Law School

Considering a Career in Law

A career in the field of law can encompass many aspects of society such as business, government, human and civil rights, international relations, medicine, law enforcement, politics, entertainment, sports and the arts, as well as jurisprudence and academia. If you have a passion for legal thought, strong oral and written communication skills, and a propensity for drawing thoughtful conclusions by analyzing fine details and complex information, then a law career may be for you. When contemplating a law degree, ask yourself: Why do you want to become a lawyer? How will earning a J.D. satisfy your interests? How would membership in the legal profession serve your long-term goals? Considering an advanced degree is an expensive proposition, especially when taking into account both tuition cost as well as lost income during the three years you are in law school. Plan to do some research in terms of what you can reasonably expect to get out of a law degree both academically and professionally.

Employment

Salaries and work hours vary widely across the profession. The average starting salary for an entry-level associate is between $65,000-$70,000*. While a corporate lawyer at a top law firm may currently earn between $135,000-$160,000 in the first year out of law school, he/she may also have to work twelve hours a day, six or seven days a week. Government lawyers and those who work in-house for a company or organization usually have more reasonable and predictable work schedules, but earn a lower starting salary. Most of those interested in public interest law can expect a starting salary under $50,000. Lawyers entering a solo practice earn varying amounts depending on their legal expertise and the region where they practice. In addition, many people trained as lawyers work in jobs where their legal training is of value but they are not actually practicing law.
*(NALP-The Association for Legal Professionals' Jobs & J.D.'s: Employment and Salaries of New Law Graduates-Class of 2010)

Realities of a Legal Career

An important step in making your decision is to learn about the significant changes in the market for new lawyers in recent years. Today’s graduates can expect a more competitive legal job-search process and the prospect of working in a field not directly related to law; approximately 51% of the Class of 2010 took a position in private practice (according to the NALP Graduate Employment Survey for the Law Class of 2010). Therefore, make it a priority to explore various career options for using your legal training. Think about broad categories such as law, government, education, health care, and technology, and consider how the skills you gain from a legal education—such as research and writing, analysis and logical reasoning, knowledge of substantive law and legal procedures, and time management—will be utilized. Be sure to meet with your House prelaw tutor to consider non-legal careers for lawyers.

Harvard Prelaw Resources

OCS Law School 101 Sessions

These overview sessions are offered several times during the fall semester and are geared towards juniors and seniors who are currently in the process of applying to law school. These sessions help introduce students to the application process and to helpful resources.

OCS Prelaw Events

House Prelaw Tutors

All of the undergraduate houses have a prelaw tutor or tutors—current law students and recent graduates—who will assist students interested in applying to law school. The first step in your exploration of a possible career in law is to speak with your prelaw tutors who can help you create a strategy for maximizing your chances for success. Later, when you are applying to graduate programs, prelaw tutors and writing tutors are great resources for students who are working on applications and personal statements.

Resident Tutor Law Directory: 2016-2017

AdamsSheilaGholkarsheilagholkar@fas.harvard.edu
AdamsElizabethNoelelizabeth_noel@harvard.edu
AdamsTim Smithtjsmith@post.harvard.edu
CabotJoeBreenjbreen@jd17.law.harvard.edu
CabotJyotiJasrasariajjasrasaria@jd18.law.harvard.edu
CurrierTomRobertstjrobert@post.harvard.edu
DudleyRachelCulleyrachel.culley@post.harvard.edu
DunsterJose Bengocheajbengochea@jd16.law.harvard.edu
DunsterStephanie Charlesscharles@jd18.law.harvard.edu
EliotJimmyBiblarzjbiblarz@g.harvard.edu
KirklandJamesPollackjpollack@jd19.law.harvard.edu
KirklandSpencerSmithspsmith@jd19.law.harvard.edu
KirklandErinWalczewskiewalczew@gmail.com
KirklandLukeWalczewskilwalczew@fas.harvard.edu
LeverettCristinaCarapezzaccarapezza@jd17.law.harvard.edu
LeverettTaylor Lanetaclane@post.harvard.edu
LowellDavid Kimhyungwkim11@gmail.com
LowellEliSchachareschachar@fas.harvard.edu
PforzheimerSameerAhmedsameer1980@gmail.com
PforzheimerMatthewYoungmatthew_young@hms.harvard.edu
QuincyPeterArnaboldilarnaboldi@jd17.law.harvard.edu
QuincyEricAverionaverion@gmail.com
QuincyBradHinshelwoodbrad.hinshelwood@gmail.com
WinthropJeohnFavorsjfavors@jd17.law.harvard.edu

House Prelaw Websites

Harvard Prelaw Organizations

Admissions committees consider a number of factors when evaluating candidates for law school. Among the most important are the strength of an applicant’s academic record and the applicant’s score on the Law School Admissions Test (LSAT). These indicators, with letters of recommendation and a personal statement, typically constitute what is required for a completed application. Law schools also weigh the work experience of applicants and welcome applications from students who have taken time off between undergraduate study and law school. The majority of applicants will have taken time off between their undergraduate and legal studies. Applicants are expected to have a solid understanding of law school and why they want to practice law.

