Pre-Law Advising Guide

Pre-Law Advising

Our goal is to help Wilson students and alumnae prepare for law school and guide them through the admissions process. Wilson College provides excellent preparation for any student wishing to attend law school. Its strong liberal arts curriculum with an emphasis on writing and speaking is highly valued by law schools. Wilson students have the unique opportunity to take advantage of the college’s admissions agreement with Vermont Law School. Under this agreement, Vermont Law School will automatically admit any Wilson student to its JD, MSEL or joint JD/MSEL programs so long as the student meets a reasonable set of criteria. This is a very exciting and distinctive opportunity for our student body! Check out the Vermont Law School Wilson College Agreement tab below. There is no pre-determined major or course of study law school applicants need to pursue in order to be successful. While law schools do consider the academic rigor of your chosen course of study, they view majors equally, from Veterinary Medical Technology to English to Political Science. Any of Wilson’s broad range of majors, and the academic rigor required therein, will help students gain the skills they need to succeed in the legal profession. If you are a prospective Wilson student, you are encouraged to email the pre-law advisor with any questions you may have about Wilson’s pre-law advising program. If you are a Wilson student or alumna who is planning to attend law school, please email the pre-law advisor to set up an appointment to discuss your future plans. The following links will be useful to students throughout the pre-law advising process. Issues and questions addressed include: Is law school right for me? What should I be doing to prepare for law school? Are there any classes I should take? What is the timeline for the application process? Are grades and LSAT scores the only criteria that matter in admissions? What’s a personal statement and what are law schools looking for? How should I go about getting letters of recommendation? How should I decide where to apply? Wilson College values personalized, one-on-one advising between faculty and students. This personalized advising is certainly available to you throughout the pre-law advising process, and we encourage you to take advantage of it.

Considering Law School

Why do you want to go to law school? Before you apply, you need to carefully consider this question and be able to answer specifically and purposefully. Here are some things to think about as you begin:

The Benefits of a Legal Education

At the end of law school, you will have earned a J.D., Juris Doctor, which can, as you may have heard, open many doors. You can use your J.D. in government, higher education, business, and many other fields.

Pursuing a law degree is an investment in your future. Starting salaries at big firms can exceed $100,000, while lower paid non-profit and social justice work can be highly rewarding. The legal employment market is currently strong, with over 90% of lawyers receiving employment within 9 months of graduating.

A Brief Reality Check

The reality of the legal profession is not what you see on TV. Lawyers often work long hours, including evenings and weekends. Many consider their work to be monotonous and painstaking. The profession can be both stressful and highly competitive.

Regarding salaries, depending on the type of law practiced, size of the firm, and location, your earnings may not meet your expectations. For example, lawyers employed in the public interest field, those who work for smaller firms and in smaller towns will earn much less than those who work for big firms in big cities.

Also, a legal education can be very expensive. As a result, many lawyers may feel compelled to take jobs with high salaries and high stress at big firms, rather than pursue social justice work. New lawyers, the majority of whom are not making over $100,000, feel severely burdened by their debt load.

Facts and Statistics

For the class of 2007, according to the National Association for Law Placement (NALP)

  • The average amount borrowed for law school was $87,906 (and this does not include undergraduate and consumer debt!)
  • The average law school tuition was $32,376 for private institutions; $26,691 for public non-resident; and $15,455 for public resident.
  • The average living and book expenses for single students living on campus was $12,336
  • The average starting salary was $86,400, while the median salary was $65,750
  • 55.5% went into private practice, while only 5.8% pursued public interest work
  • The average starting salary for private practice was $109,000, but only $42,000 for public interest lawyers
  • 14.1% pursued work in business and industry (average starting salary $69,000)
  • 10.7% pursued government work (average starting salary $50,000)
  •  9.8% pursued judicial clerkships (average starting salary $48,000)
  • The median starting salary in a firm with 501+ attorneys was $160,000
  • The median starting salary in a firm with 2-10 people was $53,000

Poor Reasons

There are some very common (and not very good) responses to the question, “why do you want to go to law school?”

These include:

  • I like to argue.
  • I want to make a lot of money.
  • I don’t know what else to do after graduation.
  • I want to change the world.
  • I want to help people.
  • My mom told me I’d be a great lawyer.
  • It seems like something I could do.
  • It seems intellectually challenging.
  • I’d probably be able to get a good job.
  • I thought a J.D. would be more versatile than other degrees.
  • I failed organic chemistry and can no longer go to medical school.

What is wrong with these statements? They contain erroneous assumptions about the legal profession and/or lack sufficient reasoning to attend law school. For example, while law school may be intellectually challenging, legal jobs can be technical and tedious. While many lawyers do make a lot of money, many also earn modest incomes. Also, there are many professions in which you can help people, change the world, and make a lot of money. The question then becomes, why pursue a legal career as a means to those ends? And given the amount of debt incurred, potential law students need to seriously reconsider the prudence of using law school as a “fall back” plan.

Good Reasons

There are many good reasons for wanting to attend law school. It is up to you to articulate your own unique reasons, but here are some examples:

  • You respect the work of someone who is a lawyer or who has attended law school, and the legal education of that person has been important in achieving that which you admire.
  • You have interned at a law office or legal organization or collaborated on a project with someone in the legal field and have greatly enjoyed the work and the atmosphere.
  • You have worked in politics, government, education, business, communications, etc., and believe that a law degree would help advance your career in one of those areas.
  • You love school, and the idea of spending three more years reading, researching and studying excites you.
  • You possess personality and character traits associated with lawyers who are satisfied in their professions (see below). 

Characteristics of Good, Satisfied Lawyers

  • Thick-skinned
  • Detailed-oriented
  • Loves to learn
  • Competitive
  • Patient and persistent
  • Not easily ruffled, stable
  • Objective
  • Achievement-oriented
  • Exhibits respect for rules
  • Highly analytical

Do a significant number of these traits characterize you? If so, the legal profession may be a good fit for you.

Next Steps

What can you do to tell if law school is right for you? Consult the next section, “Preparing for law school: 10 Things to Do.” These steps will guide you in exploring the field of law as a possible career path, as well as give you some helpful advice if you’ve already determined that a legal career is right for you.