It’s hard to think of a career more academically challenging than being a lawyer. A successful lawyer must not only possess an understanding of rhetoric to make persuasive arguments, but must also know the law and have research skills to add substance to your claims.
In other words, if you’re going to be a lawyer, then you absolutely must go to law school.
There are a lot of good reasons to become a lawyer, including the amount of money the profession brings in. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, lawyers have a median salary of $126,930 per year, and the field is projected to grow by 4% over the next few years. Others go into legal fields to pursue justice and have a real effect on the way things operate in this country.
There are plenty of great law schools and programs to choose from. While they all have their individual standards, there are some fundamental requirements from nearly every program. If you know these requirements, you can start preparing yourself now and give yourself the best chances of acceptance.
Because they play such an important role in society, law schools have exacting standards. To gain entrance, you’ll need to have solid standardized test scores, a high GPA, a well-constructed personal statement essay, and more. It will require years of hard work and dedication to acquire these things, but it’s not impossible.
This overview will give you direction, which will not only help you plan your education but also provide hints for crafting a strong application, even if some aspects don’t meet the normal standards.
As you work on your applications, keep this overview nearby to help your process. Keep these points in mind and you’ll have the best possible chance to enter the school of your choice.
Think of this as the next necessary step on your journey to becoming a lawyer.
At the most basic level, most law schools require applicants to submit their scores on the Law School Admission Test (LSAT).
The LSAT is a standardized test that assesses an applicant’s reading comprehension, logical reasoning, and verbal proficiency. It consists of five parts, four of which consist of four multiple-choice sections and an unscored writing section.
The final score is calculated by converting raw scores to a scaled score with a high of 180, a low of 120, and a median score of 150. The score helps admission committees predict a candidate’s success in law school.
Test takers have 35 minutes to complete each of the four multiple-choice sections. Although the sections look the same to the test taker, one of the four multiple-choice sections is an unscored experimental section. The experimental section helps disrupt a test taker’s familiarity with the LSAT, making it harder to cheat or guess at answers.
The LSAT examines aspects of logical reasoning and reading comprehension within its questions. For these questions, test-takers read a short argument and set of facts, then identify its essential elements.
These elements include the argument’s assumption, an alternate conclusion, any logical errors or omissions, another argument with parallel reasoning, or a statement that strengthens or weakens the argument.
To test reading comprehension, the LSAT features a section of four short passages. After reading the passages, the test taker identifies the main idea, identifies specific information, draws inferences based on the reading, or identifies their structure.
In the writing section, test takers are given a prompt that features a problem and two criteria for making a decision. In the essay they write, the test taker must argue for one of the options over the other.
The prompt rarely deals with controversial issues, thus forcing the test taker to construct an argument about a topic they have no strong opinion on.
LSATs are given at universities and testing centers around the world, but only at certain times. The test is only given seven times a year, and it takes a half-day to complete.
The GRE Exam for Law School
Although the LSAT remains the standard for most law schools, many also accept the GRE (Graduate Record Examinations) as an alternative in applications.
The GRE tests all of the knowledge a college student gains as an undergraduate. In addition to the general GRE, there are also several specialized GREs, which some programs also require.
The general GRE assesses the student’s verbal reasoning, quantitative reasoning, analytical writing, and critical thinking. Questions in the exam’s six sections deal with everything from geometry and algebra to vocabulary and logic.
The analytical writing section tasks students with writing two essays in a limited amount of time. For the issue essay, test takers must explain a complex concept. In the argument essay, writers must persuade their reader to accept a proposal.
That might sound fairly easy. After all, most people wrote essays like that during their freshman semester. But here, test takers must write effective essays without the aid of programs to check grammar or spelling.
The verbal or quantitative sections are no easier. Each section is timed for 30 – 35 minutes and consists of 20 questions each. These sections challenge students to finish sentences, make analogies, complete mathematical problems, and interpret data sets.
While test scores are certainly important, the personal statement essay might be the most critical part of the application.
In the personal statement essay, students write a short, one or two page explanation of their qualifications and goals. It exists to help admission committees see the person behind the numbers.
