USM does not have a pre-law major. The reason for this is that law schools generally discourage prospective applicants from taking a formal pre-law curriculum. Rather, law schools would like students to pursue a regular major that will build their writing and analytical skills. Law schools want students that are broadly educated instead of narrowly focused. Consequently, students contemplating law school are not assigned a pre-law adviser, but have a regularly assigned adviser within their chosen major at USM.
Although law schools do not want to see a formal pre-law major, it is a good idea to take some law-related courses to determine your aptitude and interest in wrestling with legal questions. A great interdisciplinary way to explore legal questions as an undergraduate is to fulfill your general education cluster requirement through the Law Cluster. The Law Cluster offers students a wide range of classes that offer an interdisciplinary approach to understanding the meaning of law.
Beyond completing their chosen major and undergraduate degree, students who plan to apply to law school should also be aware of the following typical components of a law school application:
1) LSAT – The Law School Admission Test (LSAT) is a critical part of your law school application. It is a standardized test measuring reasoning ability that helps predict success in law school. The LSAT is the component of the law school application in which applicants are most directly comparable and, as such, can be especially helpful to admissions officers trying to rank diverse student records. The website of the Law School Admission Council, which administers the exam and oversees the Law School Credentials Assembly Service, will be an important resource during the law school application process.
You should prepare diligently for the exam so that you can perform your best on the one time that you take the test. There are many different ways to prepare from formal classes to an individualized study program. Any preparation technique should increase your familiarity with the question types and timed environment of the exam. Put simply, practice will help your score. Many students find it helpful to set up a schedule that sets aside preparation time over a sustained period.
When you take the LSAT will depend on when you can maximize preparation and meet law school application deadlines. The LSAT is offered four times a year and these are typically in February, June, September, and December. It takes about three weeks to get your results after taking the test. Most law schools discourage or prohibit taking the February test for admittance to that year’s fall incoming class since it may not provide results in time for the typical March deadline. You should consider your schedule and pick a test date that allows for significant preparation time in the run-up to exam day. An advantage of taking the test in June for admittance to the next year’s fall incoming class (14 months ahead) is that preparation time may be enhanced by taking the exam outside of the regular academic year and knowledge of your scores can give you a head start in realistically appraising where you will apply.
2) Résumé – An up-to-date résumé is something you should be developing early in your college career even if you have no plans to apply to law school. Putting a résumé together is helpful for contemplating your strengths and weaknesses and contemplating career paths. Being prepared with an up-to-date resume may be advantageous for networking and securing internships or other work experience. The Student Success Center, which is located in 119 Payson Smith, helps students with résumé writing.
3) Recommendation letters – Law schools will typically ask for two reference letters. Be sure that you ask a professor who knows you well and believes in your ability. Allow professors to get to know you better by coming to office hours, which it is part of their job to hold. Give professors substantial lead time and let them know how to submit their letters in case they aren’t used to writing law school recommendations.
4) Personal statement – Try to prepare a well-written statement that evokes your individuality. Self reflection on why you want to attend law school provides a vital backdrop for the personal statement.
In putting these materials together, you will want to take your time and start early. Be sure to research law schools and think about which law schools are the best fit for your interests, geographic preferences, financial situation, etc. Applications for the fall incoming class are typically accepted on a rolling basis with October 1 – March 1 being the peak application period. Applying right before the deadline is generally discouraged. All your materials should be completed before you apply. Take care that your materials are well-written. Ask someone else to read over your materials. Lawyers are expected to write well and be detail-oriented; proofreading errors speak for themselves. One possible timetable would be finishing your résumé yesterday, preparing in the spring for taking the LSAT in June (about 14 months before the law school year would begin), finding out your LSAT score and registering for the Credential Service in July, researching law schools and writing a personal statement in August, asking professors for recommendations in early September, carefully proofreading your application in late September, and submitting your application in October or November. It is far better to put off your law school application for a year, which can be used to strengthen your record with additional work or travel experience, than to rush into taking the LSAT ill-prepared and submitting mediocre application materials. Be aware that specific requirements and deadlines at individual schools may differ from the general process outlined here.
The World Wide Web is a tremendous resource for learning about the law school application process. A great place to find current information about the application process for an individual law school is its website. Many websites, including the University of Maine and US News & World Report, use an FAQ section to give specific advice about the law school application process. The Office of Community Engagement and Career Development provides an occupational profile of Law and Law School Resources. There is no shortage of good advice about law school on the Web, such as the well-rounded interdisciplinary view of law school preparation provided by the Boston College Pre-Law Brief.