classes that require close reading of complex sources and encourage you to develop skills of textual interpretation and criticism.
Critical Thinking and Analytic Reasoning
As indicated, legal analysis typically requires careful reasoning about how legal materials apply or might apply to actual or conceivable disputes. As a result, students are advised to take courses that help them to strengthen skills of deductive and inductive reasoning and to be able to analyze, apply, and criticize others' arguments. Law schools require imaginative thinking and active engagement in the learning process, not just passive receipt of information or memorization and regurgitation of details.
Reading, thinking, analyzing, criticizing, and communicating are mutually reinforcing activities. The legal profession depends on persons' being able to express ideas, not just think them. Developing skills of written and oral communication are integral parts of understanding legal materials and applying them in actual or potential controversies. As a result, students are encouraged to develop skills of written and oral communication before enrolling in law school. Among other things, students will be rewarded for being able to organize and present relevant arguments in a clear and concise manner. In order to develop these skills, students are advised to take classes that require significant writing and re-writing or that involve students in discussions and in making oral presentations.
What Classes Should I Take?
There are many equally respectable routes to law school. It is particularly important for students to be interested in their undergraduate classes, to take them seriously, and to be committed to doing well. In general, you are more likely to do well in courses that you enjoy, and law schools will pay more attention to how well you have done than to whether you have taken particular courses. At the same time, classes in certain fields are likely to be relevant (but not required) for almost any person considering law school. More specifically, it is advisable for students to take courses that will help them to strengthen the skills identified above and to deepen their appreciation of law and legal institutions. For example, a variety of courses in English, Philosophy, History, the Social Sciences (Economics, Political Science, Psychology, and Sociology), Communication, and Business may help students to prepare for law school and to place their post-graduate legal studies in perspective.
Some students may want to take undergraduate courses on legal topics, such as Constitutional Law, Business Law, or Environmental Law. Although such courses are typically taught using methods different from those found in law school classes and have significantly different substantive objectives, they may introduce elements of legal reasoning and give students a sense of the broad range of issues that intersect with the study of law. Courses on the U.S. judiciary (such as Criminology or Judicial Process) provide an overview of the players, dynamics, and problems of the legal system in which most lawyers will become involved. Meanwhile, other classes deal more directly with the philosophical and historical underpinnings of law (e.g., Jurisprudence, Morality and Justice). But again, it is only appropriate to take such courses if they interest you.
Is There a Pre-Law Track at Virginia Tech?
Students majoring in Political Science may elect to take courses to complete an Option in Legal Studies. This is not a formal pre-law course of study, but it enables students to concentrate some portion of their undergraduate coursework on the study of law and legal institutions.
In addition, the English Department offers a pre-law track within its Literature, Language, and Culture Program. Information about that program can be found here.
Additionally, students interested in science, technology and intellectual property may want to pursue the new Science, Engineering & Law Minor or take courses offered within the Science, Technology & Law Program.
Do I Need to Get Good Grades?
Many law schools will closely consider your undergraduate academic performance in making their admissions decisions. Your undergraduate academic record and your LSAT score are the two factors that will most influence whether or not you are admitted to particular law schools.
Law schools will take into account the level of difficulty or advanced nature of your courses when assessing your grade point average (GPA). They will also review performance trends such as a slow start followed by much better grades in later years.
Should I Join a Pre-Law Society?
Joining a pre-law society can be a good way to meet other students with similar interests and goals. Further, pre-law societies can provide valuable resources and information to their members. They can also create useful networks for law school and beyond.
Phi Alpha Delta is a pre-law society active at Virginia Tech. You can find out more about PAD here.
Another active law society at VT is the Student Intellectual Property Society. SIPS@VT brings together students from all across campus who are interested in intellectual property and the surrounding issues. You can learn more about SIPS here.
Should I Get Some Legal Experience Now?
Some students may be interested in interning or working for a law firm before they attend law school. Doing so may provide valuable insights into what some areas of legal practice involve and thus may help you decide whether to pursue a legal career. But there is no need to work in a law firm before going to law school, and law schools value a wide range of experiences. It can be equally valuable to intern somewhere else or to have other kinds of work and other experience that you will eventually be able to share with your classmates and draw upon when practicing law.
Should I Go to Law School Right After I Graduate?
It depends. Only you can know whether you will be ready to attend law school right after completing your undergraduate studies. A little more than half the law school applicants in 2009 were age 24 or younger according, to a LSAC report. That means though that almost half of all applicants were 24 or older. Close to a third were between the ages of 25 and 29. Thirteen percent were between the ages of 30 and 39, and five percent were age 40 and over.
Delaying the decision to go to law school can give you time to make sure that a legal path is right for you and can also allow you to save money for the expenses of attending law school. Also, some people need a break after finishing their undergraduate studies. Alternatively, going to law school right away can maintain the momentum from your undergraduate studies, and if you know you want to practice law, then you may as well get started. Among other things, there may be significant opportunity costs associated with delaying.
When Do I Need to Decide to Apply?
You should start preparing to apply to law school at least one year before the fall you plan to enroll in law school. It is a good idea to begin the process even earlier. The Law School Admission Test (LSAT) is offered six times a year. Many schools require that you take the exam no later than December for admission the following year. It is recommended that you take the exam earlier. If you are not happy with your score, you can retake the exam. But that helps only if your scores will be available before applications are due. You will also want to spend a decent amount of time preparing for the test. So, ideally, you should begin preparations no later than the summer before your senior year, if you plan on attending law school directly after graduating. You can find a sample application schedule here. Registering with the Law School Admissions Council is one of the initial steps in the formal application process.