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Information on Law School

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Information on Law School


There is both a wealth and paucity of information about law schools. Books and guides of various sorts abound on the shelves of libraries and bookstores. Increasingly, information is available in electronic formats. Information in the form of advice from well-meaning advisors is also easily accessible. If you are thinking about attending law school, the one thing you will find in abundance is advice. What is often in short supply is any way to tell whether the advice you get is good or not.


In addition to the Barron's offers other excellent publications are Barron's How to Prepare for the LSAT by Jerry Bobrow, an in-depth preparation guide for the law school admission test, and How to Succeed in Law School by Professor , which describes what law school will be like and what students need to do to maximize their performance and opportunities. A smaller version of the LSAT book, Pass Key to the LSAT, is also available. These books should provide you with enough information to tackle the law school challenge. Many readers, however, will want more. For those with the time, energy, and inclination, the following paragraphs discuss many other sources of information.

Pre-law Advisors

Most colleges and universities designate one or more professors as prelaw advisors. Students thinking about law school are routinely funneled to these professors and administrators for guidance. The comments here are aimed more at assessing the pros and cons of utilizing a prelaw advisor at school.

First of all, it is very difficult to make generalizations about the type of individuals who become prelaw advisors or the quality of advice they dispense. Pre-law advisors may come from almost any discipline, although it seems that a high percentage are political science professors. Many, but certainly not all, possess a law degree themselves, in addition to professional credentials in their teaching field. They may be young professors, barely out of school themselves, or wizened veterans who have been advising generations of prospective law students.

Pre-law advisors often come to the table with a distinct set of biases in favor of or against certain law schools, approaches to the application process, and the qualities that are needed to succeed in law school. Keep in mind, however, that the more definite the advisor is in his or her opinions, the more likely it is that there are differing points of view that make as much sense. Some prelaw advisors diligently collect information about law schools, such as law school catalogs or information about former students who have attended certain law schools. Other advisors may have little in the way of written materials, but willingly commit many hours to give to those who want to talk.

Whether or not you should take the advice of your prelaw advisor is a very personal question. Just as it is with doctors, dentists, psychologists, and other professionals, chemistry is important. You need to find someone with whom it is easy to carry on a conversation, someone whose opinion you value, and someone who strikes you as well informed and objective. The same prelaw advisor might hit it off with one student and turn off another. For this reason, it makes sense to get in to talk to your prelaw advisor as early as you can during your college career. If you are not happy with the advice you get, or not comfortable talking to the advisor, you have an opportunity to find another person to fill this role.

You may find that advice from a trusted faculty mentor, such as a club sponsor, academic advisor, or favorite teacher may work just as well for you as the school's official prelaw advisor. While this mentor may not be as well versed on law schools as the regular prelaw advisor, the benefit that you will derive from being able to speak openly and candidly can be invaluable.

Career Services Offices

At some institutions, the office of career services provides information and advice about law schools and legal education. Because career counselors have training and experience in helping people to make career decisions, they may be able to assist you in ways that a faculty member could not. Some career services offices offer testing programs, which attempt to identify things like work values, personality types, and vocational interests. These tests are often validated by comparison to control groups of individuals from particular professions. Thus, you can determine whether your personality type or professional values are similar to the values or personality of other people who have chosen to go into law. Unfortunately, such tests can lay a trap for the unwary. It is one thing to say that you are like other members of a group; it does not necessarily follow that you have to have those traits in order to be successful in a given field. In reality, successful lawyers are as diverse in terms of personality and values as the general population, and while it may be possible to identify characteristics common among typical lawyers, it is not uncommon to find lawyers who do not fit into the mold.

Other Advisors

Nor is it necessary to limit the universe of potential advisors to educational settings. Well- informed family members, work supervisors, friends, and business associates all may have qualities that make them good advisors for you. In fact, nowhere is it written that you can seek advice from only one person. You may want to take a sampling of opinions from various people and reach your own decisions.

Law School Career Days

One of the best ways to get information about law schools is to attend a law school career day. These events come in a variety of forms, from those sponsored by a single university, attended by as few as a single law school, to those sponsored by Law Services in major U.S. cities, sometimes attended by more than one hundred law schools. Law schools typically send representatives to these events, in areas where they hope to draw their students. Individual law schools may schedule a day of interviews through the career service office, or the prelaw advisor. Several colleges may join together to schedule panels or career fairs of law school representatives. The Law Services annual law forums are regional fairs in major cities attended by a large number of American law schools. Law school forums allow you to visit a number of law school representatives in person and in close proximity for easy comparison. The law schools usually bring catalogs, applications, and other literature for you to take, thus providing a quick way to receive materials.

