Law School Basics
|Law school is the term used in the United States to indicate an institution where future lawyers obtain legal degrees, mainly teaching using the Socratic method. In the U.S. law is a graduate degree, which students embark upon only after completing an undergraduate degree in some other field; the undergraduate degree can be in any field. In most cases the degree granted by American law schools is the Juris Doctor, or J.D., degree, though some schools still award the LL.B. degree which is still common in other common law jurisdictions, mostly Commonwealth countries. Other degrees that are awarded include the Master of Laws degree (LL.M.) and the Doctor of Juridical Science degree (J.S.D.). A law school is usually an autonomous entity within a larger university and is considered to be a graduate or professional school program.
In other countries law programs are more completely integrated into the other university faculties, such as in Canada where they are often called a faculty of law. In most countries, law is an undergraduate degree and graduates of such a program are eligible to become lawyers by passing the country's equivalent of a bar exam. In such countries, graduate programs in law enable students to embark on academic careers or become specialized in a particular area of law.
In considerating law school, potential students should consider the advantages and disadvantages of lawyering and the law school experience. Many books are available about the realities of lawschool and lawyering. Before entering law school, potential students should also talk to both attorneys and law students about their experiences and recommendations.
In the United States, admission to a law school requires a bachelor's degree, a satisfactory undergraduate grade point average, and a satisfactory score on the Law School Admissions Test (LSAT). Additional personal factors are evaluated through essays, short-answer questions, letters of recommendation, and other application materials. The standards for grades and LSAT scores vary from school to school. Highly-regarded law schools accept only those applicants with very high LSAT scores, GPAs or financial and political leverage.
Individual factors are also very important, although applicants are virtually never asked to interview as part of the application process. Such factors are evaluated through other application materials, and while these factors can compensate for a low GPA and/or LSAT score, where they are weak they can also detract from high scores. Many law schools actively seek applicants from outside the traditional pool in order to boost campus diversity, both racial and economic. Most law schools now factor in extracurricular activities, work experience, and unique courses of study in their evaluation of applicants. A growing number of law school applicants have several years of work experience, and correspondingly fewer law students enter immediately after completing their undergraduate education.
Students considering law school should note that although law school tuition is notoriously high, it is not uncommon for law students to receive grants and scholarships, or more rarely complete tuition waivers, from their schools. While each school's financial aid system operates differently, there is a rule of thumb relating to GPA and LSAT scores: a student whose grades and LSAT are distinctly higher than those of most students admitted to a given school--in other words, a student who could get into a "better" school--has a good chance of being offered some kind of scholarship by the lower-ranked school.