This FAQ is maintained by Dr. Mark Richards.
I am a professor in the political science department and I am a pre-law advisor for GVSU. I am not a lawyer and nothing on this FAQ should be interpreted as legal advice. I have created this FAQ to answer some of the many questions that you may have if you are thinking about a career related to law. The FAQ consists of links to the most useful pre-law websites, and a list of my answers to frequently asked questions (FAQ). Ultimately, you are the one that must make the choices and do the research. You wouldn't take out a mortgage without researching the house, the neighborhood and the community. Financing your law degree is basically like taking out a mortgage, so get ready to do some research. Be sure to read the section on law school, as people are raising some serious concerns about employment opportunities, salaries and job satisfaction. The best tool you can use as you approach this major life decision is information.
Please email me for my current office hours: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Official guide to law schools. (Click on UGPA-LSAT Search for a tool that calculates likelihood of admission based on GPA and LSAT score.)
GVSU Pre-law Official Page
Earn a GVSU PLS BS + A MSU JD in 3+3 years with: GVSU LEAP Program
Official LSAT site.
LSAT preparation and resources: GoGrad's LSAT Guidebook.
Law school rankings and research:
Law School Numbers
How I Compare
Top Law Schools
Public interest law: Equal Justice Works
Incredible law career site: NALP.
The Vault (career information).
Financing, preparing for law school, etc. on Findlaw's pre-law site.
Legal careers and salaries at Findlaw.
Interactive Pre-law Handbook.
What is the GVSU pre-law program?
Grand Valley State University's pre-law program, in keeping with the recommendations of U.S. law schools and LSAC (Law School Admissions Council), is not one major that is defined as pre-law. As law school officials point out, students will learn the law in great detail once they attend law school. As undergraduates, pre-law students should focus on gaining a broad liberal arts education.
"There is no pre-law curriculum of required courses that corresponds to the pre-med courses a student must take before being admitted to medical school. Law schools prefer that you reserve your legal study for law school and fill your undergraduate curriculum with broad, diverse, and challenging courses. Pre-law courses that introduce you to broad legal principles may present you with enough information to decide whether you want to continue with a legal education, but they are rarely taught with the same depth and rigor as actual law school courses. A pre-law curriculum that is designed to encompass a broad array of liberal arts courses, however, can be excellent preparation for law school" (LSAC 2001, 32)
GVSU's approach to pre-law encourages students to pursue majors that provide the diverse intellectual foundation necessary for success in the field of law. GVSU also recommends that students experience several pre-law courses, courses related directly to law, to help students understand if they are suited for a career in law.
What is LEAP?
There are LEAP programs in political science, business, and legal studies. This answer mainly addresses PLS LEAP. For more information on the others, check with the Seidman School of Business or the Legal Studies Program. The Legal Education Admission Program (LEAP) provides an opportunity for GVSU’s political science undergraduate students to earn both degrees in about six years of full-time study (three years of political science studies plus three years of legal studies). The program was developed by Grand Valley State University’s Political Science Department and Michigan State University College of Law (MSU Law). For more information about this program, click here.
What is the legal studies program?
Grand Valley offers a major and minor in legal studies. While neither of these options are “pre-law” programs, they offer students the opportunity for in-depth study of law, the legal system, and the legal field at the undergraduate level. While some students with an interest in law school choose the legal studies major or minor, there is no single major that prepares students for law school or enhances their chances for admission to law school. Successful law school applicants and lawyers come from a wide variety of majors, including legal studies. For more information, see the GVSU legal studies website.
What is the role of MSU Law at GVSU?
There are several GVSU-MSU Law Dual Degree programs, including the dual MBA-JD, and the LEAP Programs (dual bachelor's degree in political science, legal studies or business from GVSU plus a JD from MSU in 3+3 years. See the GVSU catalog.
What should I major in if I am interested in law?
