Getting Started with Pre-Law

Considering Law School?

Are you considering applying to or attending law school? Your undergraduate years are a time to explore many academic fields, perfect your learning abilities, and demonstrate expertise and experience in a particular field, usually your major.

Advisors in Undergraduate Advising and Research are knowledgeable about all post baccalaureate programs, and we are eager to speak with you about your graduate and professional school plans, as well as any other academic planning questions you may have. 

We offer quarterly programs and panels to assist students in making informed decisions about whether to attend law school and how to apply. We assist students who wish to connect with faculty of similar interests, apply for research grants and fellowships, and prepare research proposals.

Should I go to Law School?

Obviously, the answer to this question will vary widely from person to person. You should also ask yourself if you want to become a lawyer, since that is the purpose of law school. It may take you a bit of time to fashion satisfying answers to those queries, and you may want to seek experience after you finish your undergraduate education to help you reach a conclusion.

At the very least, you should make an effort to familiarize yourself with both law school and the legal profession before making a final decision. You can do this by visiting law school classes, meeting with law students and faculty, securing internships or jobs where you have a chance to watch lawyers apply their trade, and by speaking with practicing attorneys in your field of interest.

BEAM may be able to help you obtain the names of attorneys who have volunteered for “shadow” programs (https://beam.stanford.edu/) or visit Stanford Alumni Mentoring (SAM) at https://mentoring.stanford.edu.

Questions to consider asking law students and lawyers:

  • Why did you choose to attend law school and go into practice?
  • How satisfied are you with your decision?
  • What discrepancies did you find between life in law school and practice?
  • What did you wish you had known before you arrived in law school?
  • What skills do you consider necessary to be successful in law school and later on as a lawyer?
  • What advice would you give to someone who is trying to make a decision you yourself had to make years before?

Personal Qualities Considered Essential

In conversations with law school admissions officers, they often list a series of personal qualities that they consider essential for law school candidates, qualities that also help law students become good attorneys. The following questions - all of which you should answer affirmatively - may help you evaluate your aptitude for law school:

  • Are you opinionated?
  • Can you articulate problems verbally and in writing so that others can understand them?
  • Do you enjoy writing? Do you write well?
  • Do you enjoy being an advocate? Can you argue both sides of a question clearly, concisely, and enthusiastically?
  • Do you enjoy working through complex problems?
  • Can you take criticism?
  • Do you enjoy speaking out in class?
  • Is precision important to you? Are you the kind of person who wants to "get things right" and doesn't mind spending time on details?
  • Can you cope with ambiguity?
  • Do you have a strong work ethic?
  • Have you developed good research skills?
  • Do you listen well?
  • Do you enjoy working with people and educating them?

Ideally, you will feel little or no ambivalence about attending law school once you decide to proceed with the application process. Law school and a legal career are not for everyone. You will certainly be able to pursue your interests and find satisfaction in other fields that don't require a law degree, so take your time and don't feel rushed into making a decision. The more experience you gain, the more maturity and confidence you'll have to understand legal issues and cope with the inherent pressures of law school and the practice of law.

Academic Preparation

You are encouraged to consult with your academic advisors as you consider how to prepare academically for law school.  This includes your Pre-Major Advisor, your Academic Advising Director located in your residence, your Major Advisor, and the Stanford Pre-law Advisor located in Sweet Hall.

Law schools highly value diversity – ethnic, geographic, intellectual – and seek to build an entering class with varied academic interests and backgrounds.  You are free to choose courses across academic disciplines that strengthen your ability to read critically, think analytically, and strengthen your writing skills. 

ABA Skill Set

The American Bar Association (ABA) has an entire section of useful information for pre-law students preparing for law school: https://www.americanbar.org/groups/legal_education/resources/pre_law.html. These skills are integrated into Stanford majors and courses across the curriculum and include:

  • Problem solving
  • Critical reading
  • Writing and editing
  • Oral communication and listening
  • Research
  • Organization and management
  • Public service and promotion of justice
  • Relationship-building and collaboration
  • Background knowledge
  • Exposure to law

Additionally, law schools value courses that help students understand current events, ethics, human rights, and public policy.  A good place to start searching for relevant courses is: http://explorecourses.stanford.edu/.

You may be interested in taking a law school course here at Stanford.  Please note that from a law school’s perspective, these courses are not considered more positively or weighted more heavily than any other course.  And, law schools would discourage taking more than one or two law school courses as an undergraduate.  If you have a specific course in mind, you must ask permission of the instructor to enroll, and you will be expected to meet all the course requirements.

Criteria for Successful Applicants to Law School

While there are common criteria considered by most law schools, there are also criteria unique to particular schools, which you discover by direct contact with the school. You are encouraged to go to the LSAC.org website for searchable school database, visit the specific school website, and/or visit the specific school.

Criteria considered important by most Law School Admission Committees include:

  • LSAT score
  • Undergraduate GPA
  • Personal statement or essay
  • Work experience or other postgraduate experiences
  • Undergraduate course of study
  • Graduate Work
  • Difficulties (financial, personal, physical) overcome
  • College attended
  • Improvement in grades
  • College curricular and extracurricular activities
  • Ethnic/racial background
  • Letters of recommendation
  • Community activities
  • Proven leadership
  • Each student's unique character and background

Testing Your Interest in Law School and Law Profession

Law school is an expensive endeavor in terms of your time and the actual financial cost of attendance.  The high cost demands that you invest your time and energy to understand the costs and benefits of a legal education.  Fortunately, Stanford offers multiple opportunities to help you explore and test your interest in law.

  1. Take relevant classes. Law schools welcome all academic majors, and do not favor one major over another.  Students are encouraged to select majors and courses that reflect their unique set of intellectual interests, and courses that strengthen their writing and analytical skills.  All majors at Stanford meet that criteria.  Your Pre-Major Advisor, your Academic Advising Director in your residence, or the Pre-law Advisor in Sweet Hall, are available to discuss choosing your courses and the selection of a major.
  2. Seek advice.Consult with BEAM regarding employment criteria, help with your resume, participation in SAM (Stanford Alumni Mentoring), and guidance in finding a meaningful career. https://beam.stanford.edu/about-us.
  3. Visit law schools. Law schools welcome visits from prospective applicants. Visiting law schools, even for a morning or afternoon, trumps simply reading about a school on the web.  Typically, a law school visit entails a tour of the law school (often led by a current law student), sitting in on 1 or 2 classes, and, when time permits, an opportunity to meet with a member of the admissions staff.  It is important to prepare for a law school visit.  Consult with your Pre-law advisor about how to prepare for a visit.  To arrange a visit, go to the school website and search “visit.”
  4. Go to SLS events.During the school year (excluding summer), Stanford Law School (SLS) offers hundreds of programs that draw leaders in the field of law who present on a broad spectrum of current topics on a weekly basis.  If you are considering law, take advantage of these programs to mingle with leaders in the field, law professors, law students, and current lawyers and learn about current topics. Visit https://law.stanford.edu/events/ for a list of current programs. NOTE: Many programs are open to the public, but please read program descriptions and do not go to programs which are not open to the public.
  5. Attend Shaking the Foundations.This annual conference held in autumn quarter brings together law students, practitioners, and academics from around the country who share a commitment to use the law for positive, progressive social change. Through panels, workshops and speakers, the conference is designed to provide a forum for advocates and law students to discuss innovative strategies and solutions to the world’s most pressing social justice issues. In the past Shaking the Foundations organizers have offered a reduced rate for Stanford undergraduates. Visit the Stanford Law School website to find out more information: https://law.stanford.edu/shaking-the-foundations/.