Many Southwestern graduates have gone on to become successful in the field of law. Unlike medical school, however, law school applications have no specific prerequisites (except the entrance exam), so it’s imperative that individuals thoroughly evaluate the field of law and whether they want to become an attorney before pursuing law school. For more information, download “Do You Want to Be a Lawyer?”
Approximately 5% of graduating Southwestern University students enter law school directly upon graduation. About 30% of SU graduates each year enter some kind of continuing education program. SU students definitely have the potential to secure entry to and graduate from graduate and professional school - and planning ahead helps!
The most successful students take every advantage to enhance their profiles. Your first source of information should be the American Bar Association (ABA)’s article on Preparation for Legal Education. This statement lists the skills and knowledge that are essential to law. The statement is available at www.abanet.org/legaled/prelaw/prep.html.
Use your undergraduate years to determine if becoming a lawyer is the right career choice for you. The faculty who serve as pre-law advisors (Dr. Tim O’Neill, 512.863.1976, and Dr. Kerry Bruns) and Career Services will serve as your allies every step of the way, from helping you determine the resources that will assist your decision through the actual application process.
Choosing a Major
The wonderful but frustrating truth is that law schools have no preference for any major or course work, but they do consider very strongly how well you do in your choice of major. All undergraduate majors have characteristics that will help you in law school: engineering and science students develop analytical reasoning; liberal arts students develop knowledge about the structure of society and reading- and writing-intensive skills, while business majors obtain corporate and entrepreneurial insights. Students from all majors at Southwestern University have become successful lawyers.
Don’t rush your decision about your major: instead, take time to investigate your interests and be open-minded. We advise students to major in what they enjoy most and what they would consider for an alternate career. Usually, you do better in courses in which you like the material. You may also decide not to go to law school immediately after graduation or you may change your mind about it completely. Use your electives to dabble in course work required for other majors. This will broaden your educational background as well as allow you to check out other possibilities for careers.
Making the Grade
The two most important determinants of admission to law school are your cumulative grade point average and your LSAT score. However, filling your undergraduate semesters with blow-off courses will backfire on you in several ways. First, your LSAT score will reflect your lack of cognitive growth and flabby thinking skills. Second, law school requires overwhelming amounts of reading and analysis, and talented, determined and extremely competitive classmates will surround you. A non-challenging educational program will cripple you from the start. Third, in college you should seek out the excellent professors, not just the courses. Honors courses, for instance, often offer the best professors, smaller class sizes, and lots of chance for debate. (They also allow you to make great professor contacts for law school evaluation letters). Most importantly, your undergraduate years help mold the type of person you become. At no other time in your life you will be able to sample such a myriad of offerings at your discretion. Indulge yourself!
When you apply to law school, every grade from every college will be compiled into one grade point average. This means that although the grades earned at a community college do not “count” at Southwestern, they will count when you apply to law school! Additionally, courses via correspondence or the Internet will count as well.
There are no required courses for law school. Many prior applicants recommend Introduction to Logic because the LSAT is largely a logical reasoning test. Many students take courses in history, accounting, economics, anthropology, political science, literature, philosophy, sociology, speech, and psychology to round out their curriculum. Career Services and faculty advisors are available to assist students in determining which courses may be beneficial to them.
Your Law School Admission Test (LSAT) score is the second major determinant of whether you get accepted into law school and which schools will admit you. This multiple-choice exam contains five 35-minute sections, out of which four count towards your score. One section is experimental, but you will not know which one it is. These sections test reading comprehension and analytical and logical reasoning skills. In addition, there is a 35-minute writing sample section. The test is scored on a scale of 120-180. Never take the LSAT for practice! Some schools average your scores if you take the LSAT more than once; many do not favor multiple scores at all, especially if the second score is lower.
Students should plan to take the LSAT no later than June after their junior year. This will allow you to receive and assess your scores before sending off your applications. Waiting to take the October test in your senior year gives you less time to plan and implement your application strategy.
In addition to grades and test scores, law schools examine your resume to see what types of activities you have participated in and what leadership opportunities you have taken. All pre-law students should consider joining the SU Pre-Law Society, a law-related student organization. This group provides speakers such as lawyers and admissions officers, field trips to law schools, mock LSATs, and plenty of camaraderie with students with similar aspirations. In addition to student organizations on campus, you should consider community service opportunities, internships, study abroad, and work experience. There are no “required” activities for law school, but the most competitive applicants tend to have demonstrated leadership experience and have often take study abroad trips or completed internships. Career Services or the faculty member doing pre-law advising can help you determine which activities and programs will best suit your needs and goals.
Law School Applications
In general, you will begin working on parts of the application at the end of your junior year. Since many schools use a rolling-admissions (first-come, first-served) policy, send your applications off by the end of October of your senior year. All paperwork should be complete by December. This includes transcripts, recommendation letters, and CAS Reports. There are generally no interviews. See Career Services’ “Applying to Law School” handout for more details.
