Pre-Law Practice Area Series – Part I

Pre-Law Practice Area Series:  Your Initial Investment – How to Begin the Search for a Practice Area

Welcome back from Thanksgiving Break!  We had plenty of time to remember all the great opportunities we’ve had this semester – and to remember to extend a warm thanks for your engagement in the Pre-Law Advising Center.  As exam season approaches, a typical law student’s calendar is filled with plans to finish outlining for each class and the plan for when and how to approach taking practice exams for each class.  Of course, some of the most memorable activities you pursue during exam time are those that free your mind from the intense preparation – your “distractions”!  Last year, the Law School Dean of Students commented that the busiest time of year for schedule alterations was the days leading up to finals, when students are eager to be distracted by something meaningful to them that involves plotting and planning and not necessarily studying 😉

So if you, like me, find time for all the big idea planning and determining what projects to undertake during Winter Break, here is a perfect project for you to invest an hour or two and refine your analysis of what you want to do after law school.  It will guide you on how to finish your applications, where to visit, and how to eventually plan the beginning stages of your legal education, which has an incredibly strong impact on where you eventually find yourself practicing.  Overwhelming populations of attorneys say that they “fell into” their area of practice based on their summer experiences in law school and placements in their initial years of practice.  While it is true that opportunities you take will guide your experiences, having a strong understanding of many potential opportunities, what they lead to, and how you can best situate yourself to take advantage of these opportunities will give you the advantage over those who let grades, or random internship experiences, or career services offices dictate their momentum on the job search.

I suggest you print this checklist, grab a cup of coffee, find a nice spot with your laptop – and invest one to two hours refining your understanding of practice areas and potential careers.

 

  1.  Brainstorm a quick response to the question “Why law school?”  How do you envision using a law degree right now?  Even if you are in the very initial stages of considering law school, you should have something guiding you in that direction, vocalize it.
  2. Now go to the Stanford Law School Navigator – an intensely detailed online resource and one that I cannot pretend to offer a better or more rounded guide than – and read the general direction overviews for each of the four major directions: Academia, Litigation, Regulatory & Policy, and Transactional (found at:  http://slsnavigator.law.stanford.edu/start).  Note which direction interests you the most right now, and be able to define why.  Which of these directions most aligns with your answers to step one?  There is a lot of law school lingo embedded in the descriptions – so don’t hesitate to look up concepts or words that you need more information on.
  3. Explore each Path (what we typically refer to as a “practice area”) by clicking on it and reading the general overview.  Maybe you will be tempted to start clicking into various specialty areas within each path, I’d suggest investing the time to read each Path’s (practice area’s ) general overview first – to increase your vocabulary in each area and to move to the next step of exploring specialty areas with the most informed perspective.  Of each of these paths, which interests you most?
  4. Now it’s time to explore each path’s specialty areas.  Start with the area that most suited you, and work your way through each specialty area.  You will become aware of the relationships between specialty areas.
  5. Notice that you can narrow the specialty area by limiting it to a specific direction.  For example, under Business Law, I chose Media, Entertainment, and Sports and read the description for “all directions.”  Narrowing the direction doesn’t change the overall description, what that does is limit the “map” of courses and opportunities at Stanford for you to look further into.  The foundational courses are likely available everywhere – but some of the specialty courses only at Stanford.  Consider this a resource to come back to later, when you are in law school and continuing to refine your path and choose your 2L and 3L coursework based on your continued legal experiences.
  6. Expand your search.  So you have an idea of the direction you want to take, and the path that interests you, and have an understanding of some of the specific practice areas within each area.  Your vocabulary and understanding have probably expanded significantly!  Now that you are expanding your search, your discussions will be smarter, your analysis will be more refined, and your insight will be greater.  Move forward by utilizing these other tools.

