Five Tips For Crafting Your Pre-Law Experience
Ask any college admissions officer about the “pre-law” program at their school. You will likely get the same answer: there is no pre-law major or any other specific college major that is required for law school admissions.
Some colleges offer guidance than others. Siena College, located near Albany, New York, has a Pre-Law Certificate Program. While this program has no required courses, it has a recommended set of classes in writing, communications, mathematics and philosophy that are meant to help students develop skills that may help them to prepare for the LSAT as well as to succeed after being admitted to law school.
Located close to one state capital, Albany, and not far from another, Springfield, Massachusetts, Siena’s approach represents one of the better models for pre-law advising that I have learned about during campus visits. This is not limited to academic advising but also mentoring, a Mock Trial program, Summer Legal Fellows program, a Distinguished Jurist in Residence. While Siena is a liberal arts college, it also coordinates 4-3 early admission programs with three law schools.
Siena’s pre-law advisor is a faculty member. Other schools handle pre law advising differently. Some, like Dickinson College (PA), handle this quite well through their career development center. The University of Richmond (VA) combines faculty advising and career development to coordinate academic preparation, extracurricular and internship opportunities and the law school admission process.
But even when students attend schools as helpful as these, they still have the responsibility for researching and crafting their pre-law experience. While many college students set admission to law school as an educational objective, their pre-law experiences are not all the same. Below are five tips to help prospective attorneys craft their own.
- Consider what you might like to do as an attorney. Attorneys represent individuals, businesses, governments and groups that believe that they have been wronged by law enforcement authorities, the courts or the legislature. Each requires an attorney with a different set of interests and talents. Representing someone in a courtroom is quite different from drafting and reviewing contracts or legislation or leading a community-based campaign for a cause.
- Witness the law in action. Stop by a courthouse on a day when trials take place, and imagine yourself appearing before a judge and jury with a client’s problems in your hands. If you attend college in or near a state capital listen in on a legislative session or hearing. You might imagine yourself addressing the hearing, or listening to the testimony.
- Test the waters through internships or volunteer experiences that might spark your interests. Colleges offer many connections to internships with government agencies, legislative offices, judges offices and lobbying firms, among other organizations. These experiences make be paid—usually during the summer—or for academic credit.
- Test the waters through extracurricular activities. Many an attorney made their first connections through extracurricular activities such as competitive speech and debate, mock trials, student government, political action groups and campus newspapers, among other clubs and organizations. This is another area where a pre-law advisor should be helpful.
- Research other employment or educational options, when appropriate. If you want to argue cases in court, you have to be an attorney, have a law degree, and be admitted to the appropriate bar. But there are also successful business advisors, community advocates, policy makers and executives who do not have law degrees. They might have studied business, public policy, social work, among other subjects, or have continually worked since they finished their bachelor’s degree.
Law school graduates do move into rewarding careers after they finish their degree. However, law school is not the best place to “find yourself” if you have not considered your options before you decide to come. A law degree is important for understanding the law and how it applies to the clients you represent. However, it is not the best professional development program for someone who wants to learn how to manage a business, non-profit or government agency, other than a law firm or a legal department. The law school experience will work out for the better when you craft the best possible pre-law experience in college.
Need help in combining career planning with your college or graduate school search? Contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org or call me at 609-406-0062.