- What kind of careers can I have with a law degree?
- How do I know if I'm suited for law school?
- What should I major in if I'm interested in going to law school?
- What classes should I take if I'm interested in going to law school?
- How good do my grades need to be to get into law school?
- How successful are MSU applicants to law school?
- What is the Law School Admission Council (LSAC)?
- What is the Law School Admission Test (LSAT)?
- How do I register for the LSAT?
- When should I take the LSAT?
- Where can I take the LSAT?
- Can I take the LSAT more than once?
- How should I study for the LSAT?
- Should I take an LSAT review course?
- When should I go to law school?
- How do I pick which law schools to which to apply?
- Should I consider and online law school?
- How do I apply to law schools?
- What do law schools look for in an applicant?
- What should I write in my law school application personal statement?
- How long should my personal statement be?
- Whom should I ask to write letters of recommendation?
- What should be in a letter of recommendation?
- What is the difference between a letter of recommendation and an evaluation?
- How do I finance law school?
- How do I find out more information?
- Who at MSU can help me through the process?
What kind of careers can I have with a law degree?
You can use your law school education in an infinite number of ways. The most traditional legal career is to join a law firm, which range in size from one-person practices to global firms with thousands of employees. If you work in small firm (e.g. 1-20 attorneys) you are likely to have a general practice covering everything from personal injury matters to contract disputes to divorces and child custody cases. At a larger firm you are more likely to be able to specialize in a particular area of practice. Many attorneys in smaller firms appear in court regularly, but nationwide the majority of attorneys never appear in court, so you do not have to be a litigator to be an attorney.
Other common careers for attorneys include in-house counsel for private companies, government service (as prosecutors, public defenders, government regulators and elected officials), and non-profit management. Many attorneys also ultimately leave the practice of law to manage companies and other organizations.
How do I know if I'm suited for law school?
Contrary to popular belief, it is not necessary to love to argue to enjoy law school or be a successful lawyer. It is necessary, however, that you love to read, write and research. You should also enjoy exploring options when there are no clearly right answers, and you should be good at seeing things from other people's perspectives. If your tolerance for ambiguity is low, law school is probably not for you.
What should I major in if I'm interested in going to law school?
What you major in is much less important than having the skills you need to succeed in law school and as a professional. It is absolutely not necessary to major in Political Science. In fact, there are no preferred majors, and many law schools are delighted to see an applicant with a major that is not typical for law school students, such as engineering, biology or nursing. Recent successful MSU law school applicants have majored in business, biology, economics, education, engineering (chemical, civil, electrical), English, foreign languages, geology, history, nursing, political science, philosophy, psychology and sociology. So major in something that interests you and in which you will do well, not in a subject you think law schools want to see.
Required skills for law school success include:
- Critical thinking
- Logical reasoning
- Excellent written communication
- Oral communication
- Willingness to work very hard
What classes should I take if I'm interested in going to law school?
You should take demanding classes that improve your critical thinking, logical reasoning, and oral and written communication skills. You should also take classes that help you understand political, economic and social conditions in the U.S. and the world. Thus, at MSU, courses in the following departments will be useful to you:
- Political Science
- University Honors
Some specific courses that might interest you include:
- AGEC 337, Agricultural Law
- BUS 361, Introduction to Law
- COM 110, Introduction to Public Communication
- HDCF 425, Family Law & Public Policy
- HSTA 322, American History: WWII to Present
- LRES 430, Natural Resource Law
- NAS 426, Federal Indian Law & Policy
- PHL 212, Morality and Society
- PHL 312, Contemporary Moral Problems
- PHL 350, State, Community and Individual
- PSCI 210IS, Introduction to American Government
- PSCI 240, Introduction to Public Administration
- PSCI 260, Introduction to State and Local Government
- PSCI 306, Legislative Process
- PSCI 346, American Presidency
- PSCI 441, Montana Local Politics & Policy
- PSCI 461, Administrative Law
- PSCI 471, American Constitutional Law
- PSYX 325, Applied Critical Thinking
- SOCI 221IS, Criminal Justice System
- SOCI 313, Principles of Criminal Law and Procedures
- SOCI 357, Occupational/Corporate Crime
- SOCI 435, Law & Society
- SOCI 436, Law & Inequality
- WRIT 201, College Writing II
- WRIT 221, Intermediate Technical Writing
- WRIT 429, Professional Writing
How good do my grades need to be to get into law school?
