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Preparation for Law School

prelaw

Academic Preparation

Prelaw students are encouraged to challenge their thinking and reasoning skills by pursuing a rigorous and diverse undergraduate program. There are no specific course requirements or recommended majors, so students are urged to choose a major in which they are truly interested. It is not so much what you study that matters, rather it is selecting elective and major courses which motivate you, challenge you, and require you to use research and writing skills.

In order to enrich your program of study you might wish to consider pursuing a double major, adding a minor or secondary emphasis of some kind, enrolling in the Honors College, and/or participating in an internship, study abroad program, or a research project in your major. Seek ways to distinguish yourself and enhance your academic experience.

Extracurricular Preparation

When you apply to law school, you will be competing with many applicants who have demonstrated the academic ability to succeed in the rigorous curriculum of law school. Preparation also involves engaging in experiences that develop and demonstrate skills in communication, leadership, community service, research, and familiarity with the profession. What you do outside the classroom is important to making your application stand out and show that you excel in more than just academics. Keep in mind that activities complement your coursework, but will not compensate for low grades. Both are important!

Coursework

While there are no specific course requirements, law schools are looking for applicants with a rigorous, well-rounded education, and there are important skills and knowledge that you should acquire prior to law school. These will provide a solid foundation for your legal education.  There are also some policies regarding grades that are important to understand.

For more details see Preparing for Law School written by the ABA Section of Legal Education and Admissions to the Bar http://www.americanbar.org.

Analytical and Problem Solving Skills

Seek courses and other experiences that engage you in critical thinking about important issues, challenge your beliefs, and improve your tolerance for uncertainty and criticism, and those that teach you to think analytically within a logical framework. Courses in philosophy, logic, ethics, math, the sciences, and computer science can help you develop these skills.

Critical Reading Skills

As a law student and lawyer, much of what you will do involves careful reading and comprehension of judicial opinions, statutes, documents, and other dense written materials. Opportunities to develop critical reading skills can be found in a wide range of experiences, including the close reading of complex material in literature, political or economic theory, philosophy, or history.

Writing and Editing Skills

Language is the most important tool of a lawyer. Fundamental writing skills—the ability to express yourself clearly and concisely in writing—must be acquired and refined before you enter law school. Seek as many experiences as possible that will require rigorous and analytical writing, including preparing original pieces of substantial length and revising written work in response to constructive criticism.

Oral Communication and Listening Skills

The ability to speak clearly and persuasively is important for success in law school and the practice of law. You must also have excellent listening skills if you are to understand your clients and others with whom you will interact daily. Develop these skills through activities such as engaging in debate, making formal presentations in class, or speaking before groups in school, the community, or the workplace.

Organization and Management Skills

To study and practice law, you will need to organize large amounts of information, identify objectives, and create a structure for applying that information in an efficient way in order to achieve desired results. You can develop this skill through undertaking school projects that require substantial research and writing, or through the preparation of major reports for an employer, a school, or a civic organization.

There are certain basic areas of knowledge that will be helpful to you during your legal education and your development as a competent lawyer. Types of knowledge that will maximize your ability to benefit from a legal education include a broad understanding of the following:

  • History, including the various factors (social, political, economic, and cultural) that have influenced the development of our society in the United States
  • Political thought and of the contemporary American political system
  • Economics (particularly micro-economics and an understanding of the interaction between Economic theory and public policy)
  • Basic mathematical and financial skills, such as algebra, statistics, and an ability to analyze financial data
  • Human behavior and social interaction
  • Diverse cultures within and beyond the United States, International institutions and issues, world events, and the increasing interdependence of the nations and communities
  • Online Courses--Online sections of semester based university classes, or online/in person hybrid sections of semester based classes will usually be accepted. Online courses which are not university semester based (independent study with flexible start and completion) will generally not be accepted.
  • Withdrawals--W’s should be used only for emergencies, although W’s will not affect your GPA, and are better than low grades. One or two is not a concern, but more than that could require an explanation.
  • GPAWhile GPA requirements vary from school to school, a competitive GPA for a wide range of schools is generally in the 3.5 or higher range. GPAs lower than this can limit the number of schools to which you can apply.
  • Repeated Courses—All grades from ALL attempts at a class are counted in your GPA when you apply for law school. (This is different from the U of U’s policy to only count the most recent attempt.)
  • CR/NC grades: A CR grade will not be included your GPA when applying to law school (the same as the U of U policy). However, unlike at the U of U, an NC grade will be converted into a failing grade (an E) by This includes exercise and activity classes, so it is important to participate and avoid receiving NC grades.

Law schools vary on their view of classes taken at Community Colleges. Some look on them with some disfavor, other schools readily accept them.  Students should be aware of this when planning their education.

There are a number of very good reasons for students to begin their college education at a Community College, but you should transfer up to a university as soon as is practical. Certainly you should not take more than 2 years of a 4 year degree there.

