Pre-Law

 At Midwestern State University, the pre-law curriculum is flexible and may be pursued from any degree program. “Pre-law” simply denotes a student’s intent to pursue admission to law school following completion of the baccalaureate degree. Because the careers of those trained in law vary so widely and therefore call for widely differing skills, law schools do not generally recommend any particular major.

In planning a pre-law curriculum, students should keep in mind that the spoken and the written word are the principal tools of the legal profession. Those who intend to study law must develop an excellent knowledge and grasp of the English language as well as a clear and concise style of expression. They should seek out courses requiring substantial writing assignments and provide critiques.

Students will plan pre-law studies first by selecting a major and then taking all the classes necessary for that particular degree. Students will also have a few “open electives” and should consult with a pre-law advisor about classes to take to further their preparedness for the Law School Admission Test (LSAT) and law school.

 

  The following items answer some of the questions most frequently asked by pre-law students.

 

Q. Should I go to law school?
A. If you want to be a lawyer, have the aptitude and qualities needed for the practice of law, think clearly, and like to work under pressure, the answer may be yes.  If you don't know what to do after you graduate, haven't thought through what a legal career is all about, or don't really want to be a lawyer but think that going to law school is a good way to avoid making hard decisions about your future, the answer may be no.  Don't drift into law school.  Make a decision to go or not to go based on a careful consideration of all the facts and all the options.

Michael Krauss, a law professor at George Mason University, says you should be in law school if you answer “yes” to the following questions: “Are you interested in pursing justice, in making the world/your country/your state a place governed by the rule of law, freer from predators and safer from tyrants than it currently is? Are you interested in helping the 50% of Americans with legal problems who cannot currently afford legal help to resolve them? Are you interested in soberly attempting to understand and solve the incredibly difficult and incredibly interesting intellectual problems that underlie so many of today’s legal disputes, and that are so misconstrued by a journalistic profession obsessed with political correctness?”1

 

Q. What are the requirements for getting into law school?
A. The formal requirements are simple.  Generally speaking, you must have an undergraduate degree by the time you begin law school; take the Law School Admission Test (LSAT); have a completed file with the (LSDAS) Credential Assembly Service; and submit an application by the admissions deadline, which varies from school to school.  Many schools also require letters of recommendation and a personal essay.

When many students ask about requirements for law school, they really don't want the answer given above.  They want to know (1) how high their GPA needs to be, and (2) how high their LSAT scores need to be. No doubt about it, these are the two most important variables considered by law schools for admission. However, schools can weight GPA and LSAT  scores differently and often will look at other factors when candidates’ scores are similar. Other important factors may include letters of recommendation, extracurricular activities, personal character, graduate or professional school experience (if any), employment experience, and geographic background.

Good letters of reference come from individuals who have had significant interaction with the candidate and can articulate in detail the reasons for the candidates’ probable success in law school and after graduation. Any required personal essay will detail the other activities mentioned above. It is important in the personal essay to write about actual experiences and not speculate on future accomplishments. Additionally, the essay must be brief, well-organized, factual, and comprehensive.

 

Q. What are the best and worst law schools?
A. Generally speaking, the best schools are the nationally ranked ones; Harvard, Yale, Stanford, Columbia, New York, Northwestern, and the University of Texas are some examples. These are outstanding law schools, and students who meet the difficult admission requirements should investigate admission. Universities in Texas with law schools are Baylor, St. Mary’s, South Texas, Southern Methodist, Texas A&M, Texas Tech, Texas Southern, and Houston.

An important factor to consider when evaluating law schools is their state bar exam passage rate.  Many schools -- both public and private -- offer fine legal educations.  Finally, you should know that there are some law schools that are not accredited by the American Bar Association.  These should be avoided.

 

Q. How much does law school cost?
A.
A very general estimated cost of attendance [including room, board, living expenses, in-state tuition, fees, and books] for three years at a public law school is $110,000. An estimate for private law schools (including the same items listed above) is more than $200,000. 

 

Q. What major should I choose if I want to go to law school?
A.
Your choice of a major makes little or no difference to the law schools. The amount of law you know is not a major factor.  The law schools’ key concern is that you have an excellent education that emphasizes analytic/problem-solving skills; critical reading abilities; good writing skills; oral communication and listening abilities; general research skills; and organizational and management skills. A good undergraduate education should help you to develop your abilities in these skills and make you a good critical thinker. Another important factor to consider about your major is how you will use your degree for a successful career should you choose not to go to law school or should you be not accepted to law school.

Traditionally, the most common undergraduate majors for pre-law students are business, English, history, and political science. Many students also go to law school after majoring in scientific or technical fields.  It is important for these students to remember that they must supplement their technical education with courses in government and law.

 

Q. What is a good grade point average for a pre-law student?
A.
This is a difficult question to answer.  In general, the higher your GPA, the better your chances for admission, provided you take demanding courses.  These courses will give you the intellectual challenges that will help prepare you for the LSAT and law school.

