Undergraduate students are often surprised to learn that there is no specific major or minor required for most careers in law or for entry into law school. What is required is that the student develop certain basic skills which are essential to the practice of law.
Most law school officials and pre-law advisors agree that there are three attributes which are most important. They are:
I. Skill in comprehension and use of language
Language is a lawyer’s working tool. In seeking to convince, in drafting legal instruments and legislation, in oral and written arguments, he or she must have the capacity to communicate to strangers with clarity, precision and persuasiveness. He or she must be able to comprehend with precision the meaning of others. One of the common complaints of law school professors is that beginning law students cannot write. After four years of college, students sometimes cannot write an ordinary declarative sentence. There are reasons: large classes, objective exams, non-intellectual courses, etc. But in law school and as a lawyer, you need to be able to write in essay form with logic, clarity, precision, and persuasiveness. Therefore, courses which develop cognitive and expressive skills by requiring extensive writing are extremely good preparation for any career, but especially for a legal career.
II. Critical understanding of and interest in human institutions and values
Lawyers are a powerful force in the shaping and operation of institutions and values. They are instrumental in establishing the policies which guide society. Therefore, courses which develop an awareness of social concerns by exposing the student to history, ethical, and societal issues are extremely beneficial for a career in law.
III. Ability in logical and analytical reasoning
An important part of the lawyer’s work is problem solving. You have a problem: a city school board, a court, or a dispute between two people. Creative, workable solutions must be found. The difference, often times, between a top attorney and mediocre one is the ability of the former to come up with a workable solution – a creative answer. Creative thinking requires the development of skills in deductive and inductive reasoning, reasoning by analogy, and critical analysis in the use of facts and legal principles. Therefore, courses which prepare a student in the reasoning process by exposing the student to concepts of logic, persuasion, research and writing serve as an excellent preparation for any career, but especially for a legal career.
Consequently, a pre-law student has a wide choice of undergraduate majors, minors, and electives. No one set of courses is required for law school, and no one set is the best. Various areas of study are beneficial for pre-law study, with an overall emphasis on a well-rounded, rather than a narrow and specialized, education. Traditionally, courses in economics, English, history, philosophy, political science, and business have been viewed as solid preparation for law school.