Choosing a Concentration

There is no “right concentration” that is recommended for preparing for law school. Law schools are looking for a diverse group of students from a variety of backgrounds. They are interested in students who have selected courses that are academically challenging and that have cultivated and developed the student’s ability to make inferences, reason logically, and analyze and present complex information in a condensed and clear manner. The courses you take should also allow you to write extensively and practice research skills. For example, if you are interested in a law career that involves public policy or politics, you may consider a concentration in government or social studies or, if you are interested in working on issues related to the environment and working for the Environmental Protection Agency, then a concentration in one of the sciences may be the best preparation.

Your Academic Record

In the admissions process, your academic record is a very important element. Therefore, be sure to concentrate in a subject area that you enjoy and do well in. Admissions officers know from experience which departments have strong academic reputations and which courses have high and low curves. According to the Harvard Law School Admissions Office, academic success is important, but other qualities that promote vitality, diversity, and excellence in the student body are also valued. As stated on its website, “The committee uses no computational methods for making decisions and no ‘cut-offs’ below which a candidate will not be considered. Each year we admit applicants who believed they didn't have a chance.” You don't have to fit a certain mold to be accepted to a top law school.

Extracurricular Activities

Admissions committees do consider extracurricular activities when reviewing a candidate’s application. This is generally a means of looking at the candidate as a whole and obtaining a complete and well-rounded picture of who they are reviewing. Things that law schools look for are leadership experience, work experience, research and publications, community activities, and public service. Be sure to pick activities that interest you and that will provide the committee with a glimpse of what law you might be interested in practicing. However, do not sacrifice grades for extracurricular activities.

When applying to law schools, consider issues such as the faculty, national or regional reputation, placement of graduates, facilities, resources available at the institution, cost of attending, and location.

Faculty

When reviewing law schools, the strength, accessibility, and reputation of the faculty are key factors. Be sure to consider the academic and experiential backgrounds of faculty members, the student/faculty ratio, the number of full-time vs. adjunct faculty, and the number of female faculty and faculty of color at the institution.

National or Regional Schools

Law schools are generally divided into three categories: national, regional and local. Schools with a national reputation tend to appear in various “top ten” lists. They draw students from across the nation and around the world and offer geographic mobility to students. Schools with a regional reputation are attended primarily by students from that region who may want to remain in that area after graduation, but who may also seek positions throughout the country.

Placement of Graduates

Be sure to look at the data regarding placement of law school graduates and the percentage of graduates who succeed in passing the bar exam. Law school websites should have this information, or you can connect with admissions offices of the schools to get an idea of where students tend to work upon graduation.

Facilities and Resources at the Institution

It is worthwhile to visit the schools you are interested in and inquire about the facilities, resources, and affiliations of the law school.

Cost of attending law school

Attending law school is very expensive. The average student debt upon completion is approximately $80,000. Some law schools are more expensive than others, and they have varying financial aid incentives. Although some law schools provide grants and scholarships, loans still constitute the bulk of how students finance their legal education. Most students do take loans to pay for their law education and consider this, amortized over time, a good investment in their future earning potential.

Location

Is the school in an urban area or a suburban/rural setting? Is it part of a university or independent? If you are interested in a dual-degree program, are there other graduate schools nearby? Is the school in a place you could see yourself living for three years or working following graduation? These are important questions to consider, because where you attend law school often influences where you practice afterward.

Take the Law School Admissions Test (LSAT)

The Law School Admissions Test (LSAT) is required for admission to all American Bar Association-approved law schools. The test is administered four times per year by the Law School Admissions Council (LSAC), which provides detailed test information–dates, sites, registration forms, fees, and deadlines–and registration information.

Be aware that test sites can fill quickly, especially in or around major cities. It is advisable to register several months in advance of a test date so you can take the test in a convenient location and at a convenient time in relation to your plans for applying. The optimal time to take the exam is June of the year you apply, but taking the test in October will still allow you to see your LSAT score before applying in November. Scores from the December administration will also reach law schools in time to complete application deadlines at all schools. If you take the December test, plan to submit your applications around the time of the test administration. You may, however, decide to wait to see your score before submitting your applications.

The LSAT provides law school admissions committees with a common measure of applicants' aptitude for legal study. The test consists of five multiple choice sections, each 35 minutes in length:

  • One reading comprehension section
  • One analytical reasoning section
  • Two logical reasoning sections
  • One experimental test question section (not scored)
  • A 35-minute writing sample at the end of the test (not scored; copies are sent to schools to which you apply)

Your score is computed on a scale of 120 to 180, based on the number of questions you answer correctly. There is no deduction or penalty for incorrect answers, so it is advantageous to guess if you do not have time to answer a question.

