Pre-Law Advising

What's Available Through the Pre-Law "Program"? 
  • Introductory Advising: Is law school right for you?  Majors/minors? Elective courses?
  • LSAT preparation options including our on-campus LSAT prep course, "Taking on the LSAT - and Winning!"
  • Weber State's unique "Building Block" approach to the application process (including our approach to resumes; the personal statement; recommendations).
  • Competitive legal simulations. See Dr. Gary Johnson for information about Weber State's nationally-ranked Mock Trial Team and Moot Court Team.
  • Financing law school.
  • Materials available to those interested in law school including:
    • Pre-Law Advising Guide
    • Law school catalogs and applications
    • The ABA-LSAC Official Guide to U.S. Law Schools
    • Information for Minority Students
    • Fee waiver applications (LSAT)
    • Law Services CD
    • LSAT prep tests.

ADVISING GUIDE FOR PRE-LAW STUDENTS

Weber State University
Department of Political Science & Philosophy
801-626-6694

1. INTRODUCTION: WHY THE LAW?

One should not be cavalier about the decision to attend law school. To earn a Juris Doctor degree one must commit to three additional years of arduous and intensely competitive graduate study (beyond the Bachelor's degree). Furthermore, recent data indicates that a great many law school graduates will accumulate between $40,000 and $80,000 of personal debt and one in six will not find employment within six months after graduation. Those who secures employment might well work 60-70 hours a week (roughly 10-12 hour days, six days a week) for the first several years of his or her career.

In light of this sobering evidence, everyone who would even consider attending law school should ask himself or herself "Why do I want to be a lawyer?" Typically, there are several reasons given: "As a lawyer, I will get rich," "Being a lawyer will give me an opportunity for power and prestige," "I'll have an opportunity to help people," "I think that being a lawyer would be an exciting career," and "I think practicing law would be intellectually rewarding."

This handbook is intended to provide information to those who are considering the possibility of admission to law school. Because I am hesitant to try and reinvent the wheel, the guide is a compilation of material from several sources. I have included, at times verbatim, material from Charles Fimian's "Advising Guide For Pre-Law Students." Professor Fimian was the Pre-Law Advisor for the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences at Arizona State University. I have also borrowed very heavily from Gerald Wilson's "Basic Information For Senior Pre-Law Students," Frank X.J. Homer's "The Law School Admission Test," Keely James' "Law School Application Checklist," and her pamphlet, "Preparing For Law School: Advice For the Pre-Law Student." Dean Wilson is the Pre-Law Advisor at Duke University. Professor Homer is Pre-Law Advisor at the University of Scranton. Keely James is Pre-Law Advisor for the College of Arts & Sciences, Oklahoma State University. Finally, I have included passages, where appropriate, from The Official Guide to U.S. Law Schools, The Princeton Review Student Access Guide to the Best Law Schools, and the LSAT/LSDAS Registration and Information Book. You may obtain further information by contacting me, Dr. Gary Johnson, Pre-law Advisor, Department of Political Science and Philosophy, Social Sciences RM 288 (801) 626-6697.

2. GENERAL INFORMATION ABOUT THE ADMISSION PROCESS

A. PRE-LAW STATUS

There is no "pre-law"major at Weber State University. This is not at all unusual or something that works to the disadvantage of those students who plan to attend law school. Ask yourself, "If I don't go to law school, what am I going to do with a pre-law major?" Moreover, what courses would make up a pre-law major? In other words, what would you be majoring in? Unlike "pre-med", "pre-dental" and certain other pre-professional programs, there are no specific courses of study required of pre-law students. Law schools do not prescribe particular courses to be taken nor do they specify undergraduate majors. Law is a very broad and diverse profession. Lawyers are called upon to work with and represent individuals and organizations in every aspect of society. Because the careers of those trained in law are so widely varied, and, therefore, call for widely differing skills, law schools do not generally recommend any particular major. There are differences between the various majors when it comes to admissions.  I have some data in my office that can show the differences.  Too, those reviewing applications for particular law schools might harbor attitudes about certain majors.  Nonetheless, law school admissions policies typically do not favor one major over another provided both contain equally substantive courses.