Pre-law Associations

Many colleges and universities have a prelaw association or club committed to supporting prelaw students at those institutions. These student organizations may sponsor programs, collect information, and at universities affiliated with a law school, provide opportunities for direct contact with law school faculty and students.

The Internet

Most law schools provide home pages on the Internet that contain an array of useful segments on various aspects of the law school's life and history. You can find faculty biographies, course descriptions, admission and graduation requirements, schedules, and information about special programs in the law school. Some law schools provide for on-line application. You may be able to contact the admissions officer or faculty members by e-mail with questions. For individuals who are comfortable operating in an electronic environment, much of the work in applying to law school can be completed on-line.

Law School Visits

If you have narrowed the number of law schools to which you plan to apply to two or three, it may make sense for you to visit the schools in person. When you applied to undergraduate schools, you probably visited campuses before you made your final choice. What you learned about the setting, ambiance, and facilities undoubtedly contributed to your final decision. It is no different with the decision to attend law school. Some law schools encourage on-site visits through open houses on specific dates. Most law schools, however, are happy to arrange for a campus visit at any time. It makes sense to try to schedule your visit at a time when classes are in session in order to get a sense of what law school life is like at the school. You may be able to visit classes, talk to students and faculty, and meet with officials about such matters as applications and financial aid.

Interviews

Some law schools incorporate personal interviews into the application process. A few schools utilize interviews as a formal part of the selection process. Some other schools encourage, but do not require, applicants to interview with a representative of the law school as a means of gathering more data about the candidate. An interview is typically a one- or -two-on- one process, not unlike a job interview, as distinguished from more informal visits with law school personnel in conjunction with law forums or campus visits. Find out if the schools to which you plan to apply provide for interviews. If they do, decide whether you want to avail yourself of this opportunity. Most applicants welcome the chance to sell themselves directly to the school.

Law-Related Jobs

Part of the information gathering process may include finding out more about what lawyers do. If you grew up in a family of one or more lawyers, you probably learned a great deal about the legal profession and the practice of law through contact with these family members. You probably learned more about lawyers than you realized at the time. The fact that you remain interested in a career in law suggests that something about the lifestyle of a lawyer appeals to you.

If you did not grow up in such a family, or if you did and you want to learn more, one of the best ways to find out whether you want to practice law is to work in a law firm or other legal organization. Even if you visited a law office as part of a career day in high school or college, nothing will give you a first-hand view of legal work better than a job in the law. You might be surprised at how many opportunities there are in the law firms, corporate law departments, government law departments, district attorney and public defender offices, and public service organizations. These organizations include, in addition to the legal staff, a support staff of people who have not attended law school, such as legal assistants, legal secretaries, and file clerks.

The jobs may be full time or part time, depending on the needs of the employer, and the pay may vary widely depending on the qualifications for the job and the marketplace for workers in the area. You may be able to find a job with a law firm or other employer for the summer, or as part of a school-sponsored internship. If you are already working for a company, you may be able to arrange for temporary assignments with the company's legal department, or to take on other law-related tasks.

The greatest number of opportunities in the legal marketplace is probably for permanent support staff positions. For legal assistants (paralegals as they are sometimes called) or legal secretaries, training or experience in the field will be helpful; however, there are no state or national standards for these positions such as there would be for becoming a lawyer in the organization. Some firms try to hire highly intelligent and motivated people, who possess basic skills such as keyboarding, word processing, and other computer skills, and provide the training to these individuals themselves.

Learn the 10 Factors That Matter to Big Firms More Than Where You Went to Law School

It is not uncommon for law students today to have spent two to three years, or more, working in a law firm or other organization, before coming to law school. Many law students continue these pre-legal positions while they go to law school, either cutting back on their work hours to part-time status while they are in school, or continuing to work full time, but attending law school part time in the evening. One potential advantage of working in a law-related position before or during law school, is that there may be an increased probability of obtaining employment with that organization as a lawyer after graduation. Even more important, however, employment in a legal setting may help you to decide whether you want to work in law at all. You will see up close that the practice of law is very different from the images of legal work garnered from books, television, and secondhand anecdotal information.

V.S. Hews and Other Rankings

Each year U.S. News and World Report produces a ranking of law schools that is relied on extensively by many law school applicants and their advisors. The rankings, based on both statistical data and surveys of lawyers, judges and legal educators, have a tendency to imbue a degree of certainty into the process of evaluating law schools that does not exist in reality. Other similar surveys, reported by different publications, fall into the same trap. They all presume that a single set of measurable criteria will work for all applicants. This is simply not the case.

