In most countries, legal education begins at the undergraduate level. However, few American colleges offer prelaw programs or majors. If…
In most countries, legal education begins at the undergraduate level. However, few American colleges offer prelaw programs or majors. If you can’t study law at your undergraduate institution, then what courses can you take to prepare yourself for law school and show commitment to a legal pursuit?
Ultimately, it is more important to maintain a high grade point average than to take specific classes, so prioritize the classes that interest you and suit your skills. Most law schools aim for a well-balanced class rather than a class of well-balanced students, so there is no penalty for pursuing your passion as long as you still show intellectual curiosity and risk-taking. Admissions officers will scrutinize your transcript and notice if you rarely strayed outside your comfort zone.
That said, there are some courses that will show that you have what it takes to succeed in law school. Those subjects include:
— American history and government.
— Social science.
— Statistics and data science.
— Close reading and reasoning.
American History and Government
The American legal system is based on precedent, a deference for settled cases. It is also a patchwork of federal, state and local laws, norms and institutions. Without understanding how American government works — or fails to work! — and how and why it evolved into the odd hodgepodge it is today, you may hold myths and assumptions that undermine your effectiveness as an advocate.
Beyond courses on topics like the U.S. Constitution and American politics, consider courses that approach the American experience from alternative viewpoints. Try a narrower view like the history of a specific region or population, or environmental history, or the history of science. Or try zooming out through a course in comparative politics, international human rights or international relations.
In a U.S. history class, you may learn about how social science arguments helped convince the Supreme Court to overrule school segregation in Brown v. Board of Education in1954. Previous courts had accepted at face value the dubious claims that segregated facilities were “separate but equal.” At a time when Black voices were muffled, rigorous psychology and sociology studies made the shameful injustice of segregation undeniable.
Social science classes are more important to the law than ever, from the economics used in antitrust cases to the political science used in election law to psychology disputes over rules of evidence. Understanding the wide range of methods that social scientists draw from to make arguments will serve you well in law school.
Statistics and Data Science
Many lawyers share an aversion to math and science compared to their professional peers in fields like medicine, business and engineering. But an understanding of statistics is becoming increasingly important to modern legal practice.
Unsurprisingly, the LSAT increasingly tests statistical concepts and arguments in the l ogical reasoning and reading comprehension sections. If you fail to grasp the uses and limitations of data and statistical analysis, then you may be easily misled or intimidated with flawed charts and shoddy metrics.
Likewise, other science, math or engineering classes can give you the confidence to assess and rebut flawed scientific arguments in legal fields like technology law, environmental law, health care law and torts.
Close Reading and Reasoning
As any LSAT test-taker soon realizes, law schools want students who can closely read, analyze, contextualize, critique and draw arguments from a text. It doesn’t matter what the text is: the “Epic of Gilgamesh,” the letters of Civil War soldiers and their families, Friedrich Nietzsche’s notebooks or the pictorial records of Lakota winter counts.
English literature or foreign literature obviously involves textual analysis, as do philosophy, religious studies, art history, film studies and ethnic or cultural studies. Ideally you should take a class that involves analyzing material that is totally foreign to you, because lawyers often have to quickly familiarize themselves with fields they know nothing about. You should also take a class that requires writing essays that make logical arguments, rather than mere appreciation or memorization.
Advocacy skills are essential to law school. Through writing, public speaking, rhetoric, theater or other communications classes, you can hone your ability to articulate ideas persuasively. Those skills will come in handy for your personal statement and other written materials on your application. And if your law school has a required interview, you better feel comfortable on your feet.
One of the strengths of American legal education is that all kinds of people can become lawyers, from pastry chefs to nurses to computer programmers. It would be self-defeating to fixate on taking the “right” classes for law school rather than the right classes for you. Take classes that sharpen your reasoning, expand your mind and help you see the world from new angles. Many lawyers have stories of an insight from a seemingly esoteric class that shaped their career in unexpected ways.
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College Classes That Best Prepare You for Law School originally appeared on usnews.com