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The Mural,   James Sicner                                                                    Law School

 

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After Trinity

Advice to Pre-Law Students

 

QUESTION: Which courses should I take to prepare for law school? What should be my major subject?

ANSWER: Law schools will accept any qualified student from any undergraduate background. Therefore, my advice to you is to major in that subject which interests you. If you like your courses, you will probably do better in those subjects, and this will help your grade average. A good GPA is important to law schools! There are some courses that you should take which will help you later in law school. I have listed these recommended courses in the appendix section.

QUESTION: What should my GPA and score on the Law School Admission Test (LSAT) be to qualify me for law school?

ANSWER: Admission to law school is based on competition. For example, if a school only has 100 openings in their freshman class, and 400 people apply, then you can see that the competition is going to be rather stiff. Law schools' admissions will become even more competitive since many schools are reducing the numbers of their admissions. For example, over the last five years, the University of Oklahoma has reduced its entering class size from 240 to 170. As a rough rule or average, the nationally famous schools, such as Harvard, Yale, Stanford, or California, will choose most of their students from those who have made 164 or over on the LSAT and have a 3.7 GPA or better. Most state universities, such as the University of Oklahoma, will take the bulk, but not all, of their students from a 158 LSAT and a 3.5 GPA on up. (The OU average scores are now 160 LSAT and 3.6 GPA.) For someone who has less than 150 LSAT and less than a 3.0 GPA, there are many private law schools which will admit students in these instances. If you want to check on any law school in particular, obtain a copy of The Official Guide to ABA-Approved Law Schools or view it online. This book contains general information about all accredited law schools and has information in regard to the average GPA and LSAT scores of the last group of applicants to each of the schools listed. Once you know your GPA and LSAT combination score, then you can find those schools where you have the best chances of being admitted.

QUESTION: Do law schools place more emphasis upon grades or the LSAT or letters of reference?

ANSWER: Each school has its own set of criteria, but it is safe to say that grades and the LSAT score are by far the most important elements. Most schools weigh the GPA and LSAT scores roughly equally. The importance of reference letters varies widely. Some schools do not ask for letters; some do; and others make it optional. If you are not sure about a school’s policy in regard to letters of reference, then call or write the school and ask the admissions officer to explain their policy. If you do provide letters, then make sure that those persons know you well enough to write letters which describe your particular academic and personal qualifications. General letters of reference are not very useful. Moreover, letters from famous persons (judges, politicians, etc.) are not very helpful, unless that person really knows you. Most schools prefer to have reference letters from your college teachers.

QUESTION: Assuming that my GPA and LSAT scores are good enough to give me some choice as to law schools, how should I determine which school is the best for me?

ANSWER: This is a very difficult question for me to answer because so much depends on your own likes and dislikes. Let me give a few guidelines.

Location: If you are fairly certain as to which state you want to live in, then you should go to a school in that state. You will know the law of that state; you will meet people with whom you will be interacting for the rest of your professional career; you will be in a position to hunt for a job; and it will be easier for you to pass the bar exam than if you are an out-of-state person.

Prestige: If you think you can qualify for one of the famous, nationally known schools, then do apply! Students at these schools are in an advantageous position to seek jobs with the top law firms from all over the U.S. as well as corporate and governmental employment. However, these schools are expensive! Some of the schools in this category are Harvard, Yale, Columbia, New York University, Georgetown, University of Virginia, University of Michigan, University of Wisconsin, University of Chicago, University of California-Berkeley, and Stanford. Here in the Southwest, University of Texas and Southern Methodist University have excellent reputations.

Specialization: Many students have a particular interest which they want to combine with a law degree. For example, a student in sociology may want a career in law enforcement; or an engineer may want to be a patent attorney; or a petroleum engineer may want to specialize in oil and gas law. Most law schools do not have a wide range of specializations in their curriculum. If you want to pursue a specialty, then you must do a lot of research on your own by reading school catalogues, visiting law school websites, using The Official Guide to ABA-Approved Law Schools, and talking with lawyers and professors. Generally speaking, the “prestige” schools listed above have the best offerings in areas of specialization. A state law school, however, may have a well-known area of specialization. (OU is known for its courses on oil and gas.)

Keep in mind, though, if you want to be a specialist, then you may have to go to school for one or two years beyond the basic JD degree and earn an LLM, which is the master’s degree in law. Also, many law schools are now offering joint degrees, which may be a good way for you to combine law with some other area of specialization. For example, the OU College of Law will grant you an MBA (Masters in Business Administration) and a law degree after the completion of a certain number of courses in both fields. These combined programs will usually take one, sometimes two, years of school beyond the basic law degree, which by itself normally takes three years to complete.

