Julie Givans, Pre-Law Advising Interest Group Chair
What do pre-law students need to know? Information for junior- and senior-level students abounds; hundreds of books have been written on taking the LSAT, writing personal statements, and choosing the best school. But what about first-year students?
Great law school applications don’t start with a high LSAT score. They come from years of engagement with academics, the community, and an understanding of what the study and the profession of law is really about. Get your freshmen started right by incorporating this eight point “academic advising curriculum” into your work with first-year pre-law students.
- Stretch academically. Suggest students take classes that require them to read, write, think, research and analyze. These are the skills students will need to succeed as law students and as attorneys; if students master them as undergraduates, they are then able to spend their law school years focused on learning the law. Students need to learn to write clearly. Freshman composition classes should lay the foundation, but also suggest writing courses in the disciplines and professors that focus on writing. Encourage students to read and engage with “dense” material, and to become comfortable grappling with difficult ideas. Let your freshmen know that in college, as in law school, reading the text just once is rarely enough. It is through reading, re-reading and analyzing texts that material is mastered.
- Choose the “right” major. The “right” major for a pre-law student is a major that they love to study. Law schools look for diversity in their entering classes. That diversity includes diversity of undergraduate major. In addition, choosing a major the student is passionate about results in better grades when applying to law school and happier lawyers after graduation. For example, students who love art as well as the law might find their best fit as an in-house attorney for an art gallery or museum (Coleman, 1996).
- Get to know professors. As Richard Light explains in his book Making the Most of College (2001), students who get to know their professors outside of the classroom tend to be happiest and get the most out of their college experience. Pre-law students should be especially encouraged to make personal connections with professors. In addition to important intangible benefits, pre-law students may be motivated by knowing that such relationships can lead to better letters of recommendation.
- Get involved in the community. Whether it’s being president of the boating club, volunteering with the church or participating in student government, law schools look for students who are active in their communities, outside the classroom. As with choosing a major, students should seek out opportunities that interest them, not what they think law schools “want to see,” because law schools, again, look for diversity of experience when admitting students.
- Investigate careers. Many students choose a pre-law path based on mistaken ideas of what it is like to be an attorney. As an academic advisor, the best question you can ask them is “Why do you want to be a lawyer?” Get them thinking about their skills, their values, and their interests. Encourage students to begin conducting informational interviews, attending career services events and alumni mixers, and searching out internships. Have them explore different practice areas (such as international, family, corporate law), different work environments (such as government, big firm, not-for profit), and what attorneys do all day. As freshmen, students should research not only careers in law, but also in related fields. Only by exploring a variety of careers can students determine if they are truly selecting the one that fits them the best (Schneider & Belsky, 2005).
- Avoid debt. Students with heavy debt loads may have difficulty getting government loans for law school and limit their job options upon graduation from law school (Schneider & Belsky, 2005). Starting as freshmen, students need to watch expenses, for example by limiting credit card use and reducing unnecessary expenses such as eating out, cell phones and cable TV.
- Keep out of trouble. When law school graduates apply to take the bar exam, state bar associations conduct a thorough background check. Because of this, most law school applications require students to disclose any brushes they have had with the law. Some schools require letters certifying that the student has not been subject to any disciplinary action while at school. Thus, for pre-law students, infractions such as underage consumption of alcohol or academic dishonesty (i.e. plagiarism, cheating on exams) can have a lasting impact on their academic and career plans! Clean records are best, as there is nothing to explain.
- Investigate pre-law resources. Students should begin to research organizations that offer programs to nurture pre-law students. The Law School Admission Council offers videos and other resources to students through their website (http://www.lsac.org/). The Council on Legal Education Opportunity (CLEO) also offers summer programs for undergraduate students from underrepresented groups, to assist them with their path to law school (http://www.cleoscholars.com/index.cfm).
Incorporating these ideas into your academic advising with pre-law students from the beginning gives these students the opportunity to not only start preparing for law school, but also to make the most of their undergraduate years.
Arizona State University
Coleman, Ronald. (1996). The Princeton Review Pre-Law Companion. New York: Princeton Review Publishing
Light, Richard. (2001). Making the Most of College: Students Speak Their Minds. Massachusetts : Harvard University Press.
Schneider, Deborah & Gary Belsky. (2005). Should You Really Be a Lawyer? The Guide to Smart Career Choices Before, During, and After Law School. Seattle: Decision Books.
Cite this article using APA style as: Givens, J. (2005, September). First-year pre-law students: An 8-point academic advising guide. Academic Advising Today, 28(3). Retrieved from [insert url here]