For GVSU students planning to attend law school, the choice of major is limited only by the imagination. Law schools want incoming classes made up of a wide range of majors. In choosing a major, students should consider their strengths and passions, as well as areas where growth is needed. Students should looks for majors that develop skills in analysis, critical thinking, research, writing and verbal communication.
Pre-law majors at GVSU include, but are not limited to:
Should I take any courses related to law?
Taking one to three courses related to law will help you to better understand if you are truly interested in law as a career and improve your preparation for law school.
What are some of the courses at GVSU that are related to law?
Classics 367 Thinking Like a (Roman) Lawyer
History 328 Constitutional History of U.S.
Philosophy 330 Legal Philosophy
Women and Gender Studies 310 Sexual Orientation and the Law
Women and Gender Studies / Criminal Justice 320 Crimes Against Women
Women and Gender Studies / Legal Studies 370 Women and the Law
Criminal Justice and Legal Studies: entire curriculum. Examples include:
CJ 302 Criminal Law
CJ 305 Constitutional Rights and Civil Liberties
CJ 325 Criminal Justice and Human Rights
CJ 340 - Courts Process
CJ/LS 408 White-Collar and Corporate Crime
CJ/LS 444 Forensic Behavior and Law
LS 201: Introduction to Law
LS 324: Legal Research and Writing
Graduate Course: CJ 602: Legal and Ethical Issues
206 American Constitutional Foundations
306 Constitutional Law I (Federalism and Separation of Powers)
307 Constitutional Law II (Civil Rights and Liberties)
308 American Judicial Politics
314 International Law
Many other political science courses cover how laws and policies are made.
Seidman College of Business:
Business 201 Legal Environment for Business
Accounting 317 Federal Income Tax Theory and Practice-Individual
Accounting 318 Federal Income Tax-Corporations, Partnerships, and Fiduciaries
Management 334 Labor and Employment Law
Management 355 Diversity in the Workforce
Management 432 Grievance Arbitration and Collective Bargaining
At the graduate level there are many Seidman College of Business courses related to law. Examples include:
Accounting 624 and 625 Corporate Tax I and II
Accounting 612 The Accountant's Legal Environment
Business 531 Legal Environment for MBA Students
Management 637 Labor and Employment Law for MBA Students
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What is the Law Society?
The Law Society of Grand Valley State University is a student group for anyone who is contemplating any type of career in law. For current information on the Law Society, please visit GVSU's Office of Student Life.
What is the LSAT?
The LSAT is a half-day standardized test required for admission to almost all law schools.
When should I take the LSAT?
I recommend taking it in June or October of the year that you will apply. For example, if you plan to apply in fall of 2020 (to begin law school in fall 2021), you should take the LSAT in June 2020. Certainly you should not take it later than October. Most law schools operate on a rolling admissions basis, which means that they give first consideration to the applications received first.
How should I prepare for the LSAT?
Success on the LSAT is absolutely critical to your admission prospects. Your ability to improve your score will depend primarily on how hard you practice and study. Taking a prep course can be helpful, but they are expensive and your success will ultimately hinge on how much effort you put into the course. If you buy some LSAT prep books, work through the study guide, and take as many practice tests as possible you will improve your score. However, some students perform better if they have the external stimulus of a prep course such as those offered by Kaplan or TestMasters. TestGuru provides one-on-one tutoring. Be sure to take your practice tests under the required time constraints in order to simulate actual conditions. For a more detailed overview of LSAT preparation and resources, see GoGrad's LSAT Guidebook.
What are the costs and what can I do about it?
You will need to pay a fee for the LSAT and another fee for the LSAC Credential Assembly Service, which compiles your transcripts, letters of recommendation and score reports and sends them to your chosen schools. You can request fee waivers on the lsac.org site.
Can I retake the LSAT?
Yes, but you should only take the LSAT if you are completely prepared. Every time you submit a score report to a law school, all of your scores are included. Some law schools simply average the two scores, although according to a Kaplan survey reported in preLaw, fall 2007, 74 percent of 170 ABA-accredited law schools now use the candidate's highest score, due to a change in the way the ABA collects data.
