At every turn in college, it seems you run into pressure related to your future career. Parents and relatives are always asking, "So, what will you do with that degree?" Professors, in an attempt to be helpful, question, "what's next?" Your peers, landing internships and studying for grad school entrance tests, seem to be staring you down, as if to say, "you haven't already decided what you want to do?"
One of the most popular career considerations is law school. Perhaps this interest is born of what seems like a simplistic pathway to get to the career; you apply to law school, get in, and you're set.
On the other hand, the skills and interests commonplace in law school and as a professional practicing law are common heralded traits. You might consider yourself rational and good at developing arguments, so you think law school is right for you. These reasons, among many other, are over simplifications for testing the fit.
Law school is right for many people, but not for everyone. And as a college student it can be difficult to know that this is the right decision for your future. Choosing any graduate school is a big (and expensive) step, and you should be as certain as you can that the move is the right one. Also, if this is your decision, you should be well prepared to apply and attend.
If you are considering law school, whether you are unsure if it is the right move or how best to go about doing it- take a look at what these current law school students have to say. I spoke with Madison, who attended Cornell undergrad, and is in her final year at University of Virginia School of Law, and Danielle, currently in her first year at Georgetown Law after also completing her undergrad at Cornell. They were in your shoes not too long ago, and want to get real with you about law school and the application process.
1. What is the best piece of advice you have for taking the LSAT? And for applying to schools?
I found it helpful to set aside two hours per day to turn my phone off and study. It makes a big difference. For the six weeks or so leading up to the exam, it was also helpful to take a full length practice test on Saturday mornings. It helped me get used to the stamina required for taking the test and waking up for it.
Two pieces of advice for taking the LSAT:
1. Take an LSAT course! I used Kaplan and boosted my score about 15 points from my diagnostic. The courses are full of tricks that help you master the question types, improve your timing, and boost your confidence. There are a lot of free study materials online, but the courses provide a regimented study schedule which helps keep you on track if and when you start to lose your motivation;
2. Plan to take the LSAT twice. The LSAT is offered four times a year: June, September, December and February. The ideal plan is to begin studying for the LSAT in March, write the LSAT in June, and if you think you can improve then write the LSAT again in September, and be ready to apply to law schools as soon as they start accepting applications around October or November.
For the rest of your application, you will need two to three letters of recommendation, an official transcript, a personal statement, and depending on the school you may be asked to complete a supplemental essay or optional diversity statement. It is good to write these well in advance and have several people proof read them. I believe a personal statement can really make or break an application.
2. What is something you wish you knew about law school before applying? Before attending?
Before applying to law school, I found out that applying early in the admissions cycle benefits applicants. I had friends who applied later in the process that were less successful with similar scores.
Make sure you look at the statistics of any law school to which you apply! If the job numbers do not look good to you, it is probably not worth it to apply.
Before attending law school, I think it would have been helpful to know that success in law school is largely correlated with time management skills. People who can use their study time wisely (rather than surfing the internet) seem to be the most successful.
I wish I knew exactly what kind of lawyer I wanted to be before attending law school. Not every law student knows, and even the ones who think they know may end up changing their minds, but the ones who have strong convictions about what type of law they want to practice seem to be more focused and driven.
3. What is the biggest misconception you had about law school before actually going?
I thought that I would not have any "work-life balance" while in law school. I assumed I would spend most of my time in the library. However, I have found law school to be as much about the people as it is about my schoolwork. My classmates are not only the heart of my legal network, but also a source of diverse perspectives in a focused academic environment.
My biggest misconception about law school was about the exams; they are nothing like exams in undergrad where you have to regurgitate information you have been taught. Law school exams really demand that you think on your feet, present both sides of an issue, and make an argument. There is no right answer which feels extremely weird, but is pretty reflective of what practicing law is like.
4. What is something you love about law school? Something you hate?
I love that law school is an intense academic experience. Not only do you learn about the law through casebooks, etc., but conversations with professors and classmates have been among my favorite aspects of school. I do not like the amount of time I spend reading, but I still find most of the reading interesting.
I love the relevance of what I am learning in law school. From understanding healthcare reform laws to executive orders on immigration, I am so much better able to grasp the significance of what I read in the news now that I have learned a little about how laws are made and executed.
I also love the passion that people bring to this profession. Whether you are advocating to abolish the death penalty, to protect the environment, to put college campus rapists behind bars, there is so much at stake in the legal profession, and many law students are sharpening their intellects as weapons to effect positive change. I hate the competition in law school and the pressure created by the curve and the huge emphasis on first year grades.
5. What is the best piece of advice for deciding if law school is right for you?
Talk to lawyers about what their practice looks like. Unless you go into academia, law school doesn't teach you about being a lawyer.
This isn't very helpful advice, but I'm not sure you can ever be certain law school is "right" for you. If you love reading, interpreting texts, debating, persuasive writing, philosophy, grappling with hard questions, taking a stand, giving others a voice, negotiating, those are all good signs. You don't have to love all of those things though.
Finances are a huge part of the decision. If you are going to come out of law school with a lot of debt and get sucked into an unexciting corporate job working insanely long hours just because you need to pay off your debt, when you'd rather be out in the world defending asylum seekers or being a public defender, you might want to rethink your options. Some people really love corporate law though, and are happy to make good money doing it.
6. What is the best piece of advice for surviving law school?
Work on time management.
Make friends, don't take yourself too seriously, go to office hours, join a study group, participate in class, get over your inhibitions (you won't always be right), do the readings so when you get cold-called you don't look like an idiot, join some clubs, try to see the bigger picture and enjoy what you are learning.