So You Want To Be A Lawyer?
From the early days of our republic, the law has been perceived as a glamorous, desirable profession. Alexis de Tocqueville observed in the 1830s that America had probably given the legal profession as much power as had any nation. A major result has been the development of rule by, and through, the law. Political change has been accomplished by legal evolution, not military revolution. Former Supreme Court Justice Robert H. Jackson noted that "Struggles over power that in Europe called out regiments of troops, in America called out battalions of lawyers." Litigation has become a way of life, and the news media are filled with stories of lawsuits involving a wide variety of public and private matters.
Many young people, noting all this furor, become attracted to the possibility of a legal career. Indeed such a possibility may appeal to them for a wide variety of seemingly valid reasons: the attraction of a good cause for which legal talent can provide a key role, the supposed glamour of the courtroom, the lure of the political arena, the presumed potential for a comfortable income. But not every lawyer is at the cutting edge of social change. And behind the television glamour associated with Perry Mason and others are the frustration of law school and the reality of legal practice in a highly competitive profession. Nor is law any longer considered by many to be the best route to a political career.
So, why do you want to go to law school? What do you expect from a career in law? Should you realistically consider the law as opposed to other career options? These are essential questions often asked on law school application forms and by parents, spouses, and friends called upon to make the sacrifice to assist someone applying to and attending law school.
The Arts and Sciences Pre-Law Advisory Committee at Mississippi State is committed to helping you find answers to these questions and to working with you to shape a satisfactory concentration to prepare you for law school admission and to enhance your chances for success once you get to law school. This text is designed to provide you with some general information about our philosophy and our concentration. We hope that after reading it you will feel free to write us or, if on campus, to come by one of our offices to visit so that we can answer any questions you might have.
Once you become a student at Mississippi State, a member of the Pre-Law Advisory Committee will be assigned as your advisor and will work with you until you establish a departmental major. Even beyond that time, he or she will continue to be available to counsel you about questions or concerns which you may have as you move along your path to law school. You should make it a point to get acquainted with your pre-law advisor early so that you may talk over your career goals and let him or her help you sort out your priorities. There is much more to advising than signing a student's registration schedule, and your pre-law advisor is concerned and interested in assisting you in making the most of your opportunities at Mississippi State.
Law school bulletins frequently repeat the theme that pre-legal education should include the development of basic intellectual skills. They do not set forth a pre-law curriculum; no single major is automatically considered to be the "best route" to law school. A recent edition of the Law School Admission Bulletin points out, "the LSAT (Law School Admission Test) covers a broad range of disciplines and gives no advantage to candidates with particular specializations." Moreover, "the LSAT measures intellectual qualities that develop gradually and types of knowledge that one accumulates over relatively long periods of time." Many experts who have examined the matter of pre-legal education believe that the best preparation for the LSAT and law school is a widely based liberal arts education. The Arts and Sciences Pre-law Advisory Committee strongly subscribes to this philosophy. You may enroll initially in the College of Arts and Sciences as a pre-law student, but you must graduate from Mississippi State with a major in one of the University's regular disciplines.
It would be unwise to choose a major simply because it appears to be the most "law-related." Two of the most valid criteria for the future lawyer to consider are (1) a major would be intellectually rigorous and demanding, and (2) it should be so naturally appealing to the student that he or she is willing to work hard at it. The major, and the courses taken outside that major, should be rigorous not only because these provide the best way of acquiring the necessary skills related to the LSAT but also because they provide the discipline and knowledge necessary for later success in law school.
Many law schools indicate that the rigor of the coursework taken by undergraduates receives close evaluation in admissions decisions. This does not mean that the second criteria for choosing a major, its appeal to the student, is unimportant. You should major in an area just because it is substantive and demanding. Rather, your major should be in an area that is rigorous and appealing to you. John F. Dobbyn has written in So You Want to Go to Law School: "Experience has proven the obvious, that the particular choice of subject matter (as long as it's substantial) is far less important than the intensity with which the student devotes himself (or herself) to it; and that is a function of his (or her) natural, unalterable inclinations."
