Explore Law and the UMN’s Pre-Law Option

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UMN Pre-Law Advising Office
612-624-7577
pladv@umn.edu

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What Is Law, and Where Can It Take You?

Law school is most often a three-year, full-time program that results in a Juris Doctor (J.D.) degree. To practice law in the United States, lawyers must first attend law school, obtain a J.D., and then pass the bar examination in at least one state (normally the state in which the individual intends to practice). 

While not everyone who goes to law school intends to actually practice law, that particular career path is the most common one. But there are many alternative paths to consider, too, from two perspectives:

  1. You may go to law school and earn your law degree, but later decide to work in another field altogether—which isn’t uncommon (although you’re not guaranteed anything with your law degree, either).
  2. You may want to somehow work with legal issues without going to law school—which is sometimes possible in areas like compliance, government, human rights, nonprofits, finance, and politics.

There are many possibilities, a fact that can be both liberating and overwhelming. That’s why it’s critical for you to explore the law school option thoroughly before you make any final decisions about whether to pursue it.

If you do decide that you ultimately want to go to law school, though, you will begin your journey as a Pre-Law student here at the University of Minnesota.

What Is the UMN’s Pre-Law Option?

Pre-Law is not a specified major at the UMN, with a prescribed set of courses you must complete. That’s because there is no specific Pre-Law college program that is required for the eventual admission to law school. 

Most legal educators and attorneys simply recommend a well-rounded, bachelors-level education as preparation for law school—which means you can choose any academic program that sparks your interest or even create your own. There is no “preferred major” that will make it easier for you to get accepted into law school when you apply.

So if Pre-Law isn’t a major, what is it, exactly? Think of it as a subsection of UMN undergraduates, from a wide variety of UMN colleges and majors, who are all interested in attending law school after they graduate. 

Pre-Law students range from being undeclared freshmen to alums who graduated many years ago. They are advised through the Pre-Law Advising Office for pre-law questions and application assistance and continue to receive advising related to college and major requirements through your assigned academic advisor. In the pre-law advising office, you’ll get the targeted services you need to:

  • Choose (or create) a major and coursework that will prepare you for future legal studies.
  • Create a timeline for your law school application.
  • Learn about the requirements for law school admission.
  • Have your law school personal statement be reviewed.

In short, Pre-Law is not a major (or minor). It’s a career direction—one the Pre-Law Advising Office can help you pursue if you so choose.

But you should do your homework first so that you can make an informed decision about law school and an eventual career in the field.

Ways to Explore Law as a Career Option—Thoroughly

“Why are you interested in law school?”

That’s the first question a law school admissions officer—and the Pre-Law Advisor here at the U!—will ask you if you’re considering law and law school. Having a concrete, thoughtful answer to this question is essential.

To get to that point, you need to know what you’re talking about, which in turn requires that you do some research to thoroughly explore law as a career option.

Law school is an enormous commitment, after all. And while it is indeed possible, it’s not a foregone conclusion that you will be able to easily take a J.D. and work in another field if you decide that law is not the right path for you. 

In other words, it’s crucial for you to determine whether law is right for you before you go to law school.

Explore—Some Easy First Steps You Can Take to Explore Law

You can begin exploring law and law school in depth by engaging in some activities that are actually quite simple:

You’ll also want to start developing a rapport with professors and advisors who could potentially write letters of recommendation for you later on, if and when the time comes for you to apply for law school.

Similarly, you can start seeing what the Law School Admission Test (LSAT) is all about by attending a workshop, researching the test online, and/or exploring the LSAT preparation materials available in the CLA Career Services Resource Room in 411 Bruininks Hall.

Experience—Explore Law by Experiencing It Firsthand

The best way to determine if law is truly the right career path for you is to gain some experience in the field. So once you’ve done some initial exploratory activities like talking to attorneys or taking law-related courses, the next step is to work in the law in some capacity. 

You don’t necessarily need to work at a law firm to get this type of experience! In fact, almost every experience can be related to law in some way. 

With that in mind, here are some experiential ideas you can look into:

Learning Abroad for Pre-Law Students

The UMN’s Learning Abroad Center offers extensive information geared specifically to current and prospective Pre-Law students at the University.

Should You Go to Law School—and If So, Where?

Many factors will impact your ultimate decision to attend law school … or not. Here are some guidelines and tips to help you determine whether you should indeed pursue law school and, if so, how you can choose a school that’s a good fit for you.

Should You Really Go?

Should you really go to law school?

This is a difficult question to answer. Some people say they've always wanted to go to law school or to be a lawyer. But most people struggle with the law school decision right until they attend. Even after law school ends, some graduates are still unsure whether they want to be a lawyer or to instead enter another profession related to law.

So how can you answer the “should you really go?” question honestly and knowledgeably? 

Start by attending a Pre-Law 101 workshop and/or taking the two-credit Law School Exploration course offered through CLA Career Services.

Then see how many times you respond “yes” to the questions that follow:

  • Do I enjoy working closely with people regarding significant events or issues affecting their lives?
  • Can I empathize with a client's situation, yet have the ability to objectively analyze the issues and their consequences in light of the existing law?
  • Do I enjoy educating people on subjects they may be ignorant about, or that they may have significant misconceptions about?
  • Am I able to articulate, clearly and concisely, my analysis of a problem, whether it’s verbally or in writing?
  • Do I enjoy being an advocate? Can I argue both sides of a question with enthusiasm?
  • Do I like detail work? Do I enjoy searching for the facts of a situation?
  • Do I like to read and study?

If You Do Go, Which Law School(s) Should You Apply to?

You’ll need to consider a number of factors when determining which law school(s) to apply to, but start by looking beyond what you hear are the “best” schools. You need to figure out which school is best for you.

How?

Start first and foremost by thinking about where you want to live after law school is over. The vast majority of law schools are regional in terms of where their graduates end up working; often that geographic area is concentrated in the region or state where the law school is. 

Next, think about the type of law you want to practice. If you’re interested in working at a large law firm, for example, finding a law school that tends to have graduates employed in such a role will be valuable.

Once you’ve narrowed the range of choices down a bit, especially by geography, you can begin looking at various schools’ ranges of GPAs and Law School Admission Test (LSAT) scores. 

Keep in mind that many law schools do take a holistic view of applicants—so they will read your letters of recommendation, your résumé, and your personal statement. But realistically, if you are below a school’s 25th percentile on both your GPA and your LSAT score, you’ll struggle to be admitted (though it is not at all out of the question).

So especially if an application fee is involved, think critically about applying to a particular school. Do not focus only on the median LSAT and GPA scores; every law school accepts a range, so focusing more on the 25th to 75th percentile range will give you a more realistic picture of your chances.

Law School Numbers has great information on admissions data, as well as self-reported information on scholarship amounts received by applicants, all of which can be helpful in giving you a better sense of what to expect. 

Law School Transparency, meanwhile, has detailed reports on career outcomes and bar passage rates, as well as a school comparison tool.

Visiting Schools

Visiting law schools can be helpful at many stages of your decision-making process. Consider visiting one or more law schools if:

  • You're not sure whether law school is a good fit for you.
  • You're choosing which law school(s) to apply to.
  • You've been accepted to a law school but you haven't seen the campus.

While you’re visiting, build on the extensive research you've already done. Ask questions that can only be answered in person. 

The schools you visit will generally provide a formal tour. Some will also allow you to sit in on a law class and will connect you with current students. 

Contact the admissions office of each school to set up your visit.