After six years of pre-legal education, three years of law school, 35 years of practicing law and eight years of teaching in a law school, I have developed many thoughts about preparing for law school and a legal career.
First, there is no one best way to prepare for law school and a legal career. There are all kinds of legal practice and careers, and some types of pre-law might be useful for one type of career, but not for another. For example, in recent years intellectual property law (copyrights, patents and trademarks) has been a “hot” area of practice, and a background in chemistry, biology, physics, engineering or computer science often is very helpful to lawyers in that area. But such background would not be especially useful to other lawyers. Gaining a competence in a foreign language (especially Spanish or Chinese or Japanese or Arabic) will be very useful for a U.S. lawyer specializing in legal work for foreign clients or for U.S. clients doing business abroad. Selection of an undergraduate major and courses depends, in part, on what excites the student and the student’s abilities.
Second, it is tempting for an undergraduate to take law courses (e.g., constitutional law) in the hope that it would give the student a “leg up” in law school. But I believe this temptation should be resisted.
Third, one of the most important type of undergraduate courses for someone who wants to be a lawyer is a course that focuses on careful reading and interpretation of original texts, rather than pre-digested text books about a subject, e.g., literature courses and original historical research. Why? Because a lawyer is always reading and interpreting the original text of statutes, regulations and cases. While there are particular methods of interpreting such legal texts, the challenge of doing the same with other types of texts is very useful for the budding lawyer.
Fourth, also extremely important are courses that require a lot of expository and argumentative writing that is analyzed by someone who is skilled in evaluating and teaching such writing. On the other hand, there is less utility in writing poetry, short stories or novels.
Fifth, the following other undergraduate courses would be useful to most lawyers:
- U.S. history;
- U.S. government;
- basic accounting that is the foundation for understanding financial statements;
- speech or debate or courses that develop oral presentation skills;
- computer usage; and
Sixth, I spent the first semester of my junior year at American University on the Washington Semester Program. It was very informative about U.S. government. I highly recommend it or similar programs.
Seventh, outside undergraduate courses, an individual has many other ways to learn more about legal careers in an effort to decide whether he or she wants to go to law school and pursue a legal career. Introduce yourself to one or more attorneys in the town and ask them what they like and dislike about their work and their suggestions on preparing for law school and a legal career.. You might even get a part-time job offer. Attend trials in the community. Go to larger cities and observe arguments in the appellate courts. Scan general periodicals about the U.S. legal profession. The American Lawyer is a monthly publication that comments on major trends in the law and large firm developments. The National Law Journal is a weekly publication about the law and legal profession. The American Bar Association Journal is the monthly publication of the American Bar Association. Obviously at some point an individual would visit a law school and attend some classes.