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How to Plan Going to Law School: What to Do to Prepare as an Undergraduate and Where You Should Go

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Summary: The field of law is very competitive. This is why it is never too early to begin preparing for law school.
How to Plan Going to Law School: What to Do to Prepare as an Undergraduate and Where You Should Go
  • Law school and the practice of law are enormous commitments.
  • In fact, the legal industry is so competitive, that it benefits anyone to begin preparing for law school as early as possible.
  • So what does as early as possible mean? At the very least, it means undergraduate school for many.

For a lot of us, childhood was about being hammered; hammered that is by adulthood. In the case of some of us, our parents made us think in a manner that some social anthropologists and psychologists among other socially related fields of study would regard as unhealthy. We were encouraged, if not persuaded with language, fear, responsibility and eventual social belonging to be successes and actively think about our future careers from a very early age.

For example, at 10 years old, some of our peers were entered into the fledgling beginnings of honors programs at our schools, then on weekends, enrichment studies. Sure, we had pastimes, playtimes – all sorts of time, particularly during winter, spring and summer break. But much of that time was spent shoring our academic foundation.

We took college-level extension courses while in middle school, and by the time our freshman year in high school was in full swing, we already realized a career path that we’d like to take. The thing is with this, often that career path was non-negotiable once we accepted it, and our parents began paying for the necessary assets that would better prepare us for the mandatory education we were to eventually receive.

Thus, it was never too early to prepare. From medicine to the sciences, engineering to advanced education in the arts – our track found us as soon as we found it. And the grip was as relentless as the pressure – for better or worse – was on the demands that we learn, plan, plan, learn, then rinse and repeat the plan and learn thing.

And why was this? Because this is what it took to be placed on the road to a successful career; it took early planning as the fields we chose that invariably lead to a successful and fulfilling (financially and otherwise) future, were often highly competitive. This is why we planned ahead, or at least were told by voices of authority that this is why we were encouraged to plan now for the future.
When is it too early to plan for a career in law (or any field for that matter)

To be honest, it’s never too early. Then, on the other hand, it’s always too early. Here’s what’s meant by that.

While some young adults pick out their future careers, others are somewhat forced into theirs, particularly by their parents. Thus, there are two categories that exist for young students who are on a career track, law notwithstanding. There are those young students who:
  • Choose their career path for themselves: And with that, get the support of parents, teachers and peers, etc.
  • Have their career paths chosen for them: The helicopter parents, tiger moms and dads, or whatever pop culture likes to call them these days insist that junior will be a game player in a science, medicine or law. And they do everything they can short of shackling their children to their desk or the kitchen table to make certain they exploit every educational opportunity available to achieve their dream for their kids – and not necessarily the kids’ dreams him or herself.

Of course, your childhood may vary. But the facts as they stand regarding of early planning of a career, particularly a law career, have unparalleled benefits.

For instance, with law, no one needs to tell you that it is a competitive field. All you need do is read online about acceptance rates of the top law schools throughout the nation (and yes, when’s all said and done, it will behoove you and your law career to attend one of the top schools in the nation), the range of LSAT scores that will help you get into a top law school, and the bar exam difficulty and passage rates (depending upon your state) in order for you, after graduating law school, to proceed onward toward a legal career within your practice area.

In short all this “effort,” from a straight-A grade point average, to enrichment courses, to plans and resolve to attend a top-tier law school while still in undergraduate demonstrate how competitive and demanding law school and the law profession is.

If that doesn’t tell you the sooner you prepare the better, you might be heading into the wrong profession.

5 steps to prepare:

Preparing yourself for law school

If law school and the practice of law is truly in your future’s wheelhouse, then preparation for what’s to come in lieu of a legal education cannot occur soon enough.

College lists these five steps that future law students should take while in undergraduate school in order to be better prepared for their education. As the website states, everything a student does throughout their four years in college can either help or hurt them when they start applying to law schools. This is why it’s important that future law students think about their courses, extracurricular activities, jobs and internships in terms of how each can affect their prospects.
  • Choose the best major and courses for your academic and professional goals. Law schools accept students who have studied just about any major you can think of, but some majors will prepare you better than others. A recent publication reported the findings of Derek Muller, a professor at Pepperdine University, who examined the mean LSAT (Law School Admission Test) scores and undergraduates GPAs by major for law school applicants in 2013. Students who majored in subjects such as classics, international relations, and philosophy fared the best, perhaps because those majors require the critical thinking skills that law school demands.
  • Develop your skills as a writer. If you think you’ve had to do a lot of writing in undergrad, just wait until law school. Daily writing assignments (in addition to more reading than you’ve ever done in your life) are the norm. Refine your writing skills by taking a few classes that require a great deal of writing and in which you’ll get ample feedback on your work. This is especially important if you’re majoring in subjects such as the sciences or business, which don’t always require many detailed research papers. Growing as a writer will help you both in law school and in your career as a lawyer, when clear and concise communication will be imperative.
  • Join a pre-law group. Joining a pre-law society such as Phi Alpha Delta will help you meet friends and future colleagues with similar interests and goals. Plus, if you begin working on the law school application process during your junior or senior year, it will be encouraging to surround yourself with peers who are facing similar challenges such as figuring out which schools to apply to, studying for the LSAT, and securing recommendations.
  • Build relationships with your professors. Whether you’re a freshman or a senior, it’s important to develop relationships with your professors for several reasons. Yes, you’ll likely need to ask some of them for recommendations when you start applying to law schools. But you’ll also get more out of your classes if you make an effort to engage with them during class and take advantage of their office hours when you have questions. Don’t sit in the back of the class, make sure your professors know your name, and discuss your performance with them throughout the semester so it won’t be awkward when you have to turn to them for favor.
  • Start studying for the LSAT well in advance. The LSAT is a beast. It requires a lot of preparation, and cramming isn’t an option, so it’s best to spread out your studying over as much time as possible. Take a prep course if you can (they can be pricey, but a quick Google search yields many low-cost options), or grab a few test prep books and get to work on your own or with a friend or study group. Your LSAT score is hugely important to your admission decisions (it’s far more important than the SAT is for undergrad), so give yourself as much time as possible to prepare and don't take it lightly.
Know your stats

