by Denisse Romero
Perhaps you have always wanted to become a lawyer or perhaps after countless episodes of Boston Legal, you are just now entertaining the idea of becoming a lawyer. Add that to the fact that you want to pursue this profession in the US, and you have a great goal that requires commitment, passion and effort. Studying law can open many doors – people who obtain a law degree can go and practice law as an attorney, but they may also find careers in other fields such as politics, diplomacy, economics, business, and education. The rewards are plenty, but before you embark on this journey, it is important that you understand your goals and what it will take to achieve them. The admissions process for law schools in the US can be a bit complex and for some students, it can also be intimidating. So, let’s explore more about the law school application and admissions process.
Law School 101
In various countries, students start their law studies right after high school or secondary school. Most universities in other countries only require a high school diploma or the equivalent in that country to admit students to their law faculties. Studying law in the US is quite different from that international format. Law is a professional academic field, the equivalent of a graduate degree in other parts of the world.
Law schools are part of public or private universities that grant Juris Doctor (J.D.) degrees. Law schools may also grant other graduate law degrees such as Master of Laws (LL.M.) degrees for students who have already obtained their Juris Doctor.
The Juris Doctor program typically lasts 3 years for full-time students and 4 years for part-time students. First-year (1L) students usually take courses in legal writing, contracts, torts, criminal law, constitutional law, and other courses. Most students feel that the first-year is the “hardest” and the most intense because of all the core courses, exams, and the Socrates method used in most of their classes where students are cold called by the professor to state a case or respond to a case-based question. Although some international students may be scared to speak up in classrooms, most foreign students do fine in these classes. Many classes are divided into smaller sections for courses such as Legal Writing. Students should use this opportunity to meet classmates, make friends, and practice speaking in front of an audience.
Most second-year students (2L) focus on other activities such as Law Review, Moot Court, and other extra-curricular activities that offer a lot of practice. This is extremely important for most 2L students since they need to start looking for legal internships for the summer months between the second and third years. These internships are very important since some of them will lead to full-time employment after graduation.
Third-year students (3L) focus on taking electives such as international law, immigration law, antitrust law, intellectual property law and others that serve as specialization courses. Third-year students also focus most of their time in obtaining employment and studying for the bar exam. In the US, a Juris Doctor is not enough to practice law. JD graduates must take the bar exam for the state where they plan to practice. Contact the American Bar Association (ABA) for more information about American Bar exams.
Law School Application 101
Before we learn about the application process, it’s important to choose a few schools that meet your criteria. Rankings help, but you should also visit their websites, visit the schools, talk to current students, graduates, and learn as much as you can. Attorneys and law school counselors usually suggest that students attend law school where they intend to practice. Laws in the US differ from state to state, so students should keep that in mind.
So, what are the requirements to apply to law school?
1. A Bachelor’s degree or its equivalent (4-year university degree) in any subject. Yes, you can be a Spanish major or an Engineering major and still be eligible to apply to law school.
2. Register for the Law School Data Assembly Service (LSDAS) – Nearly all ABA-approved law schools (and some non-ABA-approved schools) require that their applicants register for and complete their applications through the LSDAS.
3. LSAT scores
5. TOEFL scores if English is not your native language
6. Financial documents showing proof of funds for the academic year – You only need this if you are applying for an F-1 visa.
So, if you are still really interested in going to law school, here are some things you can do next:
1. Check out the LSAC website for more information about Law Schools
2. Check out Law School rankings
3. Go and talk to a lawyer and research what it’s really like to be an attorney and practice law
4. Check out the websites of a few law schools and research their admissions requirements
5. Start studying for the LSAT