Monday, July 27, 2009

Top 10 Reasons to Minor in Law (But Not Major)

A lot of people ask, "What's the best undergraduate degree to prepare me for law school?" Unfortunately, what these people most often mean is, "Which degree will look best on my application (and thus improve my chances of admission)?"

This narrow-minded focus on the law school application process--and not on the inevitable challenges that await once you're actually into law school, or working in a law firm--are part of why we've developed this Zen 10 List: Reasons to Minor in Law (But Not Major).

1) Admissions criteria do not automatically provide any boost to pre-law majors, or any other major...

But what they unequivicably do give a boost to are high GPAs, which means that you should major in a respectably difficult field--i.e. not education--and distinguish yourself within it. Every law school will look favorably upon a 3.85+ GPA; however, while a given school may value an undergraduate degree in fashion--see Legally Blonde--once in a blue moon, that edge is not going to hold out across all law schools or even at the same school in different application cycles. See number 4 for more details.

2) There are better, easier ways to show you can handle law schoool content.

One of the reasons people cite for majoring in pre-law is that it shows they can handle the content of law school. In this case, however, more than a minor--typically 32 credits--can be and often is overkill. Even a few undergraduate courses, or law school courses open to undergraduate students, can not only prove to skeptical admissions officers that your fashion-focus does not preclude your ability to grapple with the Constitution, but they will provide you with a glimpse of what law school may be like.

3) You can still generate strong, relevant letters of recommendation from a single course or minor.

I can vouch for this one from personal experience. Even though I was a film production major, my minor in psychology and law offered me the opportunity to meet and court several prominent law professors. One of those professors helped me secure my current internship at The Innocence Project, and another--may he rest in peace--was my mentor and offered to write a letter of recommendation for any and all law schools I applied to. Networking with professors and other mentors will be the topic of a later post, but rest assured you do not need to take a professor for three different courses before he or she will be able to write a convincing letter of recommendation. Just be noticeable and competent in the first.

4) Law schools are trying to diversify their classes as much as possible.

I cannot emphasize this enough: almost every law school has been publicaly proclaiming their desire to diversify their student base. Penn Law's promotional materials are almost laughable in how narrowly focused they are in diversity. While demographic data is obviously beyond your control, a unique and authentic education background is entirely within your control.

As a film-production major with honors in multimedia literacy, it always seemed I was a breath of fresh air for the recruiters and admissions officers I spoke with at LSAC forums. When personal statements can incorporate more than your desire to pursue a career in tax or corporate law--we'll offer more advice on topics in a later post--you immediately stand out in a significant and positive way to the poor people who must wade through thousands of nearly identical applications of philosophy or political science majors.

5) Law firms are looking for lawyers who can handle a diverse client base.

Not only are law schools looking for diversity in educational expertise, but so are law firms. This makes sense, as the law schools try to fill their classes with students who they know will be marketable to the top law firms, who in turn offer the best salaries, which provides a boost to the post-graduation hiring rates and median salaries. Schools want to be able to market themselves as placing their students in the highest quartile of salaries. See the graph below for the huge disparity between that quartile and everything below: the spike circa $160,000 is large enough to incorporate all the graduates from the top 14 schools!

6) Law practice is increasingly becoming specialized, which requires expertise in more than just law.

I cannot emphasize this enough; just as the admissions officers encouraged me to emphasize my unique educational background and technical training, so did all of my mentors who worked in business. Part of being hired for and keeping a high-stakes, high-paying job at a top law firm is being indespensible; having several fields of specialty not only diversifies your potential client base but provides redundancy during layoffs.

Write on a law school application that you are interested in pursuing a career in corporate law, and there will be more than a few laughs as the essay is passed around the admissions office. There are several dozen specializations offered at Harvard Law, and "corporate law" is broken into multitudes of different facets, ranging from tax, mergers, and various comparitive law specializations for different international regions. As the legal field expands so that multiple legal teams are needed to handle the patchwork of international laws affecting even mid-size companies, so to must the law student's experiences expand to meet clients' needs.

7) Studying more than just law opens you to more experiences, provides you with focus and sincere drive.

Although the benefits of studying law to some degree should not be downplayed, there are few people who are so uniteresting that they can fit their life entirely within the confines of "law." Studying another subject--or two--will not only show your ability to handle different kinds of content, but also increase your own personal satisfaction with your undergraduate experience. Depending on who you listen to, between 50 and 80% of students change their major at least once during their undergraduate careers; there is no shame in experimenting with your different interests, and there's definitely not a better time to do so than college.

8) Diversity in experience helps prevent burnout in law school.

Studying the same subject for seven years seems daunting to me, and heaven knows that law school is stressful--and oftentimes, boring--enough without having a four-year preview.

9) Prevent huge student debt for degree (or two) you don’t want.

Trying on law school with a minor is much cheaper than forcing yourself through a pre-law degree, and then finding yourself unable or unwilling to follow through for another three years. Put simply, undergraduate and graduate degrees are expensive, both in time and money, so do not put all of your eggs into one basket.

10) Allows you to attend a wider range of undergraduate universities

There are only a handful of respectable pre-law undergraduate programs. If you cast a wider net in your undergraduate major search, there's a far better chance you'll not only find a program that makes you happy, but also that it will be offered at a college or university that fits your location requirements and budget.