It’s always a good practice when applying to any post-graduate program, law notwithstanding, to know where you stand in the fray of other students who hope to accomplish the same as you with their future.
As was earlier said, law school can be very competitive. In fact, law schools in and of themselves are extremely competitive with each other. How are they competitive? Through their graduates, and even more pressing, the law firms those graduates eventually go to begin their practice. This is why it befits undergraduates to do as well as possible during their first four years of college, and of course apply themselves beyond academics through internships, community service, or other extracurricular activities such as an art or a sport.
Sure, while there are those within the legal education and practice business who maintain anything beyond academic grades and the LSAT matters very little to a top law school, you never know. Some law schools may take into account how well-rounded you are as a person and a student, which can only come from having real-life experiences outside of the day-to-day four-year grind of college studies.
Then, of course, there is your state’s bar exam. You need to know how difficult that exam is, especially when compared to other states’ bar exams. Because the bar exams in states such as California and Louisiana are so difficult, newly graduated attorneys tend to avoid these states simply because of toughness of their bar exams.
Below are two charts that are imperative to undergraduates who are considering law school and a career in law. The first chart shows the top 25 law schools in the nation, while the second chart reveals the states with the toughest bar exams.
Top 25 law schools

This graph is based on a 2019 report by U.S. News and World Report:
Ranking School name Enrollment
1 Yale University 625
2 Stanford University 565
3 Harvard University 1,757
4 University of Chicago 597
5 Columbia University 1,264
6 New York University 1,364
7 University of Pennsylvania 736
8 University of Michigan— Ann Arbor 931
9 University of California— Berkeley 936
9 University of Virginia 912
11 Duke University 666
11 Northwestern University (Pritzker) 657
13 Cornell University 597
14 Georgetown University 1,749
15 University of Texas— Austin 889
16 University of California— Los Angeles 942
17 Vanderbilt University 557
18 Washington University in St. Louis 677
19 University of Southern California (Gould) 624
20 University of Minnesota 558
21 University of California— Irvine 420
22 Boston University 719
22 Emory University 853
24 George Washington University 1,296
25 University of Notre Dame 600
States with the most difficult bar exams

Provided by a recent LawCrossing feature, the following text reveals the six most difficult states to pass the bar exam.

The list of which states have the most difficult bar exams continuously change because states keep changing whether or not they will implement the UBE. However, as of publication, the following are the non-UBE states where it is notoriously hard to pass the bar.
  • California: The California Bar Exam is infamous for its high failure rate, and it is well-known throughout the country for being one of the most difficult exams…ever. The exam tests on state-specific laws as well as portions from the UBE, and the state has the second highest cut score in the country. Dean Jennifer Mnookin from UCLA Law told LawCrossing that this high cut score basically requires students to get a higher “grade” than students in every other state besides Delaware.
  • Louisiana: Louisiana has a reputation for being difficult because the state has a unique legal system that candidates must know to pass. But what further baffles its test-takers is that it uses none of the NCBE tests such as the MBE or MEE, which even states not administering the UBE usually utilize. Louisiana’s test is a tortuous 21 hours and is a blend of essays, short answer questions, and multiple choice questions. For the July 2016 test, only 66% of its test-takers passed.
  • Nevada: Nevada’s pass rate for the February 2017 exam was 49%, earning it one of the worst rates in the country. The test uses the MBE and MPT, but what makes it hard for its lawyer hopefuls is the state-specific essay questions. The two and a half day long test also has a high cut score.
  • Virginia: Virginia has a high cut score, and its test could potentially quiz candidates on 24 topics for the Virginia essay portion. This is about 5 more than every other state, and it’s this extra level of studying that makes Virginia one of the hardest bar exams in the country.
  • Arkansas: Arkansas’ bar exam is administered over two days, and it is difficult because of its numerous state and local law-specific questions. While Hillary Clinton said the test was easier than the bar in Washington DC, it seems to stump everyone else. February 2016’s test had an abysmal 51% pass rate.
  • Maryland: The Maryland bar exam uses the MBE and MPT, but test-takers tend to hit a wall when it comes to the state essay questions, which are heavily weighted. Proof of Maryland’s difficult bar exam can be seen in the February 2016 test where only 53% of its hopefuls passed.
Conclusion:Just don’t burn out

Even with all the love and desire you may have to study law, get a law degree then go on to practice law, there still stands a chance that all your preparation can burn you out. It is imperative more than anything else, that you maintain a healthy and balanced lifestyle as you prepare yourself to practice law.

After all, practicing law will be a difficult as it is. There will be pressure to perform and deadlines to respect, not to mention sudden assignments from partners, senior partners on down to senior associates.

In short, enjoy your time now even as preparing yourself for law might seem frivolous, tedious or terrifying. Remember, it truly is never too early to prepare yourself for your law career. In fact, the sooner you do so, the better off you will be.

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