Planning a career in law is both exhilarating and time consuming. To help you make wise decisions and to organize your thoughts about becoming a lawyer, we suggest that you think about the process in terms of the five questions below:
- Should I become a lawyer?
- How can I get into a good law school—and make myself a competitive candidate for merit-based scholarships?
- How can I ensure that I have the skillset that I need to succeed in law school and flourish as a lawyer?
- What is a good timeline for preparing for law school?
- What is preparing for law school like as an Old Dominion Student?
Prelaw advising is here to help you through the process of answering these questions, ensuring that you have access to all the relevant information and to mentor you as you answer these questions for yourself. If you are considering applying to law school, we suggest that you make an appointment with our prelaw advisor, Dr. Michelle M. Kundmueller. To make an appointment, send an email to Dr. Michelle Kundmueller letting her know that you would like to make an appointment to discuss pre-law planning.
Key Information to Help You Get Started
Answering this question is partially about learning more about being a lawyer and partially a very personal question about your own desires, skills, and motivation. Learning more about being a lawyer can take many forms. Here are some avenues that you could pursue:
- Join the student club that is dedicated to this subject: the Pre-Law Association. You can reach them at firstname.lastname@example.org.
- Take law related courses.
- Intern in a law office or for a court.
- Read books written about the law, particularly those written by judges and lawyers.
- Schedule a visit at a law school and ask questions during your visit.
- Speak to your pre-law advisor.
How can I get into a good law school—and make myself a competitive candidate for merit-based scholarships?
Getting into law school takes a (1) strong LSAT score, (2) good grades, and—to a lesser extent—(3) additional indications that you will flourish in law school, pass the bar exam, and then become a good attorney. Graduating from law school does not, in itself, make you a lawyer. After law school, to become a lawyer you still have to take the bar exam and pass this test. For this reason, an admissions committee will consider your overall eligibility to "sit for the bar"—including asking about any experiences of academic probation and all instances of interaction with the law (seriously, they'll ask about your parking tickets!).
The LSAT is an exam, somewhat like the verbal portions of the SAT, that tests your logical and analytical reasoning capacity. To learn more about the LSAT, go to www.lsac.org. From this website, you can download a free test, learn about registering for the test, and learn more about applying to law school.
Most students should take the LSAT in the summer before their senior year (about 15 months before they plan to start law school). This means that studying for the LSAT should take place in the junior year. There are many resources, at a variety of price points, available to help you prepare. Fortunately, there is no clear correlation between how much you spend and how much you can improve your score. Great, low cost ways to get started include Khan Academy's free programming and the book published by the authors of the LSAT, 10 Actual Official LSAT Preptests Volume VI.
Grades also play an important role in the admission process, so students considering a future as a lawyer need to stay focused on their coursework. Please note that all your college credit grades, even transfer grades or retaken classes that are not computed in your G.P.A. for the purposes of your ODU G.P.A. will be part of your GPA for the purposes of admission to law school. Generally, law schools are even handed between types of majors and minors, so focus on taking classes for which you have a passion and that facilitate your reasoning, writing, and speaking skills.
Finally, law schools will consider your story as a whole, so when you apply you will tell law school about your leadership roles, any artistic or athletic accomplishments, extra responsibilities you have shouldered, and skills you may have developed outside the classroom. To be clear, building a strong resume can help you, but it will not take the place of a strong LSAT and solid grades. Lead a well-rounded life, but don't let yourself get distracted from your coursework and the need to study for the LSAT in your junior year.
To help them get a clearer picture of your talents, law schools will also review a personal statement, letters of recommendation, and sometimes additional short essays. When it comes time to construct and submit your full application package, please reach out to Dr. Kundmueller so that she can help you fine tune your application. We want you to make this your best shot! For now, start to consider the professors (and employers) who might be able to write letters of recommendation for you and realize how your conduct in class can strengthen those letters.
If you are curious about the application process, create an account on the website that administers all law school applications (www.lsac.org) and start to familiarize yourself with this resource. The time you invest now will help you apply more quickly and easily later.
Another consideration will be the law school itself—where and how many law schools to apply to. This is a very difficult factor to analyze before you have taken the LSAT and know your score, but you should remember that rankings are not the whole story. Good resources to learn more about comparing law schools can be found at http://www.abarequireddisclosures.org. Information about law school debt can be found at https://www.accesslex.org/student-loan-calculator#.
Applying to law school will also require some financial investment: the LSAT exam costs just less than $200, a mandatory credential accumulation service is just under $200, and then each law school that you apply to will cost about $100.
Finally, remember that not all law schools are accredited with the American Bar Association (and some are on probation). Most states, including Virginia, will only let you "sit for the bar" and become an attorney if you have graduated from an accredited law school. You will only want to apply to law schools that are accredited and unlikely to be sanctioned by the American Bar Association.
How can I ensure that I have the skillset that I need to succeed in law school and flourish as a lawyer?
So much focus is placed on getting into law school that we often forget to consider what we'll need to be able to do to succeed in law school and as an attorney. For the most part, these survival skills for law school are the same skills that will be rewarded in your practice. Law school is an intense intellectual experience that hinges on your analytical, logical, verbal, writing, speaking, and competitive skills. Some compare it to a kind of mental book camp. Some love it, and others hate it. But everyone admits that it is a lot of hard work.
To be more specific, it will require you to read—a lot! The primary method is the case method, which means that you will first read long, dense judicial opinions and then come to class for an intense Socratic discussion in which you will be called upon by name and required to answer and take a position. The grade in most classes is 100% (or very nearly 100%) based on one exam, sometimes three or four hours long, given at the end of the semester. So, after the capacity to read long, dense materials, your capacity to write, to analyze, and to speak in front of others will rank highly as the skills that determine how successful you can be in law school.
