A Broad-Based Education
A well-rounded education in the Humanities and Social Sciences is important to understand the law
Law and legal institutions do not operate in a vacuum. They operate in, and thereby reflect, a governmental, historical, cultural, political, economic, sociological, and philosophical context. This means that it is difficult to understand the development of law without understanding the ways in which these contexts shape the law.
Our law reflects, for example:
- our Judeo-Christian and Western European heritage;
- our political and economic institutions;
- the ideals and traditions of the 18th century enlightenment; and
- our specific history, including the histories of slavery and the treatment of native peoples.
Prelaw students would thus be well served by a program of study that is strong in liberal arts courses, which provides insight into these contexts of law.
Focus on Critical Thinking
Gaining insight about the human experiences, the social institutions, and the values to which law responds means more than merely gathering information. It means, in particular, learning how to think critically about the various features of our social life to make sound judgments based on factual evidence, as well as social and moral principle. A broad-based education is one that provides this critical habit of mind. Such an education goes beyond mere description and unquestioning acceptance. This is the education that best equips the undergraduate pre-law student for the analytical challenges of law school.
Lawyers do an enormous amount of writing. They draft correspondence, memoranda, briefs, contracts, wills, and other documents daily. Your law school education will prepare you for practice by requiring a demanding regimen of written composition. You are encouraged to prepare for law school by electing undergraduate courses that
- require substantial written work,
- provide a system in which the instructor regularly reviews and comments, and
- allow students to rewrite their written work. Also, foreign language study improves both your understanding of the world and your ability to read and write English.
Attorneys must have the capacity to comprehend complex facts and difficult texts and think critically about complicated issues. To prepare you for your law school training, you should take courses in which you must read closely and analyze difficult concepts. Courses that focus specifically on problem solving are also worthwhile. Examples include deductive and inductive logic; economics, mathematics, social science research methods, engineering, natural sciences; comparative religion; and philosophy.
Attorneys play a powerful role in society. Not only do they operate essential legal institutions, but they also help to shape them and other institutions. Lawyers also enjoy a special privilege: their monopoly on the practice of law. With this privilege comes substantial responsibility. How lawyers conduct themselves is important to individuals, their communities, and the legal profession. Consequently, in their personal and professional lives, lawyers must adhere to the highest standards of ethical conduct. This requires both that lawyers bring a strong moral character to the study and practice of law, and that they be able to reason effectively about ethical matters. Student who are preparing for law school should thus take courses in ethics, at least one of which should focus on the great traditions of ethics in the western world, and at least one of which should focus on the special ethical problems faced by professionals.
Being a good student is crucial but it is not enough!
Lawyers do a considerable amount of research, reading and writing, but this is not the whole story. Communication and negotiation skills, interpersonal relationship management and leadership abilities are also crucial for a career in the Law. Spending some time abroad and/or engaging in extracurricular activities within your community can help you develop such skills.
There are no specific set of activities which increase your chances to get into and succeed in law school. In particular, your activities do not need to be law-related. That said, law schools will favor consistent and deep commitment in a few activities over superficial involvement in many disparate activities. You extracurricular activities should reflect your personality, values and personal intellectual path.
Not sure where to start?
The Office of CIvic Engagement on Campus can help. Throughout the year, University students can participate in a variety of volunteer experiences, from single-day service projects with local nonprofit organizations to longer-term tutoring placements with area elementary schools, and week-long intensive service learning programs across the United States.