That raises the question: If there is no formal "pre-law" major, then what should I study? Your might want to consider several things. First, set aside, for a moment, your interest in law. Ask yourself, "What subjects do I most enjoy studying? Are these subjects academically challenging? If, over time, my life plans or interest in law fades, would these courses have prepared me to go on to another type of graduate or professional school of interest? Will they prepare me for subsequent training in another career? Will I leave Weber State University intellectually equipped for citizenship or the other challenges of life?" Once you've considered these questions, you will likely arrive at a very short list of potential majors. Second, keep in mind that undergraduate grade point average is one of the factors that weighs heavily in the law school admission process. You should consider a major that will motivate you to do your best work. A solid record in a major that is intellectually rigorous will serve you well both in the admissions process, and as you train to become an attorney.

We do offer a "Legal Studies" minor at Weber State, and, although it is not related to one's choice to attend law school, many of the courses required for the Legal Studies minor are the same as those recommended in an informal pre-law curriculum. For information about the Legal Studies minor, please contact me.

B. LAW SCHOOL ADMISSIONS

There are four major elements that every law school considers when determining which applicants to admit. These are the applicant's cumulative grade point average (GPA), the score that the applicant achieves on the Law School Admission Test (LSAT), the applicant's personal statement, and letters endorsing the applicant's candidacy for admission. Generally speaking, the GPA and the LSAT are the most important all other documents required to be submitted with the application. Increasingly, however, some law schools are taking one's personal statement, and the letters of recommendation, far more seriously.  We use a an approach, the "Building Block" approach, to help students get as much mileage as possible out of the other components in the application package.

1. UNDERGRADUATE RECORD

Law school admissions committees understand that undergraduate performance is an important indicator of how someone is likely to perform in law school. Thus, many law schools look carefully at college grades. Additionally, course selection can make a difference in admission evaluation. Students who have taken difficult or more advanced courses often are evaluated differently than are students who have concentrated on easier courses. Many law schools look closely at undergraduate performance trends along with one's numerical average. They may discount a slow start in a student's undergraduate career if he or she performs exceptionally well in the later school years. Similarly, they may look less favorably upon a student who starts strongly, but then starts to plateau or fizzle out toward the end of his or her undergraduate program.

2. THE LSAT

The Law School Admission Test (LSAT) is a half-day standardized test required for admission to all Law School Admission Council (LSAC) member schools. It consists of five 35 minute sections of multiple choice questions. Four of the five sections contribute to the test taker's score. These sections include one reading comprehension section, one analytical reasoning section, and two logical reasoning sections. The fifth section, the "dummy section," typically is used as a pre-test to generate new test questions. A 30 minute writing sample is administered at the end of the test.

Reading Comprehension:

This section consists of four sets, each containing a reading passage approximately 450 words in length followed by between five and eight questions. Individual questions deal with the main idea, primary purpose, or tone of passages as a whole; the meaning or function of individual words and phrases; information or ideas either explicitly stated or inferred from a passage; or the application of information in a passage to a new context.

Analytical Reasoning:

Often called "games," this section consists of four sets each containing a problem/game involving the grouping, assignment, or ordering of certain items, or possibly their spatial relationship.

Logical Thinking:

This section consists of approximately 24 to 26 questions that are not grouped into sets unless two questions are based upon a common stimulus. Each question begins with an argument contained in either a few sentences, a very brief paragraph, or a short piece of dialogue. Individual questions deal with identifying the point of an argument, assumptions or premises upon which it is based, inferences that follow from the premises or evidences given, the overall structure of the reasoning used in an argument, errors or fallacies contained in an argument, the application of the principle in an argument given a new context, or whether an additional piece of evidence strengthens or weakens an argument.

Students tend to ask several questions about LSAT:

-When should I take the LSAT?

Dean Wilson of Duke suggests that the LSATs should be taken either in June, after your Junior year, or in October of your Senior year.

-Should I take the LSAT once for practice?

No. You should plan to take the LSAT only once. If you do poorly, however, then take the test a second time. Remember: All scores are reported and the official policy for most schools is to average all scores.  Some schools will look at the higher school, however, provided there is substantial improvement.

-Should I take a commercial LSAT preparation course?