For all other questions about the LSAT, visit the official LSAT site.
Do I really want to go to law school?
Ultimately, you have to answer this question for yourself. Check out the interactive Pre-law Handbook to contemplate some of the many factors that go into this decision. Be aware that to obtain a law degree, you will likely take on a large debt, there is an excessive supply of lawyers resulting in jobless law grads, and starting salaries show a bimodal distribution, with many salaries clustering around $40,000-$50,000. On average, lawyers do not show a high level of job satisfaction.
When should I apply?
You do not need to attend law school directly after graduation. Some law schools prefer that applicants have work experience. Generally you should apply almost one year before you plan to begin law school. For example, you would apply in fall of 2016 if you planned to start law school in the fall of 2017. Most law schools operate on a rolling admissions basis, which means that they give first consideration to the applications received first. Reasons to delay application might include waiting for an additional semester or grades to be included, or waiting to retake the LSAT.
Where should I apply?
There are a few basic principles to consider. One is that you should try to get into the best school possible. A highly regarded school will not be much harder for you than a lower ranked school but it will improve your employment prospects and earning potential. Another consideration is that as you move down the rankings, less highly regarded schools tend to feed firms in that region. Generally, submitting 5-10 applications is a good idea, including applications to one or two "safety" schools.
All law schools are required to report data on attrition, employment (placement), and bar passage. These data are available for each school via the LSAC Official Guide site. All of these factors should be key parts of an informed choice.
It's so expensive to apply! What do I do?
Be aware that you can request that the schools waive or reduce their application fees.
How can I find out more about graduation rates, employment, bar passage rates, scholarships, etc.?
Go to the Searchable Edition of the ABA-LSAC Official Guide to ABA-Approved Law Schools.
How do I know what GPA and LSAT score I need to get into a school?
Click on the UGPA-LSAT Search link at the Searchable Edition of the ABA-LSAC Official Guide to ABA-Approved Law Schools. You can input your GPA and LSAT score and find out how likely you are to be admitted at any law school.
How do I find a public interest law school?
Check out the Equal Justice Works website.
How important are the personal statement and letters of recommendation?
Generally, GPA and LSAT scores are the most important factors. If the decision over your application is close, a well-written personal statement and excellent recommendations can tip the balance in your favor. This will vary depending on the schools you are considering.
How should I approach the personal statement?
Most importantly, tailor your statement to the guidelines of the school to which you are applying. Some schools encourage more creativity than others, and some have more specific guidelines. Absent any guidelines to the contrary, I recommend that you avoid being too personal; sometimes applications take the term "personal" in "personal statement" too literally and disclose inappropriate information. Letters that state why you want a law degree at a particular institution and what you plan to do with it can be very persuasive. This is also a chance for you to attest to any difficult circumstances such as discrimination or economic hardship that you have overcome in your life. Try to avoid turning the letter into a laundry list of your accomplishments. If you can relate a single experience, event or story in a well-written manner, that can be a very effective way to convey information about your character. I personally think that it is helpful if you include a paragraph at the end of your statement that is tailored to the question of why you are interested in each school to which you apply. In other words, review the school's materials and indicate at least one program, specialty, or extracurricular activity offered at the school that interests you. Be aware of length requirements. Normally the statement should be limited to two pages, double-spaced, with 12 point font.
How should I approach the letters of recommendation?
Generally, law schools prefer writers who can speak to your academic qualifications. However, letters from employers or supervisors at volunteer organizations can be a helpful supplement. If a school requests three letters, I would recommend at least two be from professors. Almost every school requires that you register for LSAC Credential Assembly Service (CAS), which compiles your transcripts, letters of recommendation, and LSAT score reports, and sends them to the schools to which you are applying. The CAS website contains a form for references. You should complete the form for each letter writer, and waive your rights to see the letter. LSAC will then send an electronic prompt. You should get everything to your reference at least several weeks in advance. As a guideline for how to write the letter, schools desire to know how long the reference has known the applicant, the context of their relationship, how well the reference knows the applicant, and relevant information about the applicant's characteristics and achievements. Detailed examples are helpful. In order to facilitate this process, students should give their references:
-a copy of their personal statement
-a list of courses that you have taken with the professor, with your grade and the semester you took the course
Be aware that GVSU now requires students to provide FERPA waiver to the letter writer before obtaining a letter of recommendation. Click here for the form.