A.  Go to the ABA’s listing of legal blog categories and browse a few blogs in the practice areas that most interest you:  http://www.abajournal.com/blawgs/by_topic/

B.  Take a look at the ABA’s list of factors to consider and the detailed clinic descriptions of each law school here: http://www.americanbar.org/content/dam/aba/migrated/child/PublicDocuments/choosinglawschool.authcheckdam.pdf

C.  Go to the website of a school that interests you, research the areas of law that they are known for.  I look at the ABA’s listing of school’s LLM programs (Master’s of Law) to know which areas schools are carved out specific programs that likely indicate a strong focus, you can find that towards the back of the 2012 ABA Law School Guide found here: http://www.americanbar.org/content/dam/aba/publications/misc/legal_education/2012_official_guide_for_web.authcheckdam.pdf

 

Stay tuned for Part II of this series, where we will share some of the research found on two specific areas of law – health law and education law.  As always – wishing you the best as you invest to find your best fit for a future legal career!

Making the most of your fall break

Eating turkey, watching football and sleeping in sound like pretty good ways to spend your fall break. With an entire week off, though, there are a lot more productive ways to use that time.

Current applicants–FINISH your applications! You really don’t want to be trying to finish your applications during finals. Tips:

  • Are all of your recommendations in? If not, contact your letter writers NOW–before fall break–because s/he might have time off next week too, and can finish your letter if you remind him/her.
  • Polish your personal statement. Do a final edit. Have another set of eyes review for grammar/punctuation. Make sure it’s the correct essay for this school.
  • Have you written all of your optional essays? A common complaint we hear from law school admissions deans is that optional essays are sloppy and aren’t edited well. Make sure you take the time to polish them just like your other documents.
  • Make sure all of your transcripts from any undergraduate institutions (even community colleges where you took a summer course) are submitted. Check your LSAC account to make sure.
  • Finalize your list of schools to which you’ll apply. Do you feel comfortable with the number of schools on your list, and with your admissibility there? Do you have a good mix of safety, target, and reach schools? Remember that the average law school applicant who graduated from the University of Illinois applied to 9 schools and was accepted to 3, and that’s good in terms of law school acceptances. (You can find all sorts of U of I applicant data on our website here.

Not applying to law school just yet? You can still be productive this break. How?

Do some LSAT planning.

  • Take a practice LSAT. See our list of practice LSAT options here.
  • If you plan to take next June’s LSAT, research LSAT prep companies and course offerings and decide whether to take a class, and which one. Test prep classes can be online, in person, or one on one tutoring, and they can range from one month to one year. Which is right for you? Some that are popular with our students are Kaplan, Next Step Test Prep, Testmasters, Princeton Review, and PowerScore. (We are not affiliated with any test prep company. This is NOT an exhaustive list but only meant to get your research started.)
  • For students who plan to do your own LSAT prep, now is a good time to start getting your resources together. The LSAC offers reasonably priced LSAT strategy and test books, like this package. (We are not affiliated with the LSAC and offer this only as a suggestion.) Other students purchase LSAT prep materials on ebay.

Study for finals. Seems like a no-brainer, but for those of you who are sophomores or juniors, it is extremely important that you do well academically now in order to maximize your law school admission chances.

Explore legal careers. Now that you have some free time, why not:

  • Explore the LSAC’s website. The Law School Admission Council website is VERY detailed, and requires some time to digest.
  • Take a quiz to see what area of law might be a good match for you at Discover Law’s website.
  • Read one of the books suggested by the LSAC in its Resources for the Prelaw Candidate list here.
  • Spend some time on the American Bar Association’s website exploring what lawyers do every day.
  • Ask a local lawyer to have coffee with you to talk about his/her career. This is actually very simple, and many lawyers are happy to sit for half an hour with a prospective law student. Start by asking your parents if they know any lawyers. If not, use the internet to find local lawyers and call or email a few. (Tip: Do an internet search for “your county bar association” to find local lawyers easily. For example, “McHenry County bar association” will take you to McHenry County lawyers.) You will be surprised how many lawyers are happy to talk to you about their career, and this is a great way to practice your networking skills!

