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Regardless of the law school you choose to attend, you will find that the basic curriculum focuses on specific legal skills and abilities that are required of all lawyers. A legal education is designed to develop analytical, creative, and logical reasoning abilities, as well as reading and debating skills.
Lawyers must be able to analyze legal issues in light of the constantly changing state of the law and public policy. They must be able to advocate the views of individuals and diverse interest groups within the context of the legal system. They must give intelligent counsel on the law’s requirements. Lawyers must also write and speak clearly and be able to persuade and negotiate effectively.
There is not a “standard” curriculum that every law school offers. Law schools will differ in the emphasis given to certain subject areas and in the degree to which they provide opportunities for independent study, clinical experience, and externship opportunities. Nearly all law schools have certain basic similarities. Each American Bar Association-approved law school provides basic training in American law sufficient to qualify its graduates to take the bar examination in all states. Graduation from an ABA-approved law school is required for admission to the bar in nearly every state. Most law schools require three years of full time attendance, or four years of part-time study, if a part-time program is offered.
Most law schools rely on the “case method” approach to teaching. First-year curricula usually include courses in civil procedure, constitutional law, contracts, criminal law and criminal proceedings, legal writing and research, property law, and torts.
Most law schools share a common approach to the task of training lawyers. Many emphasize particular teaching methods (such as the Socratic method), placing students in legal internships for academic credit, or using government or legal resources of a surrounding community. A number of schools have developed specialized programs of instruction combining law with other disciplines such as business, public administration, international relations, science, and technology.
You should begin the process of choosing a law school with an honest appraisal of your strengths and preferences. You should consider the size, composition, and background of the student body; the location, size, and nature of the surrounding community; the particular strengths or interests of the faculty; the degree to which clinical experience or classroom learning is emphasized; the nature of any special programs offered; the number and type of student organizations; grade competitiveness among the student body; accessibility of the faculty; the range of library holdings; and whether a school is public or private. You may wish to consider a school with a strong minority recruitment, retention, and mentoring program, or one with an active student union for students of your particular ethnic background. You may also want to take into consideration the state or region of the country where you would like to find employment after you earn your degree.
You should select more than one law school where you think you could succeed. Today, the average applicant applies to four or more schools. Look widely and inquire carefully when researching law schools. You really cannot spend too much time or effort gathering and studying information on law schools. Select the law schools to which you will apply only after reviewing the admission material available from each law school on your list of possibilities.
Write to law schools for their bulletins, catalogs, or other materials that include complete and current information. A complete list of all LSAC-member law schools in the U.S. and Canada can be found at the following site http://www.lsac.org/Choosing/law-school-links.asp.
Consult with your pre-law advisor. Undergraduate institutions with pre-law advisors or career counselors encourage students and alumni to contact them for assistance—even if you have been out of school for a number of years.
Visit the law schools to which you apply. This isn’t always a realistic option for everyone, but you can learn a great deal by talking with students and faculty members, and by visiting classes. This is one of the best ways to evaluate how you feel in a particular school’s environment and if it feels like a place where you would be comfortable and able to succeed. Not every law school is right for every applicant. If you have the opportunity, talk to alumni of the schools, preferably a recent graduate or one who is active in alumni affairs. Visiting a school can be very helpful tool when you are considering offers of acceptance.
Each law school to which you apply will have its own requirements, forms, and specifications for the application process. Read all the instructions provided to you with the application materials. Specific instructions should be listed regarding completion of the application form, and submission of a personal statement, supplementary materials, and letters of recommendation.
Make sure that you complete the application form as neatly and legibly as possible. It is not always necessary to type the application form, but always verify if a particular school requires the form to be typed. Answer all questions asked on the form unless it is specifically stated that the information is optional.
Individual schools will also have their own set of criteria that they use in evaluating applicants. An applicant’s undergraduate GPA and LSAT are two major factors that an admissions committee may look at, however, other criteria are also taken into consideration. An applicant’s background, work history, life experiences, activities, leadership roles, history of overcoming obstacles, geographic diversity, personal essay, and letters of recommendation are all factors that a school may consider. As you prepare for the application process, evaluate and consider the special assets that you can bring to the school and profession. Think about challenging situations you have encountered and how aspects of your personal and cultural experiences will contribute to the diversity sought by law schools. Look for ways to incorporate this information in your application or personal statement. Be truthful when reporting this information in your application materials, but do not be overly modest. Be confident in what you have to offer as an applicant and make sure it is evident in your application materials.
When you are ready to submit your application make sure that all the materials required by the law school (i.e., application fee, supplementary statements, signed application form, personal statement, recommendation letters, any other special required forms or materials) are included in the mailing envelope. Mail your application materials well in advance of the school’s deadline and make sure that you have attached the correct postage. If you are sending applications to several schools at the same time verify that you are sending the correct application to each school and have not mixed up any of the additional materials.
If you are required to submit a personal statement, make sure you have read and understand all the instructions and requirements given. If you exceed the page or margin limitations, some schools may reserve the right to reject all or part of your statement. Your personal statement should never be handwritten. Take time to carefully prepare it. Make sure that it is an accurate representation of you as an applicant and delivers the impression you want. Proofread your statement very carefully for errors. No matter how well written your statement is, any errors in typing, spelling, or grammar will always be considered negative.
The personal statement is your opportunity to present any challenging situations you may have overcome, the special assets you can bring to the school and profession—those unique things about your traits, abilities, passions, or experiences that sets you apart. Your statement should be developed in such a way that it will engage the readers on the admissions committee, but avoid being cute or unconventional in your presentation. You could look at the statement as a substitution in many ways for a personal interview. The statement is also an opportunity to explain anything that may be perceived as negative in your record.
It is best not to wait to begin writing the personal statement until the last minute before your application. Writing a draft, setting it aside, reading it again, reading it aloud, having someone read it aloud to you, etc., will help you put together the best presentation that you want. Students currently enrolled at UW may consult with the Writing Center for assistance with many aspects of writing.
Letters from faculty, employers, co-workers, or others who know you and your skills, abilities, work performance in academic, employee, internship, employment, or volunteer endeavors are valuable as they may affect the way an admissions committee looks at your application. The letters should be from people who are in a position to evaluate not only your performance, but also your potential and your character in specific and meaningful ways.
Your undergraduate years provide good opportunities to enrich your education by getting to know your teachers (and you them) who could eventually write strong letters of recommendation for law school or for any other path you choose. You can do this by being intellectually curious, demonstrate initiative, and become actively engaged in all your classes. Seek opportunities to work on research projects with faculty members or with faculty guidance on independent research questions of your own. As the pre-law advisor at Notre Dame University, Ava Preacher, says, “A great letter of recommendation is simply a happy by-product of a student’s hard work.”
Planning ahead and giving plenty of time for those agreeing to write a letter is very important. By not waiting until the last minute you show that you are mindful of their responsibilities and that you are organized, mature, and responsible. When you approach someone about writing a letter, make sure you ask if the person feels that they know you or your work well enough to write a letter. If the answer is positive, be prepared to provide the following: a list of schools to which you are applying; the dates you plan to submit your applications; whether the letters are to be returned to the law school, if you will be picking them up personally, and prepared envelopes if the person must mail the letters. It is also important to complete whatever forms you may be using for the letters of recommendation, including signing any options for waiving the right or not to see the letter or your social security number. You may also ask if any additional information would be helpful in the writing of a meaningful letter of recommendation—such as a resume which is always a good resource, a writing sample, and perhaps your personal statement.