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Before You Apply to Law School

Updated on October 26, 2017
stephhicks68 profile image

Stephanie has been a lawyer since 1994 and knows her way around a professional office environment.

Should You Apply to Law School?

For some college students, a bachelor's degree is not the end of their education - it is but a step towards graduate school. Unless you've focused your undergraduate degree on a particular field (i.e., pre-med or computer science), you may be wondering what options you have with respect to graduate programs. Among many to choose from is the pursuit of a law degree, or juris doctorate (J.D.)

No particular college major is required for you to apply to law schools. The applicant need only have obtained an undergraduate degree and taken the LSAT (law school admission test). Depending on the schools you may be considering, however, certain college majors are more impressive than others. In law school, my friends generally had majors in the areas of political science, economics, sociology, and journalism.

How Long is Law School?

The typical law school program is 3 years. Each class is called "first years," "second years," or "third years." At least where I attended school, no one referred to students as "1L" or "2L," etc. Some law schools now offer part-time and/or night programs, which can take longer to complete than 3 years. In addition, you may decide to pursue a joint degree in law and business (MBA), which will usually take an additional year for a full time student.

How Expensive is Law School?

It certainly isn't cheap, just like other higher education programs. At a public university, with in-state tuition, each year can cost as much as $25,000. Add the cost of books, living expenses, room and board, and you'll be looking at graduate school debt of $100,000 and up.

Tuition at private universities can range wildly. Expect to pay no less than $40,000 per year, and as much as $80,000 per year. That's right, you could owe more than $250,000 when you graduate, when you add in other expenses! That's about twice the average starting salary of a private law firm associate.

Law books - a lawyer's best friend
Law books - a lawyer's best friend

How Hard is it to get into Law School?

Admission to law school is usually very competitive, across the board. Some schools are notoriously difficult to get into, like Harvard, Yale, Boalt Hall (Berkeley), University of Chicago, Michigan and Stanford. But if your sights are not set that high, you'll probably find that even state universities and smaller schools have rigorous admission standards. Most applicants will have a grade point average (GPA) of at least a 3.5 in their undergraduate work. Scores on the LSAT figure in, as well. The highest possible score is 180. You'd better have at least a 165 to have a good shot. Finally, it is important to have a killer essay and resume, showing how well-rounded you are. The application fees for each school will run you about $50-100, or more. Do your research ahead of time and assess the reality of admission into the schools to which you are applying.

What do you learn in Law School?

Even if you don't end up practicing law, the education you get in law school can be invaluable. During the first year of law school, students generally study principles of contract law, real property, criminal law, and constitutional law. Each and every day, people can be faced with issues related to proper interpretation of a contract, ownership of their property, and constitutional rights. Obviously, you hope that you don't encounter criminal law issues in your life, but having the knowledge of what constitutes a crime (starting with intent), may be useful in the future for you to advise your friends or family members.

Law school involves a lot of reading and detailed analysis. It also requires you to think on your feet. The Socratic method used by most law schools involves the professor asking people at random about what they thought of a particular case, or legal principle. Each answer leads to another thought, question or independent answer.

Illustration of Law School instruction
Illustration of Law School instruction
Nope, its not really like this!
Nope, its not really like this!

What if I decide I don't want to practice Law?

You don't necessarily have to be an attorney after you obtain a law degree. Some people decide that they don't even want to sit for the bar examination, required in each state before they will issue a license to practice law. Others decide after a few years, that the practice of law is just not that wonderful. It certainly isn't as it is portrayed in legal thrillers, like "Boston Legal," or in John Gresham's books. Working for a private law firm can be stressful with billable hour requirements of 1800-2200 in the largest, best-paying firms. New associates may not have meaningful client contact for many years.

There are a number of careers that are available to those educated with a law degree, including instruction (at a law school or community college), in-house positions at a corporation (the best of which would include Microsoft, Starbucks, Costco, etc.), corporate positions, other than legal counsel positions, writing/publishing, governmental positions (elected or otherwise). You can even run for president!

You will probably not regret obtaining a law degree. The value of the education is worth at least as much as the tuition - in most cases! Although private practice lawyers may recoup their investment more rapidly than others, there are still a number of alternatives for those that obtain the degree but decide that they are not cut out for practicing law.