There are several options available. For instance, Law Services, the organization that administers and scores the LSAT, produces the Official LSAT Prep Series with each test available for under $10. In fact, Law Services has bundled several old tests into series of 10 tests each (we call "the 10 packs") so that the cost for each test is under $3.00. There are more expensive alternatives. Commercial courses range in cost from approximately $250 to over $4000 for complete residence courses. We have a commercial course at Weber State that we do during the summer.  Come see me and I'll provide more information about our course, "Taking on the LSAT-and Winning." We gotten excellent results from the course. I recently attended the Pre-Law Advisor's National Conference, and was told several things: First, one generally performs poorly on the LSAT if he or she takes the test "cold." It is imperative that you prepare for the test. One pre-law advisor said that she recommends her students spend more than 150 hours in preparation for the exam. Second, Law Services and most pre-law programs do not sponsor or recommend any particular commercial prep course. As I indicated above, Law Services, in Newtown, Pennsylvania, does sell old tests and other preparation materials. Third, since it is essential that you prepare for the test, many advisors suggested that, if you are not particularly well disciplined to study on your own or if you feel you need the structure provided in a commercial course, then it is an option you should consider seriously. You can speak with the folks at Kaplan -- and the other major commercial courses about their results. We've found that the students that take our course generally do much better than most students who prepare on their own. We've seen some students improve dramatically (e.g., more than 15 points) from their pre-tests.

-What college courses should I take to prepare for the LSATs?

Charles Fimian, of Arizona State University notes that one can prepare for the LSAT by taking course in college in the following three skill areas:

a. English Communication Skills. The pre-law student should endeavor to take, in addition to the required English composition courses, other courses that will provide practice in writing and speaking. This includes (but is in no way limited to) courses in creative and professional writing, courses requiring term papers, courses that require essay examinations, and public speaking courses.

b. Reading Comprehension Skills. The pre-law student should endeavor to take courses that require him or her to read and comprehend complex passages involving theories, organization and processes. The student will be aided in this endeavor by developing insight into human institutions and values, i.e., by taking courses that involve the study of:

1. The nature of man and his physical world.

2. The economic systems of society.

3. Political organization and democratic processes.

4. The social structures of societies.

5. The cultural heritage of western societies.

It's a pretty good idea to start reading "over your head" a few hours every week (e.g., academic journal articles; op-ed pieces in outstanding newspapers).  It's not enough just to read the material.  Start attacking the passages, looking for the things they'll ask on the test:  Purpose, tone, main idea.

c. Logic Skills. The pre-law student would be wise to seek out courses that will allow the development of skills in both mathematical and symbolic logic. In addition to fulfilling the University minimum requirement in mathematics, the pre-law student is advised to take other courses in mathematics and the physical sciences that will hone his/her mathematical skills. A knowledge of symbolic logic such as that obtained in various philosophy courses will also be of significant value to the pre-law student. I would strongly urge you to take the courses in Logic and Critical Thinking offered in the Department of Political Science/Philosophy.

-When are the LSATs given?

Four times a year (February, June, October, December). 

Registration information can be found on the Law Services web page (www.lsac.org).

3. PERSONAL STATEMENTS

Virtually every law school now requires a personal statement of the applicant; some provide space for it on the application proper, while others ask for it as a supporting document of given length. The following suggestions are made with regard to the personal statement:

-First, it should adhere to the requirements or recommendations contained in the application instructions regarding length, matters addressed, format, etc.

-Second, it must be typed.

-Third, it should reflect the very best grammatical and communicative effort of the applicant, since it will be judged both as to form and substance. Have others review it for grammar, syntax, content, and style.

-Fourth, it should, while setting forth the applicant in the best possible light, also be candid. The folks at LSAC stress that there law schools want to recruit men and women who are qualified beyond test score and GPA, and who bring something special to their school. There is something special about you -- something in your personal life, work experience, religious work, military experience, geography, family background -- something that will attract law schools to you. The personal statement is the place in the application to tell the admissions committee why you are special. Let me emphasize, it is not the place to give a canned presentation about why you have always wanted to go to law school, or why you are smart and eager, or to present your resume' in narrative form. It used to be that folks would use the personal statement to address matters contained in other documents that obviously require explanation (low GPA/High LSAT combination and vice versa, one semester very low GPA, etc.). It is probably better to include a brief, single page explanation outside the personal statement.  Come see me and we'll talk about what to do with the personal statement.  Remember, some of the best applicants to law school often write 6 or more drafts of this statement.  One of my closest friends, with a 3.9 and a 180 (and "extras" that made him especially attractive) wrote 5-6 drafts of his statement.  It's worth going the extra mile on the personal statement.  While hard to put together, it can pay huge dividends! 

