Pre-LawPage address: http://sbs.mnsu.edu/government/brochures/prelaw.html
Nature of the Work
Lawyers, also called attorneys, are responsible for interpreting the laws that govern our social, political and economic relationships. Interpretation of the law is usually done to protect the interests of an individual or agency, either public or private.
The lawyer's task is to research the laws and legal history relevant to a case and to take legal action or to provide counsel based upon their findings. The amount of research required varies from case to case.
Some legal tasks, such as drawing up a will or contract, are fairly routine and do not require extensive preparation. Other tasks, such as challenging an existing law, require substantially greater efforts.
Since the effectiveness of lawyers rests largely on their ability to make written and verbal presentations, it is important that they possess good communication skills. Attorneys should plan on continuing their education throughout their lifetimes.
About three-fourths of all lawyers contract for services either by setting up a private practice or by joining a law firm. Others work for agencies such as business firms or various branches of the government. A relatively small number of attorneys teach full time in law schools. Many salaried lawyers also do consulting work in addition to their regular duties.
Because the number of law school graduates has increased in recent years, the competition for jobs is intense. Employment opportunities, however, are expected to grow faster than the average for other occupations because increased business activity and population generate a need for more legal services.
Attorneys interested in establishing a private practice will fare best in small towns and growing suburban areas.
The Pre-Law Program at Minnesota State University, Mankato has been extremely successful with placement of students in such outstanding law schools as University of Michigan, University of Minnesota, Northwestern, Stanford, UCLA, and Yale.
Law school placement has been close to 100 percent during the past several years. Since 1990, well over 250 students have been placed into law schools around the country.
Advice for Prospective Law Student
Language is the most important working tool used by the lawyer. In the drafting of legal instruments the precise meaning of words must be clearly and effectively communicated. In both oral argument and written briefs, the attorney must be able to comprehend the language of others -- to grasp the :: exact meaning of factual statements and legal provisions. To this end, pre-law students should take courses that will give them extensive practice in:
- Expression - vocabulary, familiarity with modern usage, grammatical correctness, organized presentation, conciseness and clarity of statement in writing and speaking.
- Comprehension - concentration and effective recollection in reading and listening; perception of meaning conveyed by words. Both expression and comprehension also require developed sensitivity to:
- Fluidity of language - varying meanings of words in different times and contexts, shades of meaning, interpretive problems, hazards in use of ambiguous terms.
- Deceptiveness of language -- emotionally charged words, catch phrases, hidden meanings of words, empty generalizations
- Human Institutions and Values: A good lawyer has insight into, rather than merely information about, the institutions and values with which humans are concerned. The lawyer is a force in the operation and shaping of these institutions.
It is vital that this work be performed with a consciousness that one's conduct counts in the choice of preferable means and ends. This insight comes form intensive study for a substantial period of selected areas, rather than from attempts to skim all the large areas.
- Creative thinking: Perhaps the most valuable asset of a lawyer is the power to think clearly, carefully, and independently. A large part of the work the law-trained individual is called upon to do calls for problem solving and sound judgment. The attorney will be asked to give advice concerning an almost infinite number of relationships. The power to think creatively will often merge with critical understanding of human in situations and values.
Creative power in thinking requires the development of skill in research, use of facts, deductive reasoning, inductive reasoning, reasoning by analogy, critical analysis, and the systematic formulation of principles and concepts.
Now that the three important areas in which every pre-law student should gain proficiency have been set forth, you may ask, "How do I gain an education in these areas?" The answer is quite open-ended.
Law schools do not prescribe a definite pre-law curriculum for the prospective student to follow. Therefore, you will have to make your own selection of courses in undergraduate school which will assist you in achieving the three goals described above. Select your major in a field of interest to you; then, choose electives in other areas that will round out your education.
Courses in the following specific disciplines should be of value to the future law student:
- Communication of Ideas: A thorough training in written and oral expression of the English language is essential to the lawyer. Therefore, courses such as composition, creative writing, literature (American, English, world), history of the English language, public speaking, argumentation, forensics (debate, oratory) and others associated with communication arts are a most significant requisite in a future lawyer's education.
- Logic and Mathematics: A keen sense of logic and ability to think and reason with verbal symbols are important tools of the lawyer. These skills can be enhanced through course work in philosophy, mathematics, logic, ethics, and computer science. The important thing to remember here is the flexibility of thinking and reasoning with abstract and ambiguous facts are the skills one needs to develop. One may also gain an introduction to the "Socratic" method of instruction, so frequently used in law schools, through a sampling of philosophy courses.