QUESTION: What if I am not accepted at law school the first time I apply? May I apply again?

ANSWER: Do not be easily discouraged. You still have three options left.

First, you may apply to a school with less rigorous admission standards. There are many schools with lesser reputations which can still offer a good, basic legal education. There is also the chance that you might transfer to a more prestigious school if you have good grades in your first year of law school.

Second, many schools now have admision by performance programs. These are primarily designed for disadvantaged students such as minority group persons, the physically handicapped, people with learning disabilities, and students from economically or educationally disadvantaged backgrounds. If you think you fit any of these categories, then visit with the admissions office about applying for the program. You will take regular law classes during a summer session. If you do well, then you are admitted to the regular fall term.

Third, you may wait a year or two and reapply. In fact, I often advise students to work for a few years after undergraduate school before going on to law school. Work experience can be very valuable. I have talked with many law professors who maintain that their best students are the “older” students. It is no disgrace to be turned down, and it does not prejudice your case to wait a few years before going on to school.

QUESTION: When should I apply for law school?

ANSWER: Most law schools take in a new class of students in the fall term only. So you must apply by the preceding spring. Watch deadlines carefully. If you applying to an out-of-state school, you may face a January or February deadline. Also, some scholarships have December or January deadlines. Finally, I should mention that many schools (state universities and private schools) have early admissions starting as early as January 1st. I suggest that you write to schools in which you are interested in the early fall of your senior year for catalogues and information. Then you can plan ahead to meet various deadlines.

I also urge students to take the LSAT in the summer between their junior and senior years or at the first exam in the fall. This allows you to get your scores back with enough time left to make your plans for applications to various schools. If you start early, you will not be caught by deadlines.

QUESTION: How do I prepare for the LSAT? If I don’t do well, may I take it over?

ANSWER: I strongly urge you to do some “prep” work. This test is not like the standardized tests which you took in high school or the ACT or SAT. The LSAT is a test that measures your ability to think in a logical manner. There are basically three ways to prepare for the LSAT.

Do-it-yourself: This is the cheapest. When you are preparing to register for the LSAT, you will need to get the official LSAT/LSDAS Registration and Information Book. This book contains some sample questions. You may order old exams (complete with answer keys, etc.) from the ABA Service Center. These are referred to as Official LSAT PrepTests and cost $30 each (10 tests). There is also a publication called Triple Prep Plus. It is three old exams complete with detailed explanations of the right answers. (See appendix for address to write for these prep tests or order online.) Also, you can go to regular bookstores and buy books and CDs to study for the LSAT.

Weekend seminars: These cost around $400-$500. You attend intensive lectures Friday night, all day Saturday and most of Sunday. You will receive some written materials and take a sample test.

Private tutoring programs: Stanley Kaplan Company, The Princeton Review, and Test Masters. Kaplan is a nationwide tutoring service for a variety of exams such as the LSAT, GMAT, GRE, etc. Their fee for the LSAT is in the $1,000 range. Some scholarship aid is available. This service includes live instruction (usually one night per week for eight weeks) and access to additional practice and tests online. Also, if you are disappointed with your LSAT score, you may repeat the Kaplan course at no charge.

The Princeton Review is very similar to Kaplan in cost and format. It also has private tutors available.

A new national LSAT school is Test Masters. It is similar to Kaplan and Princeton Review and costs $1,250.

If you do not do well on the LSAT, you may take it over. Generally, schools will simply average the scores. However, many schools will take the second or third test over the first if you have a significant improvement in your score. Here again is another reason for taking the LSAT exam in the summer or early fall. If you do not do well, you will have enough time to take it again and still apply to schools before their deadlines pass.

QUESTION: What about scholarships and other forms of aid?

ANSWER: The Law School Admission Council publishes a brochure Financial Aid for Law School: A Preliminary Guide (also available online). This booklet and others are available at the financial aid offices of the law schools. Check with the financial aid office of the schools in which you are interested. Furthermore, if you are a minority and/or woman student, there are some specialized programs and information available to you. (See appendix for further information.)

Many law schools have increased their own scholarship funds. At OU, for example, approximately 40% of students get some financial help, ranging from tuition assistance to full three-year scholarships. Be sure to contact the schools to which you are applying for further information.