Frequently Asked Questions

Last updated: July 12, 2017

Basic Information for Freshmen/Sophomore/Junior Pre-Law Students

Dean Wilson sponsors programs and distributes information to all students considering careers in law. All pre-law students are invited and encouraged to join the undergraduate pre-law society, Bench and Bar, which offers a variety of programs and activities for those considering law as a profession. Below are answers to a number of questions often asked by pre-law students. Students in their Freshman, Sophomore, and Junior years, who wish to speak with Dean Wilson should note his walk-in hours MWF 3:00-4:00 and T/Th 2:00-3:00.                                                                           

Questions Most Often Asked

What factors are considered in admission to law school?

There are basically two factors involved in the law school admissions decision at the initial stage; a student's Grade Point Average and a student's score on the LSAT (Law School Admission Test).  Once a student’s application crosses the numbers threshold other factors like essays, recommendations and extracurricular activities will play a significant role in the admissions process.

When should a student take the LSAT's?

The LSAT's should be taken either in June after the junior year or in the early fall of the senior year.  In general, students seem to perform better after their junior year, and since there is no reason to take them before this time, one should not plan to take them earlier.

Should a student take the LSAT's once “for practice?”

No, definitely not.  Whenever any LSAT scores for a person are reported, all scores are reported.  Though Law Services now recommends that when there are multiple scores, schools take the highest, students should note that (1) when Law Services sends out the LSAT scores for law schools, all test scores are sent along with an average and (2), some schools will still take the average or weigh both scores in the same manner. If an individual does not perform well on the test, he or she should consult the Pre-Law Advisor before registering to retake the test.

Should a student take one of the commercial LSAT preparation courses?

Neither Law Services nor this office sponsors or recommends any particular commercial prep course.  Students who have taken such courses point out that these courses do familiarize the test taker with the format of the test and that taking full advantage of these courses may reduce the anxiety factor.  Law Services does provide old tests and other preparation materials which may be equally helpful if they are dealt with seriously.

When does a student apply to law school?

In August a year before a student plans to enter law school, the student should do the following:

  1. Check out websites for information on particular law schools and sign up for LSAC Credential Assembly Service (CAS). 
  2. Sign up for the fall LSAT, if he or she did not take the June test;
  3. Register in the Pre-Law Advising Office and pick up the senior pre-law packet;
  4. Attend one of the workshops on the application process and the workshop on financing law school. 
  5. Make an appointment to see Dean Wilson.

Applications should be completed and sent to the schools to which the student is applying by Thanksgiving, if possible, unless applying for early decision in which case there are published deadlines.

Will a double major increase a student's chances of getting into law school?

No.  A double major is fine if a student wants to complete one, has little impact on admission decisions.

Are there specific courses a student should take, or is there a pre-law curriculum?             

Again, the answer is no.  As indicated above, a student should seek breadth in his or her undergraduate program.  Some courses that students have found helpful in the past (but in no way should be construed as "required" for law school) are: Cultural Anthropology 208 / African, African American Studies 251, Economics 201D, 205D, 174, History 130D, 365D, 366, Philosophy 150, Political Science, 116D, 217  Public Policy Studies 155D and Sociology 110D.         

What about recommendations?

Though some law schools do not require letters of recommendation, most do require one to three letters, usually two from Professors and one from another perspective.  Recommendations can be helpful if a student has passed the numbers threshold, is in the pool, is a marginal candidate and the letter points out some unusual or outstanding fact that is not apparent from examining the student's objective record.

All letters should be sent to the LSAC Credential Assembly Service..

A final word: Letters from Duke faculty members who know the student, employers and from the Pre-Law Advisor are basically the only ones which count.  Letters from Congressmen, judges, ministers and family members do not carry any weight and can have a negative impact on admission committees.

“But I don’t know any faculty well enough to ask for a letter of recommendation”

See article: “Getting To Know Them

Should a student arrange interviews or visit the law schools to which he or she is applying?

In general law schools do not encourage interviews and in some cases will not grant them. If, however, a student is traveling during the summer or any time and plans to be near a law school of interest, it could be helpful to visit that school.  The visit will probably have no impact on admissions but may help the student decide whether or not to apply.

During the fall semester a number of law schools send representatives to Duke.  Their primary purpose is to give the students information about their school and to answer individual questions.  Students should, during the senior year, see the representatives from any of the schools that interest them. On alternate years (those ending with an even number) Duke sponsors a Graduate and Professional School Day and, in general, about 35 law schools send representatives.

 "Is There Life After Law School?" or "What You Always Wanted To Know About The Job Market For New Lawyers But Were Afraid To Ask?"

According to a recent statement released by NALP (National Association for Law Placement) , “Employment Rate of New Law Grads up for the First Time Since 2007, Helped by Smaller Class Size.” The overall employment rate for the class of 2014 was 86.7%. This represents a 2% increase over 2013 but 5 percentage points below the 91.9% employment rate of 2007, the highest rate in 26 years. The NALP report also indicates that the number of law school graduates declined from the all-time high in 2013 by around 3,000.  Though the employment rate was up, the number of jobs found was down about 1,200 according to the report.

Some areas are emerging right now as hot areas.

According to a recent Robert Denny report, here’s what is hot right now:

  • Energy (Denney says the “shale rush” has revitalized the natural gas industry)
  • Financial Services (In part due to bank failures, Dodd Frank, and internet commerce)
  • Regulatory Work (At the federal level, this is due to health care reform and the EPA)
  • Health Care (Denney predicts health care and the insurance industry will be “red hot”)
  • Intellectual Property (due to the increase in patent, copyright, and trademark infringement suits)

Like practice areas, hot geographic areas can fluctuate tremendously. New York, Washington, DC, Los Angeles, Chicago and Miami have all been dominant in the market. But some geographic areas are attracting new business right now. The report also analyzed these “hot” geographic areas:

  • U.S.:  Houston, Pittsburgh, and yes, North Dakota (Denney cites the “shale rush” as the reason.)
  • International: Brazil, Latin America, and North Korea

(Source: The National Jurist)

Ten Rules for Succeeding in Law School and as a Lawyer:

l, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10.  Learn to think analytically and clearly and to express yourself well in written form; i.e. learn to think and learn to write.

What is Law School Like?

The following was written by, Steven Lawrence Jr. A Duke graduate who received his law degree from the University of Chicago.

The law student must be ready and willing to meet one of the biggest challenges that he will ever face.  Law school is a full-time business.  By full-time, I mean a minimum of 10 hours a day, every day of the week.  It is quite exhaustive, particularly during the first year.  There is a new vocabulary to learn, and a new way of thinking.  As the faculty is fond of saying, law students also have to learn to read for the first time in their lives.  In law, every word is of crucial importance; you don't read just to get the gist of the material.  This point came across to me the first day of law school.  I had spent four years in college contemplating such issues as truth, goodness, government, religion.  In the first case we had to read in Contracts, the issue which Judge Henry Friendly, one of the most distinguished judges in the country, had to face is: "What is chicken?"  The case turned on whether the parties to the contract meant "stewing chicken" or "fowl."   The movement from considering "what is truth" to "what is chicken" symbolizes perfectly for me the movement from college to law school.

Two Caveats

Prelaw students should be very responsible in handling their financial matters. A good credit rating can be an important factor in obtaining financial aid for law school.

Increasingly law school admissions officers are checking social networking sites like Facebook and Twitter for inappropriate material. Please remember that anything you post online can be viewed by admissions professionals.

Return to Prelaw Handbook for Underclassmen/women