Here is a basic timeline of an ideal scenario for a first-year student who has come to Hastings College looking to go to law school. This is just a guide. If you are interested in law school and would like particular advice, come and see a member of the pre-law committee (for current members, return to the Pre-Law main page).
There are two things to keep in mind when looking at this timeline:
- A student or alumnus/a can start preparing for law school AT ANY TIME. Indeed, the number of students applying to law school after having taken time off is increasing. So, as long as you keep your GPA reasonably high, law school is always an option. If you are coming to this process later in the game, be sure to seek advice from the pre-law advisor.
- There is nothing particularly special a student should do in the first three years of college to prepare for law school. As long as a student takes a challenging set of courses, the actual decision to take the LSAT may be put off until as late as September of your senior year, or later if the you wish to take time off. So merely having law school in the back of your mind as an option for the first three years is not a bad idea.
Your First Two Years
TAKE CHALLENGING COURSES: You can major in absolutely any discipline and get into law school. So when you select courses, and ultimately a major, there are three basic criteria:
- Does the class build your reading and critical thinking skills? The Law School Admissions Test (LSAT) measures these two skills. You want to find classes that have big challenging reading lists and assign argumentative papers. There is a link with some suggestions as to what courses to take, but get advice from fellow students and faculty about what courses will most help you develop these skills. (Note: Do not be overly aggressive about selecting courses. There is no reason to take all upper-division classes as a first year student. That said do not be afraid to challenge yourself early: One B or C (or even a bunch of B's) will not keep you out of law school so do not be afraid to take a course that may hurt your GPA a bit.)
- Do you enjoy the subject matter of the class/major? This is extremely important. Since all you have to do is build the skills you need, you might as well take classes you enjoy. If you can get interested in a subject matter, you will want to read, write and, most importantly, think about the subject. This will make building the skills you need much easier. If nothing else, we all have different ways of learning. Take courses that best suit your learning style. One of the best ways to choose a course is to look at the reading list and think about what books you would like to read. The more reading you do, the better prepared you will be both for the LSAT and for Law School.
- Will the class help you build letters of recommendation? For law school, you will need at least three letters of recommendation. Although there are many exceptions, it is usually best to have these three letters from full-time faculty. You should start thinking early about which faculty will be able to write those letters for you. You will want three professors who have had you for a number of classes. Further, in those classes you will want to do major projects that faculty will remember. This will help the faculty write letters that will help you stand out from people at larger schools. So think about how classes can help you build a positive working relationship with three faculty.
OTHER THINGS TO CONSIDER
- Look over the LSAT: There is no need to begin studying for the LSAT in your first two years, although it cannot not hurt. But it is a good idea to at least look at a sample exam to get a sense of what you will face when you prepare for and take the LSAT later.
- Get an internship or a job with a law firm: This is an excellent way to discover if you really want to be a lawyer. Some students do this and discover that they hate the law. Others fall in love with it. So, this experience can be very helpful in discerning what you want to do. However, as a note of caution, having such experience does not really help you actually get into law school and letters of recommendation from lawyers are not necessarily helpful (although they can be).
- Get involved in some, but not too many, extracurricular activities: No law school admissions committee is going to care that you did seven million activities at Hastings College. SO BE SELECTIVE. In fact, you only want to do enough extra-curriculars so that 1) you do not come off as a geek who did nothing but study and 2) so that you fulfill your responsibility as a citizen of the community. After that, you will be much better off reading another book for a research paper than going to another meeting. The basic criteria for selecting extra-curriculars are: 1) do you enjoy it? 2) will you learn from the experience (either intellectually or socially)? and 3) will a faculty member be able to write a better letter for you because of it? If the activity does not fulfill at least two of these criteria, it may be a good idea to dump it or not join in the first place.
- Go to law school open houses: Law schools host annual open houses. It would be a good idea for all undergraduate students to attend to learn more about the study of law, the application process and the host school. Also, keep track of events sponsored by Career Services (such as career fairs) at which law school representatives might come to campus.
Your Third and Fourth Years
FALL SEMESTER OF THE THIRD YEAR
- Contact the Chair of the Pre-Law Committee: There is no absolute need to do this, but the committee members can help give you advice and suggest resources.
- Start studying For the LSAT: LSDAS sells actual LSAT's that have been used in the past. Some of these are available at Career Services. Arrange with Career Services to take a practice exam and see how you score and what sections give you trouble. Then keep practicing. Try to get review books that do not just tell you what the correct answer is but also why it is correct in order to help you think develop your critical thinking.
SPRING SEMESTER OF THE THIRD YEAR
- Register for the LSAT: The ideal time to take the LSAT is June between your third and fourth year. There are a variety of reasons for this including, : 1) it gives you time to create an application strategy, 2) presumably you will not be taking courses so you will have more time to focus on studying and 3) if you do not do well you get another shot (realize though, that most schools average the scores of LSAT tests). If June is not a good time, you can take the exam in October, December and February as well.
- The pre-law advisor and Career Services have booklets to help you register for the LSAT, or you can go on-line to www.lsac.org. You want to register as early as possible. There are limited seats at each testing location. If the later you register, the more of a chance you will have to take the LSAT in Wyoming instead of Kearney.
- IMPORTANT NOTE: You can sign up for the LSDAS when you sign up for the LSAT, but you should wait. See below.
- ANOTHER IMPORTANT NOTE: It would help the record keeping process if you agree to inform Hastings College of your LSAT score. You are under no obligation to do this. However, confidentiality is guaranteed.
- Take the LSAT
- Be sure you do all of the important things: Get plenty of sleep. Give yourself a great deal of time to get to the testing site. Do the things you need to do to relax and focus.
- After you get your LSAT score, register for the LSDAS:
- The LSDAS (Law School Data Assembly Service) is a central data base for all law school applicants. It will contain your LSAT score plus all of your transcripts and your letters of recommendation. When you apply to a law school, you have the LSDAS send your LSDAS file to the school. You want to do this after your junior year so that all your junior year grades are included. HELPFUL SAFETY TIP: Be sure that you include all of your transcripts for the LSDAS file, including transcripts from Community Colleges etc. that you transferred to Hastings.
- IMPORTANT NOTE: READ THE SPECIAL HASTINGS GPA INFORMATION!
- Start thinking about what law school to apply to: The best guide for this is the ABA LSAC OFFICIAL GUIDE TO ABA-APPROVED LAW SCHOOLS. Then go to the page Choosing Where to Apply for Law School
- Start thinking about your Personal Statement.
Fall Semester of Your Fourth Year
- Get your letters of recommendation: You may want to wait until the end of September to do this. That way you get to work with the faculty members for another few weeks. Then give them at least three weeks to get them in. If they get to LSDAS by the end of October, you can apply in the beginning of November. Applying earlier than that may be overkill, although you can. IMPORTANT NOTE: Generally speaking, LSDAS just sends the same three letters to each school. However, LSDAS now allows you to pick your letters from a variety of letter writers and permits letter writers to write particular letters to particular schools. If you are working for a lawyer who has graduated from a school you are applying to, you may want to have him or her write a particular letter to that school.
- Apply: It would be great if you could do this by the end of November. However, if you take the LSAT twice or would like to have one more semester, or even interim, to pull your GPA up, then applying in February is not necessarily a bad idea.
SPRING SEMESTER OF YOUR FOURTH YEAR
- Visit schools: This is still the best way to choose a school. It may be cost-prohibitive to visit every school, but it is a good idea if you can afford.
- If you do decide to go to Law School: Be sure to let the pre-law advisor know so we can keep a record.