Department of History and Politics
At the outset let me invite you to come by my office to discuss your interests in a legal education and a legal career. I am glad to have the opportunity to talk with students considering careers in law. It is never too early to begin thoughtful consideration of one's future career. This is especially true of the legal profession. Please take time to read this material prior to our meeting as it will facilitate our discussion regarding your interests in a legal career.
During each academic year the Regis Chapter of Phi Alpha Delta will meet twice monthly. Students will be notified at the beginning of each year of the date, time and location of the meetings. These meetings are intended for any student who is thinking about, not necessarily committed, to a legal education. Attendance at one does not require attendance at any others.
What matters most to law schools are the traits of the applicant rather than the reputation of his/her college. Students should choose a college on the basis of which undergraduate institution will best serve his/her educational needs. In other words, which college provides the learning environment and educational opportunities best suited to your needs and comfort level?
Basically any available major at Regis is acceptable for admission into law school. It really does not matter. You should seek breadth in your undergraduate curriculum with depth in one or more areas (i.e., the major). In short, major in whatever you wish from the standpoint of your interests and abilities. You should select a major that covers a subject that you find fascinating and challenging. Remember, there is no single designated "pre-law major" as such.
No. A double-major is fine if you want to do it, but it is irrelevant in terms of law school admissions. Are foreign languages required for admission to law school? No. If a student has the desire to study a foreign language, this study can be a tool to sharpen the student's analytical skills and increase the student's understanding of English (as well as learning another language), but the study of a foreign language is not necessary for admission to law school.
Again, the answer is a qualified no. As indicated above a student should seek breadth in his or her undergraduate program. Some courses that students have found helpful in the past (but in no way should be construed as "required" for law school) are: Logic; English; Constitutional Law; Business Law; Accounting; Economics; American History and Government; Computer Science; and Mathematics. In general, pre-law students should take courses that are challenging (i.e. "tough"), interesting, and that are taught by demanding professors. Courses that require extensive reading and writing are especially valuable.
An integral aspect of a well-rounded person is your involvement in social, religious, and service activities within the community. A total focus on academics will result in a one-dimensional personality that will be incapable of working with clients who are so often facing crisis situations. You develop common sense by working with people from various ethnic, racial, and socio-economic backgrounds in diverse settings within the community. You are encouraged to become a meaningful participant in, and contributor to, the community.
Extracurricular activities, however, are just one aspect of a person's life. Over involvement in this area may result in a deficiency in another aspect of one's development. Too much time spent in extracurricular activities, no matter how meaningful, will not make up for or be an excuse for inadequate grades. A balance is necessary to maintain proper development.
The first step is to register for the Law School Admission Test (LSAT), the Law School Data Assembly Service (LSDAS), and the Candidate Referral Service (CRS). This can be done by getting a copy of the most recent edition of the Law Services Registration and Information Book, which is available at my office. This book contains a set of forms to be used to register to take the LSAT. The Information Book also contains information about the content of the LSAT, with sample test questions and answers included. The book has other information pertinent to law school admissions. The test is given in October, December, February, and in June.
. The LSAT is a half-day standardized multiple choice aptitude test. All 193 LSAC member schools require it. There are five 35-minute sections four of which are scored and used to determine the test taker's overall performance relative to other test takers. One section is for experimental purposes to prepare items for future tests. The scored multiple choice portion of the test is comprised of one reading comprehension, one analytical reasoning (logic games), and two logical reasoning sections. The fifth section is used to pretest materials that may be used in future tests. Test takers then are asked to take 30-minutes to provide a writing sample. This is not scored, but copies of this sample are sent to all law schools to which an applicant applies. The scoring scale for the LSAT is 120 to 180 with a median score of about 150 (half above, and half below). The Law School Admission Services provides a sample of the LSAT.
Essentially the LSAT is a high-level word and logic game designed to measure problem solving skills with a heavy emphasis on language comprehension. There is a focus on measuring the skills considered necessary for success in law school, including reading and understanding of complicated reading passages, drawing inferences from this reading, reaching accurate conclusions from the reading, and managing complex groups of information. It asks no questions of a "factual" nature.
