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Is Law for You?

Why Law School?

“The final test of civilization of a people is the respect they have for the law.” Lewis F. Korn, Thoughts.

By Larry Hayman

Pre-Law Advisor & Specialist in the Center for Law, Justice & Culture

Law, lawyers, and legal practice are necessary for the function of a free society. Whether writing the Declaration of Independence, drafting the U.S. Constitution, or litigating civil rights cases, lawyers have sought to rectify societal wrongs in our country for more than 200 years.

That’s not to suggest that by becoming a lawyer you will necessarily be doing anything of these things. However, every day, lawyers ensure that the rule of law is respected by an independent judiciary. Moreover, lawyers work on everything from complex financial transactions and first-degree murder charges to contentious child-custody cases. These lawyers translate complicated legal concepts to their clients, to juries, to judges, and to other lawyers. They serve as advocates, teachers, mediators, and counselors. They work for law firms, government agencies, corporations, NGOs, civil rights organizations, universities, athletes, celebrities, sport franchises, banks, and bar associations to name just a few.

Further, legal professionals retain a high degree of prestige in our society. “A law degree gives you that instant stamp of credibility because they know you’ve been through rigorous study,” said Ohio University alumni and former Supreme Court of Ohio Justice Yvette McGee Brown. “They know that once you’ve passed the bar exam you have the ability to analyze facts. They understand that you operate at a higher level than just someone who has a bachelor’s degree. You can use [your law degree] in business, you can use it as a trial lawyer, you can use it in a big corporate law firm, you can use it as an entrepreneur to start your own business. It is the best training because of its rigor, its analysis, and the way it teaches you to think.”

What Is Law School Like?

Law school is unlike any other endeavor you have experienced. One reason for this is the way that law students are taught. As an undergraduate, especially during your first two years, you were used to having a professor lecture in front of the class. You were a passive notetaker, not doing much interaction. You were then tested on the material several times over the course of the semester. None of these things are true in law school. Law schools utilize two methods of teaching called the Socratic Method and the Case Method.  

The Socratic Method

Law professors do not lecture. That is, they do not stand in the front of the room, reciting facts for you to memorize. Rather, law professors call on students to recite the facts of the case from the reading the night before. Questioning of the student then begins, including case outcomes and the reasoning the judge or judges used to arrive at a particular answer. The back and forth often continues, including debating about how the outcome of a particular case may have been different if one fact was changed. This way of teaching, called the Socratic method, is named after the Greek philosopher Socrates. Some law professors call on students randomly, some alphabetically, some via seating chart, while still others take volunteers. No matter the case, it is important to be prepared for class everyday by doing the reading and preparing case briefs.

The Casebook Method

Law schools do not utilize textbooks that explain the law. Rather, law schools teach law students the law through casebooks full of judicial opinions. Somewhere within the three-to-five opinions you generally read for each class period per day, there is a rule of American law that the professor wants you to ascertain from the reading. Sometimes, these rules are apparent. Sometimes, a case will make absolutely no sense. Sometimes, you think you have the answer and will have no idea. Sometimes, you will think you have no idea but, in reality, know the answer. The casebook method is excellent practice for what you will do as an attorney.

If you get an opportunity, I recommend sitting in on a law school class—either in a mock one hosted by the Center for Law, Justice & Culture or an actual one at a law school. (They will oftentimes allow you to sit in on a class for free.)

Which Law School Should You Go To?

This is a highly subjective question. Indeed, several factors should influence your decision about where to go to law school. Among those factors are geographic location, cost, specializations or focuses of the law school, and law school ranking.

Most attorneys will tell you to go to law school where you want to practice law or begin your career. You will gain invaluable contacts through your law school, including through your law professors, alumni, and fellow students. Of course, many people go to law school and practice elsewhere. However, this is one factor to consider when determining a law school.

Another factor you should consider is cost. Is this a public law school or a private law school? What scholarship funds are they offering you to attend, if any? Can you find private scholarships to help defray some of the costs? Does the law school have a part-time program so that you can work full-time? (Note that full-time students are prohibited from working by the American Bar Association during their first year of law school, and during the second and third year may only work part-time.) What will your monthly payment be once you graduate from law school? What type of work do you want to do once you graduate?

Some potential law students know that they want to practice a particular type of law. For example, a student may be interested in environmental law, alternative dispute resolution, or intellectual property. Additionally, some students may be interested in obtaining a joint J.D. with another degree program, like an M.B.A. or Master of Public Policy. Do your research into these programs and see which schools provide the best educations for these specializations.

Of course, to some students, U.S. News & World Report ranking is the most important factor when choosing a law school. Certainly, some schools will offer better employment opportunities than others. You will want to ask yourself certain questions. Does a certain employer only recruit from certain schools? Do you want to clerk for the U.S. Supreme Court or for another federal judge? Is ranking more important to you than cost of education? Do your research and ascertain the answers to these questions. Sometimes, going to the most highly ranked law school is not always the best bet.

How Can You Learn More about Law School?

Numerous books, articles, and movies exist about law school and the law school process. One of the best, in my opinion, is How to think about law school: a handbook for undergraduates and their parents by Michael R. Dillon. Additionally, come to events hosted by the Center for Law, Justice & Culture. The center hosts mock law school classes, law fairs, Pre-Law Day, visiting lawyers, and other programs throughout the year. To gain practical experience, complete a legal internship. The best way to determine whether or not you want to be a lawyer is to experience what it is that lawyers do. The center places students in law related internships through a competitive process. Finally, come to my office hours, every Wednesday, from 1-4 p.m. to chat about law school and your plans for the future.