Although the Pre-Law Advisory Committee does not recommend any particular major for the would-be lawyer, it does strongly advise that regardless of his or her major, the law-oriented student should carefully elect courses in the following areas:
Communication SkillsDean James C. Quarles of the Walter R. George School of Law at Mercer University has observed that "the ability to use the English language effectively is the most important ability an applicant can bring to the study of law, and the lack of this ability is the most frequent cause for failure in law students." When you get to law school, you will discover that your professors demand precise statements from you and that there is an intense concentration on the "meanings" of words in their different contexts. In 1982 the LSAT was expanded to include a writing sample for the firs time. Law school admissions offers have told us that in evaluating these they are as concerned with good writing structure as with the development of ideas. Hence, the pre-law student needs a strong foundation in English composition and in oral communication. The Department of English has developed a course in Principles of Legal Writing (EN 4223), which the pre-law student will find quite helpful. Good communication also includes the ability to think critically, and an excellent course designed to assist you in this is PHI 1113, Introduction to Logic.
Cultural BackgroundThe law as we know it today did not, like Athena from the head of Zeus, spring into existence full-blown. Rather, it has evolved over several thousand years of human cultural development and can best be understood only in the context of historical tradition. The study of history also offers the student a longitudinal view of the impact of law in the history of nations. Thus, he or she should elect such courses as HI1213-1223, Early and Modern Western World, and HI 1063-1073, Early and Modern U.S. History, as well as advanced courses of his or her particular interest within this field. One course of special value to pre-law students is HI 4733, Constitutional and Legal History of England. Of related interest is PHI 3113, Philosophy of Law. Furthermore, to enrich one's appreciation of the cultural traditions from which the law has emerged, a student should consider courses in World, English, or American Literature or in the literature of another country if he or she has the linguistic background to master it.
Social SciencesInasmuch as lawyers must deal with persons, both as individuals and with society, some knowledge of psychology and sociology is essential. In addition to the basic courses in these areas, one should consider such advanced courses as PSY 4203, Theories of Personality; PSY 3213, Psychology of Abnormal Behavior; SO 1103, Contemporary Social Problems; and SO 3603, Criminology. Courses in political science will provide one with the basic data illuminating the critical relationship between law, government, andpolitics. Beyond PS 1113, American Government, and PS 3183, Law and Politics, one should also look seriously at such advanced courses as PS 3063, Constitutional Powers; PS 3073, Civil Liberties; PS 3033, Gender and Politics; PS 4183, Judicial Process. Some of these latter courses will familiarize the student with the "case method" of study, which is used predominantly in law school.
Business SkillsBecause so much of the law today is business-related or concerns economic relationships among individuals and within society, a strong background in basic economics and accounting courses is quite important. In this age of increasing reliance on computers in every aspect of business relationships, the student should also take CS 1013, Basic Computer Concepts and Applications. Additional courses to be considered are BL 2413, The Legal Environment of Business; BL 3223, The Law of Commercial Transactions; and BQA 2113, Introduction to Business Statistics.
In addition to the academic scene, students anticipate legal careers would do well to involve themselves in extracurricular activities such as student government, the student newspaper, debate, fraternity/sorority, and other groups through which they can learn leadership skills. One organization of particular value to the would-be lawyer is Mississippi State's Pre-Law Society. This is a student-run organization, made up of pre-legal students, which seeks to provide informational and other kinds of support for those anticipating a legal career. It meets on a regular basis to hear talks by local and regional attorneys on various aspects of the law. It organizes field trips to regional law school. And it plans a variety of other programs. The major event in the Pre-Law Society's year is the presentation of its Distinguished Jurist Award to someone who has made an outstanding contribution to the field of American jurisprudence. This individual delivers a lecture on an important legal topic and conducts a symposium with student leaders during an appearance on campus. In the past the Pre-Law Society has honored such distinguished jurists as former Attorney General and U.S. Circuit Court Judge Griffin Bell, former U.S. Circuit Court Judge James P. Coleman, former Solicitor General Archibald Cox, former U.S. District Court Judge Frank Johnson, former Chief Justice of the Michigan Supreme Court Mary Coleman, former Attorney General Edward H. Levi, former Judge of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit William H. Webster, Judge of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit Rosemary Barkett, and U.S. Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia.
Mississippi State University has a strong pre-law concentration with an excellent record of admission for its graduates to such law schools as Harvard, Virginia, Stanford, Georgetown, Emory, Tulane, Vanderbilt, Texas and George Washington, in addition to the University of Mississippi and Mississippi College. We invite you to consider Mississippi State as your home for your pre-legal training. For further information write or call:
- Whit Waide
- Chair, Pre-Law Advisory Committee
- College of Arts and Sciences
- 199 Bowen Hall
- Mississippi State, MS 39762