Experience is power when you’re applying to law school, and that makes pre-law advisers the reigning monarchs of the realm. Years of guiding aspiring law students through the application process have taught the best counselors a thing or two about steering you to the right fit — or steering you away from the legal profession altogether. Here at Lawdragon Campus, we’ve culled their collective wisdom into a list of tips.
The suggestions below come from colleges and universities including Baylor, Columbia, Loyola (Chicago), Northwestern and the University of Alabama among others. There’s also a mini-lesson in the art of the informational interview from Precious Robinson, president of the Pacific Coast Association of Pre-Law Advisors (PCAPLA).
The bottom line: You need to own your law school education and application process.
1. Self-assessment is your prime directive.
You may think you’ve done all the necessary soul searching; you haven’t. Two helpful guides are “Should You Really Be a Lawyer? The Guide to Smart Career Choices Before, During & After Law School” by Deborah Schneider and Gary Belsky, and Chapter One of “Law School Confidential” by Robert H. Miller.
2. Develop networking skills beginning with your professors.
Networking is the cultivating of relationships that will assist in your career development. The ability to network effectively is important to gaining entry to a law school; it is critical to finding a law job and to cultivating clients once you have that job.
- Begin by building relationships with faculty members, since you’ll be asking them for advice and for letters of recommendation for your applications. Those letters – most schools require two – must be strong and specific to you. If you sign a waiver giving up your right to see the letters after they’re sent, they will carry more weight.
- Continue networking by attending events at your local bar association and conducting informational interviews (more on these later) to nurture some professional relationships.
3. Figure out your finances in advance.
Before you walk into law school, know what your finances will look like when you walk out of law school.
- Honestly assess the tuition, fees and living costs at the schools in which you’re interested; how you’ll cover those expenses while in school; how much financial aid you’ll need; the probable sources of that aid, and how much debt you’ll incur. Some law schools offer calculators to help.
- Check scholarship opportunities; pay attention to application deadlines.
- After receiving financial aid offers from various schools, plug the numbers into a calculator to see what you would have to earn to live comfortably with the amount of debt you would incur and with the repayment plan you’re considering. (And yes, you must seriously consider repayment plans.) Then look at employment outcomes for each school.
4. Prepare for the LSAT far in advance; think carefully before re-taking it.
- The Law School Admissions Council is the nonprofit monopoly you can’t live without, since you register for the LSAT (and other admissions-related services) through its website. Read and bookmark LSAC.org now.
- Begin studying and preparing for the LSAT eight to 10 months before you take the test. Complete timed practice tests. Lots of them.
- Get logic game books to practice. (The test has a logic section.)
- Play word games to practice; wordsmith.org also offers some useful tools.
- Prepare to do your best the first time. Some law schools average scores, which means a high score the second time may not count as much if your first-time score was weak. Check each school’s scoring policy.
- Many students report that test prep courses are very helpful, but the classes are also expensive. If you are disciplined, you can prepare on your own for a fraction of the cost.
5. Establish and get used to working in study groups and on teams.
Much of what you learn in law school results from peer-group interactions. Enough said.
6. Visit law schools you’re considering; look for particular attributes.
- Visit before applying to help pare your list to schools where you’re likely to thrive and save application fees. Visit again after you’ve been admitted.
- Pay attention to where (and thus how accessible) faculty offices are and faculty members’ availability to students; what’s on the bulletin boards; the research being conducted; the number and nature of opportunities for learning outside the classroom (faculty-supervised clinics, for example, summer-clerk recruiting, research, journals and law reviews). Get a sense of how collaborative or competitive the school’s culture is.
7. Attend classes at a local law school.
Many law schools allow specific classes to be audited, which is a fine way to get a feel for what will be a new style of education. Call and ask if that is possible.
8. Go after law-related internships and externships
- You can often earn course credit in an internship/externship placement and see first-hand what attorneys do.
- The best time is during your junior year, the spring semester, before you begin applying to law schools. The internship might help you identify a favored practice area and become the basis for your personal statement.
9. Create a law school resume that isn’t a jobseeker’s resume.
- Your law school resume should be very detailed. Admissions officers want to know about every one of your teams, clubs, organizations, jobs, advancements and promotions, extra-curricular activities and interests.
- Make sure to include leadership positions and community service.
- Warning: Activities won’t compensate for poor grades
- Work is considered a co-curricular activity.
10. Conduct informational interviews with lawyers – lots of them.
- Interview lawyers at different stages in their careers. “You’ll hear very different perspectives on their lives as lawyers,” says Robinson, president of the Pacific Coast Association of Pre-Law Advisors. “People who are further out, for example, will say that the first year of law school was the toughest in their lives. Recent grads will say the first year of practice was the worst.”
- You’re looking for a good fit between what you’re seeking in your career and what they’ve found in theirs, Robinson says. “So ask why they chose this area of law and has it met their expectations. Follow up with what they find satisfying, and not; what they like and dislike about what they do. Ask about their typical day and start gauging whether this particular area of law fits your personality and values; does it match what you pictured yourself doing?”
- If you’ve settled on a particular field of law, she says, ask attorneys in that field to explain how they advanced and what pitfalls you should try to avoid.
- Make sure to ask: What do you know now that you wished you knew when you started law school and when you started practicing?