Dr. Paul Kens
Professor, Department of Political Science
Office: UAC 371
Dr. Kenneth Ward
Professor, Department of Political Science
Office: UAC 369
No, there is not a pre law major or minor at Texas State. This is not unusual. Typically, pre law students must fulfill the requirements of a specific major and take electives to round out their preparation for law school.
Again, the answer is no. Law schools seek students who write clearly and logically, and who think analytically. Prospective law students should keep this in mind when selecting courses as well as majors. Remember that logical thinking comprises a significant percentage of the law school admissions test (LSAT), which must be taken by all law school applicants.
The answer to this question is a qualified no. Law schools do not consider one major superior to another as preparation for legal studies. Law schools, however, do take into consideration the difficulty of the applicant’s college program. For example, when considering an applicant’s grades, some law schools recognize that some majors (such as the sciences and math) produce significantly lower grades.
Our first advice is to study subjects that interest you, the things you like and do very well. Our second piece of advice is to take courses that will: 1) improve your analytical ability; and 2) improve your writing and communication skills.
Some people go to law school because they have been accepted and do not believe they have anything better to do. In most cases, they would be better off deferring their admission and thinking about why to go to law school. Law school is expensive, time consuming, and stressful. While there are great advantages to having a law school degree and while many people find law school an exhilarating intellectual experience, the advantages of a law school degree for someone who does not want to practice law will often be offset by these costs. Moreover, it is likely that your performance in law school will reflect your lack of interest, and thereby further reduce the value of your law degree.
Before deciding to go to law school, you should talk to law school placement officers, lawyers, and other professionals you know. Consider: (1) the expense and time needed to obtain the degree; (2) the type of jobs that law school graduates obtain (pay, hours, nature of the work--don’t forget to consider non-traditional job opportunities open to people with law degrees); and (3) the opportunities you foreclose by going to law school.
Working before law school can be advantageous, and thus, it is not surprising that the average age of law students has been increasing. By deferring law school, you gain time to make certain that you really want to go to law school as you experience the working world. Moreover, work experience might give you a better sense of your interests, and might influence your course selections should you decide to go to law school. Also, the discipline and organizational skills one gains from a work environment might enhance your performance in law school. Working before law school can also ease the burden of your first year, which is usually the most difficult time in law school. It allows you to save money so that you can concentrate on law, and not have to work part time during this period of intense study. Finally, if you believe that your undergraduate record does not qualify you for the law school you wish to attend, professional experience can sometimes strengthen your application. Professional experience allows you to develop new skills--or demonstrate old skills that were not previously evident--and some admission committees might think that your work experience makes you a more interesting candidate.
If you want to start law school immediately after college, you should formulate a strategy for the application process by your junior year. But, as is often the case, it pays to plan early. If you think you might be interested in law school, gather information during your freshman and sophomore years. Talk to people who know about law school, including professors, students, recent graduates and even lawyers. Also, keep in mind that maintaining a high G.P.A. works to your advantage whether or not you decide to apply to law school.
The LSAT is very important (perhaps too important). Most law schools will count it as much--if not more--than your G.P.A. Together, the LSAT and G.P.A. will largely determine your admission chances at most law schools.
The LSAT is offered in June, twice in the fall semester--usually in early October and early December--and in February. Remember, it is very much to your advantage to only take the LSAT once. Therefore, you should take the exam at a time that you feel will maximize your score. Consider the time you have to study given class work and other commitments--it is smart to take a reduced class load the semester you prepare for the LSAT. You should also consider the time you will need to prepare your law school applications (getting applications in early might increase your chances of admission to some law schools). While it is best to take the June or October exams--when you will have less stress from class work-- it is better to take the June exam. Taking the June exam allows you to spend the summer putting your applications in order. Moreover, if you do not feel ready for the exam, you can continue your preparations and take the October exam instead. (Note: if you are thinking about working after graduation and applying to law school later, you should take the exam at a time that you think will maximize your score. Remember, it still might be to your advantage to take the exam while college insulates you from the rigors of the working world.)
If you are disappointed with your score or if you think you would do much better if you took the exam again, consult with a pre-law advisor about taking the test again. In most cases, though not all, law schools will not be impressed by multiple scores. Though the LSDAS (Law School Data Assembly Service) policy is to average multiple scores, individual schools seem to vary in their response to multiple scores.
The Law School Admission Council (LSAC) provides a great deal of information on its website: www.lsac.org. This includes LSAT dates and deadlines, prep tools, as well as law school and financial aid information. Information is also available on campus at the Texas State Student Learning Assistance Center (phone 5-2515).
You should be familiar, and ideally, comfortable with the exam before you take it. Taking practice exams is an excellent idea. In addition to the LSAC website (www.lsac.org), most book stores have materials about how to do well on the LSAT, and often, these materials contain practice exams. When taking practice exams, you should strive to maintain the conditions--especially the time pressure--that will exist at the actual exam.
Many students find that prep courses provide a regimented environment in which they become familiar with the exam and learn strategies for grappling with the more difficult questions. But remember, prep courses are expensive--although it is worth asking whether the company offering the course provides special discounts or financial aid. For some people, these courses might not be worth the time and money. Students who excel at standardized exams or are highly disciplined, for example, might not need to take such a course. In addition, students waste their time and money when they don't put forth the effort to take advantage of the classes and testing opportunities offered by a prep course. One of the best things to do is to talk with graduates--or soon to be graduates--who have successfully navigated the law school application process, and gather their impressions about what they believe contributed to their success.
Although your G.P.A. and LSAT score largely determine your admission chances at most law schools, some schools consider other parts of your application materials. Moreover, at many schools, these materials become more important as admission committees must choose among those whose G.P.As and LSAT scores place them in the middle of the applicant pool.