The LSAT should be taken either in the summer preceding the year you seek entry or in the fall. This provides plenty of time to complete the application process in an unhurried manner.
No, definitely not! Whenever any LSAT score for a person are reported, all scores of that applicant are reported. Since some schools average the scores, and others deduct several points from the second score if it is higher, you should plan to take the test officially only once. (Practicing on sample tests prior to the taking of the test itself is absolutely essential.) If you do poorly on the LSAT for some known and correctable reason (i.e., illness, nervousness, lack of preparation, etc.), then take the test again - you have nothing to lose, except the cost of the test itself.
Neither the Law School Admissions Council (LSAC) nor this office sponsors or recommends any particular commercial prep-course. For some people who have experienced difficulties with standardized tests, these courses may reduce the anxiety factor and provide useful skills. Chancellor Pye, former Dean of Duke Law School points out that for some, the results have been quite good. He doubts, however, that much improvement is likely in the upper ranges but indicates that any kind of training or experience in standardized testing may improve scores which predictably would otherwise be in the lower ranges.
Many students can adequately prepare for the LSAT by working seriously with the sample test included in the Official LSAT Prepkit. This may be ordered from Law Services. There are many other commercial test books that students have found useful. If a student chooses to take an LSAT prep course, he or she should take it near to the time of the actual test. Several companies offer review courses and their advertisements are posted on the bulletin boards near my office. The most frequent favorable student comments about review courses are that they give you an idea of the kind of questions asked on the test and they help your self-confidence because you know that you can complete all of the sections of the test on time. However, the most important factor in maximizing one's score on the LSAT is found in three words: practice, practice, and practice. LSAT review courses offer structured practice sessions and a chance to question the facilitator. These reviews are most definitely not to be viewed as a substitute for diligent work by the applicant in preparation of the test.
Some students know that they will be required to write a brief essay as part of the LSAT. But few are prepared to write a good one. Here are some suggestions about preparing beforehand for writing the essay that will be send ungraded to the law school at which the applicant seeks entry:
1. Outline on paper a rough organizational pattern to follow.
2. Focus clearly on one, two or at most three basic points. State these clearly and concisely at the beginning. It's better to develop one or two points well than to struggle with too many ideas.
3. Don't try anything gimmicky, fancy, or striking. The easiest and perhaps best way is to write from your individual experience and thinking. Use proper sentence structure, but do not be elementary. Write in such a way that how your express your ideas does not detract from those ideas. Your language should not call attention to itself, no more than the way you dress should detract from who you are. Thus, avoid affectation. Don't try to impress your readers. Use a relaxed, generally informal, while not casual, prose style.
4. Give specific support for the generalizations you make, either in the form of careful argument, or actual evidence, illustration, explanation, authoritative citation, experience, etc.
5. Use paragraphs to good advantage: two or three longer ones, a couple of shorter ones, generally. The shorter paragraphs will tend to be the introduction, the conclusion, and transitional paragraphs. A formal conclusion may or may not be appropriate. On a short essay, a natural no summary ending may be more effective.
I have sample essays in my office that you may peruse if you would like. You should, however, develop you own approach and not copy someone else's. Remember, you are writing a personal essay that conveys information about you.
After you have taken the LSAT and have received your score, you should apply to several law schools for admission. To be sure that your applications for admission to the law schools of your choice are complete and arrive at the schools on time, you most definitely should subscribe to the Law School Data Assembly Service (LSDAS) at the same time that you register for the LSAT. LSDAS Reports are required by the vast majority of law schools. These Reports provide law school with standardized summaries of your academic work, copies of college transcripts, LSAT score and LSAT Writing Samples. The LSDAS Report simplifies the admission process, allowing admission committees to devote more time to carefully evaluating your credentials. Subscribers are now being provided with an Activity Update that indicates when there has been activity in the applicant's file.