-Remember that law school admissions personnel already have an example of the kind of writing done in a test situation, as the writing sample portion of the LSAT is provided to them. The personal statement allows applicants to address what they wish to say on their own behalf and to manicure it carefully with regard to organization, spelling and grammar. Think of it as your "interview on paper" and treat it as such.

4. LETTERS OF RECOMMENDATION

A word about recommendations:

-First, Wilson argues that one should ask those persons who know you best regardless of their position in the department. An instructor who knows your work well is better than a full professor with a national reputation who may only know you casually. It is especially valuable to seek professors in whose courses you have written a major paper.

-Second, if you want a professor to write recommendations for you, please give the professor all the forms you wish for him or her to do at the same time. It is easier to do several at the same time than to do them separately.

-Third, for each recommendation, give the professor a stamped, and addressed envelope so that the professor may mail them directly to the school. Make it as convenient as possible for those writing letters for you.

-Fourth, as a matter of courtesy and because they will be interested, when you are accepted to a law school, you might inform the people who wrote recommendations for you of this acceptance.

C. PROCEDURES FOR APPLYING TO LAW SCHOOL

Gerald Wilson notes that the law school admissions process is primarily the responsibility of the individual law student. There are, however, some general procedural steps that will facilitate a Senior's process of application:

a. In the late summer, or by the end of September, the student should write to the law schools he or she is interested in, and request a current bulletin or application form.

b. The Senior student should, if he or she has not already done so, register for the October LSAT test.

c. The student should complete the application forms and return them to the individual schools as quickly as possible. In instances where the student is uncertain about applying to some schools, he or she should prepare the application form and have it ready to be sent to the school shortly after he or she receives the LSAT scores.

d. The student should order a transcript to be sent to the Law School Data Assembly Service and return the appropriate form to LSDAS in Newtown. Transcripts are ordered through the Registrar's Office.

e. The student should prepare a personal statement to include with his or her application.

f. The student should contact those members of the faculty and administrative staff selected to write recommendations.

g. By no later than mid-January, the student should monitor his or her files for each school to which he or she has applied to make sure that all items are in and the files have been completed. If any items are outstanding, the student should contact the appropriate individuals and see that the items are forwarded as quickly as possible.

h. Finally, before graduation, the student should order a final transcript with his or her completed record and notice of graduation to be sent to the law school he or she selects.

D. CHOOSING A LAW SCHOOL

The decision as to which law schools the student should apply to is a very personal one and thus will vary considerably from applicant to applicant. Charles Fimian notes that formulating the individual list, however, usually involves the consideration of three factors: economic, geographic, and academic.

1. The Economic Factor

The process of attending law school is quite expensive. One must consider the cost of applying to law schools, fees incurred in preparing for the LSAT, visiting a small range of institutions, travel to and from law school, living expenses while pursuing a degree, the cost of tuition at your law school, and the expenses incurred while preparing to take the bar examination after you complete your formal legal education. The dollar costs of tuition can vary (for American residents) from a low of a few thousand dollars per year for an in-state resident at an in-state law school to $30,000+ per year at some private schools. For example in 2004 (tuition costs -- out-of-state if applicable):

University of Alabama $14, 982

University of Arizona $19,374

Brigham Young $6,550/$9,810

University of California at Berkeley $28,540

University of California-- Hastings $26,281

California Western $26,300

University of Chicago $32,754

Columbia University $35,438

Golden Gate University $25,673

Gonzaga University $23,078

Harvard University $32, 392

University of Idaho $14,180

Lewis & Clark College $24,358

University of Michigan $32,884

University of Notre Dame $28,200

University of San Diego $28,016

University of Texas $21,380

University of Utah $8,510/$18,072

University of Wyoming $10,488

Yale University $33,860

Of course this is only tuition.  It doesn't count the cost of books, fees, and living expenses (often estimated at about $15,000 -- 20,000 per year).  One should look carefully at scholarships and post-graduate debt consolidation programs.  Come see me and we can talk about some of the options for financing law school.

