Frequently Asked Questions
1. What should I major in if I want to go to law school?
In general, law school admissions officers don't care what your undergraduate major is. Law school emphasizes reading, writing and thinking, so courses that focus on those skills are important. There is, however, no particular major that prepares you for law school. Consequently, you should major in something you enjoy...for a couple of reasons. First, you may end up changing your mind about pursuing a legal career and you don't want to have spent three years or so majoring in something just to go to law school. Second, and more importantly, if you enjoy what you're studying, you are likely to make better grades, which will help in the admissions process.
That being said, practicing law obviously involves a lot of reading, writing and thinking. Therefore, those majors that emphasize these skills are going to give you a solid foundation in preparing for law school. These majors are not limited to any one college in the university. Engineering, Accounting, Political Science, English, Math, Philosophy, Biology, the Social and Behavioral sciences all are solid majors as are many others.
2. When should I take the LSAT?
Ideally, you should take the LSAT in the summer between your junior and senior years or in the fall of your senior year. Generally, you are less busy in June and October, and, if you don't score as highly as you hoped, you can retake the test later in the fall. Remember, the December test usually comes during the end of the semester when you're preparing for finals, so avoid taking the test at that time.
There also is a February test, but be aware that the February LSAT score is announced after some application deadlines have passed and, consequently, some law schools do not accept the February score for the fall class. If you're not sure when the application deadline for a specific school is, please contact me.
3. What happens if I retake the LSAT?
Some schools average your two scores, but, more recently, many schools are using your last score. There is no penalty for retaking the test; indeed, some admissions officers say they view this as an indication of perseverance.
However, you should prepare for the test with the intent of taking it one time only.
4. What is the personal statement?
Virtually every law school will ask you to submit a personal statement as part of your application. Essentially, this is where you tell the admissions committee why they should admit you rather than someone else with similar LSAT and GPA numbers. Here you emphasize those kinds of experiences you have had that separate you from the rest of the applicant pool. These include such characteristics as being bilingual or the first in one's family to graduate from college. The personal statement also is where you explain anything unusual about your transcript (e. g., why your grades one semester are so much lower-or higher-than those of the other semesters).
Some schools also have separate forms where you explain any “disadvantages” you have overcome.
Some schools may ask for something more creative (e.g., an essay on the most unusual person you have ever met or the most unusual experience you have had). And a few schools may not ask for a personal statement at all, but you still should include one in your application materials. Remember, your personal statement should not repeat information you already have provided in your resume.
The personal statement is a very important part of the applicant process, and you should give it a lot of attention. Remember, it is a personal statement. I recommend you show me a draft if you have time.
5. Should I take a commercial preparation course for the LSAT?
To paraphrase an old country and western song, "if you've got the money, they've got the time." Commercial prep courses are not going to harm you, and some will enhance your ability to take the LSAT. But none do anything for you that you can't do yourself. There are no secrets to taking the LSAT; pick up any commercial prep book at virtually any college bookstore and you'll see the same recommendations. The prep courses, of course, are much more detailed and usually involve several sessions. They are, however, very expensive. Law Services, the group that develops the LSAT, provides inexpensive preparation materials, and there are other helpful guides around.
What is most important is that you realize that no prep course is going to develop your analytical skills in three or four weeks. That is, prep courses can teach you how to enhance the reading, writing, and reasoning skills tested by the LSAT, but no prep course can develop those skills for you. Therefore, do not avoid courses at UTPA that emphasize reading and writing in the anticipation that a four-week prep course will make up for three years of weak undergraduate education.
6. Who should I ask to write letters of recommendation?
Law schools primarily want to know if you can handle the intellectual rigors of a legal education, so rely on your professors for the letters. If you are applying to a law school with a religious affiliation, character references from your minister, rabbi or priest may be helpful, but they are of limited use with the public law schools. A letter from an employer attesting to your being a responsible employee also will not harm you, but fundamentally, what the admissions committee is looking for is evidence that they will not be giving a seat to someone who is brain dead. Avoid letters from public officials; admissions officers know elected politicians are not going to write negative letters so they discount them.
When you get to this stage, be sure pick up the handout from my office outlining what the letters of recommendation should address.