- Physical Sciences: The rigor of training provided and the precision demanded by courses in chemistry, physics, zoology, botany, geology, and the like helps guarantee that the student will have engaged in that type of thinking before entering law school. Such training also promotes "fact consciousness" which should be part of every lawyer's makeup.
- Social Sciences: Law and the social sciences, such as sociology, psychology, political science, economics, and anthropology, are so inextricably intertwined that a future law student should have a thorough exposure to these courses. Not only is an understanding of our social institutions and human behavior important in its own right for the lawyer, but knowledge of the social policies behind the law is also essential. The student should also be equipped to exercise critical judgment upon claims advanced by social scientists.
- History: The law student will find that law is based upon human experience. The study of history is a study of this human experience. Furthermore, it gives the student the proper perspective upon which to base an understanding of today's society -- its institutions, values, and culture. For these reasons, courses in history are a valuable preparation for law school.
- Business: Some understanding of the rudiments of accounting and business associations may also be of value to the law student. Courses in business law are fine, but a future law student need not take these classes especially if it prevents taking a good course in another area.
In selecting specific academic work in college, you should consider three principles.
- First, seek excellence in instruction. Select courses with professors who inspire, challenge, and demand the best from you.
- Second, pursue enjoyment in subject matter. Do not, however, confuse this with easy course requirements. One may gain pleasure from meeting the challenge of a difficult course and doing well.
- Third, seek depth in at least one area of study. This may take the form of a substantial research and writing project which will mobilize your scholarship skills and prepare you for that aspect of your future role as a lawyer.
If there is one point that can be impressed upon you, it is: Learn to write well! This may sound facetious, but it is not. Far too many students do not perform as well as they might because they cannot express themselves clearly and correctly. It is vital for a law student to be proficient in writing a short essay that explains and reasons to a point of conclusion.
Writing skills are gained by practice, of course, but also by reading good books and articles. In this way you can gain a sense of style. You will probably find that the best writers are those who are simple and concise in their choice of language, yet well organized, logical, and imaginative in their thinking.
Finally, before embarking on a career involving hard work and dedication to the law, you should really find out if being an attorney appeals to you.
This does not mean the television image of the courtroom crusader, but the realistic, day-to-day activities of the practicing lawyer. To discover. this, you should visit courtrooms to sit in on civil and criminal trials. Talk to attorneys or judges you may know for an honest evaluation of the opportunities and requirements of the profession. You may also find Professor Harold Pickering's book, Preview of Law Study, and Educational Testing Service's Prelaw Handbook very helpful in answering your questions. Both books are available in undergraduate libraries.
Once you have decided to enter the study of law, whatever you do in college, do it well! Best wishes for your success!
The preceding advice for prospective law students has been given by Gordon D. Schaber, former dean of the McGeorge Law School.
The Pre-Law Society is a student organization that meets bi-weekly to share the personal experiences of its members in their dealings with specific law schools, as well as to discuss other law-related topics. Since the group is made up of students at different classification levels (freshmen to senior), the underclassmen can learn from the firsthand experience of the seniors about such things as the Law School Admissions Test (LSAT) and registering with the Law School Assembly Service (LSDAS). The meeting dates of the Pre Law Society are posted on the Pre-Law Information Board which is outside MH 210 or online at the Pre-Law website.
Law school admission is based upon a student's grade point average and score on the Law School Admission Test (LSAT). Since the competition for law school admission is keen, students interested in law school must be serious students.
An applicant to law school must possess a bachelor's degree in a field of the student's choice. While there is no prescribed set of courses required for application, it is in the student's interest to select a major that will provide a substantial academic foundation. College studies should concentrate on developing analytical, philosophical, and written and verbal skills.
Elective courses might include accounting, statistics, corporate finance, constitutional law and history, jurisprudence, logic, political theory and at least one course in English composition beyond the freshman level.
Students should contact the pre-law advisor for assistance in planning a pre-law program.
Program Advisor:Susan Burum, J.D.
Department of Government
Minnesota State University, Mankato
109 Morris Hall
Mankato, MN 56001
A member of the Minnesota State Colleges and Universities System.
MSU is an Affirmative Action/Equal Opportunity University.
This document is available in alternative format to individuals with disabilities by calling the Department of Government at 507-389-2721 (V), 800-627-2529 or 711 (MRS/TTY).