2. The Geographic Factor

Two overlapping considerations make up the bulk of this factor:

The first of these is the acceptability of the law school location with regard to climate, distance from home, recreational/cultural facilities available, etc. The law schools of the Universities of Michigan and Chicago are generally conceded to be among the most prestigious in the country, but they may hold little attraction for the native Utahn who might accept a less prestigious school in order to remain in the Rocky Mountain region.

Closely allied with the above is the applicant's perception of where he or she wishes to practice upon completion of law school. For the selected few who can gain entrance to the most prestigious law schools and who can then graduate in the top ten percent of their respective classes, obtaining a position after law school will not present much of a problem. For most students, however, the opportunity to make contacts and begin part-time or summer employment in law firms while still in law school will be an important aid in obtaining a satisfactory position subsequent to graduation. Thus those who wish to work in Los Angeles, New York, or Washington, D.C., would logically look closely at law school within or very near to those cities.

3. The Academic Factor

For most applicants, it is often not a question of where he or she would like to go to school that dictates his or her choice but, rather, where admission can be obtained. Presuming that each applicant would like to go to the "best" law school available, wherein "best" is defined by the applicant based on all relevant considerations, applications should be submitted to three categories of law schools as follows:

a. Long shots. These are schools which have "numbers" (median GPA's and LSAT scores) somewhat higher than those of the applicant, but places where he or she most desires to enter. Applications should be made to one or more desired schools in this category in the hope that the student will somehow stand out from the other applicants and being admitted. One caveat: the half-dozen most prestigious law schools in the country are long shots for even the very best students.

b. Reasonable chances. These are schools which have numbers approximating those of the applicant. These should be schools where the applicant will be pleased to enroll, and he or she has a least a 50-50 chance of admission. Applications should be made to as many schools in this category as the applicant can reasonably afford.

c. Sure things. These are schools where the applicant's chances of admission seem to be very good. These schools may not be the applicant's first choice, but they do offer a solid legal education. I am becoming more and more convinced that there are no bad law schools that have been accredited by the ABA. If you are unsure about the "status" of a particular law school, check into their reputation among those in the legal community, and, more important, check into their placement rate (# placed, where placed, and the like).

Since law schools charge a non-refundable application fee, most students will limit the number of their applications for monetary reasons as well as for reasons of volume. Following the guidance set forth above should minimize expenses while maximizing your chances of admission to law school. Still, the times they are a changin'. Now is not a very good time to get into law school. The application/admissions data is very different then it was even five years ago. If you are willing to relocate, then there is probably a law school out there for you!

E. THE ACCEPTANCE DECISION

Once all the required documents are received by the law school, the acceptance decision process on that applicant begins. Although each law school conducts its selection as it sees fit, it is possible to speak in generalities about that process. Charles Fimian maintains that upon receipt of each application, it is initially reviewed by admissions personnel and assigned to one of the following categories:

1. Presumptive Admission. This category is reserved for applicants presenting extremely high qualifications. Applications will be carefully evaluated and, if no problems appear, the applicant will receive a letter of acceptance.

2. Presumptive Denial. This category contains those applicants who clearly fail to meet the law school's minimum standards. Each application is rechecked to ensure that no special circumstances exist and APPLICANTS are then sent letters of rejection.

3. Competitive Considerations.

 This is the great "in between" area where most applicants fall. It is to this group of applications that law school admissions panels will devote most of their energy, comparing GPA's, LSAT's, colleges, personal statements, and such other matters as each may wish to consider. It is from this group of applications that the majority of admissions will chosen, and also from this group that the majority of rejections will emanate. Decisions on applicants in this category will generally be delayed longer than the others.

4. Special Consideration. This category, by whatever name it is called, exists in some form in all law schools. It consists of those applicants who do not fall into either of the first two categories, but who have some special quality about them that causes their applications to be removed from the great bulk under consideration. The special consideration may result from the age of the applicant, a physical handicap, educational deprivation, unique route to the baccalaureate degree, and ethnic background.

F. FINANCING LAW SCHOOL

In recent years the financing of law school educations has become so critical that the subject must be addressed. You must realize, however, that what is set forth in this handbook is general information in a field that changes very rapidly. Pre-law advisors are not financial aid experts and technical or detailed questions can be answered authoritatively only by the Student Financial Assistance Office. Too, every year (February?) there is a financial aid workshop at Brigham Young University. Last year more than 200 pre-law students attended the day-long session. To find out more about the workshop, contact Catherine Bramble, Pre-Law Advisor, Brigham Young University, (801) 378-5715.