CRS is a free service that is available to you when you register for the LSAT. If you sign up for this service, a file will be made containing information regarding you and your background. Any law school may then access this information and contact you indicating that the school would be interested in having you apply. This would be likely to occur if you fit their "profile" of desirable students. This might be based on such factors as geographical background, educational focus, etc. Categorical traits such as race, gender, ethnicity are increasingly suspect under the law as permissible criteria on which to base admission or rejection decisions.
Before you begin the application process to the law schools that interest you, you need to know three things: (1) your Law School Admissions Test (LSAT) score, (2) your Grade Point Average (GPA), and (3) the criteria for admission of the law school(s) for the preceding year. After you have taken the LSAT, you will receive written notice of your test score or you can call LSAC and receive your score over the phone).
You will know what your GPA is because it is printed on the Academic Progress Report (APR), which you receive every quarter from LSDAS. Prior year admission criteria is available in the most recent edition of The Official Guide to U.S. Law Schools. When you have your LSAT score, check the chart provided by the law school of your choice in The Official Guide and see how all applicants to that school fared in the previous year. For example, if 100 persons applied with your LSAT and GPA and five were accepted, your chances of being admitted in the upcoming year are not very good. If, on the other hand, the ratio of applications to admittances is 79/49 for your LSAT and GPA, then you are a competitive candidate at that school and you should apply if the school appeals to you.
The Rule of Three is a traditional and workable approach in selecting schools. You will select a list of about nine to a dozen law schools to which you could reasonably apply. In the first group, three or four schools will have in the previous year accepted about one-quarter of all applicants with your LSAT/GPA. The second group of schools to which you could apply will have accepted about half of all applicants with your LSAT/GPA. The final group should be comprised of school which accepted about seventy-five percent of the applicants within your LSAT and GPA range. With this approach you stand a very good chance of gaining admission to one or more schools.
There are other potentially important considerations that include: interests in a specific area(s) of Law; interests in specific programs (e.g., dual degree programs); desires for particular learning environments; desires for geographical locale; financial concerns; and personal needs. As an alternative to The Rule of Three try this approach: make one list of schools that you really would like to attend - this should be a "blue sky" list. A second list of schools would include those in which you have at least a 50-50 chance of being admitted (based on the previous years admission criteria). Make a third list of schools that you believe would probably admit you and that you would attend if others did not offer admittance. The fourth list of schools should contain those that have special programs that you are particularly interested in. Fifth, make a list of schools that are located in states where you would like to live.
Apply to all of these schools if the cost of application is not excessive in terms of your financial resources. In the likely event that the list is too lengthy (and costly in terms of application fees) shorten the list by giving top priority to those schools that appear more than once on each of the five lists, by eliminating those schools at which your chances of gaining admission are relatively slight. Eliminate also those schools which least meet your profession goals, personal needs, and financial limits. The final list of schools should contain no less than seven or so schools in which there are two or three at which you stand a very good change of gaining admission.
This entire process of winnowing should be done in close consultation with the prelaw advisor. What factors are considered in admission to law school? Primarily two: A student's Grade Point Average and a student's score on the LSAT. Extracurricular activities should be a part of the student's experience at Regis but only in marginal cases have they any bearing upon law school admissions. So-called "life experiences" may be relevant especially if they demonstrate unusual skills, abilities or character traits. Law schools seek capable students who have demonstrated an aptitude for legal studies. Moreover, students who appear on paper as interesting individuals will have some advantages over those who appear as "bland." Attributes of students (i.e., race, gender, ethnicity, age, etc.) have in the past been taken into account under the rubric of "affirmative action" programs. The extent to which such factors are still used varies from school to school but it accurate to say that such categoric traits are less significant now than they were a few years ago, indeed they may be illegal. Admissions officers may, upon request, describe use of these factors at their institution.
A. Your Personal Statement
Most schools look closely at the personal statement. It is a sample of the applicant's writing, and can provide information about you that the admissions committee may not know otherwise. This is an opportunity for the applicant to set him/herself apart from other applicants. It focuses on the intangibles -- insights into character, motivation, capacity for work, etc. Some schools use the term "gumption factor" to describe the value of the statement. Here are some suggestions on how you could begin to put together your personal statement.