 

 

Chicago-Kent Learning By Doing Open House

We’re passing along information we received about Chicago-Kent’s Learning by Doing Open House this Wednesday, November 14 from 5:30 to 8:00 pm. During this open house, prospective students will hear about the Chicago-Kent application process and see a panel discussion of current Chicago-Kent students talk about the opportunities they have to gain practical experience while in law school. Tours of the school will also be offered. This would be a great opportunity for learn more about this school and meet its current student population.

All prospective law students are invited to attend the November Open House. This program requires a reservation. To register for the open house, please complete the online RSVP form or contact the Office of Admissions by phone at (312) 906-5020

 

Law School Applicants for this cycle and next year — what should you be doing now?

Fall 2012 Applicants

For most applicants, the LSAT is over and now the focus is on completing your applications.  For those of you feeling a little overwhelmed by letters of recommendation, personal statements, and the application process generally, here is a link to one of our earlier blog postings to help you stay on task. http://publish.illinois.edu/prelawadvising/2012/10/08/after-the-lsat-what-now/. 

Additionally, as you try to gauge your admissions chances, here is another tool to assist you.  The Northeast Association of Pre-Law Advisors (NAPLA) Law School Locator is designed to help applicants quickly assess the LSAT and GPA expectations of different law schools across the country.  Click on this link to access this tool. http://www.bc.edu/content/dam/files/offices/careers/pdf/2012_NAPLA_Law_Locator.pdf.

Fall 2013 Applicants

Are you considering appying to law school next fall?  If so, then you need to begin planning NOW.  In particular, you should consider taking the June LSAT.  Why?

First — law schools use a rolling admissions process.  That means that as a general matter, applications are reviewed in the order they are received.   So even though most law schools list deadlines in February or March, you are encouraged to submit your applications as soon as possible. Most applications become available online between August 15 and October 1.  As such, if you take the June LSAT and are happy with your score, you can complete your applications early in the cycle.

Second —  if you are not satisfied with your June results, you have the option of re-taking in October and have the ability to submit your applications by late fall, which is still relatively early in the application cycle.

Third — as this year’s applicants can tell you, you need time to prepare for the LSAT.  What does this mean? This means that when planning your schedule of classes, extracurricular activities, etc. for Spring 2013, you need to set aside a significant amount of time for studying for the LSAT.

Preparing for the LSAT

The Law School Admission Council (LSAC) advises that most law school applicants preparing for the LSAT familiarize themselves with test directions and question types, practice on sample tests, and study the information available on test-taking techniques and strategies. Although LSAC indicates that it is difficult to say when LSAT examinees are sufficiently prepared, LSAC advises that very few people achieve their full potential without some preparation. It has been our experience at PLAS that most test takers set aside at least 4-6 months to prepare for the LSAT.  For information on the test and how to prepare, go to http://www.lsac.org/jd/lsat/about-the-lsat.asp.

Not sure how much prep you will need?  A great way to get an idea of your “baseline” LSAT score or simply begin the LSAT prep process is to take a full-length practice LSAT. Here are some upcoming opportunities to take a free practice test.

Note: We are not affiliated with any LSAT prep company. We do not receive any compensation from them. We simply provide information to students about upcoming opportunities that you may find beneficial. Students are under no obligation to use any company’s services just by taking a free test.

Princeton Review is offering a free online practice LSAT. To register, go to  www.princetonreview.com/testfest or call 800-273-8439.

Kaplan is hosting an LSAT practice test on November 11 from 3:00-7:00 pm.  For information on other free LSAT practice tests and to register, go to http://www.kaptest.com/enroll/LSAT/61820 or call 1-800-KAP-TEST.

The Law School Admission Council (LSAC) offers a free LSAT online that you can download, print, and take under your own conditions. (Make sure that you time yourself carefully to get a realistic idea of how you perform.) Find it at http://www.lsac.org/jd/lsat/lsat-prep-materials.asp

PowerScore offers the same free practice LSAT as the LSAC website, along with a “virtual proctor” to keep yourself on track. http://www.powerscore.com/lsat/help/content_index.cfm Their website also has some sample “lessons” about test sections.

