Would you have to major in or study pre-law in college to be
accepted to a law school?
The A: The
answer to your question is very simple: No, you don't need to be
a pre-law major to get into law school. However, let me explain
in more detail why:
1.) It's important
not to miss out on college. I think the best use of your time in
college is to experiment with different subjects. Maybe you've always
had some interest in other subjects, like architecture, or music,
or creative writing. I would try those avenues out before settling
into pre-law studies. What I'd hate to see happen is for you to
go to college, major in "pre-law" and then get to law
school, only to find out that your law-school professors will disregard
everything you were taught in undergrad. If that happens, you'll
have missed the opportunity to study the vast wealth of subjects
offered by an undergraduate institution, and to little useful end.
your one chance to have a vast number of different avenues of study
readily open to you. Law schools -- and all other graduate schools,
for that matter -- are far more specialized. By the time you get
to law/grad school, you are really making a professional choice,
whereas in college, you are given the opportunity to test your interests.
So my advice in this area is to not miss out on college by taking
a major only because you believe it's essential for law school.
admissions offices have a minimal amount of interest in your undergrad
major. You're not going to win points with a law school by being
pre-law, in and of itself. Now, you may win points for participating
in pre-law activities such as debate, mock trial or model government
groups, and you may benefit by getting to know some law-school professors
who could provide valuable advice or recommendation letters for
law-school applications. But the major in itself will have a minimal
In fact, law
schools would likely be more interested in you as a candidate if
you studied music, art, creative writing or something else that's
considered "unusual" for law-school applicants. Law schools
are trying to create a diverse student body. They get tons of pre-law
applicants, but it is the chemical engineer, music theorist or visual
artist whose undergraduate studies will enable him or her to stand
out from the crowd.
So, as I mentioned
above, consider a wide variety of courses of study; don't feel as
if you have to be a "pre-law" major. To immerse yourself
in the law-school culture while you're still an undergrad, you can
still sign up for pre-law activities such as debate, mock trial
or model government, and attend meetings or talks at which law-school
professors are speakers.
3.) There are
no courses that you -must- take to get into law school. You may,
however, find it helpful to take classes in political science, economics
and psychology, to name a few subjects. Political science is helpful
because it provides you with an overview of governments (both U.S.
and foreign), which is important in understanding federal, constitutional
and procedural law, as well as administrative and international
law. Most good polisci departments will also offer classes that
engage in law school-like analysis of legal issues, which can be
be valuable because it provides a better understanding of the exchange
of money or services involved in contracts, the application of the
Federal Income Tax code (tax law), and the realities of running
businesses -- knowledge that is critical to working in securities
law, corporate law and partnership law.
can provide excellent background and training for students to excel
in making persuasive arguments, as well as evaluating the strengths
and weaknesses of witnesses or opponents. This can come in handy
just about everywhere, but particularly in civil litigation or "alternative
dispute resolution" such as negotiation, arbitration or mediation.
Again, these courses are not essential, but they may make law school
a little bit easier.
4.) Law schools
intend to teach you what they believe you need to know to be a lawyer.
This means that once you start law school, whatever you learned
in college will, for the most part, be out the window. Law-school
professors during your first year assume you know nothing -- and,
in fact, in many ways they are right. Most of first-year law is
less about substantive knowledge and more about training you to
think like an attorney. Law-school professors have been doing their
jobs for years, and tend to have a very set idea of how they think
your learning should progress. They assume that each first-year
student placed in front of them is a lump of clay that they can
mold into an attorney. In that context, what you know coming in
just isn't that important.
5.) In today's
market, which is overly saturated with attorneys (a trend that shows
no signs of letting up), it is increasingly important that law-school
students have outside knowledge or experience to which they can
apply the law. Remember, law is a service industry. It helps to
be familiar with some other business or practice that you can then
apply the law to when you specialize. This will make finding work
So, if you
study music in college (and get some experience writing music, performing
or producing), that experience can lead you towards practicing entertainment
law or art law. If you are a chemical engineer and understand schematics
and formulas, you can go into an intellectual property practice.
I can guarantee you that lawyers in the 21st century will need to
be increasingly specialized, and will increasingly be required to
bring some outside knowledge or experience to a practice in order
to be successful.
pretty much cover the answer to your question -- and more. :) Good
Clough, Esq., Guest Advisor
Christopher works in plaintiff's law for a firm in Austin, Texas.
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