It’s a safe bet that a good number of people reading this article have, at some point, been asked by their parents to think about law school. To some, that’s the best suggestion they have ever heard, and to others the very notion fills them with dread. Some may even experience both at the same time. While law school has often been employed as a throwaway line for students who don’t want to admit that they are not sure of their future, committing to law school and making the firm decision to pursue a career in law is no small matter. Like many things worth doing in life, it is neither easy nor trivial. But accomplishing it is a feat to be proud of, and the sooner you start, the better. Though of course, everyone has a unique path. Some students have wanted to be lawyers since childhood, others may just now be thinking about it as graduation approaches. Both are equally legitimate, and despite their differences, they both have the same work to be done.
To some, the checklist of tasks needed to prepare for law school may seem like the Labors of Hercules, just one thing after another, but every aspect of the process is important in its own way. Ultimately the law school application process is about who you are as a person and what you can accomplish. In other words, it demands a full view of your abilities and personality.
Arguably the most important part of this process, and likely the first to garner your attention, is the Law School Admission Test, or LSAT, a standardized test required for admission into most schools certified by the American Bar Association, the regulatory authority for America’s law schools. The LSAT is not like most standardized tests. Rather than being based on knowledge, it is primarily concerned with the applicant’s problem solving and logical analysis skills.
“In my opinion, the most important things for law students to keep in mind are first, in order to pursue a legal career, they must first plan to take the LSAT and give themselves adequate time to prepare and study for it,” said Manasha Bhetwal, an international relations and international public policy major in the class of 2021 and the current president of the Virginia Tech chapter of the Phi Alpha Delta law fraternity.
Phi Alpha Delta (PAD for short) is a campus organization dedicated to shepherding prospective law students through the processes leading up to attending law school, which includes preparing for the LSAT.
While there is some debate over the ideal point at which to take the LSAT, the only meaningful answer to that question is something like “whenever you are most ready.” Prospective test-takers must sign up for the exam at least two months in advance of their test date , which gives students enough flexibility to make it fit with their schedule, but once that date is locked in, the world revolves around it. It is not an easy test, and that’s a good thing. If it were easy, taking it would hardly matter. It is also not cheap, costing around $200. The test is scored on a scale from 120 to 180, with a percentile ranking. What qualifies as a good score will vary depending on what a student’s ambitions are in terms of what schools they hope to attend, and law schools are required to publish their LSAT acceptance statistics, so it is to the benefit of test-takers to know a target score and study with that score in mind.
The LSAT is a beast, but it is far from the only thing a prospective law school ought to be concerned about. What follows the LSAT in importance (again, arguably) are letters of recommendation. Most law schools will require at least two letters, and most will require that at least one be from a professor.
“Another thing (in this process) is to build relationships with professors and bosses. This helps in the long run as these are the people students are subsequently going to ask for letters of recommendation from,” Bhetwal said. “If you work hard and impress them from the beginning, you will have people willing to write you a great LOR and that goes a long way with law school applications.”
There are a number of other steps on the way to application time, but once the letters and the LSAT are out of the way, you can be safe in assuming that much of the work is behind you. Thankfully, the actual application process is fairly streamlined, which is to say it is managed by a single entity, the Law School Admission Council (LSAC), the same organization that puts on the LSAT. Most, if not all, ABA schools require application through the LSAC online portal, and the LSAC provides a service whereby all your credentials, such as your LSAT score, letters of recommendation, transcripts, etc. are provided to the schools to which you wish to apply. This is not free, sadly, and many schools charge an application fee, so budget appropriately.
Applying to law school is a long and winding road, and it can feel like an overwhelming process before you ever even come near the physical act of sending in an application. But the effort is worth it, and the legal practice isn’t going anywhere anytime soon. It’s not an easy path and it’s not an easy career, but it is the path for some of us. After all, who wouldn’t want their parents to brag about having a lawyer in the family? All joking aside, if one seriously does hope to become a lawyer, it is to their benefit to learn as much about the process as early as possible. Knowledge is power, and never was that more true than in the case of the law.
Disclaimer: the author of this article is a dues-paying member of the Phi Alpha Delta law fraternity, which is mentioned and whose current president is quoted within. He has no leadership position in the organization whatsoever and does not profit in any way from their being mentioned here.