 

Q. What does the LSAT measure?
A.
The test has five 35-minute sections of multiple-choice questions and a 35-minute writing sample. There are three multiple-choice question types: (1) reading comprehension, (2) analytical reasoning questions, and (3) logical reasoning questions. Four of the five multiple-choice sections determine the test taker’s LSAT score. The writing sample is not scored. It is forwarded to the law schools to which you applied for their evaluation.

 

Q. What courses should I take?
A.
First, work on your university and departmental requirements.  After that, you will have room for electives, some of which should be chosen as part of your background for success in law school. Recommended are courses in political science, business, history, English, philosophy, sociology, logic, and in other humanities and social science fields.

Taking as many law-related courses as you can will be helpful.  Courses available at Midwestern State University include constitutional law; judicial systems and practices; criminal law; criminal justice; legal and ethical environment of business; and commercial law. They will give you some understanding of the American legal system and how the law is related to American politics, business, history, and society. These classes will also help you further evaluate whether studying law for three additional years after undergraduate school is something you really want to do. 

 

Q. Do extracurricular activities make a difference?
A.
Yes, extracurricular activities are an important part of your personal essay, which is often  part of the law school application process.  This is because extracurricular activities are  important in rounding out your education. Most law schools look for well-rounded individuals who are likely to contribute to society.

Activities that indicate an interest in politics, law, and public affairs are especially important.  Working on the student newspaper, participating in student government, or serving in the university's judicial student system are examples of positive involvement. However, these activities are NOT a substitute for outstanding grades and a high score on the LSAT.

 

Q. Where can I turn to for more advice?
A.
The Official Guide to ABA-Approved Law Schools, published by the Law School Admission Council and the American Bar Association, is an excellent reference guide and a must purchase if you are serious about law school. This book has: 1) law school descriptions, 2) GPA and LSAT scores, 3) bar passage rates, 4) tuition, fees, and living expenses, 5) faculty, 6) enrollment and ethnicity, 7) graduate employment statistics, 8) application process and deadlines, 9) and financial aid information for each ABA-approved law school. You can order this guide online at www.LSAC.org or by calling 215-968-1001.

You will also want to consult law school catalogs.  You can obtain these directly from the law schools or go online to individual law schools. Additionally, outside Room 294 in the Dillard College of Business is a student resource bookshelf that contains a copy of the Official Guide to ABA-Approved Law Schools as well as flyers about different law schools.

 Other important web sites include:

1. www.PrincetonReview.com
2. www.testprepractice.net
3. www.GetPrepped.com

 

Q. What is the LSDAS?
A.
LSDAS is the Credential Assembly Service. This is managed by the Law School Admissions Council. At least ninety days before you begin applying to law schools, you will have to register with the LSDAS, which serves as a clearinghouse for all applicants. The LSDAS collects transcripts and LSAT scores from law-school applicants. An important part of their service is to adjust all students’ grades to a universal scale.

 

Q. What time frame should I be working on?
A.
You should be concentrating on grades and extracurricular activities your first two years of college. At the beginning of your junior year, you should begin studying for the LSAT. Some students use the materials supplied by The Law School Admissions Counsel. Other students pay for and attend LSAT courses, and some students purchase computer software that sets up study periods and gives sample exams. This will help you familiarize yourself with test mechanics and question types. You will also develop test-taking techniques and strategies. It is the opinion of the MSU pre-law advisors that few students achieve full potential without this preparation. It is like working crossword puzzles or playing chess. The more you practice, the better you get. However, you must remember that the LSAT measures skills and knowledge that develop over time, and thus you cannot prepare for the test by last-minute efforts.

You also will need to register for the LSAT (www.LSAC.org). The test should be taken in the summer before your senior year or, at the latest, in October before the August/September during which you would begin law school. At this same time, you will need to draw up a schedule of application deadlines for law schools you are going to apply to and begin sending in applications.

 

Q. Does Midwestern State University have any scholarships?
A. Yes, serious pre-law students may apply for a Merkle pre-law scholarship. The funding of this scholarship is provided by local attorney Greg Merkle. This scholarship is based on documented need and the applicant’s likelihood of being admitted to law school. Ask the pre-law advisor when applications are being accepted.

 

Q. What else should I do?
A.
Read the book The Noble Lawyer by William J. Chriss. It will give you important insight into the recent history of the legal profession and the law profession’s future.

Also, send your email address to kris.tilker@mwsu.edu. Include your mailing address, phone number, and the date you expect to graduate. Information and announcements about programs of interest to pre-law students will be sent to you periodically. If your contact information changes, be sure to update it so that you will not be overlooked.

 FOR MORE INFORMATION, CONTACT:
KRIS TILKER, J.D., PRE-LAW ADVISOR
DILLARD COLLEGE OF BUSINESS
MIDWESTERN STATE UNIVERSITY
3410 TAFT BOULEVARD
Dillard College of Business ROOM 210
WICHITA FALLS, TX 76308-2099
(940) 397-4712
EMAIL: kris.tilker@mwsu.edu

 

 1Forbes, August 19, 2014.                                                                                                Revised March 2015