Make Your Plans
Investigate law as a career by reading (see the list below), interviewing lawyers and judges, and being an active member of a law-related student organization. Obtain realistic information about law school placement rates and starting salaries. Begin networking in the legal community now so that you can properly focus your energy and time during law school.
Explore other career options with your academic advisor or Career Services. Make use of your campus resources!
Correct your academic weaknesses now. Developing reading speed, study skills, and test-taking strategies are just some of the topics you can get help with at the Center for Academic Success.
Develop your relationships with your professors early for recommendation letter purposes and mentoring later. You do not have to have a problem to see a professor during office hours! Professors are interesting and have a wealth of knowledge. You can’t afford to be shy in the career you have chosen.
Law-related internships or employment will enhance your ability to make an informed decision to attend law school and get marketable practical experience. You can volunteer, be a part-time student worker or work full-time in the summer. Career Services has helpful information regarding legal careers.
Give your academic performance top priority— don’t let a poor record make your career decision for you.
Other Pre-Law Resources
- American Bar Association
- Law School Admission Council
- National Association of Law Placement
- SU Center for Academic Success Website
- SU Career Services Law School Internet Resources
- SU Pre-Law Society
- SU Washington Semester
- The Official Guide to U.S. Law Schools. LSAC and LSAS publication.
- ABA Guide to Approved Law Schools. American Bar Association.
- Pre-Law Companion. Ronald Coleman.
- The Official Lawyer’s Handbook. D. Robert White.
- One L: An Inside Account of Life in the First Year at Harvard Law School. Scott Turow.
- An Introduction to Legal Reasoning. Edward H. Levi.
- The Spirit of the Common Law. Roscoe Pound.
- The Bramble Bush. Karl N. Llewellyn.
- Going to Law School? Readings on a Legal Career. Ehrlich and Hazzard.
- John Marshall, A Life in Law. Leonard Baker.
- The Washington Lawyer. Charles Horsky.
- The Growth of American Law. J.W. Hurst.
- Thinking About Law School: A Minority Guide. LSAC and LSAS Publication.
- Cracking the System: The LSAT. The Princeton Review.
- Full Disclosure: Do You Really Want to Be a Lawyer? Complied by Susan Bell.
- The Lure of the Law. Richard W. Moll.
A good, complete application requires proper planning! A complete application consists of five main items: your undergraduate GPA; your LSAT score; the application itself; your resume and your recommendation letters. Some applicants will also include addenda to discuss grade trends, standardized testing conditions or criminal records. To present yourself in the best light, you should begin preparations as soon as possible. The following strategies should help you get started.
Is law school right for you? Many applicants to law school know little about the profession and about trends in law school admissions. While you are completing the application process, take time to learn more about legal education and the profession. See Career Services’ “Planning for Law School” and “Do you really want to be a lawyer?” handouts for more information.
Recommended Timetable for Law School Applicants
Prepare and register for the June LSAT. Begin researching law schools and identify possible choices. Start collecting reference letters.
Take the LSAT. Continue research and finalize law school choices. Make a file for each law school and include deadlines, addresses, etc. Update your resume.
Receive LSAT scores. Send requests for information to law schools of interest. Begin writing your personal statement. Keep track of which letters you have received and send Thank You cards to the writers.
Subscribe to Credential Assembly Service (CAS). Have official transcripts from every school you have ever attended sent directly to CAS. Begin completing applications. Keep photocopies of all application materials and correspondence. Forward reference letters to CAS.
Take, or retake if necessary, the LSAT. Complete remaining applications. Receive notification from CAS that Law School Reports have been mailed to law schools. Rank law schools on your list.
Receive offers of admission. Apply for financial aid and scholarships. Tour law schools that have offered admission. Inform Career Services of admissions offers and which school you have selected.
Law School Admission Council
One of the first things you should do is set up your Law School Admission Council (LSAC) account. This will be your gateway to the entire law school admission process. Your LSAC account number will be your primary identifier for all LSAC services. You will use your LSAC account for registering for the LSAT, receiving your scores, using the Credential Assembly Service, and submitting law school applications. Once you set up your LSAC account, you will be able to easily go through all of the steps necessary to register for the LSAT, prepare all of your credentials, complete your applications, and check the status of your application process.
Mastering the LSAT
The LSAT tests your reading comprehension, analytical reasoning, and logical reasoning skills. While the LSAT is offered four times per year (June, September/October, December and February), most applicants plan to take the LSAT in June in the year preceding law school entry in order to send completed applications as early as possible. Many schools practice rolling admissions and early applicants are in a better position. Do not take the test cold and don’t take the real test for practice. If you cannot take the June exam due to study abroad, work, or lack of preparation, you can still apply for early admission by taking the September/October exam. Schools treat multiple scores differently; most will average all scores. The test may be administered at Southwestern (check the LSAT website to be sure), and the three closest testing sites to SU are in Austin at UT, ACC and Huston-Tillotson.
