Applying to law school can be a difficult decision, and a nerve-wracking experience. I interviewed a recent graduate from the University of Iowa College of Law, to ask for advice that may help with the decision-making process.
-What advice would you give students who are considering going to law school?
The most important piece of advice is to really do your research on what it means to apply to law school, to go to law school, and to be a lawyer. Don’t go to law school if you don’t want to be a lawyer. A lot of people who go to law school end up in legal jobs that don’t necessarily require a JD, but in which a JD helps them either get the job or perform in the job once they have it (such as policy work). However, it’s usually not a great idea to go to law school with the express purpose to end up in a job like that, unless you already have a job lined up. More often than not, the career outcome is to be a lawyer, so you should really understand what it means to be a lawyer before you go to law school.
-What tips do you have for the application process? For example, what should students consider when applying to specific law schools?
The big thing is understanding what type of career outcomes are likely for different schools. You can achieve almost anything from any school, but your dream outcome is going to be more likely from certain schools than others. It’s extremely important to understand this before applying to schools, because the school is the first thing the employer sees. Ultimately, there are only 13 schools with national reach where the average student can end up in a desirable job anywhere across the United States. There are a number of other schools that have regional scope, where if you go to those schools you can expect a desirable outcome in certain regions of the country (Midwest, South, etc.), but the majority of law schools only have local or state reach, in the sense that when you attend one of those schools, the majority of students will get is a job in that area (whether it be in that state, or that part of the state where the school is located). It’s really important to understand where the school places a majority of its graduates before you attend that school. For example, if a school places the majority of its students in Florida and you are intent on working in California, that school probably isn’t the right choice for you.
-What majors in college are helpful in law school?
I would say generally there isn’t a major you should be going for. The most important thing for your application is keeping your GPA as high as possible. The most important thing for succeeding in law school is being familiar with a heavy workload and good study habits, and strong reading and writing skills. There are some exceptions–the obvious example being if you want to work in intellectual property, where a STEM degree will be extremely beneficial to your job search.
-What can you do to prepare for law school (in the summer leading up to it)?
I don’t really think there’s anything specific you should or could be doing. The best thing you can do is relax because it’s the last time you’ll have free time for yourself for three years. But if you’re absolutely intent on doing something, skim some outlines for courses you’re going to be taking your first semester. Different people will have different opinions on this question, but nothing you do that summer will vault you from the median of the class to the top of the class.
-What are some misconceptions people may have about law school?
I think the big misconception, whether people want to admit it or not, is that law school isn’t a good option for people who don’t know what they want to do with their career, so they figure they’ll go to law school to figure it out. As I said before, you should really only go to law school if you want to be a lawyer. Law school shouldn’t be someone’s back-up plan because whatever they actually wanted to do didn’t work out.
-Should you know or have an idea of what type of law you want to practice before?
It’s fine to go in with a general idea of where you want to end up, but I think a better piece of advice is to keep an open mind to different areas of the law. It’s hard to know what you do or don’t like until you experience that area or take a class in it.
-What tips do you have for students to make the most of law school (what should they be doing)?
Remember what you signed up for. You didn’t sign up for law school to do three years of minimal effort and taking the easy way out. You signed up for law school to sacrifice three years of your life to advance your career and your career interests. Do all of your reading, don’t skimp on optional assignments, go to office hours, take notes in class, make sure to try for law review and moot court and appellate advocacy competitions. Do everything you can to set yourself apart from the field.
Law school is a big decision that will require three years of hard work, studying, and determination. It can also be extremely rewarding and worthwhile, especially if you’re passionate about the subjects and know you want to pursue a career in law. Advice from someone who has gone through the experience can be a valuable tool in deciding whether it’s right for you. Hopefully these answers will help in your application process.