Skills and Values Needed for Law School
The answer to this question is no. You should major in whatever topic you are interested in studying. Our research shows that there is no one major that the law schools prefer and, likewise, there is no major that they particularly dislike. Because grades are so important, you should major in a subject you like because your grades will probably be higher in that major.
Like most colleges, Clark does not have a “prelaw curriculum,” although we do offer many law-related courses in many departments. In fact, most law schools dislike prelaw majors or prescribed prelaw curricula. The best thing you can do to prepare yourself for law school is to study something that interests you. The theory behind this approach is that if you are interested in your courses, you will be motivated to achieve high levels of academic performance. It is this demonstrated commitment to learning that is the most important factor in the law school admissions process.
There are, however, three basic areas in which prelaw students need to develop proficiency:
- Effectiveness in the comprehension and use of oral and written language.
- In-depth understanding of human institutions and values.
- Analytical and critical thinking.
Choosing electives that will strengthen your aptitude in these areas will greatly assist you when you are a student of law. Demonstrating competence in these fields will make you an appealing candidate for admission at law schools. The prelaw adviser has a list of courses recommended for prelaw students.
Language is the most important working tool used by the lawyer. Whether it be effectively negotiating a contract, examining a witness in court, preparing an appellate brief, or just grasping the exact meanings of legal provisions, the lawyer must understand the precise meanings of words. To facilitate the development of language skills, students should pursue courses that will give them adequate practice in:
Expression: vocabulary, usage, grammar, organized presentation, structure of language, and clarity of statement in both writing and speaking.
Comprehension: concentration and effective recollection in reading and listening skills.
Both expression and comprehension require a sensitivity to the fluidity of language — the various meanings of words in different times and contexts, shades of meanings, interpretive problems, and the hazards in use of ambiguous terms. Also, skilled expression, especially for the lawyer, requires knowledge of the deceptiveness of language-emotionally charged words, catch phrases, hidden meanings, and empty generalizations.
Most Verbal Expression (VE) classes at Clark University, regardless of discipline, stress the fundamentals of language. Student research projects are also key to developing these skills. Taking a variety of courses with strong writing and research components can strengthen language skills.
A good lawyer must have insight into information about the institutions and values that concern the public at large, since it is the lawyer who is a force in shaping such institutions. Such insight comes from intensive study to a substantial depth in selected areas, rather than from attempts to skim all the large areas. Your major, minor, and concentrations will have an impact on your development in this area.
Perhaps the lawyer’s most valuable asset is the power to think clearly, carefully, and independently. The role of the lawyer involves constant problem-solving and sound judgment. Creative power in thinking has as its prerequisite the acquisition of skills in research, use of facts, inductive, deductive, and analytic reasoning, critical analysis, and the systematic formulation of principles and concepts.
Classes that stress critical thinking can include: English, history, philosophy, geography, and government; all classes in the natural sciences, lab courses in psychology, classes involving research methods in the social sciences; and all courses in computer science and mathematics. You should take challenging courses in all disciplines to strengthen your skills. Courses in philosophy that stress logic and analytic reasoning skills can also be beneficial to the development of critical thinking skills and can help to prepare for the Law School Admission Test (LSAT).
Remember, you should only major in a discipline because you find the subject matter appealing; the key to academic success is to pursue what you enjoy. Whatever your major, you will have ample opportunity to sample other departments when you choose electives. In selecting those classes that fulfill the perspective requirements of the Program of Liberal Studies, you will find that many of them concentrate on the areas outlined and will assist you in your future as a lawyer.
Law schools do not like to see several pass/fail or credit/no credit classes on an applicant’s transcript because they are an obstacle in evaluating a student’s academic performance. Whether it is a fair assumption or not, admissions committees may assume that a student elected the pass/fail option because the student anticipated that doing so would allow him/her to do less work in the class and not be penalized for it by having a low grade affect his/her GPA. The other assumption might be that the student feared receiving a low grade in a course with a high degree of difficulty and could avoid doing so by electing the pass/fail option. As a general rule, the first two pass/fail courses are overlooked, but after two, they may recompute your GPA, counting a pass as a “C” or even a “C-.” Taking an internship as pass/fail is generally fine.
Don’t let anyone kid you — your first year grades are very important if you plan to apply to law school! But, your “academic trend” is also taken into consideration by law schools. A student who has earned high grades in analytic and advanced courses, but whose GPA has been lowered by a few low grades in less demanding and introductory courses taken in the first year, might be regarded as a stronger candidate than the student who has earned a high GPA by taking introductory classes in the junior or senior year. Moreover, the law schools may overlook a low grade that was earned in the first or second year if they see an improvement in academic performance in the junior and senior year. On the other hand, law schools will react unfavorably to an applicant with a strong first-year grade point average that drops each successive year due to poor performance in advanced courses.
It is the extent of your involvement in extracurricular organizations, not your nominal association, that is considered both by the law schools and by those who will write your letters of recommendation; mere membership counts for very little. Active participation, as demonstrated by long-term commitment in leadership roles, indicates maturity, motivation, and direction.
Your depth of extracurricular dedication could be an important part of the admissions process. A career in law requires that you work well with people and know how to balance various aspects of your life. A student who strikes a balance between a real commitment to a few extracurricular organizations while maintaining a high level of academic achievement will be a strong applicant.
Beyond extracurricular involvement, students should be involved with some type of community service because the law schools want their students to have a sensitivity toward the needs of society. However, the only reason to be involved in community service is because you care enough to be involved, and a true commitment to your community would then be highlighted in one of your letters of recommendation.
Meaningful involvement in law-related activities can be of great value in two ways. It proves to the law schools that your desire to study law is well-considered, and it also serves as an excellent way for you to discover the area and extent of your own interest in law. There are a few ways to achieve this end.
- Join the Prelaw Society. It is an easy way of being involved in a law-related activity on campus.
- Another way of demonstrating your interest in the law is via legal internships and/or employment. Clark has many legal internships available for academic credit. They range from working in a law firm in Worcester to being a probation assistant. Also, the Washington Center and Washington Semester programs have hundreds of law-related internships available. Some students do law-related internships abroad as well. If you are interested in pursuing an internship, make an appointment with the Internship Coordinator in Career Services. Legal employment on your summer vacation offers yet another opportunity for firsthand experience in the field of law and demonstrates to the law schools your seriousness about the pursuit of a legal career.
Prelaw Advising Program
Jefferson Academic Center