Ms. JD’s Pre-Law Prep Guide: Finding Your Way: Does it Really Pay to Have a Path?

Welcome back! By now, you’ve probably decided that law school is the place for you (time to do a happy dance)! We’re so happy for you because we know that to get here, you busted through myths, left no stone unturned, and really did your homework.  (But just in case you didn’t, we’ve linked to our previous posts telling you how to do each one!)

Now that we know you are going to go to law school, we want you to start thinking about how to select which law schools you will be applying to.  We know it may seem a little early in the pre-law game to be thinking about specific schools.  However, by exploring what specific schools offer in your areas of interest, you’ll be better prepared for the application process and ensure that you’re a competitive applicant.  Also, narrowing your application list early will help you focus on scholarship and financial aid opportunities at the schools you’re most interested in!

Consider this--law school applications cost roughly $60 a pop, not to mention all of the extra fees associated with taking the LSAT and sending your application directly to each law school through LSAC. Traditionally, prospective law students have applied to roughly seven to ten law schools each.  Recently, however, LSAC has identified a declining trend in the number of schools students have applied to.  Potential reasons for the decline vary from the ease of gaining legal aid online to the decline in jobs.

Narrowing the number schools you apply to can save time and also money.  The question is how do you decide which schools make the final cut?  The answer: explore your legal interests!  Figuring out what you’re interested in before you apply helps you match your interests with what each law school has to offer.  It also helps you mold your application to explain how the particular law schools you selected can help you pursue your future professional goals. For example, if you have an interest in Intellectual Property (IP), it would be beneficial to learn what the top IP law schools are; if fashion is your thing, you might want to tailor your application appropriately. For example, your personal statement might mention the law school’s programs that that match your legal interest (hint: we will talk about this more later but law schools love to know you have a genuine interest in their programs!).

On the other hand, you may be like many students and not yet know what your particular interest is. Do not fret! You won’t be harmed during the application process if you are unsure of what type of law you would like to practice.  What you need to figure out is why you want to go to law school and be prepared to craft a story around that!  To figure out what interests you (and therefore will help you write a better application), look back on our previous tips and follow our steps.  At the very least, you should find something that ignites a passion and helps you write a stronger application!

When we asked Nicole Chiu-Wang what guidance we should provide law students who may not know what they want to focus on during law school, she provided this sage advice: “If you are not going straight from undergraduate to law school, or you majored in something translatable in the legal field, think about what you did and did not like and let that help guide you when choosing the areas of law you are interested in.”

There are pros and cons to a more specialized approach. By taking a more specialized approach, you may come to find that your interests have changed or that the job market for that particular area of law is not as strong when you graduate.  Whether you are set on a specialized route or want to take a liberal arts approach to legal education, as Nicole reminded us, it's okay to switch routes!  The key is to focus on quality experiences. Look for programs that will offer you flexibility including a broad curriculum and experiential learning opportunities.  If you think you’ll prefer one type of learning experience over the other, you should consider that when deciding which schools are right for you.

It is really as simple as that--a small piece of the puzzle, but a piece nonetheless.  Next week, we’ll look at the bigger picture - a pre-law checklist of things you need to start doing now that you’ve made the jump and decided you’re going to law school!

Bridget Sheehan and Courtney Gabbara are both Assistant Directors of Admission at Michigan State University College of Law and recent graduates of the Law College. Having met in law school through Moot Court, both women have found a long lasting friendship based on their future career interests, laughter, and love of nachos. Bridget graduated from Saint Xavier University with a Bachelor of Arts in Criminal Justice and has actively pursued her interests in family and criminal law. She is originally from Chicago, Illinois and enjoys college football, specifically Notre Dame (Go Irish!), reading, and country music.  Courtney earned her Bachelor of Science in Psychology from Michigan State University and has been a Ms. JD Board Member since April of 2011.  Her hobbies include scrapbooking, running Warrior Dash, and cooking.

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