The higher your GPA and your LSAT score the more likely you are to be admitted to the law school of your choice. As a general rule, you should have at least a 3.0 GPA. However, there is wide range of law schools and therefore a wide range of admission standards. How good your grades need to be depends on what law school you wish to attend. Please see more information below about how to determine to which law schools to apply.
The success of MSU applicants to law schools closely reflects national averages. The percent of MSU applicants accepted at at least one law school is approximately 65-75% compared to the national average of approximately 66-70%. The average GPA of MSU applicants is approximately 3.3-3.4 and the average LSAT score is approximately 152. Over the last 3 years, MSU applicants have been accepted at over 80 different law schools, including Arizona State University, the University of Colorado, the University of Denver, George Mason University, Michigan State University, the University of Montana, New England School of Law, Penn State, and the University of Washington.
What is the Law School Admission Council (LSAC)?
“The Law School Admission Council (LSAC) is a nonprofit corporation that provides unique, state-of-the-art products and services to ease the admission process for law schools and their applicants worldwide. More than 200 law schools in the United States, Canada, and Australia are members of the Council and benefit from LSAC's services.” http://www.lsac.org/AboutLSAC/about-lsac.asp. For most students, it is required that you register with LSAC in order to apply to law schools.
The LSAC offers a variety of services, the most important of which are the LSAT and the Credential Assembly Service. The LSAT is required for admission to most law schools in the U.S. and Canada (see more information about the LSAT below).
According to the LSAC website, “[t]he Credential Assembly Service streamlines law school admission by allowing applicants to have all transcripts, recommendations, and evaluations sent only once to the Law School Admission Council. LSAC summarizes and combines that information with LSAT scores and writing samples into a report, which is sent to an applicant's prospective law schools. The applicant's fee for this service also covers electronic application processing for all ABA-approved law schools. Nearly all ABA-approved law schools and many other schools require the use of the Credential Assembly Service for JD applicants.” http://www.lsac.org/AboutLSAC/about-lsac.asp.
What is the Law School Admission Test (LSAT)?
The LSAT is a standardized test required for admission to most law schools in the U.S. and Canada. The test does not ask factual questions but instead focuses on reading comprehension, analytical reasoning and logical reasoning. It consists of five 35-minute multiple choice sections, plus a writing sample that is not graded but is sent to all law schools to which you apply. The test is graded on a scale from 120 to 180, with 180 being the highest possible score.
The LSAT is administered four times each year, typically in September, December, February and June. In Montana, you can take the LSAT at: MSU (except in June); the University of Montana in Missoula; University of Great Falls (Dec. & Feb. only); or Carroll College in Helena. For more information, please go to http://www.lsac.org/JD/LSAT/about-the-LSAT.asp.
How do I register for the LSAT?
Please go to http://www.lsac.org/JD/LSAT/about-the-LSAT.asp.
When should I take the LSAT?
The LSAT is administered four times each year, typically in October, December, February and June. Generally we recommend taking the September/October test so you have your score when you apply to law schools in December. You may take the test more than once, but all scores are reported to law schools. There is usually no reason to take the test a second time unless your first score does not represent your true abilities due to some extenuating circumstance (e.g. you were sick the day you took the test).
Where can I take the LSAT?
MSU (except in June); the University of Montana in Missoula; University of Great Falls (Dec. & Feb. only); or Carroll College in Helena. For more information and other locations, please go to http://www.lsac.org/JD/pdfs/TestCenterCodes.pdf.
Can I take the LSAT more than once?
You may take the test more than once, but all scores are reported to law schools. There is usually no reason to take the test a second time unless your first score does not represent your true abilities due to some extenuating circumstance (e.g. you were sick the day you took the test). Most people who take the test more than once do not significantly increase their score the second time.
How should I study for the LSAT?
Because the LSAT tests thinking skills more than knowledge, you can't study for the test as much as you can practice for it. You can download a sample test at http://www.lsac.org/JD/LSAT/lsat-prep-materials.asp which is a good way to gauge your likely score.
We strongly recommend that you do prepare for the LSAT for several months before you take the test. Not only will you do better if you know what to expect, but most others applying to law schools will have practiced for it and you will put yourself at an unnecessary disadvantage if you do not prepare as well as possible.
One way to approach the LSAT is to take a sample test to determine which sections are easy for you and which are more challenging. Then you can devise a strategy for improving your performance, including practicing hundreds of questions, focusing in particular on the questions that are more difficult for you. The more you practice, the more you learn how to think about the questions, and the better you will do. Plus, you will be much less nervous going in to the test and will waste less time trying to figure out questions if you've seen similar questions hundreds of times before. For more information on preparing for the LSAT, go to http://www.lsac.org/JD/LSAT/preparing-for-LSAT.asp.
