Through my various interactions with high school and college students, the majority of conversations seem to focus on one segment of my resume more than the other and that is my law school education. During my first year in law school I began speaking to student groups such as DECA and the Future Business Leaders of America. In this, I focused on inspiring students to understand their competition with their peer group when entering a higher level degree program or a career. I used my background to illustrate how sometimes it is necessary to eliminate your competition by doing things like seeking an alternative education or joining with industry groups that could foster their career ambition. At the conclusion of the sessions I would ask for questions. I would say that within the first 50 questions I received when speaking to students, 1 in 3 had something to do with law school.
“What did you think of law school?” “Is law school right for me?” “What other careers choices do I have with a legal education?”
I wanted to take the opportunity to share my observations about a legal education for those that may be contemplating this idea. We live in an education friendly world and a legal education is not just about going to three years of law school, taking the bar and becoming a lawyer. There are more opportunities for those with a legal background today than there ever have been.
High schoolers, the first part is for you; college students, skip to the middle.
For The High School Student- If you are a senior in high school today the very idea of law school may be so far away that you cannot focus on it. But let me say that if you have any even slight desire to one day attend law school, you need to begin thinking toward that goal as soon as your high school graduation party. Think about this, an average undergraduate student’s grades slip more during their freshman year in college than any other. It may take the next three years of school to make up for a few missed tests and poor grades (believe me, I know). But, the good news is the days of “pre-law” necessity are somewhat over.
At one point in history, not so long ago, a graduating high school senior needed to determine their law school prospects before entering undergrad. This would ensure that they had the proper “pre-law” education and qualifications to gain entrance to a law school and excel when they got there. This archaic idea is quickly dwindling. Students have the ability to decide on law school much later in their college careers than they once did. Further, students do not need a “pre-law” specific education. Now, if law school is something that you are even slightly considering it would be wise to ensure that you have some elements of law in your coursework. This can come in the form of taking Government, Political Science, Business Law, Economics, or anything in between during your undergrad studies. However, as those that have seen Legally Blonde can attest to, even Harvard Law accepts fashion merchandising majors with no “pre-law” credentials.
Today law schools want to see that you have desires other than law. This is because they want you to realize that a law school education does not mean you have to only be a lawyer. Law school graduates lead industries, have their hands in politics, are professors, work for non-profits doing everything from helping the environment to halting poverty, and the list goes on. If you have a background in something and show a passion for that, you are one step closer to your acceptance letter.
Now, for those that want to jump in with both feet there are new alternatives to the traditional pre-law education. At one time, more than half of law school hopefuls went to undergrad for Political Science or an equivalent degree. This was a great way to get into law school and become a lawyer. However, for those that got to the end of the Poli Sci road and did not go to law school, their career prospects were very slim. I would encourage anyone that is in high school and really has a desire to gain a legal education to look into a non-traditional legal path.
Bachelor of Laws (LLB)- A Bachelor of Laws degree gives a student the opportunity to take similar if not the same courses that they would in law school during an earlier period of their life. This degree helps tremendously when entering law school. Someone with this degree will already be close to a year ahead of everyone that they enter law school with. Plus, the classroom content a student would already have learned will help them better understand legal classes and the demand of law school.
The reason this is a great alternative to a traditional pre-law path is the possibilities that come with this degree alone. If a student gets an LLB degree then decides to not attend law school, there is still a great legal career ahead of them. Someone with this degree can become a paralegal, a full-time law clerk, or a legal analyst, all of which pay very well right out of college. Also, a little hint, there is a tremendous need for these types of professionals right now!
Law school also does not have to be something a student decides on right away when they are in college. Many law schools want to see that the perspective student has some outside experience past an undergraduate degree. I entered law school four years after my undergraduate graduation. This has helped me greatly as I had “real world” experiences that I could cite in my coursework.
I encourage any high school student considering this path to research it heavily. Understand what law school you may want to go to some day and what their admission requirements are. Use that as a goal for gettin through your undergraduate work.
For The College Student- I remember getting to college and never having thought about law school prior to a professor bringing it up to me. He said that in order to be more marketable for the types of jobs I wanted I should consider law school but not to be a lawyer. I never knew anyone would go to law school to do anything but be a lawyer. At that point in my academic career I was not ready to look at the next steps. I wanted to get through school and see what my options were first, then I would decide on a legal education.
Many that are in college now, especially those nearing graduation, want to start seeing their futures presented to them. There are truly limitless possibilities with the right connections and the right attitude. Some may determine that three more years of school is not so bad. A traditional law school education will give you valuable tools to be a successful person even if you never see the inside of a courtroom. Buts let’s look at some variations in the legal education approach.
Juris Doctor (JD)- By far the most common legal education is the Juris Doctor and it is considered the first degree in law. This is recognized by the American Bar Association and is the requirement to become a practicing lawyer in the United States. The JD considered a professional doctorate degree, similar to an advanced degree further than a graduate level education but less than a PhD type program. It is most simply the study of law, and anyone who chooses this path is expected to truly learn the law.
Most, if not all, JD programs are three years and consist of traditional law classes such as Contract Law, Criminal Law, Torts, Criminal Procedure, est. It is also considered to be the most difficult three years of education present today. The reward for such hard work is the opportunity to enter an elite group of individuals who command some of the highest salaries in the nation. It is an excellent path to follow for anyone looking to live the law in their career.
Juris Master (JM)- A Juris Master program is a happy medium between law school and graduate school. It is typically a shorter, condensed law school experience for anyone who wants a legal education but does not intend on being licensed to practice law.
There is a growing need for working professionals to have a legal background. The JM degree offers that opportunity. Remember, sometimes education is about eliminating competition and the JM looks great on a resume. It shows that you have a mastery of the law plus you have a graduate school background so you know how to write, research and present. Many who have this degree to their name find themselves as heads of business and heads of state.
Master of Legal Studies (MLS)- A Master of Legal Studies program is again a graduate program but it is more focused on the study of law as pertaining to the advancement of the justice system. This program is being offered more by universities that specialize in research. Any MLS program will look like a carbon copy of a JD program as far as courses are concerned. There will ultimately be less tests and more research with this program however.
The MLS program is great for those that want to study like a lawyer but want to follow a career path that utilizes more of their research methods rather than strictly jurisprudence. Similar to a JM, graduates of these programs tend to work in the political or government sector and are even heavily recruited for national and military intelligence positions. It is one thing to understand the law but it is a whole other thing to know how to effectively ensure legal stability.
No matter the choice, a legal education has become something more than three years of school to become a lawyer. There are options for a career in many industries with this background. I would encourage anyone who is considering a legal education to research and ask questions. Talk to people who have the degrees you are looking into and determine if it is right for you.
Feel free to reach out to me with questions over this delicate academic choice. I have been where you are and I am available to help foster the idea of a legal education. Email me SethB@ppai.org or connect on LinkedIn www.linkedin.com/in/lsethbarnett
The Roman philosopher and one of the fathers of modern politics stated “The people’s good is the highest law”. Ensure that you are bringing good work to yourself and others through your education choice.