A solid personal statement essay makes an argument to the committee. That argument should be that you belong in law school, both that the school will make you a better lawyer and that you’ll bring certain qualities to the school.
That sounds scary, to be sure. A personal statement essay asks you to do a lot of explaining in just a few pages.
But the good news is that despite its high stakes, the personal statement essay is really just a grown-up version of the old five-paragraph essay you wrote in high school. You need a clear opening with a catchy hook, a few body paragraphs to flesh out your ideas, and a conclusion that wraps everything up.
Now you might be wanting to object here, saying that a law school personal statement can’t be about the same stuff you wrote about in high school. That’s true. This essay needs to have excellent content.
But here’s the thing: that content is you.
Although you’ll mention the teachers and mentors who influenced you, and you certainly should tell the reader why this particular law school matters. But the essay should tell your story.
After reading the essay, the admission committee should be able to see your abilities and weaknesses, your moral center, and the qualities that make you a great future lawyer.
In fact, you should treat the essay like your closing statements in a case. You need to convince the reader that you belong in that school, so make factual claims and provide convincing evidence.
If you focus on yourself and follow basic composition principles, your essay will be a great chance to make your case.
With just one glance at a law school application, you can see that schools look at many aspects of potential students. Schools put a lot of emphasis on letters of recommendation and standardized test scores.
With all of those requirements, does your undergraduate GPA really matter?
Yes, of course!
And also, no. Not really.
Okay, that is confusing, so let’s explain.
Although letters of recommendation and the essay speak to your character as a person and standardized test scores indicate your understanding of a subject, grades are still the best indicator of your qualities as a student.
If a school sees that an applicant has lots of high grades, they can assume that they take their studies seriously and work hard. Conversely, low grades suggest a student who doesn’t apply themselves to their studies and isn’t serious about school.
For that reason, average GPAs from schools aren’t indicators of the intelligence of a student body, but rather their work ethic.
Take a look at the average GPAs of the top 100 law schools in the United States. They range from 2.95 to 3.76 on the low end. In the top six law schools (Harvard, Yale, Stanford, Columbia, Chicago, and NYU), students average a GPA between 3.56 and 3.97.
These numbers give potential students an idea of their ability to cope with the demands of law school. If you have a GPA over 3.0, you can probably handle the workload expected in law school. If your GPA is 3.5 or higher, you likely fit among the students in the top schools.
For that reason, applicants must keep their GPAs in context. A strong GPA isn’t an automatic in with a particular school, nor is a low GPA an automatic out.
Rather than simply relying on your GPA one way or another, you should use letters of recommendation, personal essays, and interviews to explain your relationship to your grades.
If they’re strong, point to them as evidence of your abilities as a good student. If they’re low, explain why you still belong, despite the lackluster grades.
Law School Interviews
As we’ve said, the personal essay is your chance to tell law schools what kind of student you’ll be. But even if you’re an excellent student and a strong arguer, you may not be a great writer. You may not be able to represent yourself in a short essay properly.
Fortunately, the personal essay may not be your only chance to make your case. Many schools interview eligible candidates, allowing them to express their interest verbally. ‘
For many would-be lawyers, an interview is the chance of a lifetime. You get to make your case in front of a judge (in this case, admissions counselor), showing them why you should be a student in their school.
Of course, there’s no way to know for sure what questions will be asked by university officials. But if you remember that they are trying to decide how you’ll fit in their school, you’ll have a better idea about how to prepare your responses.
To prepare for your interview, it’s a good idea to practice your argument. Most law schools have a standard pattern for their questions. Nearly all schools frame their interviews around the following three questions: Why you? Why us? Why now?
In other words, interviewers want to know why you are the right person to attend their school at this time. All of the other questions they ask will work to uncover answers to those questions.
So when an interviewer asks, “Where do you see yourself in ten years?” your answer should tell them the qualities you bring as a student, how the university will help you develop those abilities, and how your time at the school will prepare you for the career you will hold in a decade.
To pull this off, you’ll need to call upon your inner lawyer. Provide details and evidence to tell the interviewer about yourself in a compelling way. Help them see the student you are and the lawyer you’ll become.