Prepare for the test and plan to take it only once. There are many LSAT preparation methods. Some students choose to enroll in private prep courses, either live ($1000+) or on the web ($500-800), while others do self-prep ($70-125). Mock LSATs are available several times per year and you can purchase previous LSATs.
Register for the LSAT as soon as possible to reserve a spot at your first-choice test site. If you are taking the June test, determine where you will be living at that time. After registration, do not throw the LSAT Registration book away!! You will need to refer to it later.
Credential Assembly Service (CAS)
The Credential Assembly Service (CAS) streamlines the admission process because you need only have your transcripts, recommendations, and evaluations sent one time to LSAC, and they summarize them and combine them with your LSAT scores and writing samples into a report that is sent to your prospective law schools. The Credential Assembly Service includes access through your LSAC account to electronic applications for all ABA-approved law schools. Most ABA-approved law schools require that applicants use CAS as a centralized, standard method of receiving applicant information. The basic steps for assembling your CAS file can be done in any order, but they must all be completed before any law school reports will be sent.
- Create your secure LSAC.org account if you have not already done so
- Make sure there is a reportable LSAT score in your LSAC file
- Provide information about the schools you attended to LSAC
- Make sure all required transcripts are sent to LSAC
- Make sure all required letters of recommendation and evaluations are sent to LSAC
- Pay the $155 fee for the Credential Assembly Service. (Your account will remain active for five years.)
Read carefully the instructions in your CAS registration materials. After registration with CAS, you will contact schools you have attended and request official academic transcripts be sent directly to CAS. Transcripts for courses taken during high school concurrent registration or at a community college must be sent by the school granting the credit. CAS will calculate an overall GPA for you. This GPA may differ from your Southwestern GPA if you have many transfer hours. Finally, you should send reference letters to CAS. You can check the status of your CAS file on the web and determine which letters and transcripts have been received. You can also determine whether a law school has requested your file and when the file was mailed to the school.
After receiving all of your transcripts and forms, CAS will compile a Master Law School Report and send you a copy. Check all of the information to be certain no errors exist. You will also receive a list of mathematical formulas that some law schools use to calculate an index for the admissions process. Schools to which you have applied will then request a copy of your Report directly from CAS. Be certain to request the proper number of Reports be generated. CAS does not send your resume or personal statement to law schools! Remember that if you create an item, you must send it directly to each law school.
Law School Resumes
Unless forbidden, you should send a resume with each law school application. This resume will generally be longer and contain more detail than a resume used in a job search. A typical senior will have one-and-one-half to two pages. Several good examples of resumes are available in Career Services. The resume should enable the reader to know everything about your community service, employment, extracurricular activities, special programs and academic honors. You should include information about where you went to high school, but you generally don’t include details about high school activities. Remember to include specific information and details. For example, selection criteria for honors lets the reader understand the significance of the honor. Career Services is always ready to review your resume and offer suggestions.
Personal Statements and Addenda
Your grades and LSAT scores give the committee some idea of your academic abilities. Your resume lets them know what you have done and where you have been. The personal statement can be the most important part of the application because it lets the committee know something about you. Because most law schools do not interview applicants, a personal statement is your only chance to provide additional information to the admissions committee. Your resume in prose format is not a personal statement! Different people will give you different advice on what to include in your statement, so always consider the source of information. Before you mail your application and statement, have others read it and offer objective comments. Career Services, academic advisors, and trusted professors are good choices for critics. Spend time reflecting on your life, the events and people who have impacted you, and the important things in your life. Write a statement that lets the reader know more about you. To have a statement reviewed by Career Services call 512.863.1346 to set up an appointment.
If you had a poor semester or low LSAT scores, you may wish to discuss this in your application. Some will advise you to include that in your personal statement. You should do this only if that is the essence of the story you wish to tell the committee. However, overcoming low grades or doing poorly on the LSAT will not be the thesis of most statements. You may include an addendum with your application that discusses only the reasons for poor performance and how you overcame that hurdle. Reasons may include illness, financial problems, lack of study skills, or lack of motivation. If you wish to prove that the LSAT is not a good indicator of your future performance, you may wish to discuss your SAT/ACT scores and how those scores did not predict your success at Southwestern. Once again, Career Services is happy to review these addenda. For more information, download “Write the Right Personal Statement.”