Process: 1. Begin preparing your statement by writing short paragraphs on points you will include in the final draft. As you work with this material, a suitable opening and concluding statement will emerge as a central core of ideas. 2. It is natural to experience a lot of anxiety over this task. Your anxiety will decrease as you begin to shape your statement. Seek help from a friend, a tutor, or a faculty member. 3. Make your statement no longer than the admission instructions allow. If no length is specified, work for a page to a page and a half. 4. Use a word processor or double-space your working draft so that you and others have space in which to make revisions. 5. Extend the writing over at least a week, so you can come back to your draft "cold". A little distance enables you to write more objectively.
Content: 6. Use simple, plain, straightforward, informal, natural English. Avoid affected language that in any way calls attention to itself. Keep the focus on the message, not on the style. 7. Be natural and candid: be yourself. Avoid being pompous or overly modest. Do not try to create an image for yourself you think a school is looking for. Schools are not looking for a particular type of student; they seek interesting, competent and dedicated people. There is no need to tailor your statement to a particular school. If you write a good statement, it should do well for all schools to which you apply -- unless a school asks school-specific questions. Examples of good and bad personal statements are in the office of Regis PreLaw Advisor. 8. Do not flatter the school. 9. Do not try to be clever or cute. For example, do not attempt a legal brief, or some other formalized stance or format. 10. Do not apologize for your LSAT score or your grade record. If there are important reasons why part of your performance is below your real ability, state the reasons plainly and in a factual manner. 11. Make no generalizations for which you do not offer support. In fact, the most effective way to make points about yourself is simply to provide specific details that clearly lead to the inferences you wish the admissions committee to make. Let the committee draw the conclusions: you furnish only the evidence. 12. If you use any humor, let it be very low-key and appropriate. 13. It is all right to describe briefly the circumstances or thinking that led you to choose the profession you have. 14. Let the admissions committee know you are realistic about the program and the profession you have. 15. Remember that this personal statement is an opportunity to provide the admissions committee information about you that is otherwise not available.
Put yourself in the position of a member of that committee and imagine what it is they would like to know about the applicant. As one law school Dean once said to me about his bottom line approach, "Would I like to have a beer with this applicant?" While this may seem a bit flippant it captures one of the intangible questions members of admissions committees seek to have answered: Is this an interesting person who seeks entry into our law school?
B. Letters of Recommendation
Letters of recommendation are required or encouraged by a majority of law schools. They should be written by persons who know something specific about the applicant's breadth of knowledge, ability to analyze and deal constructively with problems, writing ability, and general scholastic aptitude. Law school admissions committees need information about what you've done while in school, so do not ask anyone to write for you who doesn't have specific, detailed knowledge about your actual capabilities. If you've worked for someone and he or she can write a detailed letter about your work, by all means ask that person to write for you. Avoid anyone, deans or professors, who cannot write what admissions committees need to know about you. If any information is available in your records, it need not be repeated in a letter of recommendation. The letter should contain discriminating remarks and assessments of your abilities.
You should be aware that the most effective letters of recommendation are written by faculty who knew or know you well. Sometimes faculty may be willing to write for you but they may not remember your performance in their classes well enough to give clear examples of what you did as a student.
Listed below are suggestions about some additional information you might give to the faculty who you have asked to write in support of your application:
1. Bibliographical sketch. A brief personal statement (about one page) discussing ambitions, motivations, objectives in life, special circumstances, career interests, etc.
2. Resume. The resume should list work experiences, major(s), extracurricular activities, grades (overall, within your major and last 40 hours), skills (language, computer, etc.) and volunteer service, and should be about one page in length.
3. Research papers. It is very useful to list some of your better research papers and other written work that were done for the professor who is writing a letter for you. Please give a) the course for which it was written, b) the title of the paper, c) the grade, and d) any favorable comments the professor wrote on the paper. You do not need to submit the actual papers.
4. Transcript. Attach a copy of your transcript -- an unofficial copy will do. The recommender may want to call attention to some especially difficult courses you have taken.
