Law school programs are usually three years long. Some law schools have part-time programs where students take classes in the evenings and on the weekends—getting your JD part-time usually takes a minimum of four years. Many law schools also offer dual-degree programs (e.g., JD-MBA). If you have plans to pursue a dual-degree, you should expect to be in school for a minimum of four years.
Prerequisites for Law School
There are 203 schools and programs currently accredited by the American Bar Association (ABA). Each of these schools has its own admissions criteria, so you should research specific schools of interest to find out what they require from applicants.
By and large, all law programs require applicants to have a bachelor’s degree. Your undergraduate major is often not that important, and you definitely do not need to major in a specific discipline as a prerequisite for admission. In fact, if you majored in something seemingly tangential—perhaps you got a BFA in Studio Art, for example—you can use this experience to paint a compelling narrative in your law school application. Law schools are always looking for a diverse student body to create an intellectually stimulating environment for their students. What you believe might set you apart from all other applicants may be the very thing that gets you in.
The vast majority of law schools will require you to take the LSAT (the Law School Admissions Test). Though schools do not have a minimum cut-off score for entry, most publish data on the scores of recently accepted students. You can get a good sense of what score will make you competitive with other applicants and then set a target score depending on which schools you intend to apply to. You’ll want to give yourself enough time to prep for the LSAT depending on what LSAT test date you are targeting.
Some law schools have begun accepting the GRE in lieu of the LSAT, including many top programs, and more schools are likely to join the trend. According to a Kaplan Test Prep survey, 25 percent of law schools say that they plan to accept the GRE.
What is Law School Like?
There is no standard curriculum that is mandated by the ABA, but the majority of law schools adhere to a similar structure.
Law students are divided up by their class year: 1L, 2L, or 3L. The foundational curriculum is taught in the first year and there is rarely flexibility in the courses that 1Ls take. You can expect to get an overview of all aspects of practicing law including:
- Lawyering Skills
- Constitutional Law
- Criminal Law
- Civil Procedure
- Legal Analysis and Writing
In the second and third year of law school, students are given relative freedom to construct their course of study to explore areas of interest and to identify a potential career path. Once you’ve identified an area of the law you’d like to focus on, you’ll be able to take higher-level courses and seminars delving deeper into facets of the field.
Most law schools offer clinics that 2Ls and 3Ls can take in various areas for academic credit. In clinics, future lawyers work with real clients on real-world cases, offering counsel pro bono to gain practical experience. Some students even get to write briefs and appear in major courts during their law school careers. Many students take at least one clinic in law school and some law schools may require clinic experience for graduation.
What is the Socratic Method?
You may have heard that law school classes are conducted much differently from college courses.
Most law school professors adhere to the Socratic Method when leading class, which creates a different learning experience from the kinds you’ve likely experienced in college. As opposed to lecturing or leading a group discussion, law school professors lead an individualized discussion in class. All students are responsible for completing the assigned reading and becoming fluent in the casebooks being studied. During class, your professor can call directly on you at any time and ask a series of progressively challenging questions, tasking you with critical thinking on the spot. The Socratic Method can be daunting and challenging, but it’s the preferred law school teaching tool because it closely mimics the type of work and pressure lawyers face on a daily basis.
Other Activities in Law School
Outside of class, there are many extracurricular activities in law school to hone your lawyering skills or gain valuable experience that may support your future career.
- Many law schools have a law review or law journal that is published several times a year. Some of these journals are completely student-run, offering the opportunity to gain editorial experience.
- Mock trial participation helps you develop real-world lawyering skills and is often a good complement to clinical experience. Law schools often have mock trial teams that compete on a local and national level in competitions sponsored by other law schools or large national organizations.
- Moot court provides a venue for students interested in litigation, trial advocacy, and dispute resolution to gain valuable experience in a simulated environment.
- Most law schools place interested students in externships (sometimes in a different state or country) with law firms, non-profit organizations, governmental offices, or courts.
Before you officially become a lawyer, you’ll have to get admitted to the bar in the state in which you intend to practice by successfully passing the bar exam.
Most often, you’ll take the bar exam the summer after you’ve graduated from law school, but the bar exam is typically administered in July and February. You’ll likely need to have graduated from law school to sit for the bar as 40 states do not allow students to take the bar exam before they’ve graduated.
The process for admission to the bar varies state by state, and you’ll learn about the specific requirements in law school. Generally, the process is as follows:
- Take the Multistate Professional Responsibility Examination (MPRE)
- Take the Bar Exam
- Complete your state’s character and fitness process
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