What (Pre) Law Students Should Know

It isn’t going to win me many friend with students, but I have to say that Yair Listokin is basically right: Statistics Should be Mandatory for Law Students. I’ve long believed that statistics should be a near-prerequisite for law school, and if you haven’t had before law school we should offer it for credit, and encourage — maybe even require — students to take it.

Meanwhile, if you’re an undergraduate thinking of going to law school, may I point you to my FAQ about going to law school, which for many years has included this advice:

If you really want to be a good lawyer, I don’t personally recommend
majoring in anything directly related to law as an undergraduate, or even
taking courses in
it. That includes “Juvenile Justice”. Colleges always teach the stuff “wrong”
from the point of view of a lawyer – maybe right from the point of view
of a cop or probation officer or something, but wrong from the point of
view of someone who needs to work with law rather than recite it. So you
will start out behind the other students since you will have to ‘unlearn’
what you think you know. Really.

Far, far, better to major in something that teaches you about the world:
history, economics, literature, math or even art. You will get all the
law you need in law school – why waste college getting a 3rd-rate version
of it? Why not get the stuff that makes you a well informed person, and
thus a much better lawyer in the long run.

The only rule that over-rides the one above is: major in what you like
best. Because ultimately you will get the best grades in what you like
best, and grades count! A lot. A whole lot. Especially if you are not going
to college at a very high prestige Ivy League or similar school.

If possible – it’s not essential – I’d try to take the following courses
at some point regardless of what you major in:

  • two semesters of economics
  • at least one Intro to Philosophy and/or Political Philosophy
  • as much US history as you can stand (law is about context, and precedents
    must be understood in the context of their times)
  • a course that covers the structure of the US political/governmental system

Big bonus points if you can manage a course in basic statistics.

I also **very** highly recommend you subscribe to a first-rate national
newspaper and read it every day (your college may have a student discount
deal). You will learn essential information about the political and legal
system without even realizing how much you are learning. The New York Times
is the best, but if your interests are more business oriented then the
Wall St. Journal or the Financial Times are ok too. Local papers don’t
really have enough national and international news to cut it.

Get the above under your belt and you are really ready for law school!


Incidentally, UM Law has a very good page for people thinking about law school, 28
Critical Questions about law school
. (There used to be 29 of them, but one seems to have gone non-critical.) They even give the answers, which shows it is about law school rather than being like law school…

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8 Responses to What (Pre) Law Students Should Know

  1. Ann Bartow says:

    I agree with everything you say. I just thought I’d add that courses in religious studies can be very useful too. Learning about the organizing principles of diverse religions, and they ways in which religions develop and change over time, can really promote critical thinking skills, and also certain kinds of open mindedness. It seems to me that a lot of liberal students shy away from these courses because they fear there will be a religious indictrination component, but at a secular school, or even a religious school with a tradition of academic freedom, this is very unlikely.

  2. Paul Gowder says:

    I’d tell them to take more math than just stats — the more math the better — and formal logic. Not because of any curricular relevance, but just to have some exposure to really rigorous reasoning.

  3. Joe says:

    I’d recommend a survey course in accounting (to help you follow the money) and either biology or chemistry or even mechanical engineering (to show you how the world really works). If a person likes to read, they can pick up a bunch of history and political science on the side. It may be unstructured, but it is there for the taking. Half of my law school class in 1974 were education majors. I went to a Catholic school, so I was forced to take theology and philosophy. I didn’t find theology useful at all in law school. However, it helps a lot in arguments with non-educated religious fundamentalists.

  4. Cathy says:

    I disagree about not taking legal-ish courses in college. Of course they won’t supplant the need to take actual law school courses because those are about the mechanics of the law and these largely are not, but that’s what makes them so valuable, because instead of the mechanics they focus on the effects, the context, the social role, etc. These are things every lawyer should understand about the law but that law school may not necessarily impart. These are the things that can capture students’ imaginations when they start to think about what the law should be.

    (My personal example: as a law student I often drew on the lessons I learned from my sociology of law course as an undergrad 10 years earlier. I can’t imagine having done law school without those insights to help provide some contextualization.)

  5. Confused Student says:

    This is completely random, but would an Architecture major have a reasonable shot at law school? Is it too far off subject, what if you (well this is what I’m doing) have taken a lot of political science/social studies courses in your electives? would that help?

  6. Michael says:

    I can’t see why not.

  7. Robert D. says:

    I believe law school is a great decision, but make sure you investigate the school before going (even if that particular school is the only school you get accepted to). For example, I had a friend who went to OCU and says the entire school (especially the Dean) abuses their power and only cares about making money off the students. They are totally INJUST!! So, take my advice, look into the school before going.

  8. Robert D. says:

    DO NOT go to OCU school of law.

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