These would be great opportunities for sophomores and juniors to get an idea of what the LSAT is all about, or even for students taking the December or February LSAT to gain more experience taking the test under “testlike” conditions. 

 

 

Free Stanford Law School Navigator!

Stanford Law School has released a unique online career and curriculum guide to the public! SLS Navigator allows you to learn about different careers in law and choose courses that will help you prepare for those careers. The overall theme is that a comprehensive guide will allow students to make the most of their three years of law school. Access the guide here: http://slsnavigator.law.stanford.edu/

The most helpful aspect is the breakdown between four major “directions” that a law degree may be used for: Academia, Litigation, Regulation and Policy, and Transactional; and the “paths” that explore the specific legal area within each direction. Just reading the introductory pages for these directions and paths is an incredible resource as you begin to refine your career and academic goals!

The level of depth and integration that Stanford put into this three-year development of SLS Navigator becomes evident when you start to select options from within each “path”. Then you are guided to course suggestions, law reviews and journals, and clinics at Standford that students with your interests should pursue.

Perhaps you aren’t interested in attending Stanford, but this resource can service you in two incredible ways. First, having a vocabulary and understanding of the four major “directions” and some of the “paths” that interest you will put you ahead of the ranks of applicants that don’t understand these major directions, and be incredibly helpful to you in the decision-making process for choosing a law school and allow you to know what kinds of options and opportunities you should be asking admissions officers about at your potential schools. Second, once you are in law school, looking back to this guide in preparation for your 2L and 3L years is comprable to an incredible advising session and the type of advice that can guide you to exactly where you need to go!

If you value knowing the opportunities that exist for you and having a model guide that can enlighten your law school experience, this navigator is something you should sit down with and dedicate an hour or two exploring!

Law School Admissions Online Chat

The Midwest Alliance for Law School Admissions and the Midwest Association of Pre-Law Advisors have partnered to bring pre-law students an opportunity to ask admissions questions to representatives from a variety of midwestern law schools. Students are invited to participate in this free Admissions Online Chat on Wednesday, November 7 from 6-7 pm (Central).

Admissions representatives from the following law schools will be online to answer your questions:
Capital University
Indiana University
University of Kansas
Loyola University Chicago
Michigan State University
University of Missouri–Kansas City
Valparaiso University
Washburn University

Pre-law advisors will also be there to offer advice. This is a great opportunity to ask any questions you have about the application process generally, or to inquire about how/when the schools go about awarding financial aid, or to ask the representatives any questions you have about their schools specifically. You can chat for a few minutes or stay for the whole hour.

Register at http://www.law.msu.edu/admissions/midwest-alliance.php

 

Character and fitness disclosures

The character and fitness questions have begun. This time of year is when I start getting many questions from students about the character and fitness questions on law school applications. You know the ones–they ask whether you’ve ever been charged with a crime, or whether you’ve been accused of academic dishonesty, or whether you’ve ever been on academic probation. Some schools will even ask about your traffic or parking tickets–hey, lawyers are nothing if not thorough. Please, please, take a moment to review this post about these questions.

Why do they care? Consider this from a law school’s perspective. The pressure is on law schools not only to admit a class of quality students, but to help their graduates find jobs at the end. They want to admit students who will be admitted to the bar. A history of criminal charges, multiple issues involving substance abuse, academic dishonesty, or a tendency towards violence suggest impaired or poor judgment at best and potential problems passing the character and fitness investigation to be admitted to any state’s bar. Law students are certainly making a huge investment in their future by attending law school–but the law school itself is also highly invested in making sure its students and graduates succeed. Each party’s future depends on graduates’ success.

How should you answer these questions? Before even looking at the questions on the application, you should know that your law school application will be reviewed when you later apply to any state’s Board of Admission to the Bar. If the Board of Admission to the Bar finds discrepancies or omissions, you will have to answer to the character and fitness committee and to their satisfaction–or they will not allow you to sit for their state’s bar exam. You should also know that the Board of Admissions to the Bar defines an “omission” as a lie.

