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Pre-Law School FAQ

These are my answers to actual questions people have sent me about going to law school. Take with a grain or two of salt.

NOTE: Don’t miss U.Miami’s 29 Critical Questions to ask Today.

Q. What should I major in to be a good law student or a good lawyer?

A. If you really want to be a good lawyer, I don’t personally recommend majoring in anything directly related to law as an undergraduate, or even taking courses in it. That includes “Juvenile Justice”. Colleges always teach the stuff “wrong” from the point of view of a lawyer – maybe right from the point of view of a cop or probation officer or something, but wrong from the point of view of someone who needs to work with law rather than recite it. So you will start out behind the other students since you will have to ‘unlearn’ what you think you know. Really. Far, far, better to major in something that teaches you about the world: history, economics, literature, math or even art. You will get all the law you need in law school – why waste college getting a 3rd-rate version of it? Why not get the stuff that makes you a well informed person, and thus a much better lawyer in the long run.

The only rule that over-rides the one above is: major in what you like best. Because ultimately you will get the best grades in what you like best, and grades count! A lot. A whole lot. Especially if you are not going to college at a very high prestige Ivy League or similar school.

If possible – it’s not essential – I’d try to take the following courses at some point regardless of what you major in:

  • two semesters of economics
  • at least one Intro to Philosophy and/or Political Philosophy
  • as much US history as you can stand (law is about context, and precedents must be understood in the context of their times)
  • a course that covers the structure of the US political/governmental system

Big bonus points if you can manage a course in basic statistics. I also very highly recommend you subscribe to a first-rate national newspaper and read it every day (your college may have a student discount deal). You will learn essential information about the political and legal system without even realizing how much you are learning. The New York Times is the best, but if your interests are more business oriented then the Wall St. Journal or the Financial Times are ok too. Local papers don’t really have enough national and international news to cut it.

Get the above under your belt and you are really ready for law school!

Q. How do I pick a law school?
Q. How do I pick a college?

A. In general, I would say to maximize your career options you should go to the ‘best’ law school (or college) you can afford without much regard to specializations (your tastes may change). In case of tie, try to find the one where students are less unhappy. That said, if you can, go visit them.  Go to the cafeteria or a big quadrangle where people congregate. look around. do people look happy? miserable?  Sit down at a big table full of people. Announce you are thinking of applying. Ask them if you should.

There are, however, two important exceptions to the rule above.

First, if you know for sure where you want to live and work after you graduate, you should also seriously consider a law school located in that community, as being there will help you make contacts and get part time and summer jobs that lead to permanent offers. Of course, if you get into Yale, you should go no matter what. I did, and I think it’s a wonderful place.

Second, money matters. If the choice is between high debt and low or no debt, then I don’t think the rule is as simple as take the “best” school. Instead, the answer depends a lot on how good the best school you got into is, and how much lower down the pecking order your other choice is.

Suppose, for example, you got a giant scholarship at UM. Unless you are certain you want to practice in South Florida I’d say if you got into a top 5 law school it’s a no-brainer: go there. And indeed, if your South Florida ambitions are big corporate law, rather than something noble like the Public Defender’s office, I’d also probably advise that you go the top 5 route. Odds are still good you will be able to earn back the money unless you are right at the bottom of your class. For the next ten or so schools, it may still make sense to take on the debt — it depends on what other resources you have, how you feel about the geography, and a lot of other personal factors. But as you work down the pile past that point, I think being debt-free, or relatively debt-free starts to look more an more compelling.

On the other hand, even if you are offered a full ride by a school whose graduates have relatively poor prospects, I think that it may not make sense to sign up for three years of hard work. If the debt is too much to face — and that may be a rational view — maybe you shouldn’t go to law school at all, or you should wait a couple of years, save some money, and try again.

I also recommend you read the LSAC message on choosing a law school.

Miami’s admissions office’s web page is here.

Q. I am very interested in studying law and will do almost anything to succeed in my goals. I was not able to graduate high school, however I did get my G. E. D. I did very well on the test. I need some advice on how and where to begin at achieving my goals. I want to know if I could start at a community college here, taking my basic classes, then transfer to a school of law in the future? I am not sure if any schools will accept my G. E. D.

A. Law schools in the US all require a 4-year B.A. degree or equivalent as a pre-requisite to admission. So I’m afraid the road is a little longer than you imagined: first 4 years of college then 3 years of law school. If you do well in college, having a GED may help you more than hurt you: since law school is such a long tough slog, there’s nothing better than a sign of true grit and determination. On the other hand, law schools tend to be kinda more snobbish about where you got your college degree, and especially what your grades and LSAT scores were (students commonly take the LSAT about a year before they apply to law school). We don’t much care what you major in – although something with the word “pre” in it is bad (“pre-law” is not a good choice, for example) – but we care a lot about how you did and how tough the program was.

It’s helpful if you take college courses that involve writing, rather than those that involve just multiple-choice tests. A lot of lawyering involves good writing, and we don’t teach that – we expect you to learn it before you get here (and we’re often disappointed, but that’s another story….).

So my advice is to plan out a strategy that ends up with a BA degree from a college or university (not a community college), in a major you really like, having taken some classes that require you write a paper or two along the way.

Q.  I just graduated from high school in {the UK/most commonwealth countries other than Canada} and I  would like to come to Miami to do my B.A. in law.

A. Unlike in your country, law is a “post-graduate” (we’d say ‘graduate’ or ‘professional’) subject in the USA. All of our students have a BA (in any subject of their choice) before being considered for admission. Hence, no high school student, however brilliant, may apply. You have to go to college first. It doesn’t matter what you study — just pick something you love and do well in it (avoid majors with the word “pre” in them, such as “pre-law” though).

Q. I am seeking a law school that will allow me to study via the internet. I have reviewed several web sites. Would you have a recommendation?

A. There is no nationally accredited law school that offers a JD via Internet, and both bar rules and law school accreditation rules forbid “home study”. It might be possible to do it at an un-accredited (ie lousy) California law school and then take the California bar — but no other (they have very loose rules over there). But I sure wouldn’t advise it.

Q. I am a foreign lawyer who would like to come to U.Miami to study Internet law.
Q. Does UM offer scholarships for foreign LL.M. students?

A. We’d love to have you here.  You should first check the Foreign and International Graduate Programs web page, then address all queries to the Office of International and Foreign Law Programs, University of Miami School of Law, P.O. Box 248087, Coral Gables, Florida 33124. Tel.+1 305-284-5402.  Email is intl-llm@law.miami.edu. Please be aware that the U.Miami School of Law directs almost all of its scholarship funds to J.D. students, and the funds for LL.M scholarships are very, very limited.

Last revised 4/16/12



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