There are a variety of practice aids available in bookstores and online. Go to https://os.lsac.org/Release/Shop/Publications.aspx for a list of study aids and copies of actual LSATs given in the last several years. You can also choose from a variety of LSAT prep courses, which range from short to several months-long courses, both in-person and online. Without necessarily endorsing them, some LSAT prep courses include:
- Kaplan Test Prep and Admissions
- Knewton LSAT Prep
- Princeton Review
- Testmasters (weekend courses in Bozeman)
Should I take an LSAT review course?
That depends on how you are doing on practice tests. If you are doing well on all types of questions, you may not need a review course. However, since your LSAT score is a crucial ingredient of a successful law school application, you want to earn as high a score as possible. Often a review course can help you understand how to analyze a certain type of question and thus give you many time-saving tips that will help you improve your score. And, review courses typically make thousands of practice questions available. Ultimately, it is your call whether you think you would benefit from a review course.
Without necessarily endorsing them, some LSAT prep courses include:
- Kaplan Test Prep and Admissions
- Knewton LSAT Prep
- Princeton Review
- Testmasters (weekend courses in Bozeman)
When should I go to law school?
Many law schools prefer their applicants to have one or more years of work experience after college before they start law school. Taking some time off before going on to law school can help you gain experience that will place what you learn in law school in context and will allow you to get more out of your law school experience. Moreover, many students are burned out by the time they graduate from college and need a year or more to re-energize for the three challenging years of law school. In addition, you may be a better candidate for law school if you can gain additional experience that will strengthen and add interest to your resume. Teaching English in Japan for a year or two after college, for example, will make your law school application memorable and may even help make up for a less than outstanding GPA.
Many students, however, go right on to law school upon graduating from college. There is nothing wrong with this, but please keep in mind the benefits of gaining additional experience before law school.
How do I pick which law schools to which to apply?
There is an enormous variety among the 200+ law schools in the U.S. so you need to think through what you are looking for in a law school. Some questions to ask yourself include:
- How high do I want to aim?
Unless you are determined to stay in a particular region of the country for your whole life, it is generally a good idea to go to the "best" law school you can get into. Going to Harvard, Stanford, University of Michigan, University of Chicago, etc., will allow you to get almost any job you want. These schools are expensive, however, and very difficult to get into.
- Where would I like to live and work after law school?
If you would like to stay in Montana, the University of Montana School of Law might make a lot of sense, particularly if you are a Montana resident. If, however, you want to live and practice in a large city or overseas, a more "national" law school might be a better choice.
- What kind of law am I interested in?
Different law schools have different emphases. Therefore, look for law schools that focus on your particular area of interest, whether it be business, international, environmental, non-profit, sports, high-tech, etc. Many law schools allow you to earn a second degree while at law school, such as a joint MBA/JD program, and Master's degrees in a variety of fields including public policy, environmental studies and international trade/policy/business.
- What kind of career do I want?
If you want to become a partner at a major international law firm, you probably need to go to one of the top law schools in the country because such firms recruit almost entirely at the top law schools. On the other hand, if you want to stay in Montana and open your own law firm, the University of Montana School of law would be a good choice because the UM curriculum is very practically focused on making sure you know how to handle most legal issues that are likely to arise in your Montana-based practice.
- What kind of learning environment do I want?
Law schools are not all alike. Some focus on the practical nuts and bolts of practicing law, while others emphasize more the theory and policy of law with the notion that you will learn the nuts and bolts in your first job after law school. Some offer many electives while others allow very few. Some focus on in-class learning, while others emphasize practical experience in legal clinics. Explore a law school's pedagogical approach as you investigate possible programs.
- What are the typical scores of a successful applicant to a school?
You should be realistic about your chances of admission to a school if for no other reason that it costs real money for each application. Most law schools publish information about the median GPAs and LSAT scores of their applicants.
- How expensive is the school?
Law school programs are typically three years of full-time school (except in the summer, during which you would normally do a paid internship), so the cost of the school can be significant. While there are grants and scholarships available, be realistic about what you will be able to afford.
The LSAC website has very helpful information on finding the right law school for you at http://www.lsac.org/JD/Choose/customize-your-law-school-search.asp. You can search for law schools online at http://officialguide.lsac.org/release/OfficialGuide_Default.aspx, and at http://www.lsac.org/JD/Choose/law-school-links.asp#usa. Many books are available in bookstores and online that provide profiles and other information about law schools in the U.S. The official ABA/LSAC Guide to ABA Approved Law Schools is available at https://os.lsac.org/Release/Shop/Publications.aspx.