The means of financing a law school education range along a spectrum from the most desirable situation of the student having the entire amount available in liquid assets; through the most common, wherein the student arranges loans for the bulk of the money; to the worst-case situation wherein the student does not have the money and is not eligible to borrow it. This section will look at the sources of money for law school, the requirements for paying the money back, and then will examine the pitfalls of credit use and misuse that might make a student ineligible to borrow the necessary funds. The calculations necessary to make a rational economic decision to go to law school will be addressed.

Sources of Educational Loans

l. Government-Guaranteed Loans

With the passage of the Higher Education Amendments of 1992 by the Congress, the Higher Education Act of 1965 was again extended and significantly changed. The overall program, previously called the Guaranteed Student Loan Program, was renamed the Federal Family Education Loan Program (FFELP). However, it still includes the Stafford Loans, Supplemental Loans for Students (SLS), and Consolidation Loans, but each has been renamed by placing "Federal" before the old name. All loan limits have been raised and eligibility has, in general, been expanded. While the source of the loan money for the FFELP is from private lending institutions, the U.S. government guarantees repayment of the loans should the student default, thus eliminating any risk to the lender, who in turn, extends more favorable terms to the student borrower. Without question, government-guaranteed loans are the best way to finance an education, whether it be law school or any other kind. There is no concern with credit rating, the interest rates are lower than in any private loan program, and the pay back terms are more favorable. Because these advantages accrue to all borrowers, however, many students use these loans to finance their undergraduate educations and some will have borrowed the maximum total amounts allowed under each type of loan before they begin, or at least before they finish, law school. Other students, particularly those who attend expensive private law schools in cities where the cost of living is very high, will find that the maximum amounts that can be borrowed annually under the FFELP are not sufficient to cover their expenses. In each of these cases, the student is forced to look elsewhere for the needed funds, i.e., to private lending programs.

2. Private Loans

While students are free to choose their own private lending institutions and to make individual arrangements with them, most find it advantageous to utilize the Law Access Loan Program. Formerly sponsored by Law Services, the national organization of the ABA accredited Law schools, the Law Access program was created during the 1980's by Law Services to simplify the process of borrowing money for law school students. By acting as the intermediary for the students, favorable interest rates and repayment terms were obtained from private lending institutions and, with Law Access administering the application process for both government guaranteed and private loans, the entire procedure was expedited. Because Law Access was so successful, it became very large and complicated and that, in turn, caused it to be "spun-off" from Law Services in 1993. It is, however, expected to continue to function as before. The major differences between the FFELP and Law Access Involve interest rates, payback terms, and eligibility. Each is more favorable under the FFELP, but an understanding of the eligibility differences is essential for even the beginning Pre-law student. The student's credit rating is not a consideration for eligibility under the FFELP since repayment is guaranteed, but is critical to eligibility for private loans. A Poor credit rating established in undergraduate years will make it impossible for a student to obtain Law Access or any other Private loan, and thus, frequently, impossible to attend law school. Poor credit ratings can result from bankruptcies, repossessions, or repeated delinquencies or underpayment of other loans, including credit card Payments. It is thus essential that pre-law students not misuse the easy consumer credit that becomes available when credit cards are virtually forced on them during the undergraduate years. The only safe way to handle credit card purchases is to pay off the balance each time the statement is received, thus ensuring that spending is kept within affordable limits and that the high interest charges common to credit cards are never encountered. In the world of education loans, no credit rating is a good credit rating and pre- law students must ensure that, either by not borrowing or by using credit carefully, they approach law school with a good credit rating that will enable them to borrow money from private loan programs.

Paying Back the Borrowed Funds

Regardless of how much is borrowed or which types of loans are used, the day comes for repayment. At latest that day will be some six months after graduation from law school. The period of repayment will depend on the amount owed and the type of loan. For those who receive the first disbursement after 1 July 1993, the amount of monthly payback for FFELP loans will also be income-sensitive. The maximum amount that can be borrowed under the Federal Stafford and Federal SLS loans is over $100,000. Few students will be eligible to borrow the maximum during the period of their undergraduate and law school educations; no student should consider doing so. Education debts have been compared (in amount and lengthof payback period) to a mortgage on a home. This is a totally incorrect and insidious comparison - homes almost always increase in value or at least retain a value somewhere near the purchase price; they are often sold long before the mortgage is paid off. Education loans must be paid off in full, in the designated time period; there is nothing to sell, nothing to increase in value to make borrowing the money economically profitable. At best, it can be hoped that inflation reduces the real value of the money paid back.