Read the application’s questions carefully. 90% of the questions I receive are clearly answered in the law school’s question or instructions. Carefully review the question. Most of the time, the issue is not that the question is unclear; it’s that the applicant just doesn’t want to answer it. However, if you are still uncertain, then…

Ask for clarification. If you have questions or you don’t understand whether the question encompasses your situation, call the admissions office of the school. Ask them for clarification–they are the ones who wrote the question, so they should be able to explain what they are looking for. Believe me when I say that they have seen it all. Your situation will not shock them.

This may sound surprising, but I do not believe that students should be seeking legal advice with regard to these questions. First of all, you’ll note that many law school applications will clearly state that it is the applicant’s responsibility to provide full answers, even if advised against doing so by a lawyer or other party. The Board of Admissions to the Bar will say the same thing–it is YOUR responsibility to fully answer the questions. Secondly (in my opinion), if the situation is serious enough that you sought legal counsel, then it’s serious enough that a law school should know about it, as should the Board of Admissions to the Bar.

When in doubt, disclose. Law schools have seen it all, from underage drinking tickets to public urination (which is more common than you’d think, apparently), to felonies. Your situation is not as shocking to them as you think. Disclosing now will prevent problems passing the bar in the future…so when in doubt, just do it. Or would you rather discover at the end of law school that your history prevents you from sitting for the bar in your preferred state?

And…it doesn’t stop with your bar admission! Law is a highly regulated field. As lawyers we have access to extremely sensitive confidential information and we serve as fiduciaries for our clients. Practicing law is a privilege, not a right, and it is appropriate that the judgment and integrity of lawyers (as well as lawyers-to-be) are considered.

 

 

LSAT Study Groups

Do you work better in a group setting? Would the accountability of a study group help you in your LSAT preparation? The Pre-Law office would like to facilitate the creation of LSAT study groups. Utilize this sign-up to find other LSAT students with whom you can work:

http://www.signupgenius.com/go/508094DABA72DA57-lsat

1) Choose whether you prefer an afternoon, early evening, or evening time slot and which day of the week works best for you.

2) In the comment section, please note your preferred email address for group use.

3) We will send an email to students interested in the same times and let you take over planning where you will meet and whether or not you’d like to meet more than once a week!

Once you are in law school, study groups begin forming as soon as orientation is under way. Students in the same section of classes will create small groups to discuss, review, and study together, usually at established times each week either in the evenings or between classes. Many students are able to generate new arguments beyond their own because they have so frequently heard a variety of perspectives in depth in their study groups – and this skill is one that should be fostered long before exam preparation towards the end of the semester.

Make the most of your group – and get a head start on a study habit that will lend to your success in law school!  There will be e a new sign-up at the beginning of next semester to accommodate new schedules!

Law Fair Is Tomorrow — You Don’t Want to Miss It!!

Our biggest Law Fair ever is tomorrow! Over 120 law schools will be here for the Law Fair on Tuesday, October 23 from 11am-3pm at the ARC. Click on our LawSchoolFairNewsletter2012to access our special edition Newsletter for the list of attendees, as well as tips and suggestions for getting the most out of this great opportunity!  This newsletter contains information on what to wear, what questions to ask (page 2), and which schools are coming (pages 5 and 6).  And to help you focus your approach, check out pages 3 and 4 for some possible “target” schools lists.  This newsletter has ALL the details on the fair. 

We look forward to seeing you tomorrow at the ARC, 11am-3pm!


Yale Law School Webinar Announced

We have collaborated with Yale Law School to host the Yale Law Admissions Webinar on Wednesday, October 24 from 12:00-1 pm online. This session is intended to be interactive, providing an opportunity for students to talk directly with a Yale Law admissions staffer who can outline the Yale admissions process and provide more details about specifically what Yale is looking for in candidates. Interested students will want to visit Yale’s admission website and blog here prior to the session.

Registration for this event is required. PLEASE CLICK HERE TO REGISTER.  Note that those who register will also have access to a recording of the session afterward.

We also posted helpful Yale Law admissions information on our blog here, in case you missed it!