Letters of Reference
Letters of reference are helpful when they come from someone in a position to evaluate your academic skills. Specific examples of papers you have written or comments you have made in class demonstrate that a person is familiar with your work. Choose references that know your work well and who are willing to write a strong letter. Though difficult, it is helpful to ask a reference if they feel comfortable writing a strong letter that will help your application. A vague letter from an important professor will not be helpful. Remember, you can improve the recommendations you receive by helping your references. Give them opportunity to complete the letter without time pressure, and provide them materials (exams, papers, resumes, transcripts or refresh their memories about class discussions) that will help them write detailed letters--it is also good to provide your references with stamped envelops. In addition, reference letters can be used to communicate other information about your application. For example, a reference can comment on the difficulty of your program, can emphasize your interest in a field, or describe your new found love of academic work. Non-academic references are not usually helpful, although there is an important exception: If you have been out of school for a period of time, an employer can write--again detailed recommendations are best--about your analytical abilities, writing skills, and industriousness. Also, non-academic references can be helpful if they identify abilities that you have that are somehow related to your law school plans. If possible, you should also submit an academic reference. Finally, remember that people like to be thanked for their reference and to be told where you end up going to school.
Essays and Personal Statements
Admission committees will read these essays, and at a minimum, will consider them evidence of your ability (or inability!) to write clearly, grammatically, and coherently. Make sure that someone with good editing skills reviews your essay. It should be well written and mistake free. As for substance, these essays provide your only opportunity to catch the attention of the admissions committee. You help your application to the extent that these essays reveal something of your personality in a way that makes an admissions committee think this is someone who might be interesting to have in a class. Keep in mind that admission committees get many letters that address the theme of “why I always wanted to be a lawyer;” such letters are not helpful. In addition, the essays provide an opportunity to clarify your application. Why was your G.P.A. unusually low one semester, how do certain experiences explain your interest in law, or, if you are an older student, discuss what you did during the break in your education--for example, you might have raised a family or had experience in the military.
You should apply to as many law schools as necessary to make you confident that you will be admitted to a school that you wish to attend. If you have unlimited resources--and too much free time--then you might apply to many law schools in which admission is a long shot. Most people do not want to spend lots of time and money applying to schools for which they have little hope of getting admitted. A better, and common strategy, is to pick a few '"dream schools," schools that you would really like to attend but feel that your chances of admission are not very good (there is a reason that Harvard gets so many applications each year). You should also pick a few safety schools, places where you feel certain of admission, and more importantly, where you would actually go. Finally, concentrate your resources on schools at which you are competitive--where your chances of admission are roughly 40% to 60%, and where you would like to go (sometimes, you can increase your chances at these schools by targeting applications to those whose student body does not include many people from the southwest). The Prelaw Handbook, published annually by the American Association of Law Schools and the Law School Admission Council, provides information that will allow you to make reasonable guesses as to your chance of admission to different schools given your G.P.A. and L.S.A.T score. For a list of Texas Law Schools, see Appendix A.
In addition to the comfort of not having applications hanging over your head, it is sometimes to your advantage to submit your applications as early as possible--and by January 1 at the latest. Some schools have “rolling admissions,” which means that they evaluate applications as they receive them. In years in which the application pool is unusually competitive, these schools might admit too many students early in the year, and thus your chances of admission could diminish as the year progresses.
You should make sure that the schools have received your entire application--not all schools will tell you when your application is complete. If a school is wavering about whether to admit you or if a school places you on a waiting list, it might pay to contact someone in the admissions’ office and find out if there is anything else you can provide to strengthen your application--additional recommendations, a fall grade report, or an additional essay might be helpful. Most law schools do not conduct personal interviews, but it wouldn't hurt to ask if one can be arranged. Showing interest in your application demonstrates enthusiasm about attending their law school. Often that is helpful, but you must be careful not to allow reasonable enthusiasm to be regarded as annoying pestering.
You should consider the reputation of the school, the tuition and other costs of attending the school, the employment opportunities enjoyed by alumni of the school, the location of the school, and the academic and social environment at the school. While it is to your advantage to choose a school with a better reputation, it is often difficult to determine among schools with comparable reputations. There are different sources that rank law schools (the U.S. News and World Report is the most famous of these, and reliance on this source has been discouraged by the deans of many law schools), but remember that the rankings change over time and there is often little difference among schools clustered together. One would be hard pressed to distinguish the twentieth ranked school from the school ranked twenty-fifth. When choosing among schools that are roughly comparable, you should consider what aspects of your legal education are most important to you, and compare those schools along those specific dimensions. Where do their students get jobs and what types of jobs do they get? Do you want to attend a large school or a small school, one with a reputation for competitiveness among students or one with a collegial reputation, a school that offers an active social life or one in which students keep to themselves, a school located in a rural or an urban environment? At this stage, it pays to visit schools, sit in on classes and get a sense of the environment at different schools.
Probably the best source for information concerning the law school application process is the website of the Law School Admission Council (LSAC) at www.lsac.org.
The Department of Political Science has a number of faculty members who are educated and experienced in the law -
Vicki Brittain, B.A., Southwestern College; J.D., Washburn University.
Paul Kens, B.A., Northern Illinois University; J.D., Ph.D., The University of Texas at Austin.
Kenneth Ward, B.A., Drew University; J.D., Yale University; M. Phil., Ph.D., Columbia University
Walter Wright, B.A., J.D., University Houston; LL. M., New York University.
Christopher Brown, B.A., Northwestern University; M.P.A., J.D., University of Texas at Austin
Michelle Evans, B.S., University of Texas at San Antonio; J.D., St. Mary's Law School
Lynn Crossett, B.B.A., University of Texas at Austin; J.D., Texas Tech University