• Deborah Morris Burton

Thinking of Becoming a Lawyer? Part 2

Part 2: Graduate College and Take the LSAT



[This is the second part in a four-part article. If you didn’t read the first one and you’re trying to decide if you want to go to law school or become a lawyer, go here: https://www.homeschoolcourt.com/post/thinking-of-becoming-a-lawyer-part-1.}


Ok, now that you have decided you want to pursue this career, you need to understand the process so you can make good decisions throughout it. Remember, your goal is to find a career that you find fascinating and fulfilling—and if you’re a Christian, you want it to glorify God, too.


Becoming a lawyer requires following certain steps from choosing an undergraduate college to finding that job after law school graduation.


This article and the two following it will provide details about each step. For the sake of simplicity, here are the steps to become a lawyer:

· Graduate college.

· Take the Law School Admission Test (LSAT).

· Choose law schools you may possibly attend.

· Get admitted to a law school.

· Graduate from law school.

· Pass the bar exam and find a job.


This article will concentrate on the first two steps: graduating college and taking the LSAT.


Undergraduate Degree

If you plan to go to law school, you must first graduate from a college or university with an undergraduate degree.


A common concern is, “What major should I choose to get accepted by a law school?”


Everyone has a different answer to that question! There are certain majors that are very popular among students who plan to go to law school. The most common undergraduate degrees for future lawyers are history, political science, and pre-law (if a college offers that as a separate major).


However, just because those are the most popular undergraduate degrees for law school students does not make that the right choice for you.


In researching this issue, while there are diverse answers to the question of undergraduate major, there seems to be complete agreement on a couple of considerations:


· Choose something you like.

· Get a good GPA.

· Choose a major that will prepare for law school (analytical thinking, reading voraciously, writing well, being challenged).

· Think about recommendations and advice about law school from professors or career counselors


1. Choose a major that interests you.


There are several reasons for this advice. First of all, if you like your major and the classes required for it, you will be more likely to earn high grades. A high grade point average (GPA) is very important for acceptance to a law school. You will have more choices among potential law schools and be more likely to receive financial aid when you are admitted. The more prestigious the law school you hope to attend (if you even have that in mind already), the higher your GPA must be for admission.


2. Choose a major that prepares you for law school.


You do not just want to get into a law school, you want to be able to do well at the one you choose. In law school, being able to read, analyze and write well is crucial to good performance. You will be doing a lot of all three!


Taking challenging courses that require a heavy reading load, critical analysis, and writing long papers or essays will best help prepare you for law school. In addition, if you earn a good GPA in college, it will look better to law school admissions if that GPA was earned while taking tough courses, not easy ones.


If a pre-law major offers courses that are taught in the Socratic method, that would be a good reason to major in pre-law. Law school classes are taught using the Socratic method, which means that professors ask question after question, seeking to bring out a deeper analysis of a case or types of cases. This is very different than the more typical college class technique, where the professor asks questions looking for a particular answer or to see a student’s understanding of a concept. The Socratic method is so different that it takes most law students a while to get the hang of it. So a student that comes in with some familiarity and comfort with this type of teaching will have a headstart.


3. Choose a major that is different.


Many people assume that students planning to go to law school must major in English, political science, history, or pre-law. However, law schools like a diverse class, including undergraduate degrees, because it brings with it a diversity of perspectives. Of course, if you love those degrees and courses, pursue that. They will also offer attractive opportunities for the future lawyer. But don’t feel that those are your only choices.


In fact, students with STEM degrees are very attractive to law schools. In addition to diversity, students in those fields usually excel in analytical thinking. And in certain legal fields, such as intellectual property, a scientific background may even be expected.[1]


Not all colleges will have a specific pre-law program, and that is not necessary. However, there are advantages to choosing a school with a pre-law major. The chance to preview law school and providing a basis for knowledge of the law and the legal system are helpful. In addition, possible mentorships (and their connections) with pre-law professors would be extremely beneficial. Pre-law professors would be expected to assist with law school applications, as well.


Pre-law programs offer a number of benefits. Looking at just one,[2] you see that this pre-law program provides mock trial, a legal studies concentration, an LSAT prep course, law school affiliations, and a pre-law society.


Finally, undergraduate majors that are typical for law school can still provide a solid foundation. English, philosophy, history, economics, and political science will all expose students to legal concepts. In addition, they will require extensive research, writing, and critical reading.


The American Bar Association has weighed in on what it considers the most important considerations in choosing an undergraduate major. It says whatever major you choose, the skills you should learn and practice are problem-solving, critical reading, writing and editing, oral communication and listening, research, organization and management, public service and promotion of justice, relationship-building, and collaboration, background knowledge in law and exposure to the law.[3]

4. Choose extracurricular activities that will help you in law school.


Just like college admissions, the personnel who make law school admissions decisions will want to see some involvement in college activities. Rather than a slew of activities, deep involvement in a few is better.


