DR. TOM MCINNIS – Pre-Law Adviser
Department of Political Science, 217 Irby Hall
The Practice of Law
The practice of law may lead to a wide variety of careers. Despite the differences in career paths, the essential skills necessary to be an effective attorney are constant. Not everyone will excel in the skills necessary to be an effective attorney.
The first skill required is the ability to effectively work with others. Lawyers make their living by helping people to resolve legal problems. Lawyers must, therefore, enjoy working with other people and derive satisfaction from helping others through difficult periods. While needing to empathize with their clients, lawyers also must be able to objectively recognize and analyze the potential legal problems of the client and give advice that is consistent with both the needs of the client and the requirements of the law. This requires that the attorney possess an ability to educate the client, who often has little legal knowledge, such that he/she understands the viable legal options. Attorneys thus must exhibit considerable tact because they will confront many situations in which the client views no options as desirable.
A second set of skills required of all attorneys includes the ability to clearly express themselves through speech and writing. In order to be successful, an attorney must be able to convince others through written briefs and oral arguments that they have reached the correct solution to the legal problems presented in their cases. Due to the nature of the lawyer’s duty to the client, attorneys must be able to effectively advocate for whichever side of an issue best supports the outcome most favorable to the client.
A last skill that any attorney must possess is a love of study. Practicing lawyers must keep abreast of changes in the law. Law is, therefore, a profession in which learning never ends. To be an effective attorney, a person must dedicate considerable time to a continuing study of the law to remain familiar with changes.
Preparing For Law School
The skills needed to be a successful attorney suggest a curriculum that results in a broadly educated, mature individual, but there is no required course or major for admission to law school. The choice of a major thus remains a personal decision by each student. All students are encouraged to select a major that they enjoy. This is because one of the most important criteria involved in admission to law school is a students’ G.P.A. It is assumed that most students will earn better grades in a major that they enjoy. Students are also encouraged to select a major in which they will be challenged by their instructors. While selecting a major, students should keep in mind that a law school student needs to possess the following qualities:
1) Skill in the comprehension and use of language. Language is the lawyer’s working tool. In seeking to convince, in drafting legal instruments and legislation, and in oral and written arguments, a lawyer must have the capacity to communicate with clarity, precision, and persuasiveness. A program of study which requires one to write is, therefore, essential.
2) Analytical and problem-solving skills. An important part of the lawyers’ work is problem-solving. Creative and analytical thinking requires the development of skills in research, use of facts, deductive reasoning, critical analysis, and the systematic formulation of principles and concepts.
3) An understanding of and interest in human institutions and values. Lawyers are not just engaged in a process like that of a worker changing a tire on a car; rather, they are forces in the operation and shaping of the institutions and values with which humankind is concerned. The work that lawyers do can have a tremendous impact on a human life and even a whole community. A broad, background in history, government, philosophy, economics and the arts is, therefore, quite important.
Extracurricular activities are one method that law schools can use to gauge the extent to which a student seeks to be of service to the greater community. Involvement through social, religious, and service activities within the community is attractive to law schools. Students should be forewarned, however, that fantastic service in extracurricular activities will not make up or excuse inadequate grades.
During the first two years of college, the only concern of students hoping to attend law school is grades. Students must realize that grades during each semester will have an impact upon whether they will be accepted to the law school of their choice. In the junior year students need to begin to think about and prepare for the Law School Admission Test (LSAT). The test is normally taken in the summer after the junior year or the fall of the senior year. The LSAT, along with grades, is the primary tool which law schools use in the admission decision. For most law schools the LSAT is as important as the G.P.A. Due to the weight placed on the LSAT, all students are encouraged to spend considerable time preparing for the exam. Students should not take the test once for practice, since most law schools average the scores.
Students with questions about preparing for law school, the law school admission process, taking the LSAT, selecting the proper law school, or anything related to law schools or the study of law are encouraged to contact the pre-law advisor.