Frequently Asked Questions
Only you can answer that question, but there are several ways to increase your chances of making a good decision. Don’t just watch “Law and Order” or “LA Law.” TV dramas dramatize and romanticize the professions they portray, including the lives of lawyers. Instead of watching television, take action—and do so early in your college years, preferably in your freshman, sophomore, or junior years:
Work, intern, or volunteer at a law office. Even if you can only do menial tasks and are not paid, it will be worth your while to work at a law firm, government law office, or some other legal setting—to see how lawyers actually work. If you go into law practice, it is likely that you will be doing something similar in a few years. Spend time now to see whether it looks like something you would actually be interested in.
Talk to lawyers. Ask your parents and friends if they know a lawyer. Call this person and quiz them about their professional lives—what they like and dislike. Most people enjoy talking with college students about their jobs. Try to get several perspectives, particularly from lawyers who practice in different areas
Sit in on some law school classes. While the law school experience differs significantly from law practice, “attending” law school for a day can be a very useful experience. In addition, ask law students you know about their experiences.
Read reliable books about the lives of lawyers. Check the ratings of lawyer satisfaction in the book. Sadly lawyers as a whole are one of the least satisfied groups of professionals in the country—and many switch to new careers after several years of practice. But others love the law.
Most people practice law with it. But law practice is extremely diverse in its subject matter—everything from aviation law to divorce law. In a general sense, however, most lawyers do similar things—they analyze problems and use their writing and oral skills to solve those problems. This takes place in many settings from the law library and law office to the courtroom.
Lawyers work in the private sector, in government offices, and in nonprofit organizations. While lawyers are “service” professionals, those they serve are extremely diverse-- rich and the poor, guilty and the innocent, corporations and individuals, etc. Your own personal philosophy should guide you in deciding who you want to serve as a lawyer.Many people also use a law degree to land jobs outside law, in business, academia, or other endeavors. But most people do practice law with their J.D.
Most lawyers live comfortably and work hard to do so. A few become very rich, but most are middle class. Note as well that at times it may be difficult to land a law job after law school, depending on the job market. Do not assume that a law degree is a ticket to Easy Street. In fact, most lawyers work very long hours to make their money.Okay; I’ve decided to go to law school. What should I do now?
Throughout your career at Duquesne, you should be taking challenging courses that require analytic thinking, high level reading, and extensive writing. This is the best preparation for law school.
Work hard at your classes and earn good grades. Do not take your freshman year (or any other year) as a flyer. When you apply for law school, your freshman year will be 1/3 of the grades that law schools will review. It is important to do well throughout your college career.
Explore the career options that lawyers have, by talking to the prelaw advisor and reading books about the lives of lawyers.
Not at Duquesne or most top colleges. Most law schools discourage students from majoring in prelaw.
Anything that interests you--from chemistry to political science--as long as the major has rigorous courses, with significant amounts of reading, analysis, and writing. Law schools prefer that you broaden and challenge yourself as an undergraduate. There is time enough for you to specialize in law school (or other grad schools). College is a time to explore new and interesting areas of study--and law schools encourage that, rather than narrow pre-professional training.
First, never take the LSAT as a flyer. This is a difficult test that demands thorough preparation. Every score you receive on it will be reported to law schools, and most schools will average two or more scores in deciding on admissions.
Second, study hard for the LSAT. Many students take LSAT preparation courses. I do not necessarily recommend these to all students, and I do not promote any particular test prep company over another. If you are a self-motivated student who is serious about studying a test prep book, you may not need a prep class. If you do not believe you have the discipline to study on your own for several weeks, take a class. Whether or not you take an LSAT course, be sure to take several practice tests under real test conditions,most importantly strict timing. This is critical so that you go into the LSAT knowing exactly what the format of questions will be.
For students who are sure they want to apply to law school, the best time to take the LSAT is in June after the end of junior year. This date gives you time to focus solely on the exam after classes end, and to find out your scores well before classes begin again in the fall.
Most law schools average scores from multiple LSAT testings. Therefore your chances of dramatically improving on your first score are small--unless you really did blow the first exam. How would you know if that is the case? If in the timed practice tests that you took before the LSAT, you consistently scored much higher than the test you received on the real test, there is a good chance that you may be able to improve on a retake. In this circumstance, it may make sense to retake. Otherwise, a retake is unlikely to help you much in law school admissions.
Various organizations, including most prominently U.S. News & World Report magazine, rank law schools using a variety of criteria--from professorial scholarship to alumni giving to entering student’s LSAT scores. How useful these rankings are for the most important issue--the law school’s ability to teach you law--is questionable.
For better or for worse, however, the rankings have considerable importance. If you go to a high ranked law school, your fellow students are, on average, likely to have much higher LSAT scores than if you attend a low ranked school. As a result, your in-class experience is likely to be richer and more challenging. The rankings also have a major impact on your job opportunities immediately after law school. If you graduate from a top ranked school, many major law firms and other employers are likely to seek you out for high-paying jobs and you will usually have many opportunities to practice law in a variety of settings. If you attend a lower ranked school, you will have to work harder to find employment as a lawyer and your opportunities and salary will be smaller.
All that said, it is also true that if you do well in a law school of any rank you will have a good chance of getting a job in law. Particularly if you make the Law Review of clerk for a judge, you will likely have a wide variety of job opportunities.
Finally, bear in mind that your law school is most important in landing your first job. Thereafter, your skills and reputation as a lawyer will determine how far you can go with your law degree.
While top-ranked law schools are more than happy to take your application fees, you should make sensible choices about which law schools are most likely to admit you. For better or worse, law schools rely primarily on GPAs and especially LSAT scores in making their admissions decisions. Refer to the Boston College Law School Locator for an easy guide to the law schools to which you can realistically hope to gain admission, based on your GPA and LSAT scores. The Locator also has good advice on “safety” and “reach” schools, which you should also apply to.
Every law school is unique, but all of them offer the same curriculum for the first year of law school and many of the same courses for succeeding years. Some schools have reputations for specialties in certain practice areas, such as environmental, human rights, international, corporate, or criminal law. But you can gain basic training in most of these areas at most law schools. Your real training in any of these areas, however, will come on the job.
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