Making the Value Calculation

All pre-law students, when making their final choices of law schools, should take a realistic view of what they will spend for their legal educations vis-a-vis what they will gain from those legal credentials. This is particularly important when the education is to be financed mainly with borrowed money. There are a number of rules-of-thumb regarding what earnings are required to pay off various size debts. The simplest, and one which requires no calculations, is that to pay back the education debt, one must earn annually the amount of that debt. Despite its simplicity, the rule provides an excellent starting point for calculations and a quick "red-flag" location for the borrower. Considering the current overage of lawyers and the existing employment conditions in the legal profession, along with the rising costs of legal education, it is essential that this kind of checkpoint be utilized as education debts mount. For some, pursuit of a law degree, with all the attendant expenses, will not make economic sense and they will seek other fields. For others, those to whom learning the law and carrying the title of attorney are essential to a meaningful life, the economics will not matter. They will sacrifice in whatever manner is necessary to achieve their goal's.

G. THE LAW SCHOOL EXPERIENCE

While each law school is different from every other, some aspects of a legal education are common to all schools, and will be the subject of this final brief discussion.  By the way, the remarks to follow are general comments that I've gleaned from the various advising guides I cited above.  While I'm not sure that attorneys are particular good pre-law advisors (since, typically, each is working from an "n" of one), they are the very best people to talk to about the law school experience and some of the options available in the legal profession.  Hence, if you want to know what it will be like to be a 1L, talk to several lawyers! 

The First Year

The first year's work is similar in nearly all law schools, with regard to both courses taught and student reaction. During the first year, you will likely follow a rigidly designated course of study that will cover most/all of the following subjects: Civil Procedure, Constitutional Law, Contracts, Criminal Law, Legal Methods, Legal Writing, Property Law, and Torts. The format of classroom instruction almost always follows the Socratic model, with students responding to the instructor's questions. For those students whose undergraduate experience was limited, for the most part, to lecture courses, the requirement to recite in front of a large audience of fellow students can be traumatic. Consequently, every pre-law student should strive to take one or more undergraduate courses in which the instructor uses the Socratic method. The necessity of being prepared to present case briefs at any time may also require study-habit changes, especially for those students who habitually used only the popular undergraduate system of "cramming" at critical times during the semester. While cramming is utilized by most law students in preparation for final exams, it is in addition to, and not in place of, daily preparation. Final exams take on an exceptional importance in most law schools, frequently being the only basis for course grades and class standing. For the student who became accustomed to making good grades with relative ease throughout the education process, the first year of law school often brings about some major changes. First, the cases the student is required to read, comprehend, brief, and explain tend to be very complex, sometimes self-contradicting, and thus difficult to understand. One reading almost never suffices, with multiple readings and intense concentration on difficult areas being common. In addition, the law student finds that he or she is no longer guaranteed a position toward the top of the class merely by putting forth a reasonable effort. Most law students were skimmed from the "top of the class"; nearly all are well prepared for daily recitation and final exams, and competition is intense. 

The Subsequent Years

The second and third years of law school differ from the first mainly with regard to the courses taken; students have a much wider choice of subject matter. Competition remains keen and there is no let-up in preparation requirements. The overall atmosphere, however, tends to be more relaxed, since all students have successfully survived the dreaded first year and have adapted to the demands of the discipline. Many law schools offer clinical experience during the second and third years, wherein the students work with actual clients. The goal of this legal-clinic work is to sharpen those lawyering skills that will later be used in the judicial process. The common thread that exists throughout all three years of law school is that the student is being taught to think like a lawyer. The student's thought processes are channeled into the development of problem solutions that depend on the orderly juxtaposition of facts, law, and precedent which lead to logical conclusions. The ability to think in this manner is the crowning achievement of law school, and opens the doors to a satisfying and rewarding legal career.


Weber State UniversityOgden, Utah 84408

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