Is pre-law right for you? Yes, no, and it depends. I recommend any students considering law school participate in a pre-law program after careful evaluation. In addition to going through a pre-law program myself, I talked with two young lawyers that both attended an undergraduate program that offered a pre-law track. Each had a different view of pre-law studies, but one underlying recommendation.
Tony Stimson, a young lawyer and current Senior Corporate Counsel at Kforce Inc., does not recommend doing a pre-law program. Instead, Tony suggests pursuing an undergraduate degree that will develop in your writing and critical thinking skills. “I think some of those things are found in a pre-law course, but not as extensively as if you were doing journalism or broadcasting where you really worked on your interpersonal, speaking, and writing skills and having someone critique that,” Tony says.
Tony adds that “having a minor in pre-law and taking some of those legal writing courses would be advisable; but, I think you could gain a lot more out of another degree that would enhance your creativity.”
Ray Panneton, a young lawyer and a litigation associate at Hendershot, Cannon, Martin & Hisey, P.C., in Houston, TX, started out as a pre-med major and made the jump to a pre-law major. “I had to find something that fit with my passion and personality. I really found a niche within pre-law.” While attending Baylor University, Ray says that the pre-law program was more of an idea that didn’t fully form until his final year.
“The good thing about law school is there’s no such thing as ‘the path.’ It’s not like pre-med, where you take these courses and you’re ready for medical school,” Ray points out. “No matter what your background is or what your major is, law school can be the choice for you.”
However, Ray says his pre-law program helped him gain important skills sets such as logic, writing and reasoning. The program at Baylor focused on getting students involved in courses outside of those required for their major, such as within the philosophy department, which Ray says he would have avoided without the requirements of the pre-law program.
“[The pre-law program] drove me, against my will, to get into logic classes and writing classes that were not so much based in my major, but based in an intellectual side of studying,” Ray adds. “Truthfully, that was the greatest thing I’ve ever done in terms of my legal career.”
Overall, a pre-law program should be preparing you for the level of studies and rigorous writing you will encounter in law school. You’ll be hard-pressed to find undergraduate courses that are taught in this manner, so make sure the courses you take are providing more than just political science or criminal justice backgrounds.
Steps before you commit
Talk to the pre-law advisor and ask for some recent graduates that are currently attending law school. You’ll be hard-pressed to find a pre-law advisor that doesn’t keep track of statistics for program alumni, including LSAT scores and application information, such as acceptance rates. If they don’t have that information, then it should be a red-flag as to how seriously your college or university takes the program and whether anyone is actually keeping tabs on the program or investing into its success.
I remember while studying at Samford University, my pre-law advisor opened a gigantic Excel spreadsheet during our first meeting. The spreadsheet was one of many he kept that had all kinds of information that had been supplied by previous pre-law students and was a valuable resource in helping understand what kinds of success the program provided.
Your pre-law advisor should also provide information about the success rates of alumni that attend law school and how the program has been tailored and updated to fit the feedback the pre-law advisor has received from past students. I recommend asking for an alumni list of current law students that you could talk with and ask about what they found beneficial from the program. It’d also be a great chance to get more information about their path to law school and what advice they could share with you that they learned from their own journey.
You likely have some idea of which law schools you want to attend, so reach out to your targeted list. Law school admissions staff are always available via e-mail and can be contacted through any law school’s website. They will be your best guide to knowing whether a pre-law program is given any additional consideration during an application process. Also, they may be able to let you know what types of pre-law studies have best prepared their law students for success during the all-important 1L year. It’s also another way to stand out and show the admissions team you’re taking a serious approach to law school and doing everything possible to set yourself up for success.
Additionally, you should know which courses will be available that actually fit into the remaining semester schedules you have left in undergraduate studies. At most universities, pre-law studies are made up of a variety of courses offered by a number of unrelated departments. You need to make sure those department schedules won’t overlap, plan to offer the course within the remaining semester you have left in your studies, and conflicting schedules or locations won’t prohibit you from taking the courses. A great alternative is to find out what opportunities are available for summer studies, both at your current university and at other schools that will allow you transfer the credits. Taking a summer or flex term (e.g., January or May terms) course can avoid scheduling conflicts or time-commitment issues with your degree-required courses necessary for graduating and obtaining your main degree.
As with any decision, it’s important to carefully evaluate the time commitment a pre-law program will take and weigh the benefits and disadvantages of pursuing this course of study. There are more factors than just a pre-law program that are considered in your admission to law school, so don’t view this as your only path to getting into a J.D. program.