5. List of schools and deadlines. List the names, addresses, and deadlines for each schools to which a recommendation is to be sent. Also, remember to sign the waiver line on each form (if you intend to do so), to provide the information for which you are responsible on each form, and to put a stamp on each envelope.
With a very large number of applicants each year, it is not surprising that many law schools rely heavily, if not exclusively, on LSAT scores and GPA's. Some schools change their admissions policies every few years. Today many schools are giving more attention to minority applicants and to older persons returning to school. The law schools that are most competitive (i.e., they admit a very small percentage of their applicants) rely heavily on an "index number" to exclude most applicants. All the remaining law schools use varying methods to determine who among the applicants will probably do well at their school.
A good way to find out about changes in admissions policies is to ask questions of law school representatives when they participate in the annual Fall pre-law day. This event is sponsored every year by the Western Association of Prelaw Advisors at a nearby campus where students can talk with law school representatives. The location and date of this conference is announced each October and this information is posted in the Political Science office. Regionally known schools and locally known schools emphasize their reliance on "subjective factors." Students above a predetermined level are automatically admitted, those below a minimum are typically rejected, and the middle range goes back to the faculty committee for a final decision.
The earlier your application is filed, the earlier you will receive a reply. Schools which use committees may not begin to send out notices until March. Except for the schools which use scores and grades only as basis for decision, applicants to other schools may graduate before all of their applications are answered. If you are placed on a waiting list, you may not be accepted until Summer. Furthermore, you will not be accepted until a vacancy occurs in the class and your name is next on the waiting list. Vacancies occur up to the day classes begin and applicants are commonly offered acceptance on short notice.
If you have been accepted at a school that was your second choice, you may not want to wait for acceptance at the school of your first choice. About mid-summer, call that school and ask if your name is near the top of the list and the admissions office indicates that they usually go below your place on the list to fill each year's class, then your chances of getting accepted are good. Should I apply to Schools Not Accredited by the American Bar Association? The answer to this is a qualified "no." If you are unable gain entry into a school accredited by the A.B.A. and if you plan on living in the state where the unaccredited school is located, then you may reasonably consider attending an unaccredited law school. You should be aware, however, that there is a definite stigma attached to lawyers who got their legal education in an unaccredited institution. Furthermore, in general, students who attend and graduate from unaccredited schools have a much lower bar passage rate when compared with graduates from accredited institutions.
The following was written by Steve Lawrence, Jr., a 1972 Duke graduate who received his law degree from the University of Chicago in 1975: The law student must be ready and willing to meet one of the biggest challenges that he will ever face. Law school is a full-time business. By full-time, I mean a minimum of 10 hours a day, every day of the week. It is quite exhaustive, particularly during the first year. There is a new vocabulary to learn, and a new way of thinking. As the faculty is fond of saying, law students also have to learn to read for the first time in their lives. In law, every word is of crucial importance; you don't read just to get the gist of the material.
This point came across to me the first day of law school. I had spent four years in college contemplating such issues as truth, goodness, government, religion. In the first case we had to read in Contracts, the issue which Judge Henry Friendly, one of the most distinguished judges in the country, had to face is: "What is chicken?" The case turned on whether the parties to the contract meant "stewing chicken" or "fowl." The movement from considering "what is truth" to "what is chicken" symbolizes perfectly for me the movement from college to law school.
As you know, it is very expensive to go to law school. Many students therefore need some form of financial assistance. Financing Your Law School Education can be ordered from Law Services, Newton, PA 18940. This book explains how to choose the best loan programs; how to defer payments until you are out of school and working; how to get grants and scholarships; how to create your won financing "package"; and how to budget your finances so that you won't run short of money during school. The law school at which you enroll will also help you obtain the necessary funds. Early application to law schools will facilitate the gaining of the necessary monies.