There are particular activities that will help you more than others when you get to law school. Mock trial or debate competitions will sharpen your logic and public speaking skills. Other activities might not be as obvious. For example, being part of the leadership of any campus organization will give you public speaking experience as well.


Writing for the school newspaper shows writing ability, as well as the ability to work on tight deadlines.


Again, the advice to do what you love applies. Being intimately and actively involved in something you love will help you develop all sorts of skills and demonstrate your potential to succeed.


5. Keep finances in mind.


The high cost of law school was discussed in Part 1. You will want to keep this in mind as you choose your undergraduate college. It will be easier to keep costs lower at this level than it will in law school. Try not to start law school already deeply in debt. That may mean choosing a state school over a private college or going to a college that offers more financial aid than another. At times, a private school may cost less than a state school after scholarships or other aid are considered. The key is to attempt to keep undergraduate costs down.


6. You may want to consider average LSAT scores.


The LSAT is the admissions test for law school. (See more specifics about it in the next section.) The important thing for this section is that students in some undergraduate majors have higher average LSAT scores than students in others. Of course, this says nothing about a particular individual, but it does show that students in some majors tend to perform better than students in others.


Scores range from 120 to 180, with a mean score of 151 in the 2018-2019 academic year.[4] For law school applicants in 2017-2018, the following majors had the highest average LSAT scores: Mathematics (162.8), Classics (160.3), Business and Management/Other (158.99), Policy Studies and Economics (both 158.9), Electrical Engineering (158.8), Mechanical Engineering (157.95), Biology (157.8), Art History (157.4), and Literature, Foreign Languages and International Studies (all three 157.3), and Philosophy (157.2).[5]


Law School Admission Test (LSAT)

After college graduation, the next step in becoming a lawyer is to take the Law School Admission Test (LSAT). This is the test that most law schools use as part of their admission processes to help determine whether a particular person is likely to be successful at their schools.


The LSAT is administered by the Law School Admission Council (LSAC). Worldwide, 100,000 potential law school students take the LSAT worldwide.


This test consists of two parts: a multiple-choice exam and a written essay (called LSAT Writing).


LSAT Writing is taken online using software that is installed on the student’s computer and can be taken from home. The student can take this portion of the test up to eight days prior to the multiple-choice exam. The writing prompt will present a problem and students are asked to choose between two positions or courses of action and defend their choices. The writing sample is designed to demonstrate persuasive writing skills. Copies of the writing sample are sent to all the law schools to which students apply.


The multiple-choice portion includes three types of questions: reading comprehension, analytical reasoning, and logical reasoning. Beginning with the August 2021 test, there will be four sections. Three will count toward the student’s score, while a fourth section (which consists of any of the three types of questions) will validate new test questions for future use. The LSAC plans to keep this format for several years.


Reading comprehension questions are pretty self-explanatory. Logical reasoning questions set out an argument and then ask questions about it. For example, after the views of two people are explained, the question may ask about any overlapping agreement between them. Analytical reasoning questions are often called logic games. For example, one practice question involves seven people in a piano recital, which some constraints (such as, U must follow V and Y cannot be 7th) and then asks a question about the order in the recital.


Prior to the pandemic, the LSAT was already digital in the United States. Test takers would use a tablet to answer the questions. (LSAC offers a practice tutorial to simulate the actual experience prior to test day.) When the pandemic occurred, the LSAT began remote proctoring and called the test the LSAT-Flex. According to the LSAC website, the LSAT-Flex will be offered until June 2021 and will go back to the regular LSAT (still digital but without remote proctoring) in August 2021.


Because a law school applicant’s LSAT score is so important, practice prior to the test is imperative. There are prep courses and books available for a fee. LSAC offers free official preparation through Khan Academy using questions from real tests and publishes PrepTest books for practice on real questions, as well.


The next article in this series will concentrate on the next two steps after college graduation and taking the LSAT: Choosing a law school (really several) and getting admitted.


Questions?

If you have any questions, feel free to ask them here and I’ll try my best to answer them.

[1] For more information on STEM degrees and law school, see https://www.usnews.com/education/blogs/law-admissions-lowdown/2012/05/07/how-to-apply-to-law-school-as-an-engineer-or-scientist and http://blog.learnleo.com/engineers-in-law-school-a-survival-guide/. [2] See the University of Scranton description of its pre-law program as an example: https://www.scranton.edu/academics/cas/pre-law/course-of-study.shtml. If you search pre-law and a geographic region, there should be many options. [3] For this information and further advice, see https://www.americanbar.org/groups/legal_education/resources/pre_law/. [4] See https://www.lsac.org/lsat-interpretive-guide/2019-2020. [5] See the following chart sorted by average GPA: https://magoosh.com/lsat/average-lsat-scores-by-major/. Data from LSAC. You can also see the number of applicants for each major.