Probably one of the biggest misconceptions is that you'll get rich practicing law. Only after grueling years in practice - usually at least 8 before you become a partner - and then at least 4 additional years thereafter, will you truly see the profits of a private attorney. Any other avenue, and you are basically working on principle alone. A few in-house positions will pay well, but those are few and far between. Not to mention, there is a great deal of competition for the best legal jobs.

Are you tilting towards the scales of justice for your career?
Are you tilting towards the scales of justice for your career?

Considerations Before you Apply to to Law School

The decision whether or not to go to law school should be multi-faceted. Cost, time, and potential profit should all be considered. It could be many years (if not decades) before you recoup your investment in higher education.

But, if you have a passion for the legal field, don't let that dissuade you. There are plenty of professions that can be well-paying, and other services to help you minimize the impact of your decision to get a legal degree.

I wish you the best of luck!

© 2008 Stephanie Hicks


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    • William15 profile image

      William 4 years ago from America

      I'm going to Law School in the fall and I'm so excited!

    • profile image

      LS 5 years ago

      M2L is absolutely right! Just nobody wants to admit after so many years and cash spent. Same as the powerful pharma industry... Well said!

    • profile image

      M2L 5 years ago

      The field is seriously contracting. Low level work is being outsourced, and clients do not want to pay the salaries for new attorneys who have to be trained. In addition government agencies are being flooded with resumes and PI work will not cover your law school loans.

      Furthermore, you are competing against experienced lawyers. (Many of whom so desperate they are willing to work for entry level pay). It is really and trully brutal in the legal profession. The law schools know this but won't tell you. (obviously)

      But, if you make the unfortunate choice to go to law school in this environment, drop out if you are not at the top of your class at the end of 1L. That is unless you go to Harvard, Yale, Stanford, or you know someone who can get you a job, or you are doing this for a hobby.

    • profile image

      M2L 5 years ago

      Don't go ..I'm serious. There are literally no jobs. If you dont believe me check out It is written by a tenured professor at a Tier one school.

    • profile image

      Kerry43 5 years ago

      Thank you!

    • stephhicks68 profile image

      Stephanie Hicks 5 years ago from Bend, Oregon

      Thanks Kerry - and good luck to your daughter. I was talking to another mother of a college graduate yesterday about the very same thing!

      If your daughter has any further questions, she can contact me through HP. Best, Steph

    • profile image

      Kerry43 5 years ago

      Good morning:) One of our daughters is interested in going to law school, I am sending her to your page for further information.

      Thank you so much for sharing.



    • profile image

      M2L 6 years ago

      Law School is a SCAM. There are 2 - 3 times as many students and law graduates as there are positons. Plus it costs insane amounts of money. For what? For some lazy overpaid prof who recycles his/her exams and notes every year to jabber about stuff that has no relevant application to the practice of law. In addition, the field is elitist, only respecting the top 10 or 14 schools, ultimately saying "hey pay $70,000 for the chance to play the big law lottery(which most students wont get) and work 80 plus hours a week at that" (if you are lucky) and then we're going to can you in 5 years before you can make partner. What a joke....Just say no to law school. They should all be out of business

      Any if you think you are special and will be in the top 10% of your class at a sh** law school (any school ranked lower than 10 in this econonmy). think again. 90% of you will not be.

      Stay away from this pyramid scheme

    • profile image

      CurrentLawStudent 6 years ago

      I agree with the analysis but I really think that the decision is simple. Do you want to be an attorney or not? Sure, nobody knows in college, but even so you should go and work in a law firm to find out. There is no use wasting time or money. This article appears to discuss it in my way but what do you think?

    • gmwilliams profile image

      Grace Marguerite Williams 7 years ago from the Greatest City In The World-New York City, New York

      I found your article very interesting. Thank you.

    • profile image

      scholarshipsformo 7 years ago from California

      I have heard about how difficult and stressful law school can be. Very stressful. Great work on the hub by the way.

    • profile image

      Cathy Murray - Legal Lawyer 7 years ago

      Hi, this is very useful. I am about to enter a law school, but first how do you know which law school is best for you?

