DO I WANT TO BE A LAWYER?
This is a difficult question to answer because there is no "typical lawyer." The legal profession today has embraced specialization to a significant extent. Specialties include criminal law, family law, personal injury or defective product litigation, trust and estate law, business transactions and litigation, tax law, employment or labor law, environmental law, patent and trademark law, civil rights litigation, and many others. There are significant differences in workload, client contact, work environment, compensation, and overall quality of life, depending on your specialization.
One way to determine if a legal career is for you is to learn all you can about the field. Talk with practicing lawyers, attend criminal and civil trials, attend law school classes, work as a paralegal or messenger at a law firm and read about the law. It's also important to look at the type of skills that a person must develop in order to be a competent lawyer. Although there are significant differences in the different legal specialties, the essential skills required of any lawyer are mush the same.
Ask yourself the following questions:
- Can I empathize with a client while remaining objective about the situation? A lawyer must be able to empathize in order to properly understand the needs and concerns of his or her client, but the lawyer must also be able to objectively analyze the client's legal situation and to evaluate the available options.
- An I articulate my analysis of a problem in a clear and concise manner? The key to success is the ability to convince others of the correctness of one's analysis of the factual problem, the requirements of the law, and the best result that can be reached for all concerned parties. One may be a genius, but it will be to no avail if others cannot understand what he or she is saying. The skill and art of written and verbal communication is an important key to success for a lawyer. One need not be flamboyant to be an excellent lawyer, but the ability to persuasively articulate concrete positions is essential.
- Can I set aside my own preferences to be an advocate for others? A lawyer does not serve her own interests but her client's. She provides the client with information, but ultimately, the client decides what to do. The lawyer must be able to accept and advance the client's decision, even if she does not agree with that particular course of action.
- Can I meet deadlines and pay attention to detail? The practice of law is a jungle filled with pockets of quicksand for the sloppy, lazy lawyer. Legal procedures involve a multitude of arbitrary details and deadlines. failure to present a client's case on time and precisely as required may cause it to be thrown out of court and give rise to malpractice charges.
- Can I deal with conflict? People turn to the law only when matters are important and other attempts to resolve them have failed. Both parties usually believe very strongly in the merits of their claims and pursue their interests aggressively. Lawyers do not usually see people at their best.
PREPARING FOR A LEGAL CAREER AT MEREDITH COLLEGE
Admission to law school or a paralegal program does not require any particular major. Most pre-law students major in social sciences (politics, history, sociology, economics, psychology) or humanities (English, religion, foreign languages), but it is possible to major in almost any field and pursue further legal education if a student takes care to develop the necessary skills. In choosing her major, a student should select a program based primarily on her interests and skills. If she knows the type of law she is interested in pursuing, that may also be relevant to her choice of major. A student interested in criminal law would want to consider the criminal justice concentration, for example.
Like most colleges, Meredith does not offer a specific pre-law major, although it is possible to major in Political Science with a pre-law track (see Political Science Major -- Concentration in Law & Justice for more information). The approach at Meredith is to have a pre-law adviser available to assist students in various major fields who are interested in law. Dr. Clyde Frazier (firstname.lastname@example.org) is the pre-law adviser. He can help students with career decision-making, program planning, information on law schools, paralegal programs, and the LSAT. Sample tests are available so students can assess their chances of admission to law school and work to improve their test scores. Pre-law students should consult their adviser by the end of the sophomore year. Far more important than a particular major or specific course work is that the student demonstrates her ability to succeed in a rigorous and demanding program of study and develops the right skills as the foundation for further legal study and a legal career. The American Association of Law School Deans has identified the following skills:
- Special Courses for Pre-Law Students
- All pre-law students should give serious consideration to taking the following two courses: (1) POL 301: Constitution and Rights of Americans -- an introduction to legal reasoning that should be taken in a student's junior or senior year and (2) LEG 401: Legal Research -- an introduction to legal bibliography, research, and writing that should be taken in a student's junior or senior year.
- Comprehension and expression in words
- A student can develop these skills by taking courses in any field that emphasizes critical reading and writing as well as speaking skills. Two such courses at Meredith are ENG 358: Advanced Writing and COM 225: Fundamentals of Speech.
- Critical understanding of the human institutions and values with which the law deals
Potentially relevant are a range of courses in politics, history, sociology, ethics and religion. POL 300: Law and Society is especially recommended.
- Creative power in thinking
- Courses in which students analyze and solve problems rather than simply learning information help to develop this skill. One course that is particularly recommended is RES 210: Critical Thinking.
- Criminal Justice Concentration
- The criminal justice concentration is a twenty-one (21) hour program designed to introduce students to the field of criminal justice. The program includes an internship and is jointly administered by the Department of Sociology and the Political Studies Program.
- Business Law
- The School of Business offers two courses designed to acquaint students with the substance of the law as it affects the conduct of business. They are BUS 454: Business Law and BUS 457: Advanced Business Law.
- Legal Jobs and Internships
- Meredith's location in the state capital gives students access to a wide variety of legal jobs and internships (see Internships for more information). Many law firms hire students on a part-time basis as messengers or office assistants. Information on these jobs can be obtained from the pre-law adviser. Students can also get exposure to legal careers through volunteer internships. In the past students have gotten experience at the North Carolina Supreme Court and other government agencies as well as in private law firms. Students seeking legal internships should see the pre-law adviser
The Law School Admissions Test (LSAT) is a standardized test that is required for admission to law school. The test is divided into five 35-minute sections. There is one reading comprehension section, like the SAT, and three sections which test logical analysis. The fifth section consists of possible questions for future tests and does not contribute to your own score. There is also a 30-minute "writing sample" section to measure your writing skills and ability to express ideas. Although this section is not scored, it will be sent to the law schools you applied to. The LSAT is scored on a scale of 120-180 (the average score is 151). Scores arrive in approximately five weeks.
Registration -- The test is offered four times a year (June, October, December and February). The best time to take the test is in June between your junior and senior year. Registration for he LSAT is relatively easy. LSAT booklets are available from your pre-law adviser or in Academic and Career Planning . They contain sample questions and other information. You can register for the test by mail, telephone or on the Internet. To register online, it takes about 15 minutes and can be done at http://www.lsac.org.
Helpful Hints -- (1) You can't really study for the LSAT because it is an aptitude test. However, you can prepare for the types of questions that it asks by using the study guide. (2) Do not take the LSAT for practice! All the scores are reported to the schools you selected and an average score is taken. It is better to take practice exams instead and prepare that way.
Review Materials -- There are several review materials available to prepare for the LSAT. The LSAC offers the PrepTest. It is an actual LSAT administered on the test date. You can time yourself and practice as though you were taking the real thing. Each PrepTest contains a writing sample and an answer key. They are available through http://www.lsac.org. Another option for preparing for the LSAT is a review course offered through a private vendor. Use the internet to search for "LSAT prep course" and you will come up with several options.
American Bar Association -- the world's largest voluntary professional membership association, the ABA has access to expert opinions, quality research and objective, high-quality reports-information that you can trust. Plus, the ABA offers a national platform to exchange ideas, discuss ethics, and explore important legal issues.
Internet Legal Resource Guide -- A categorized index of more than 4000 select web sites in 238 nations, islands, and territories, as well as more than 850 locally stored web pages and downloadable files, this site was established to serve as a comprehensive resource of the information available on the Internet concerning law and the legal profession, with an emphasis on the United States of America.