Misconceptions: Understanding Pre-Law

Do you know that admission to law school has nothing to do with your undergraduate major? “Hey, why?” you may wonder.

A student body from diverse disciplines adds much depth and breadth to intellectual vitality. At Harvard Law School, for example, students typically come from 30 – 70 different majors. So, select a major that reflects your academic passion and ability to do well.

As you know, some lawyers must interpret existing laws, prepare for trials, communicate with courts, and defend clients. It is therefore recommended that you take courses that emphasize close reading of texts, writing, analytical reasoning, research, and quantitative skills.

What does “J.D.” Stand for?
The Juris Doctor Degree is typically a three-year program of unyielding academic effort and intense study of legal matters. The only standardized test is the Law School Admission Test (LSAT), made up of Reading Comprehension, Analytical Reasoning, and Logical Reasoning.

Extracurricular Activities
Contrary to popular wisdom, extracurricular activities need not be law-related. Law schools prefer depth – involvement in one or two activities over time where you made a difference, over breadth – seeming superficial membership in many unrelated activities, or inconsistent participation over time. More importantly, whatever you do, look for personal relevance.

Activities can never compensate for marginal grades. It is a mistake to think that because you are a student leader, your grades are less important. In fact, most of the applicants in a selective pool have contributed to their communities and have high grades.

Among all the professional degrees, I consider a law degree of the most mobility, as you will not be bolted to your seat/field. Lawyers can function in business, engineering, medicine, whereas a business manager, an engineer, and a doctor cannot function in a legal position in many walks of life.

Good Reasons for Going to Law School
I understand the time, effort, and money involved, with a solid expectation of what life as a lawyer will be like and the different career options a law degree will offer me.

Bad Reasons for Going to Law School

  • I am good at arguing. I always win. (Save it for Dr. Phil.)
  • I want to make big bucks quickly. (Try it out first on “Who Wants To Be a Millionaire”)
  • My parents want me to go to law school. (There is no age limit for practicing law. So perhaps it is your parents who should consider law.)

Think of college as a place where you build a solid foundation. Avoid labeling yourself pre-maturely as “pre-law,” majoring in “pre-law” (because it does not exist), or simply studying “pre-law.” Regardless of your major, be a student who makes the most out of your educational experience. By doing so, you’ll be the best prepared “prelaw” that you’ve ever wanted to be.

Alternative to Law School

You might also consider becoming a paralegal. A paralegal is a person qualified to perform professional legal work that requires knowledge of legal concepts and is often not performed by a lawyer. For more information, go to www.paralegals.org.

Finally, the American Bar Association has an excellent pre-law website. Check it out: http://www.abanet.org/careercounsel/prelaw/publications.shtml#cont.

Wan Chen, Admissions Advisor

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