The American Bar Association has circulated a statement warning students against the uncritical use of law school rankings (see box below). This position is supported by the Law School Admissions Council and most law school deans and admissions officers.

Rating of Law Schools

No rating of law schools beyond the simple statement of their accreditation status is attempted or advocated by the American Bar Association. Qualities that make one kind of school good for one student may not be as important to another. The American Bar Association and its Section of Legal Education and Admissions to the Bar have issued disclaimers of any law school rating system. Prospective law students should consider a variety of factors in making their choice among approved schools.

If you look at a ranking system such as U.S. News, do so with a skeptical eye. Remember that reputations in legal education are established over decades. Recognize that different schools are "''best" for different people. And accept the fact that all ABA-approved law schools go through the same rigorous accreditation process.

Literature and the Media

Lawyers are portrayed in a variety of lights in literature and the media. Many of the images of lawyers in television and film, as well as in books and the news, are exaggerated, distorted, and stereotypical. It is very difficult to capture the essence of legal work through a literary or cinematic eye. Notwithstanding this limitation, the pervasiveness of media images of lawyers makes it inevitable that we are influenced by these images. Even lawyers themselves are sometimes influenced by their own media hype.

There are a number of excellent books and films on the legal profession, and regular viewing of court proceedings and discussion of legal issues on Court TV, CNN, and C-SPAN can be highly illuminating. Here are a few specific recommendations on books and films:
 
  • The Bramble Bush by Carl Llewellyn. Still a classic on the thought process of legal analysis.
     
  • The Paper Chase by John Jay Osborne. The book, or the movie with John Houseman as the quintessential law professor who does intellectual battle with his less-than-equal first-year student nemesis, Hart.
     
  • One L by Scott Turow. Probably a more realistic picture of law school, based on Turow's school notes about the first year of law school.
     
  • A Civil Action by Jonathan Harr. A riveting account of the colossal battle between a brash, aggressive plaintiff lawyer and an icon of the Boston legal establishment in an environmental pollution case in the town of Woburn, Massachusetts-a true story. Read the book; skip the movie.
     
  • Inherit the Wind. The book, the play, the movie, all three a fictionalization of the Scopes Monkey Trial, in which a Tennessee science teacher was prosecuted for teaching evolution. The lawyers in the real case were three-time presidential candidate William Jennings Bryan and famed defense counsel Clarence Darrow.
     
  • A Few Good Men, with Jack Nicholson and Tom Cruise, tells the story of military justice, after a commander's rigid discipline leads to a soldier's death. We all know that the villain doesn't usually break down on the stand in real life, but Jack makes us believe anyway.
     
  • Gideon's Trumpet by Anthony Lewis. If ever you wanted a reason to become a lawyer, this is it: indigent man fights to the Supreme Court for the right to be represented by counsel.
     
  • To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee, or the movie with Gregory Peck. A classic in print or film: small town Southern lawyer stands for courage and dignity as he faces the challenges of practicing law, while standing up for truth, justice, and the American way of life.
     
  • Anything by John Grisham. Sure, the plots are far-fetched, and the dialogue hardly Hemingway, but each one of Grisham's tales provides great imagery on different practice settings from plaintiff practice {The Where Can I Find Information about Law School? Rainmaker), to elite corporate work (The Firm), to high profile criminal cases (Time to Kill).
     
  • Kramer v. Kramer. Dustin Hoffman and Meryl Streep fight for custody in a courtroom drama that demonstrates how justice isn't always easy to find in the courtroom.
     
  • Erin Brockovich. Feisty paralegal played by Julia Roberts helps expose Pacific Gas & Electric pollution coverup. Based on a true story.

The list could go on and on, because lawyers, trials, and the stories of people who encounter the justice system provide such fertile soil for intriguing plotlines. Whether the source is books, movies, or TV (depictions of lawyers on the small screen are legion), it is possible to learn about the work of lawyers by watching how they are depicted in various media. What you learn may not dictate your choices about law school, but it may provide useful clues to help you answer your questions.

It should be apparent to you that in order for you to gather information about law schools, you need to evaluate information from a variety of sources in light of your own aspirations. The decision to attend law school may involve the outlay of one hundred thousand dollars, or more, in direct costs, and require you to forego other income for a period of three or four years. For this reason, the decision to go to law school should not be made lightly.

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