Unlike in many countries, law is not typically taught as an undergraduate degree in the United States. Most lawyers in the U.S. spent four years studying something other than law before they go to law school. They might also spend a few years after college working before returning to law school. If you aspire to become a lawyer, you may wonder what you should do with that time.
Here is my advice. Do. Something. Different.
Once you are a lawyer, you will probably be a lawyer for the rest of your life. Even if you don’t practice law, other people will think of you as a lawyer for the rest of your life. Being a lawyer is great! But it is also limiting. Law school teaches you to think, write, talk, and act like a member of the legal profession. It’s hard to unlearn these habits of mind.
The time before law school should be an opportunity for you to get a well-rounded education. You shoudn’t feel like you need to pick a “pre-law” undergraduate major like legal studies or political science. I was an English literature and philosophy double major. Other options are a biology, sociology, art history, or religious studies. You may find your undergraduate degree helpful to whatever area of law you end up practicing. Many science and engineering majors have gone on to be patent lawyers. A degree in critical race studies might start you on a path to practicing civil rights law.
But it could also end up not being related at all to the kind of law you end up practicing. I have yet to reference my thesis on South American magical realism in my legal career, and that’s okay. Three years in law school was more than enough time for me to learn everything I needed to know to become a kick-ass lawyer.
In particular, I would steer away from the undergraduate degrees in law that have begun to pop up around the country. These programs are usually based out of law schools with courses taught by law professors. Often the courses are slightly dumbed-down versions of the classes that law students take their first year of law school. Folks, no one needs to take the first year of law school twice. You will be adding nothing to your legal education and you will be missing out on an opportunity that you will never get back. Take advantage of the freedom of being able to follow your interests. I guarantee it will only make you a better lawyer later on.
I would also recommend that you not go directly to law school after you graduate from college. Unlike in the medical profession, it only takes three years of professional training to become a lawyer. There is no reason you need to start your legal career at 25 years old as opposed to 27 or 28. Use those years in between college and law school to get some real-world experience. You’ll get more out of law school if you take a few years off. You’ll also have a clearer sense of why you want to go to law school and what you want to do with your degree. If you work in a law-adjacent job like as a paralegal, you might leave with a clear sense that law school is right for you. You may also realize that you don’t want to be a lawyer. And wouldn’t it be great to learn that before taking on $150,000 in debt?
Finally, having a liberal arts undergraduate major and post-graduation work experience will not negatively affect your chances of getting into a good law school. In fact, quite the opposite is true. Law school admissions committees are looking for good grades and high LSAT scores, it’s true. But they are also looking for prospective students who are interesting, well-rounded, and passionate.
So spend your pre-law school years following your non-legal interests. You will still have many years to practice law.
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