7. How many law schools should I apply to?
I recommend applying to several schools. One rule of thumb would be to apply to two schools where you have an outside chance of being admitted, two where you believe you will be competitive, and two “safe” schools where you might prefer not to go if you have a choice. If the applicant pool larger the year you apply, you may want to increase the number of schools to which you apply.
Keep in mind that each application involves money, so this may limit your choices. Application fees may be waived; you must request this waiver from each law school.
8. Which are the best law schools?
This is impossible to answer without more information. Obviously, some schools have better reputations than others, but that doesn't mean they are the best school for you. Some students prefer small classes and this can influence your decision. Some law schools spend more time on courtroom training (this is called advocacy training in the law schools) so if this is, or is not, your interest, you may choose a law school on this basis. Others may offer more courses in particular areas, e. g., tax law, environmental law, immigration law, and again, this may be a consideration. Private schools cost more than state schools, and this may be an important factor in your choice.
Consequently, be careful not to fall prey to all those lists purporting to rank the law schools. Rather, examine a school's curriculum, size, location, etc. when deciding where you would like to go. You're going to get a decent education as long as you go to an ABA-approved law school.
9. How expensive is law school, and how can I pay for it?
Legal education is not cheap. State schools are less expensive than private schools. There is not a lot of scholarship money out there, but every school will have a financial aid office to help you explore your options. Most law students borrow money to go to school; there are several loan programs. Although money generally is tight, it is still true that, assuming you have a good credit rating, you will be able to obtain a loan if you are admitted to an ABA-approved law school. Again, each school has a financial aid office to help you, and Law Services also has a publication concerning financing your legal education.
You should realize that the amount of money you owe when you leave law school may influence your employment decision. That is, public interest jobs as well as government jobs (e.g., working in a District Attorney’s office) pay less than corporate jobs. If you have a very large debt, you may have to plan to practice law in a large firm.
You should begin to plan for financing ahead of time by making sure your credit rating is ok.
10. How does the law school curriculum differ from undergraduate school?
There are many differences. You do not "major" in law school. Law school is a three-year program. Your first- year curriculum is the same in virtually every ABA-approved law school in the nation. You have no choice concerning which courses to take, which teachers to take and which times to take; in other words, the law school determines your first-year schedule. They usually purposely schedule your classes to make it difficult for you have an outside job while going to law school.
You do have some flexibility in your second and third years. The other major difference most students notice immediately is that there is, for the most part, only one examination in each course. That's a lot of pressure at finals time!
11. What is the Law School Preparation Institute (LSPI)?
UTPA’s LSPI is the second program of its type in the nation. The institute is conducted during the second summer session; participation is by invitation only. Applications to the LSPI are sent to every UTPA undergraduate student with a 3.0 GPA and a minimum of 45 hours. Fifteen to twenty students are selected, on a competitive basis, to participate. The institute is from 9-4, five days a week and Saturday mornings. It includes instruction in analytical reasoning, writing skills, the nature of legal education, and LSAT preparation. Visiting staff and faculty from the University Of Texas School Of Law also participate.
Recommended Courses Beyond the Core Curriculum (Where available, you should take Honors courses): Some of these courses will count toward your major and minor; the others should be selected as electives.
Acct 2421 Introduction to Financial Accounting
C S 1380 Introduction to Computer Science
Comm 1303 Presentational Speaking
Comm 1313 Fundamentals of Speech Communication
Comm 3314 Persuasive Communication
Comm 3330 Argumentation and Debate
Comm 4307 Contemporary Rhetoric of Soc & Pol Movements
Crij 1306 Court Systems and Practices
Crij 3303 Criminology
Crij 4361 Comparative Criminal Justice Systems
Eco 2301 Microeconomics
Eco 2302 Macroeconomics
Eng 3313 Survey of American Literature
Hist 3301 The History of Ideas
Hist 3341 History of England I
Hist 4375 Absolutism and Enlightenment in Europe
Math 2330 Elementary Statistics (or Statistics 2330)
Phil 1310 Introduction to Philosophy
Phil 1320 Introduction to Logic
Phil 2330 Ethics
Phil 3320 Symbolic Logic
Pols 3333 Classical Political Theory
Pols 4320 American Constitutional Law: Federalism
Pols 4321 American Constitutional Law: Civil Liberties
Pols 4367 American Judicial Process
Psy 2324 Social Psychology (or Soc 2324)