PG over at De Novo recently posted "The Ten Commandments of Law School Applications." I have also been corresponding with several people interested in attending law school or are about to begin law school, but through e-mail. I've redacted those correspondeces to share them with you all, now.
See below the fold.
If you're truly interested in law then give a great deal of time and effort to studying for the LSATs. Your score will largely determine where you will go to school. While it doesn't serve as an indication of how well you'll do once accepted, it will at least limit or open your options for applying. This isn't to neglect, however, that your undergraduate GPA and major will also be factors admissions departments consider when evaluating applications.
Also, if it isn't too late, try to take some philosophy classes. I know already that many of my classmates and peers would disagree, citing the uniqueness of studying law is not like studying much else. While I agree with this contention, I cannot but notice that my classmates who have majored in philosophy have impressed me more and seem to have a handle on the material in a way many of my other classmates do not. Of course this is anecdotal evidence, but there are enough similarities in my mind between studying law and introductory philosophy (e.g. logic) that give incentive to the law school bound to take philosophy classes.
You should know that studying law is like little else. I am convinced that no undergraduate major can expose you to the same material, the same methodology, nor the same pedagogy you will find in law school(s). Admittedly, some majors may prepare you better than others, but no major, in my opinion, can give you an adequate "preview."
There are enough books out there that "introduce" those interested in what law students encounter, so I will save you most of the details. Law is taught universally though the case law method. Students learn the law by reading actual cases. Through reading actual judicial opinions students glean a controlling rule. Through reading subsequent cases students come to see the rule applied more, distinguished (say, if a party asserts that rule "x" applies when that party's case is too factually dissimilar for rule "x" to apply), or overturned. If the rule produced by the judge is reasonable, and consistent with the existing body of law (i.e. the Constitution, etc.), it becomes a precedent. Law students learn the law, in other words, by reading opinions in which the law is applied or not applied--and why.
From this example I hope you can see how very little of an undergraduate's career can give him a preview of what law school is all about. The best he can do is prepare his mind to be at ease with abstract thought and capable of doing rigorous logic.
You should begin discerning what sort of law school you're interested in attending. While they all (at least the accredited ones) are bound to teach the "same" law, their presentation is diverse, to say nothing of their environments. Among the things to consider: sectarian vs. non-sectarian; large vs. small; state vs. private; top 50?; top 100?; public service/social justice oriented institutions?
You should understand the virtues of attending a small, liberal arts college that is every-bit as good as any top twenty-five national research institution. I suspect many who have or will offer you admissions counseling will leave most of these considerations out. In fact, if your experience is like mine, your counselors will try to steer you to the top law schools only for no other reason than that they're at the top. Very few people give any weight to discerning which law school is 'right' for you. To think, if you spent a $125,000 on a car--as in fact some people do--you would research it, test-drive it, inspect it, re-visit it, etc. Do the same here. Don't pick a school merely because it's among the top 10.
I chose to attend a school with an assertively Catholic identity, though it is unfortunately relatively unknown to most in the legal community. Of course it might be better to graduate from a school with national recognition, but I wouldn't want to trade my professors or the environment for national reputation alone.
"For what shall it profit a man, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul?"
While I am sure many of my classmates preparatory classes, I can think of one in particular who took one and recommends it. I think he'd say it gave him a great snapshot of what to expect. Despite its short length, it also aquainted him with some of the vocabulary of law school. My law school sent us the following books, which we were expected to ready by orientation:
- An Introduction to Legal Reasoning by Edward H. Levi
- Bramble Bush by Karl N. Llewellyn (who wrote substantial parts of the UCC)
- 50 Questions on the Natural Law
- Law School Without Fear by Helene S. Shapo & Marshall Shapo
- A Man for All Seasons by Robert Bolt
I believe only the first was worth reading, though Llewellyn's book is perhaps the most recommended by law school deans. Some of the selections were geared toward students interested in coming to a law school like mine, one with a religious mission. This is obvious, I am sure.
I am convinced that nothing can prepare you fully for law school, though some arrive better prepared than others. Part of the first year experience is 'being lost,' so enjoy it. My only advice really, is to understand that however much you may keep up with law and all things legal, realize that you know very little about the law. I am saying this in general, which is my advice to anyone interested in law school or about to enter law school. Law school pedagogy teaches you a system and a way to think. You learn the law and how to apply it--hopefully--systematically. The depth and rigor of legal analysis just isn't covered by the MSM, nor can it be gathered from reading Supreme Court opinions. Really, some might even argue that legal analysis can't be gotten from SC opinions because you can't get what isn't there! That may be a bit too cynical for me, but I understand the point. Also, a majority of the law is technical, and rule-oriented, as you will see in Civil Procedure, Torts, Contracts, and Property. The balancing and tests we often see used in the SC opinions aren't often utilized elsewhere because the common law, which has built time-tested precedents, speaks adequately.