Reference letters may serve a crucial role when the admissions committee must decide between you and another applicant. Generally, you will need three letters. Choose evaluators who know you and can speak from a first-hand perspective of you and your abilities. At least one letter should be from a faculty member at Southwestern from whom you have taken a class. Faculty can compare you with other students whom they have taught, discuss your writing and analytical abilities, and remark on your behavior and attendance in the classroom. Letters from friends and acquaintances will not hurt your admissions chances, but generally do not improve them. A letter from your employer that discusses your work ethic and skills will generally outweigh a judge you know socially and says that you are a good person.
Law School Applications
You should apply to law schools electronically right from your LSAC.org account (to US member law schools only). Schools will then request your Credential Assembly Service law school report from LSAC. Be sure your LSAC application information is correct. If there are mistakes, correct them as soon as possible!
Your application form will generally be that which you submit via your LSAC account. However, each law school may require other information regarding letters of recommendation, resumes or personal statements. Read each list of requirements thoroughly before you begin to submit materials. Consult the law school, Career Services or a professor if you have any questions. Schools request different items, which range from postcards or labels, to second and third essays. Applications should be sent as early in the application season as possible.
Early Decision/Early Admission. Several schools have early decision or early admission programs. Some schools will not have applications until late September or early October. Applications are not available in Career Services because law schools prefer to know which students are interested in their school. After obtaining all of the applications, keep good records on application deadlines and procedures. You must also keep a photocopy of each completed application. When you take the bar exam during your first year of law school, you are required to submit a copy of the application to the bar examiners.
To which law schools should you apply?
You should examine why you want to attend law school and your realistic chances of gaining admission to different schools. The Official Guide to U.S. Law Schools provides a starting place for examining your options; copies are available at www.lsac.org. Factors to consider when choosing law schools include reputation, location, facilities, teaching methods, combined graduate/law programs, placement and bar passage rates, costs, clinical programs, faculty, part-time or evening divisions, class size, and student to faculty ratio. Your list of law schools should include at least one school where your chances of admission are high and at least one school that is a long shot. Your Southwestern professors and Career Services can help you evaluate your list of possible schools. Visit as many law schools as possible. Ask Career Services the name of the Southwestern contact student at a particular school. Many wait to visit schools until the spring semester, when law schools have “admitted student days.”
Several issues may arise during the application process, ranging from questions about trends in grades to minor legal indiscretions. Never assume that you should gloss over any incidents in your past. Remember that the Bar Examiners will receive a copy of your law school application from the law school when you enroll. They are checking for honesty and consistency. Failure to disclose scholastic probation or a minor criminal violation on your application could result in your being denied admission to the bar in three years! All infractions of the law must be reported, even if they were expunged or if you received deferred adjudication.
Finally, be neat! All applications should be typed or computer-processed, even if the instructions say that handwritten answers are acceptable. All additional pages, including your personal statement and addenda, should have your name and Social Security number near the top of the page. Keep a file to monitor the progress of each application and apply well in advance of deadlines.
Important Contacts for Law School Applicants
- SU Career Services Law School Internet Links
- Law School Admission Council: www.lsac.org (Register for LSAT, check status of LSDAS file, order old tests, find links to every accredited law school)
- ABA-LSAC Official Guide to Law Schools: http://officialguide.lsac.org
- American Bar Association: www.abanet.org (Explore careers and specializations)
- National Association of Law Placement: www.nalp.org (Learn about legal careers, current placement statistics and salaries)
- Princeton Review: www.princetonreview.com/law/default.asp
- Kaplan Test Prep: www.kaptest.com (SU students receive a $200 discount for on-campus classes, which they can redeem by calling the Austin Kaplan Center at 512.472.8085, rather than registering online.)
- ScorePerfect: www.scoreperfect.net (The finest and most comprehensive test preparation in the world.)
- GetPrepped LSAT Prep: www.getprepped.com/ (Southwestern students can receive a $25 discount by using the discount code SWU10)
- Austin LSAT Prep: www.austinlsat.com/ (Southwestern students will receive $100 off LSAT course fees by entering AL-SWU100 under promotional code on their enrollment form.)
- Advise-In Solutions: www.advisein.com (Premium, personalized advising for pre-law and law school students including a 10-week LSAT prep program, application consulting, intro to law school “bootcamp” and more)
- Sherwood Test Prep: www.sherwoodtest.com/ (Top-quality LSAT prep courses nationwide at a value price)
- Testmasters: http://www.testmasters.com/ (One of fastest growing test prep companies in the country. Now offering FREE online grading resources.)
- LSAT free practice tests by LearningExpress Library - Brought to you by the SU library.
- Varsity Tutors: http://www.varsitytutors.com/ (Southwestern students will receive a $75 discount off any tutoring package. Premier 1-on-1 private tutoring service specializing in all academic subjects in addition to test prep. In addition to our physical locations, we have online Skype tutoring.)