The Credential Assembly Service (CAS)

To centralize and standardize objective application information – GPAs and LSAT scores – ABA-approved law schools require applicants to subscribe to the Credential Assembly Service (CAS). The service organizes and analyzes applicant information in a way that allows law schools to compare academic records from undergraduate schools that use different grading systems. Register for the CAS, then send or take transcript request forms to each college or university from which you have earned academic credit.

If you are enrolled in a study abroad program sponsored by another U.S. college or university, in addition to your Harvard transcript, you must have the college or university sponsoring the study abroad program send a transcript directly to the CAS. List the institution when you register for the Credential Assembly Services under “other Institution.”

The Application

There are two options for submitting applications to law schools:

  1. You can apply to any ABA-approved law school through the CAS electronic application, which streamlines the process by allowing you to enter common information only once; you then complete each school’s individual application and submit your applications electronically.
  2. You can complete applications located on schools’ websites, or call the schools to request hard-copy applications.

Personal Statement

Personal statements are requested by most law schools and provide the opportunity to go beyond the objective aspects of the application to discuss who you are and what is important to you. This personal statement is an invitation to write a limited-length essay about yourself. It is not necessarily asking that you explain your motivation for law school; rather it is providing you an opportunity to explain to the school what distinctive experiences, personality traits, values, academic skills, and passions, etc. you would bring to a class. It can be viewed, in essence, as the interview that very few law schools grant. This personal statement should be more mature than the type of essay you may have written for undergraduate admissions. You should begin to compose a personal statement in the early fall, which you can assume will be suitable for all applications, unless schools request a specific topic or style.

Personal statements are typically two double-spaced pages, though some schools give more latitude. If schools don’t provide guidelines on length, it’s advisable to submit a statement that is approximately two pages in length. A few schools will limit the number of words permitted, and you should abide by their guidelines. House prelaw tutors and writing tutors can be a great resource for students who are preparing their statements.

Letters of Recommendation

Most law schools request that one or two letters of recommendation be submitted on behalf of applicants. If letters are not required, it is a good idea, nonetheless, to submit them. Admissions committees will be seeking information not provided elsewhere in the applications. Recommendation letters should include concrete examples of intellectual strength, judgment, motivation, and leadership, along with an appraisal of communication skills and a comparison to peers.

In early fall, you should plan your recommendation-gathering strategy, or see what recommendations are already in your House file. If you have not made yourself and your law school application plans known to your House prelaw adviser, you should do so.

Two academic letters of recommendation are the usual request in law school applications, but you should be sure to check each application for possible variations. Such letters should be requested early enough so the writer can comfortably complete the task in time for the artificial submission deadline of early November (that we recommend you set for yourself). Letters can also be requested if you think you will apply in the future but are not doing so immediately. You should also plan to keep in touch with potential recommenders.

When you approach potential recommenders for a letter, it's best not to do so on the fly. After ascertaining that they can write a favorable letter on your behalf, you might make an appointment to discuss the ways in which they know you, perhaps bringing a paper (with comments ) written in their class, or a set of class discussion topics in which you participated. They may ask for a resume and your personal statement, and even a transcript. Such documents could help provide writers with a more rounded view of you, but it's an analysis of your performance in their field of expertise that schools specifically seek.

We strongly suggest that all Harvard candidates use the LOR (Letter of Recommendation Service), a recommendation-collecting and distributing service which is part of CAS. This can be done either directly by the recommender, or by the House.

Dean’s Certifications

A dean’s certification (or letter/clearance) is required by some law schools to confirm that applicants have not been involved in academic or disciplinary transgressions. Please contact your prelaw tutor if a school you are applying to requires a letter.

How to Apply for Financial Aid

  • Apply early for financial aid. Check each law school’s website to determine financial aid deadlines. Some schools have priority dates for submitting financial aid information; students who apply earlier have a better opportunity to obtain limited grant money. 
  • Complete your FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid) as soon as possible after January 1. Completion of the FAFSA is required for all federal student loan programs. The FAFSA is also used by some law schools to collect information for their own institutional aid. Because the FAFSA requires tax information from the previous year, it cannot be completed before January 1.
  • Some schools have separate applications for financial aid, while others use the law school application or the FAFSA. Schools also vary in how they distribute their own funds.
  • If you have special circumstances, provide this information to the law school financial aid office. This can be critical for law students who have been working full-time in the prior year or who have unusual medical or family expenses.
  • Do NOT wait to complete the FAFSA until after you are admitted to a law school. You can list up to six law schools where you want reports sent and update this list with additional schools.
  • If your federal tax return won’t be ready until later in the spring, you can estimate prior year income on the FAFSA. Parental income is not considered in determining eligibility for federal loans to graduate-level students, who will be directed to skip Section III-Parental Information in the FAFSA.

Financial Aid Resources