I think I want to go to law school

By Hillary Mantis

“So, what should I be doing now?”  Susan, a freshman, sat anxiously in my office, pen poised to take notes. “I think I want to go to law school.”

This is the question I hear over and over, whether I’m meeting with a freshman who just started college or a senior about to graduate. In Susan’s case, there is not really that much to do yet. If you are a freshman, your main concerns are to settle into school, and to start off your college years with good grades.

If you are beginning your sophomore year in college, you can start to actively investigate law school and legal careers. This is a good time to start looking into legal internships or part-time jobs. This is also the year that you generally choose your major.

Perhaps the single largest misconception that I hear is that you have to major in pre-law or something closely related to get into a good law school. The truth is that most law schools absolutely welcome a diversity of majors.

What they look for are good writing, research and analytical reasoning abilities, since you will need those skills in law school. They also look for good grades and challenging courses. (See How to choose the best law school on page XX.)

While you do not have to have a legal internship or job on your resume to apply to law school, it is a good idea. Not so much for your applications, but for your own sake. Unless you have already worked in a law firm or have a family with practicing lawyers, chances are you may not actually know what lawyers do on a day to day basis.

And no, it is not really just about entertainment law and criminal law. There are hundreds of choices of practice areas and settings for lawyers. I would start to talk to friends who are in law school or practicing law.

If you are now starting your junior year, it’s time to get a little more serious. If you have not already done so, I would try to get involved in pre-law activities at your school, or find a legally related internship or part-time job. This is also the time to push your GPA up, since upward trends on your transcript tend to look good.

It’s also the time to start thinking about when to take the LSATs. The test is offered four times a year. (See LSAT prep on the Cheap on page XX.)

When you are starting your senior year, it’s also time to ask your professors for recommendations and to write your personal statement for law school. I would try to give your professors at least a month to write your recommendations, and remember that early fall is a time when they are swamped, so give them extra time. Try to contact them and meet with them, rather than just emailing or leaving a message that you want a recommendation.

Your personal statement also needs a lot of work at this time of year. Since most law schools do not grant personal interviews, it is crucially important that your statement stands out. It may be the best opportunity you have to show them more about who you are as a person, not just a GPA and LSAT score.

If you are still not sure that law school is right for you, almost every college has a career services office where you can talk about careers in general and take self-assessment career “tests.” Senior year is also a good time to learn more about the current legal job market and where you might fit into it.

Whether you are a freshman or a senior, there’s a lot to think about before you apply to law school.

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Hillary Mantis works with pre-law students, law students and lawyers. She is Director of the Pre-Law Program at Fordham University and author of career books, including Alternative Careers for Lawyers. You can reach her at altcareer@aol.com.