My Pre-Law School Preparation
My path to law school was by no means direct. For me, going to law school kind of just “happened” and was a product of all the “soul-searching” I did over the past three years regarding the ideal manifestation of my strengths, interests, experiences and desired working environment.
Originally, I intended on going to medical school and work with the body and ALL its lovely things à la “Dr. Pimple Popper.” I literally did all the things. The prereqs, the research, the shadowing, the volunteering. I even convinced myself to take the MCAT. But all things catch up sooner or later and on the walk to my car post-MCAT exam, I sat in the driver’s seat, looked in the driver’s vanity mirror and thought,
“I REALLY don’t want to do this.”
I don’t want to wear the scrubs. I don't want to work in the hospital. I don’t want to put in the time and energy to commit for at least eight-years, sun up, sun down practicing allopathic medicine—a system I don’t even agree with (for the most part) to begin with. And so I said to myself,
“Jackie. We’ve already been through this once before. Remember, that time when you were in college and you left the pre-med track to study history, economics, and business instead?”
Apparently finishing my prereqs and taking the MCAT was enough to evaporate my desire to go to medical school.
Just. Like. That. #BLAH
This was a pretty defeating time, but then I remembered this picture...
I thought I was at the end of my career finding journey, but truly—it was just beginning.
And so, I spent the next three years clearing the mental and emotional clutter to recover and rediscover my “true” self. My decision to attend law school is the product of my self-discovery project.
It’s a far cry from riding “off into the sunset” into some crazy jetsetter “instafamous” life, but truly, as much as it looks super cool to live such a lifestyle, it’s just not for ME. I committed to myself years ago to make decisions from the inside-out and sometimes these decisions are less glamorous (to the outside world at least) than we would wish them to be.
For the past year and a half, I had time freedom, I had money freedom and I had the freedom to do whatever I choose and for me — after the fire-and-smoke of trauma, adrenaline and desire cleared — that was becoming an attorney and going to law school.
And so, as part of closing out the past and moving forward in the present, I spent some time reflecting on the academic preparation that has brought me to the point of law school matriculation.
So here' it goes...
My Academic Preparation for Law School
In general, I ALWAYS chose to learn and do things I found interesting -- aka “lit my soul on fire.” This has been a CONSTANT in my life from day one of college. History, economics, math, business, photography, piano, psychology biology, chemistry, physics...
I’ve literally taken a little bit of everything but really honed in on a specific area of interest -- history, specifically political and religious U.S. history from colonial to reconstruction. I’ve also always had a tendency to be drawn to social issues (healthcare, education, politics, religion) and providing equal opportunity and access to knowledge.
In addition to pursuing things I found “interesting” in the present moment, I always made sure to keep my “options open”—meaning I could be working on a research project for a professor one day, participating as a witness in mock trial the next and studying private piano in the music school on the weekends.
I took courses specific to “law.” In my final semester as an undergraduate, I took a few courses in legal history. When I lived in Buffalo, I enrolled at SUNY-Buffalo and took classes at University of Buffalo School of Law as a cross-registered graduate student in Economics. I really enjoyed these courses (taught by the in-house counsel at SUNY) and not only learned a lot about education law and the economics of education, but also learned a lot about education administration. He pretty much taught using the case-method/Socratic method so I was able to get a feel for how to succeed in a “law-school-type” course.
In 2009, I was planning to apply to law school (at the same time as my husband), but I joined Teach For America instead. He had wanted to become a lawyer pretty much his entire life, and the law was his “thing,” so I really didn’t pursue attending law school with any sort of vigor. I liked what I was doing with Teach For America, was able to bring in a regular income while he went to law school, and was, at the moment, intellectually satisfied.
I made sure I had the skills necessary to succeed on the LSAT by focusing on coursework in various subjects (STEM and the humanities) that focused on critical thinking and analytical reasoning. Even though I took the LSAT cold in 2011, my score (plus the rest of my application file) was enough to secure acceptances at both Houston law schools with max scholarship monies. I attribute my relative success on the LSAT with minimal to no studying to the preparation via the coursework I selected to take in college—or in other words, I studied for the LSAT (informally) without "studying" (formally) for the LSAT.
As a side note, if I intended to apply to a T-14 I would definitely set aside some time to formally study via a test prep program. (But, they also seem to be revising the admission exam requirements for law school these days, so perhaps I may have just submitted my GRE instead). Source: Harvard Now Accepts GRE and LSAT.
Side Question: If I had to do it over, and could only take one exam, would I take the GRE or LSAT?
Well, a lot of schools still don’t accept the GRE so if you only wanted to take one exam and apply to multiple schools, you probably need to take the LSAT. But if I had a choice to maximize the “data” I’m showing to admissions committees, with my particular profile I would choose the LSAT since it is very clear in my academic record that I have quantitative abilities (the difference between GRE and LSAT, to me, is the quant). I would want to show the admissions committees that I can transfer that quantitative slant to creating “formulas with words,” (as I used to tell my Geometry students when we studied logic statements, conditional reasoning and proofs).
Two Other Random Side Thoughts on Choosing a College Major to Prepare for Law School
#1: Fact vs. Opinion: Choosing a College Pre-Law Major
OPINION: You can use any major as preparation for law school.
FACT: Technically yes. More realistically, no. Yes—you can be accepted into law school with any major (just like you can be accepted to medical school with any major, as long as you complete the required prerequisite science courses). HOWEVER. There are majors that are better than others at developing the critical reasoning and analytical skills desired by law schools as measured by average scores on the LSAT exam. (Source Data Set: Average LSAT Scores for 29 Majors w/ over 400 Students Taking the Exam.) So yes, you can use any major as preparation for law school, but there are some majors that will prepare you for law school better than other majors. I would not trust the “opinion” of an advisor. Analyze the data for yourself (Source: LSAC “Data & More”, LSAC Undergraduate Majors of Applicants.)
#2: Math Majors and Law School
But wait? I thought law school was all about reading, writing and speaking?
Well at a glance, yes, there is A LOT of reading, writing, and speaking involved in law school. But what lies beneath, is a strong undercurrent of systematic, analytical, even at times formulaic reasoning—the likes of which you experience in a math or science class.
As someone who spent hours of coursework studying math and science and spent over 10 years tutoring and teaching math to high school, college and graduate level students, I was pleasantly surprised at just how well my math and science background not only prepared me for the LSAT but for the type of thinking required (theoretically) to master law school exams (Source: LEEWS Law Exam Writing System, Getting to Maybe). Of course, there are other variables at play, but from a strictly analytical thinking perspective, I’m very glad I held space to study STEM.
If I had to give a recommendation to someone just setting out on their pre-law journey, I would recommend to at least minor, if not double major in a classic quantitative subject like mathematics, economics, chemistry, physics, or engineering as preparation for the type of thinking required in law school.
(PS - I’m not the only one who thinks this way. U.S. World and News Report, Are STEM and Law Studies the Perfect Fit?, Harvard Law: Law School Seeks STEM Students).
AND... not only do prospective law students reap the benefits of “brain training” by studying a more analytical subject, they will already be used to being graded on a curve and participating in the Socratic Method—what math and science teachers like to call simply "discovery-based" or "lab-based learning."
The really cool thing about preparing for law school is that you can truly customize a course of study that fits YOU and YOUR INTERESTS. There is definitely not a simple answer to how to prepare for law school, but this was my story.
Thanks for stopping by!