To prepare for this, you should—you guessed it—read as many difficult books as you can. Take classes with tough reading assignments. Second, look for classes that demand a volume of writing and then give you feedback that will help you improve. Right now, correction is far more highly to be prized than a pat on the back. Get used to criticism and recognize that every ounce of effort now is earning you extra sleep and a better grade in law school!
Finally, pipe up in class! Learn to get comfy speaking in front of your peers. If your classes do not lend themselves to discussion, look for alternative opportunities (like taking on a leadership role in the Pre-Law Association) that will get you speaking in front of groups. Yes, it can be scary. But far less scary than addressing the professor (and then the judge) who will face you in the next stage of your career.
- Get good grades.
- Explore whether law school is right for you.
- Work on key skills (reading, writing, logical/analytical analysis, public speaking).
- Identify professors who might write letters of recommendation for you and impress them!
- Join the Pre-Law Association to learn more about the profession and the application process.
- Make an appointment and speak with Dr. Kundmueller about once a year.
- Continue to dedicate the necessary time and energy to your coursework.
- Register at www.lsac.org to prepare to take the LSAT.
- Familiarize yourself with the format and types of questions on the LSAT.
- Budget for studying for the LSAT, taking the LSAT, and applying to law school.
- Budget time for studying in earnest for the LSAT in the Spring.
- Be an active member or take a leadership role in the Pre-Law Association.
- Consider taking a class or two with law-related subjects.
- Meet with Dr. Kundmueller once to discuss your plan.
- Study for the LSAT, 5-10 hours a week.
- Register for a summer LSAT.
- Continue to dedicate the necessary time and energy to your coursework.
- Consider taking a class or two with law-related subjects.
- Meet with Dr. Kundmueller 1-3 times to discuss your study strategy for the LSAT.
Rising Senior Summer
- Take the LSAT!
- Contact Dr. Kundmueller, once you have a score, to discuss application strategies.
- Research law schools that have average LSAT scores roughly within 5 points of yours.
- Make a tentative list of law schools you will apply to.
- Consider visiting law schools that you might apply to.
- Start to draft your personal statement and other essays.
- Although law schools typically have application deadlines in the spring, to maximize your acceptances and especially to maximize your odds of getting a merit scholarship, submit your application by October 30.
- Once you have your LSAT score, meet with Dr. Kundmueller for advice on the application process.
- Ask for letters of recommendation.
- Finish your personal statement and any additional essays. Consult Dr. Kundmueller for assistance as needed.
- Complete the steps required by the credential assembly service.
- Complete the applications for each law school.
- Consider applying to additional schools.
- Consider your admissions and scholarship offers and select your favorite option.
- Meet with Dr. Kundmueller as needed for assistance weighing your options.
As your pre-law advisor, this is a difficult question for me to answer because I have never personally been an Old Dominion Student. To help answer this question, here's a statement from Tyler Butt, who was an exemplary pre-law student and can tell you about the process.
Prospective law students! Please allow me to introduce myself. My name is Tyler Butt, and as of May, 2020, I am an alumni of Old Dominion University (gosh that's pretty weird to say). I majored in political science, and from day one of stepping on ODU's campus I knew that I wanted use my degree and my time at ODU to reach my next step, law school.
However, until my sophomore year of college, I did not really know how to get into law school. The only thing I knew was that I needed to keep my GPA high and take a test called the LSAT. At least that's what Google searches of "how to get into law school" told me.
Eventually, I decided that I needed to become more serious about getting into law school. So at the beginning of my second semester of junior year, I decided to go and see what ODU's pre-law advising was all about.
Looking back, I can honestly say that not going to see a pre-law advisor sooner is one of my biggest regrets of my undergraduate career. From the moment I walked in and met the pre-law advisor, I felt an extreme amount of ambition to get into law school. She had an answer to every question, cared about my goals, and helped me set a timetable of when to apply and to take the LSAT.
Following her advice, I selected the LSAT testing date that was best for me, studied like a maniac for that test, and took it July before my senior year. Weeks later when I had received my score, I was so excited and happy. I felt that way because I had scored well and I thought the most complicated part of getting into law school—the LSAT—was over.
While the LSAT was definitely the most challenging part of the entire process, I was wrong to think that the challenge was over. I did not realize how many more parts there were to completing a law school application. The more I learned about what I needed to do, the more frustrated I got.
So at the beginning of my senior year, I emailed for help. Then I met with Dr. Kundmueller, and she helped me to get to work on my applications. Over the next few weeks she helped me with just about everything I needed. I could always come to her with a question and get an answer. Luckily, I also had Dr. Kundmueller for Constitutional Law (she is a professor here too!), so any question I could think of I could ask her before or after class. From helping me approach my personal statement to finding schools to apply to, Dr. Kundmueller helped me tremendously.
I was accepted into every school I applied to (University of Richmond, William and Mary, Washington and Lee, and Regent). I received a scholarship to every single school, ranging from a little less than half-tuition to full ride offers! Together, those schools offered me over $420,000 in scholarships. To this day I am in shock that was able to have those choices. Because of my efforts and ODU's pre-law program, I had a range of options for attending law school and the cost of law school.
The only thing I had left to do was to pick where I wanted to go—a decision that proved harder than I had predicted. Again, I found myself in a position where I needed help. I needed advice, and luckily for me Dr. Kundmueller was there to help me. Through countless unannounced visits to her office, emails, and even phone calls, Dr. Kundmueller helped me make the best decision for myself.
I am very happy and proud to say that I will be attending the University of Richmond for law school. I am off to the 50th ranked law school in the nation on a full tuition scholarship.
My advice to you: work hard and, if you are even considering law school, do yourself a favor and reach out to Dr. Kundmueller.