How do I apply to law schools?
Most law schools require you to apply through the LSAC. Please go to http://www.lsac.org/JD/apply/applying-to-law-school.asp for detailed information.
What do law schools look for in an applicant?
Most law schools seek to admit a diverse group of students into their first year class. Diversity comes in many forms, including academic achievement, geographic, economic, ethnic, gender, and interests and experience. Thus, while your GPA and LSAT score are very important, they are not the only things law schools are looking for. The more you can emphasize how interesting and accomplished a person you are the more likely a law school is to be interested in you. If you are from Montana and are applying to a law school outside the Northwest you already offer geographic diversity! For more information on what law schools look for, go to http://www.lsac.org/jd/apply/whom-to-admit.asp.
What should I write in my law school application personal statement?
The personal statement is your opportunity to describe who you really are, including such things as the experiences that have formed you, what motivates you, and what you want to accomplish. Try to make the reader of your essay like you and want to meet you. It takes a lot of time and effort to write such an essay without lapsing into platitudes and clichés. Moreover, while some applicants over-do the self-promotion, most actually tend to under-sell themselves. The best approach is to determine what your theme is, then develop your essay in a logical way using specific examples of your experiences and achievements to support your theme. Have many people read your various drafts and give you honest feedback. It is not unusual for this process to take several months, so start early!
Follow the instructions of each individual law school. If a school does not tell you how long the statement should be, do not go over three double-spaced pages. Not only do law schools value concise, clear writing, but admissions committee members who must review hundreds such essays prefer shorter, more compelling statements over longer, more rambling essays.
Whom should I ask to write letters of recommendation?
Most law schools request two or three letters of recommendation. Unless you have been out of school for more than a few years, faculty members are usually the best choice. Keep in mind that the best letter of recommendation addresses your skills and characteristics with reference to specific events or observations about you, so your recommender should know you pretty well. If you have a supervisor at work who knows you well and can write more than a general letter, s/he would be a good choice too.
Because letters of recommendation can make a real difference in your application, you should start to get to know your faculty members early in your college career. It is much easier for a faculty member to write an effective letter about you if she knows you as more than a just a quiet student in class who does good work.
When you ask for a letter of recommendation, give the recommender a copy of your resume, your transcript, and a draft of your personal statement for your law school application. These materials will enable the recommender to place his/her comments in the context of your achievements. Also, give your recommender the necessary forms (LSAC or the law school's form), and give him/her at least one month to complete his/her letter.
For more information about letters of recommendation and the Law School Admission Council, go to http://www.lsac.org/JD/Apply/cas-lor-evaluations.asp.
The best letter of recommendation is from a faculty member who knows you well and thus can write about you in a personal and specific manner giving examples to illustrate his/her comments. The letter should address:
- How well, for how long and in what capacity the recommender has known you
- Your intellectual skills
- Your communication skills
- Your personal qualities, including integrity and honesty
- Your task management skills
- Your interpersonal skills, including leadership and team skills
Most law schools require one or more letters of recommendation. Beginning in 2010, LSAC has created a new online tool called the LSAC’s Evaluation Service, which can be used in addition to, or instead of, letters of recommendation. Because this is a new service, very few law schools currently require such an evaluation, and many if not most still prefer a letter of recommendation rather than an evaluation. Check on the requirements for each school to which you plan to apply. When in doubt, it is probably better to solicit a letter of recommendation rather than an evaluation. For more information, go to http://www.lsac.org/jd/apply/cas-lor-evaluations.asp.
How do I finance law school?
There are grants and scholarships available both through law schools and other organizations. Moreover, keep in mind that public university law schools tend to be more affordable than private schools, and your in-state law school may be the most affordable of all.
Some useful websites include:
- American Bar Association
- HG.org Worldwide Legal Directories
- Internet Legal Research Group (scroll down to "Academia," then look at section III for lots of information about law schools, including rankings and admissions data)
- Law School Admission Council
Who at MSU can help me through the process?
Please contact Denise Malloy, M.Ed., J.D., Academic Advisor, University Studies, 130 Gaines Hall, firstname.lastname@example.org , (406) 994-3532. Ms. Malloy is an attorney who graduated from the University of Louisville Brandeis School of Law where she served as an editor on Law Review. She worked in a large civil litigation practice representing clients in health care and products liability defense cases, was a law clerk for the Honorable Thomas Emberton of the Kentucky Court of Appeals, and served as a Deputy County and Prosecuting Attorney in Wyoming.