    • stephhicks68 profile image

      Stephanie Hicks 8 years ago from Bend, Oregon

      Thanks Steve! Being a lawyer can be a very positive experience (just think of all the non-profits, government agencies, low-income people, etc. that also need lawyers)

    • profile image

      Steve Sedberry 8 years ago

      Great hub- positive and upbeat. Very nice antidote to much of the blogging about the profession currently out there.

    • LondonGirl profile image

      LondonGirl 9 years ago from London

      good luck if you do it. What I know about tax you can write on the back of a stamp, "pay it".....

    • stephhicks68 profile image

      Stephanie Hicks 9 years ago from Bend, Oregon

      Good for you! I may one day go back for an LLM in tax or something. Right now, I'm enjoying a P/T lawyer schedule, which gives me more time for hubbing and blogging!

    • LondonGirl profile image

      LondonGirl 9 years ago from London

      Sorry Steph, only just saw your question. "What is your LLM in? I have several friends with LLMs in taxation."

      My LLM is in international law and human rights. I did an option in Western European Legal History, as well.

    • stephhicks68 profile image

      Stephanie Hicks 9 years ago from Bend, Oregon

      Thanks SweetiePie! It is a super education, regardless of whether you practice law or not. The 3 best years of my life were spent at law school. :) Steph

    • SweetiePie profile image

      SweetiePie 9 years ago from Southern California, USA

      My aunt is a very successful lawyer like you, so I must say I admire you ladies. I think I am a little too sensitive to deal with this field, but I have always had an interest in legal history as it is a big part of our government. This is great advice for anyone who wants to become a lawyer.

    • Ryan Russman profile image

      Ryan Russman 9 years ago from Exeter, NH

      Great outline for prospective attorneys. The process can be a bit daunting; particularly preparing for the LSAT.

      The diverse law school programs are particularly comforting for students. Not every student is fortunate to maintain solid grades in undergraduate school. I have friends who took a while to mature, and unfortunately, their GPAs suffered. As they grew up, they constantly felt as though they were paying for mistakes in the past. As I said, though, the diversity of programs is comforting for students who cannot enter the Tier One schools.

      I do like that you pointed out attending law school does not necessarily mean practicing as an attorney. There are many people with their JD who are in varied professions. The learning experience is definitely applicable in all walks of life.

      I do love the My Cousin Vinnie video clip. Great movie!

    • stephhicks68 profile image

      Stephanie Hicks 9 years ago from Bend, Oregon

      Yes, it is slow. I went straight through from undergrad to law school, so I was done at age 25. I think Canada is similar to England and Wales with regard to licensing barristers.

      What is your LLM in? I have several friends with LLMs in taxation.

      Cheers, Steph

    • LondonGirl profile image

      LondonGirl 9 years ago from London

      Sounds slow, and costly! Here in England & Wales, you can do as I did - an undergrad LLB (3 years) then Bar Vocational Course (1 year) and pupillage (1 year) to qualify as a barrister, or similar but different vocational course and training for a solicitor.

      I also did a master's degree in law, an LLM, but you don't have to, I just felt like it.

      If you do a non-law degree, you can do a one year conversion course (a tough year!) before the vocational training.

    • stephhicks68 profile image

      Stephanie Hicks 9 years ago from Bend, Oregon

      Ah, if only that was an option, LondonGirl! I would love to have been finished with school after undergrad. Not sure what the requirements are in other countries, but here in the U.S. (at least for now), you have to attend school and get a J.D. before you can sit for the Bar Exam and get licensed to practice law.

    • LondonGirl profile image

      LondonGirl 9 years ago from London

      Interesting, thanks. Can you not study law as a undergrad degree, though, and save time and money?

    • stephhicks68 profile image

      Stephanie Hicks 9 years ago from Bend, Oregon

      Hi quensday, I think it varies widely depending on the school and your background. I went to law school in Oregon in the early 1990s (starting in 1991) and found it to be competitive, but definitely do-able. I enjoyed the study and made some good friends. Other schools are much more "cut-throat" and if you have other responsibilities, such as a family, a job, etc., you can get worn out quickly. If you want to email me privately, I am happy to answer more questions. Good luck! Steph

    • quensday profile image

      quensday 9 years ago from New York

      Hello, thanks for the informative hub. I was looking at law the beginning of this summer, but I've read a bunch of negative testimonials about law school online. How did you find your particular experience of law school?


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