Ms. JD’s Pre-Law Prep Guide: Get the Scoop: Going Directly to the Source

Editor's Note: Each week, at Ms. JD and Levo League, Ms. JD Board Member Courtney Gabbara and Bridget Sheehan will take you step-by-step through the law school application process. This is the third installment of the Pre-Law Prep Guide. To read the second post, click HERE.

To be or not to be … a lawyer?

OK, so maybe Shakespeare didn’t use those words exactly but, in all seriousness: do YOU want to go to law school?  Our intention was not to scare you last week, but to shed some light on the realities of the legal market to help you make the right decision.  You should not be considering law school simply because you have nothing else to do after graduation, you are great at arguing, or your parents want an attorney in the family.

Now that we’ve broken some of the common myths, we want you to take it further and explore your interests. Law school students come from all sorts of backgrounds.  There is no perfect major or perfect path, which is why it is essential to take the time to explore your options by doing one or more of the following: internships, job shadowing, informational interviews, speaking with your pre-law advisor, observing court and cold-calling attorneys.

We have three rules to follow for any of these options. Before you do any of these, do a bit of research on your own.  What do you want to know before making this (rather hefty!) investment in law school?  What makes you happy?  What do you like doing?  Then, craft questions that help you identify whether your interests sync with the law and what area of the law might be best for you.  Armed with this list of thoughtful, knowledgeable questions, you’re ready to embark on any of our methods below!

Professional attire is a must for any in-person meeting:
We recommend following up with a thank you card or email, especially if you can personalize the note with something you learned from the experience. (If you are going to take the time to create a connection, why lose it?)

Speaking with Pre-Law Advisors and Talking with Your Professors:
Regardless of what your major is, if your university has a pre-law advisor available for you, you should seek them out!  A pre-law advisor can tell you what to expect from law school and how to learn more about the legal careers you can pursue. They will also be able to provide you with a variety of resources such as informational events and workshops, relevant internship opportunities, and coursework you might want to take while considering law school.  (Our favorite law school resource is this one … but we may be a little biased!)

If your undergrad does not have a pre-law advisor, seek out attorneys who are professors at your school. Consider taking a course with the professor who may be a great resource for your law school application, or for future job opportunities.  Even if you decide not to take a course that the professor teaches, reaching out to have a candid discussion on law school and the profession is likely to be very helpful.

Informational Interviews:
Informational interviews are a great tool to gain helpful insight into the legal field. An informational interview is an interview that is used not to gain employment, but to gain knowledge (e.g. what the attorney’s job is like or what responsibilities he or she has).  When contacting attorneys for an informational interview, be clear that the purpose of the meeting is informational.  Even though this is not a job interview, you should act professionally . Use the questions you’ve prepared from your research and feel free to take notes during the meeting.  After the interview, don’t forget rule number 3! 

Hit the Courtroom:
Step outside of your comfort zone and into a courtroom. You have a right of public access to courtroom proceedings, meaning anyone is allowed to enter a courtroom and watch a trial or a hearing. It is a rare occasion that a judge will close his or her court to the public. Take notes on what you observe and after, when things are wrapping up, take the bull by the horns and reach out to the attorneys or even the judge!  Then, schedule an informational interview.

Job Shadowing:
Job shadowing allows you to explore career opportunities by spending time with a person working in your career field of interest.  Shadowing is best done when trying to learn what a “day in the life” of a lawyer is like. By observing their daily activities, you will also get a chance to have your questions answered. To set up a job shadowing day, survey your connections!  Reach out to professors, advisors, and even your parents!  See if anyone knows an attorney who might allow you to observe them for the day.  Second, be proactive.  If you visited the courthouse, you may have gotten some facetime with an assistant district attorney or a public defender.  Ask him or her if you can shadow!  Be mindful of the fact that there may be places you cannot go with an attorney (e.g. if he or she is giving a client privileged advice!).

Are you an experiential learner?  Then consider pursuing a legal internship.  Unlike shadowing, internships give prospective law students a chance to actually assist in some sort of legal work.  Interning can take up quite a bit of your time but, besides helping you decide if law school is meant for you, it will stack your resume!  We suggest you check with your local courthouse.  Many have volunteer opportunities available.  Other good avenues are legal services organizations (there’s at least one in every state thanks to federal funding!) and law school clinics.  While you won’t be arguing motions (you need a JD or at least some legal training to do that in any state) you can get a great sense of what lawyers do by supporting their administrative tasks.

Note: Having a legal internship prior to law school will not make or break your competitive edge when it comes time to submit your application.  A legal internship while in undergrad is essentially viewed like any other pre-law school experience.

Cold-Calling Attorneys:
Not everyone has an attorney in the family to turn to with questions. This means that the majority of us have to dig a little deeper to gain a realistic perspective on what the legal profession really entails. We understand the thought of calling up a total stranger for information can be scary, but we assure you, most attorneys are there to help!  To make cold-calling a little less cold, look for an attorney who attended your college or university, had similar academic interests to yours, or participates in another community organization you’re involved in.  (Or try the Board of Directors of Ms. JD!)  Those similarities can provide an excuse for why you reached out to that specific attorney. To make the interaction more successful, when you reach an attorney, be sure to ask if this is a good time.  If not, quickly explain why you’re calling and ask if there would be a convenient time to reschedule.  To ensure positive dialogue, see Rule 1! If need be, practice!  You’ll feel better and more prepared when your nerves hit!

This is not an all-inclusive list but these research tools are tried and true. By following one or more of them, we hope that you are able to answer question: to be or not to be ... an attorney!  

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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