Extracurricular Activities

Extracurricular activities allow you to supplement a strong academic record. Law school admissions committees like to see evidence of initiative, creativity, leadership and collaboration, and organizational skills. However, it is important to remember that such activities will not substitute for poor grades, so don’t sacrifice study time for activities. A few ideas for involvement are listed below. Please remember that you are not limited to activities on this list.  This is just a sample of opportunities available at the U of U.  Off campus organizations and employment are fine as well. Follow your interests and passions even if they are not directly related to law.

  • Make sure you keep contact information for supervisors and mentors in case you need a recommendation letter. Try to keep an open relationship with them after you discontinue activities.
  • Writing reflections on each activity in a journal will be helpful when you write your personal statement.

For more details see Preparing for Law School written by the ABA Section of Legal Education and Admissions to the Bar http://www.americanbar.org.

Lawyers are leaders in their communities. However, their work also requires collaborating with others, so interpersonal skills are essential for attracting and working productively with clients, co-counsel, opposing attorneys, expert witnesses, and many others. Examples includes offices held in student or community organizations, committee work, leadership in church activities, coordinating a project, managing, training, or supervising at work, tutoring, teaching experience of any kind, coaching, peer counseling or mentoring, etc.

Each member of the legal profession should be dedicated to the objectives of serving others honestly, competently, and responsibly, and to improving fairness and quality of justice in the legal system. You should seek some significant experience in which you devote substantial effort toward assisting others. Participation in public service projects or similar efforts at achieving objectives established for common purposes can be particularly helpful. This should be ongoing throughout your college years.

You do not need to be familiar with research sources and techniques specific to the law before entering law school. However, it is to your advantage to have had the experience working on a research project that requires significant library research and the analysis of large amounts of information obtained from that research. Research experience can be from many different areas – it does not have to be law related.

While legal experience is not required for admission to law school, there are many good reasons to explore the legal profession beforehand. You will gain a more realistic view of the actual practice of law and the realities of the legal employment market. You may identify potential practice areas that suit your personality, interests, and values. You will develop relationships with practicing lawyers.

 Visit law schools and sit in on a class (most law school admissions offices will set this up for you.)  Talk with law students, attorneys, and judges. Visit courtrooms and observe trials. Read articles and books on the study of law and the legal profession. Seek internships in law-related settings. Consider law- related employment between college and law school. Making informed decisions will lead to an informed decision about law school and a successful career.

Law schools are interested in well-rounded students who know how to balance work with recreation. Recreation activities, including hobbies, athletics, and other pastimes, will help you relieve stress and return refreshed to your studies in both undergraduate and in law school.

Prepare for Letters of Recommendation

Requirements for letters vary between schools, most law schools require 1-3 letters of recommendation. Begin early to establish a network of professors and supervisors (for volunteer or paid work) who are familiar with your work. It is important to choose recommenders who know you well.

Academic Letters: At least one letter, and maybe two, should be from faculty members who have taught you in a class and are able to make specific observations about your personal and academic achievements and your potential for graduate study.

Mentoring letters: Additional letters may include a mentor, an internship or project supervisor, or an employer.  Someone who can speak to your commitment to service, leadership ability, growth as an individual, interpersonal and/or teamwork skills.

Most professors sincerely want to get to know their students. Besides impressive letters of recommendation, getting to know your professors can have other advantages including higher grades, individualized instruction and independent study, and a more personal interactive learning experience.

Tell professors at the beginning of the semester that you would like them to keep an eye on your performance in class. It will give them a longer observational window. Then, use their office hours effectively. The key to a good letter is establishing a relationship with a professor based on shared academic interests.

  • Ask thoughtful questions
  • Delve deeper into concepts presented in lectures
  • Share your academic and career goals
  • Ask for recommendations for additional reading
  • Inquire about their areas of interest and research

Remember to practice moderation! Do not prevail upon professors so often that you become a pest. Make sure you space your visits out with a couple weeks in between. At the end of the semester, if you do well, ask if they would be willing to write you an excellent letter of recommendation when you are ready to apply.

Additional Strategies

  • Attend short programs by the professor
  • Work as a research or teaching assistant for the professor
  • Keep in touch with the professor after the class is over
  • Take more than one class from the professor

Resources

  • University of Utah, S.J. Quinney College of Lawhttp://www.law.utah.edu. For information on visiting campus and sitting in on a law school class, select Admissions, then Visit.
    • Law School Application Workshops: Held at the U of U S.J. Quinney College of Law every Fall and Spring Semester. Dates and times can be found on the law school’s website at http://law.utah.edu/events/month/.
    • Financial Aid Workshops: Held at the U of U S.J. Quinney College of Law every Fall Semester. Dates and times can be found on the law school’s website at http://law.utah.edu/events/month/.
  • BYU, J. Reuben Clark Law School, http://www.law.byu.edu/, Contact the admissions office about visiting campus, and sitting in on a class.
Last Updated: 5/24/18