Another matter that is of critical importance is the level of debt incurred. It is essential that prospective law school students think long and hard about repaying their debts once they are earning a living. Repayment schedules should be examined very closely. There are several sources of money that law school students can access in order to finance his/her legal education. Although outright grants are few and far between loans are readily available. Moreover, many opportunities exist to earn money after the first year of studies. Indeed, for bright and energetic students it may be possible to make almost as much money during the Summer between their first and second years as would be made entering the job market fresh out of college.
It must be recognized, however, that for most graduates of law schools there will be a significant debt that has been incurred as a consequence of gaining a legal education. Generally students should seek to minimize their debts while attending law school.
One of the better organizations that provides financial assistance and information relating to legal education is the Access Group. This organization has ties with the Law Services and the Law School Admission Council. There is a FAQ section on their site that is very helpful. To get some idea of the significance of borrowing money to finance legal education go to the loan repayment calculator at the Access Group.
Every state in the nation (except Wisconsin) requires graduates of law schools to take an examination prior to entry into the profession. This "Bar Examination" consists of a multiple choice test primarily on the subject of the law of the state in question and may be followed by a written examination a day or two later. Passage of this test is required if one is to practice law in that state. Bar passage rates vary widely from state to state and law school to law school.
Aside from the traditional career path of representing individual and corporate clients or working for government agencies, other options are available. In-house salaried lawyers are being utilized with increasing frequency by businesses both in legal and managerial capacities. The traditional fields of corporate law, securities law, tax law, criminal law, patent law and family law are being supplemented with emerging fields of environmental law, international law, civil rights law and a host of other fields. Our increasingly complex and technologically advanced society will continue to require the services of attorneys skilled in the areas of analysis, advocacy, counseling, writing, speaking and negotiating.
There is a highly competitive market awaiting fledgling lawyers. Many law graduates may not be able to move into the traditional world of law, but a wide variety of other possibilities exist. Not the least of these may be rendering legal services to individuals and communities never served before, as Dean Pye has suggested. He has asked advisors to encourage students motivated to study law and for them to "keep a positive attitude toward supply rather than a negative attitude regarding demand."
On the other hand, it must be recognized that like many other professions in the U.S. the legal profession is experiencing some significant oversupply. The value of a legal education is undeniable, but its ability to serve as an entree into a high paying legal career may be considerably exaggerated in the minds of many. Are there any books I can read which will tell me what law school is like and about the practice of law?
The following list contains a variety of books that will give the prospective law student a flavor of the study of the law. Go to the Federalist Society for a much more extensive reading list.
*Bell, Susan, et. al. Full Disclosure: Do You Really Want to be a Lawyer?
Bowen, Catherine Drinker. Yankee from Olympus
*Goldfarb, Sally. Inside the Law Schools Holmes
Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr., The Common Law
Horsky, Charles. The Washington Lawyer
Hurst, J. W. The Growth of American Law
Levi, Edward H. An Introduction to Legal Reasoning
Llewellyn, Karl N. The Bramble Bush
Mayer, Martin. The Lawyers
Richard W. Moll The Lure of the Law
Osborn, John J., Jr. The Paper Chase
Pound, Roscoe. The Spirit of Common Law
*Woodcock, Raymond Take the Bar and Beat Me
* very useful from a practical perspective
Here is a brief summary of the steps to be take when applying to law school: (For timing on various steps go to the Law School Application Check List.)
1. Register to take the LSAT.
2. Subscribe to LSDAS.
3. Enroll in the CRS.
4. Read the latest edition of The Official Guide to U.S. Law schools and become familiar with the LSAT/GPA data for the schools to which you apply. Additional information about particular law schools can be gotten from reading their latest catalogs that are available in the Political Science Office.
5. Applicants should order a transcript to be sent to the Law School Data Assembly Service (LSDAS). Transcripts can be ordered through the Registrar's Office.
6. Students should ask members of the faculty or other persons to write letters of recommendation for them.
7. LSDAS will send you a copy of the report it has sent to each school. Be sure these are accurate and complete. Notify LSDAS of any corrections.
8. At graduation, seniors should order a complete transcript and notice of graduation to be sent to the law school he or she will attend. The University does not automatically do this for you.