Best Classes for Law School
While a pre-law degree from undergraduate school might best prepare you for law school, the fact of the matter is that law schools will consider applicants with a BA in any field. That said, some classes carry more weight than others. An elective in rock and roll history might help you earn your degree and raise your GPA, but that won’t impress admissions committees.
Admissions committees look at the classes you take for the same reason they look at your GPA. They want to get a sense of you as a student, to be able to assess your chances of success in their school.
For that reason, the specific classes don’t always carry as much rate as your GPA itself. Sure, some courses won’t show committees what they want to see, but schools are interested in the skills you demonstrate more than they are the specific information you acquire.
As we saw with the LSAT and GRE, law schools value critical thinking, analytical reasoning, and verbal communication. Therefore, the majors and classes that emphasize those qualities will be accepted by more law schools.
The classes that will best build those qualities include American history, social science, statistics and data science, and communications. American history and government courses will certainly teach you about the foundations of American law, but more importantly, they’ll ask you to construct thoughtful arguments.
In social science and communications courses, you’ll develop the verbal reasoning and expression abilities you’ll need as a lawyer. You’ll learn logical thought in statics and data science courses.
In short, students who didn’t major in pre-law should not be discouraged from applying to law school.
Instead, their applications should show admissions committees that you gained these abilities in your undergraduate studies and can bring them to the school.
Standing Out in a Law School Application
As you might expect, most students applying to law school have strong LSAT or GRE scores, a solid GPA, and a compelling personal essay.
With such strong competition, what can you do to stand out among the crowd and draw the committee’s attention?
Fortunately, there are several ways to make your application more distinctive. Schools offer several opportunities for future students to get involved and gain unique experiences, all of which will make you a more impressive candidate.
In the following few paragraphs, we’ll look at some of the most effective methods for distinguishing yourself.
In an internship, students get a short-term, part-time job within a field to learn the ropes. While no law schools require an internship in their applications, they can differentiate between a mediocre applicant and a shoo-in.
Of course, the best possible internship for law school would be in a law firm. Even getting coffee and making copies can expose you to the standards and practices within the legal trade. After that, a business-related internship would be the next best, as you’ll learn the professionalism and communication techniques used in a law office.
However, every internship can teach you the skills that law schools expect to see in their applicants. Future lawyers can gain leadership abilities, time management skills, and customer service skills in nearly every job.
Whatever type of internship you get, you must be able to communicate the value of that experience to the admissions committee. For that reason, the internship should receive attention in your personal essay and your interviews. A strong applicant will not only explain the skills that one developed in an internship but also how that experience is another step in the process that leads to going to law school.
With strong details, an applicant can show admissions committees that an internship gave you the necessary skills and experience to prepare them for law school.
You can also stand out on your application by demonstrating interest in a school.
Before you roll your eyes and say “obviously,” let me explain.
Of course, you have an interest in the school. That’s why you’re applying.
But so does every single other person who’s filling out an application, so you need to show that you want admission even more.
You can do that by letting the school know who you are.
One of the best ways to get involved in a school before admission is simply showing up for a visit. Schools are constantly recruiting, and they plan frequent formal tours of the department. These tours not only allow you to become familiar with the campus and to interact with crucial department members, they’ll also help you write better application materials.
With increasing frequency, schools hold online webinars and information sessions. During these conferences, students and faculty share their research and hold Q&A sessions. Participation in them allows you to make an impression.
By taking advantage of these opportunities, you’ll be better able to craft a distinctive application.
Having Been Employed
As with internships, prior employment is not a requirement for a law school admission. But if you want to stand out amidst a sea of applications, then previous employment is an excellent way to distinguish yourself.
Once again, employment within a legal office is the best option to go with, even if you’re doing menial tasks. Anything you can do to gain more knowledge and connections will help you stand out better than most. Outside of a legal office, any business-related job will give you knowledge and skills that come in handy at law school.
Regardless of where you were employed, you must explain the relevance of your work history to your journey toward law school. In your personal statement essay, your interview, and other materials, clearly identify how the skills you developed relate to your process of going to law school.
The story you tell should take the reader from your previous jobs, into law school, and toward your future career.