Preparing for Law School

Law schools accept students with preparation in a broad variety of academic disciplines. Most JMU pre-law students choose to major in business, economics, English, history, philosophy or political science. However, any rigorous course of study in which you will develop skills in logical analysis and effective written and oral communication is good preparation for law school. Students should also develop comprehension skills, verbal expression, creative thinking, analytical skills and a critical understanding of American institutions and values.

As a prospective law student, you should read widely and in quantity. This will help you to become well informed and more aware of style and expression. You should also take courses that are sufficiently difficult to help you develop the rigorous discipline essential for success in law school. Courses in which you have writing assignments such as reports, term papers and essay examinations are especially valuable. An understanding of political institutions and economics, historical and philosophical perspectives are also important. As Justice Benjamin Cardozo once said, "The good lawyer should know everything about everything."

Primarily, your admission to law school will be decided by your undergraduate academic record and score on the Law School Admission Test. Students usually take the LSAT at the beginning of their senior year in college. This test consists of four sections of multiple-choice questions designed to measure reading comprehension, analytical reasoning and logical reasoning. LSAT requirements also include a written essay. The ungraded essay will be forwarded to any law school to which you apply. Factors such as participation in campus or community activities can also be important in the admission decision.

Is there a Pre-Law Curriculum at JMU?

There is no pre-defined curriculum or list of courses recommended by the law schools, the Prelaw Advisors Council, or by the Association of American Law Schools. One of the best features of pre-legal education is that it contains no requirements or restrictions, unlike medical schools, which require students to complete a core group of courses. Many JMU students choose to major in English, History, Economics or Political Science, but students from all majors gain admission to law school. There is no such thing as a “Pre-Law curriculum.”

Are there particular majors recommended for JMU students planning to attend law school?

No. Incoming students considering a legal career would be wise to seek a broad liberal arts education from the wide array of courses offered at the university. Students should select an undergraduate area of specialization that is of interest to them, since it is widely agreed that students tend to do better academically in courses they find interesting. The American Bar Association, in its publication, "Preparation for Legal Education," does not recommend any particular major for law school.  In addition, there are no specific majors that law schools tend to prefer. Pre-Law students can major in anything from engineering to history to vocal performance.  The important thing is to major in something you enjoy.  Chances are, if you enjoy the subjects you are studying, you will do better than if you choose something just because you think it will get you into law school. 

The law school admissions process is competitive, in particular at the upper-tiered schools. What ultimately counts to law school admission committees is how well a student has performed in their chosen field of study. Choose a major that you find interesting, exciting and challenging, as well one where you feel confident that you will be able to do your best work. You should double-major or pursue minor courses of study only if you want to.  Double-majoring or minoring has no bearing on your acceptance into law school.

Are there any courses recommended for a student planning on seeking admission to law school?

The "best courses” to take at JMU (or any other institution) are those that will enable a student to complete his or her total undergraduate educational needs as well as provide a solid foundation for law school. Preparing to be an attorney is preparing to be a capable, intelligent, interesting and thoughtful individual. Students should recognize that the "best" or "most appropriate" courses will vary from one institution to another and will often be dependent on the particular skill and teaching ability of the instructor teaching the course.

Certain types of courses and experiences are of value as preparation for legal study. These include:

  • Courses in communication, including composition, language and speech which enable students to express themselves well in both oral and written form. These improve the thought and reasoning process as well as the drawing of conclusions from what is read or discussed.
  • Courses in the liberal arts, including work in the humanities and social sciences, which help students understand the historical development and social dynamics of human institutions as well as the fundamental assumptions of ethical, social, and political values.
  • Courses in critical thinking, logic, mathematics, accounting, and the natural sciences which help students develop skills in factual analysis and evaluation of arguments.
  • Students will find the ability to understand economics (micro & macro) and basic accounting helpful and, in some ways, are "tools of the trade." A few law schools, such as Georgetown, suggest (but do not require) that students take courses in both accounting and economics.
  • It is also helpful for students to challenge themselves in courses that require the development of independent research skills, in contrast with courses that are aimed at the accumulation of a large number of facts. Many seminar courses at JMU provide students with the opportunity to research an issue, write one or more significant papers, and make an oral presentation to a class of peers.
  • Courses or other experiences that require public speaking and presenting of ideas before others. Students have found debating, leading college organizations, dramatics and involvement in theater as worthwhile.

Selected list of JMU courses useful for Pre-Law students.

What does a law school look for in a prospective student?

Your undergraduate grade point average(GPA) and your Law School Admissions Test (LSAT) score are the two primary factors used to determine law school admission.  Secondary factors include; part-time work, extra curricular activities, and diversity issues. These areas are given slight weight, but they are not as important as the numbers.

How important are extracurricular activities for law school admissions?

Although extracurricular activities are not viewed as very important as your g.p.a and LSAT score, law schools do look for "well-rounded" applicants and one way to become "well-rounded" is to get involved in campus or community activities.  Choose organizations that interest you because those are the ones that will make your collegiate experience more meaningful.  However, you need to keep in mind that your g.p.a. is more important than campus involvement, so never sacrifice your grades by becoming over-committed with extracurricular activities. 

What do I need to know about the GPA?

A 3.0 is a B average--Pre-Law students should be conscious of maintaining a high GPA from early in their academic careers.

JMU students should be aware that the University's Repeat Forgiveness policy will not be helpful to them when they apply to law school. The policy allows JMU students to re-take as many as two courses and--for the purposes of computing the GPA--substitutes the grade earned the second time for the grade earned the first time. However, both grades remain on students' JMU transcripts. Law Services, when computing a student's GPA, factors in ALL grades. For example, if a student earns two F's the first time s/he takes Constitutional Law and Legal Writing but two A's the second time s/he takes those courses, Law Services records both the F's and the A's.

This, then, is to advise you to take every course seriously the first time.