What is law school like?
For a very cynical take on law school, see Duncan Kennedy's essay "Legal Education as Training For Hierarchy" in the book The Politics of Law (ed. David Kairys, 1998). One of my students recommends Law School Confidential: The Complete Law School Survival Guide by Students, for Students by Robert H. Miller (2000). Another former student recommends: How to Succeed in Law School, Herbert N. Ramy (2006), How to Do Your Best on Law School Exams, John Delaney (2006), Getting to Maybe: How to Excel on Law School Exams, Fischl & Paul (1999), and Learning Legal Reasoning: Briefing, Analysis, & Theory, John Delaney (2006).
Check out your law school's financial aid office for scholarship information. Also, click on the diversity link of this FAQ for diversity scholarships.
For questions about a specific law school, contact the admission counselors at that school. They are very helpful and have the particular information that you need
September 19, 2016
PLS 325 Human Rights and Democracy in Russia and the Post-Communist World
September 18, 2016
Political Science professors, Dr. Donald Zinman and Dr. Erika King, discuss the presidential campaign with Rick Albin on "To the Point"
July 18, 2016
As part of her winter 2016 sabbatical project, Professor Polly Diven spent the month of February teaching and researching in Sri Lanka.
June 28, 2016
PLS interns are working in a variety of offices this summer.
June 08, 2016
Professor Darren Walhof was recognized by the American Political Science Association for his excellence in teaching.
Why does diversity matter?
In the 2003 Grutter v. Bollinger decision, the U.S. Supreme Court held that promoting diversity in law school admissions is a compelling government interest. Diversity is essential to a school's educational mission, promotes learning outcomes, better prepares students for a diverse workforce and society, and improves professional preparation. The Court observed, "Major American businesses have made clear the skills needed in today's increasingly global marketplace can only be developed through exposure to widely diverse people, cultures, ideas and viewpoints." The Court emphasized the point of the United States government that public institutions of higher education must remain open to "all segments of American society, including people of all races and ethnicities." The American Bar Association has identified diversity as one of its key priorities.
What is the role of diversity and inclusion with respect to pre-law at GVSU?
GVSU is a diverse institution, and diversity and inclusion are key components of GVSU's mission. (Click here for GVSU's list of diversity-related links.) As students focus intensely on the study of law once they are in law school, a liberal undergraduate education is the critical component in promoting intellectual and cultural diversity. Following the recommendations of the Law School Admissions Council, GVSU does not have a single pre-law major. Through pre-law advising and the Law Society student organization, GVSU strives to help students of any major who are interested in attending law school or becoming involved in the legal profession in other ways such as being a paralegal.
How can the pre-law advisors help with diversity?
Three professors at GVSU work as pre-law advisors. (See GVSU Pre-law website for contact information.) The pre-law advisors are available for individual advising regarding course and major selection, LSAT preparation, the law school application process, and networking. Many law schools request students to reflect on diversity in their personal statements, and students are encouraged to consult with a pre-law advisor while working on their application essays.
What are some resources for diversity scholarships and opportunities?
Examples of programs available to help students transition to law school:
For an excellent overview of the legal system including information on what lawyers and judges do, I highly recommend Lawrence Baum's American Courts: Process and Policy.
Character and fitness and bar admissions
National Council of Bar Examiners site. Keep in mind that some states require you to register while still in law school in order to have enough time to conduct background checks. For potential law school students with past or present legal issues, it may be advisable to consult with an attorney regarding questions how to comply with disclosure requirements.