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What You Need to Know and Do While Getting into Law School

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"But, good gracious, you've got to educate him first. You can't expect a boy to be vicious till he's been to a good school." - Saki(H.H. Munro)

Once you have made the commitment to study law, it is time to engage in some self-assessment and planning. The traditional path to law school and eventual lawyerhood requires a bachelor's degree (BA or BS). While it is still theoretically possible to gain entry to law school without a bachelor's degree, or even to qualify to sit for the bar exam without ever going to law school (at least in California), the requirements for doing either are extremely difficult to meet. The odds against successfully completing either endeavor following such nontraditional routes are also exceedingly great. Assuming, then, that you want to attend one of the 175 ABA-accredited law schools in this country, what do you do next?

General Overview

All law schools judge applicants on a number of factors, but two are most important: undergraduate grade point average (UGPA) and Law School Admissions Test (LSAT) score. For those of you who did not graduate from college magna cum laude or summa cum laude, take heart. While you may have missed your chance to go to law school at Harvard, Yale, or Stanford, there are still plenty of excellent law schools within your reach. If you carried substantially less than a B-average through college, your chances of entering the better schools are certainly lessened, but other factors can compensate to some extent.

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Affirmative action, special skills or talents, unusual backgrounds, life experiences, evidence of strong perseverance or motivation, and strong LSAT scores can all overcome a relatively low UGPA.

On the other hand, an excellent UGPA alone does not guarantee your pick of the law school crop either. Because the LSAT score is usually weighted at least as heavily in the admissions calculus as UGPA and is considered by many to be a better and more objective predictor of law school success, many undergraduate academic stars are not accepted by the prestigious law schools of their choice. The LSAT is a standardized test specifically geared to test for the kinds of logic, comprehension, verbal, and analytical skills that prove helpful to the study of the law-skills that are not necessarily developed or encouraged by your undergraduate experience. The LSAT does not, however, test your drive, motivation, enthusiasm, or ability to memorize facts or learn over time.

Most law schools provide information about their current admissions standards in The Official Guide to U.S. Law Schools: The Pre-Law Handbook, which is published by the Association of American Law Schools. Given your LSAT score and UGPA, this information will allow you to make a reasonably accurate assessment of your chances of gaining admission to any given law school. The information also indicates, however, that intangible attributes play a major role once an applicant's scores place him within a certain range of acceptable candidates. The Pre-Law Handbook is a valuable resource and a must for the serious law school applicant.

The Pre-Law Handbook can be obtained, along with the Information Book (containing LSAT registration forms and information), by writing to LSAS (Law School Admissions Services), Box 2000, Newtown, PA 18940-0998. It is also available at many bookstores. Career guidance counselors at most universities and colleges will generally be able to give you a rough idea of which law schools you have a decent chance of getting into. Finally, you can also obtain information about admissions policies by writing directly to the admissions offices of the law schools that interest you.

The real secret to getting into the law school you want is to have a very high UGPA, a very high LSAT score, a very interesting and impressive personal statement, and glowing letters of reference from influential alumni who know you and your work well. Though few of us are so lucky, we can all make the best of the assets we do have.

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

Undergraduate Grade Point Average

Undergraduate grades are the product of a variety of factors, including intelligence, difficulty of major, and effort expended studying. By the time most people have decided to apply to law school, they are either already taking their college courses seriously or earning the best grades possible, or they are thinking of ways to minimize the adverse impact of relatively low grades.

If you are still in the early part of your college years and want to go to law school, do make every effort to get the best grades you can without depriving yourself of the joys of college life and the unique opportunities it presents. Also, take classes emphasizing writing and logical thinking, such as philosophy, English, rhetoric, and math. Such classes will develop skills that will be valuable throughout your law school studies.

Further, it cannot hurt your career options down the road to have taken engineering, chemistry, or biochemistry classes; intellectual property (for example, patents) and environmental law (for example, toxic torts) are currently hot areas of the law and will remain so in the foreseeable future. In light of the importance of Pacific Rim, Latin American, and European markets in our increasingly global economy, it is also definitely to your advantage to know a foreign language as well. Japanese, Mandarin, Cantonese, German, and Spanish, among other languages, could prove particularly helpful to a lawyer practicing in todays global marketplace.

Additionally, take classes that interest you, even if they do not seem related to your future legal career. Your interest in a class subject matter will normally translate into better grades, which will advance your pursuit of a legal career.

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