Pre-Law Preparation at UH Mānoa

Text compiled from the websites of the U.S. Department of Labor, American Bar Association,
Law School Admissions Council, William S. Richardson School of Law, and the UHM 2012-2013 Catalog.

The Legal Profession
Preparing For Law School
Extracurricular Experience
Researching Schools
Applying to Law Schools
Writing a Personal Statement
Letters of Recommendation
Financial Aid
Additional Resources

The Legal Profession

There is no single path that will prepare you for a legal education.  Students who are successful in law school and who become accomplished professionals come from many walks of life and educational backgrounds.  Some law students enter law school directly after their undergraduate studies without any post-baccalaureate work experience.  Others begin their legal education significantly later in life, and they bring to law school the insights and perspectives gained from those life experiences.  Legal education welcomes and values diversity because students benefit from the exchange of ideas and different points of view that colleagues bring to the classroom.

Laws are a product of our history, governmental structure, social, religious and political norms, and past and present technological developments.  Therefore, a broadly educated person with an aptitude for critical thinking and analysis is a student well-prepared to appreciate and understand the function of legal analysis, planning, and advocacy in our modern society.

Generally, law schools look for bright, well-rounded individuals who have a strong interest in law and a desire to give back to the community. Although not all law school graduates will practice law, they may still use their degrees in fields that are affected by law’s pervasive reach.

What is law?

In practice, law is the application of abstract rules (laws) to concrete situations in order to resolve actual or potential conflict.  Law impacts every aspect of society.  Lawyers work in all areas of society, from public practice to private firms, from trials in court to teaching in academia, and from general law to specialty areas of law such as corporate, entertainment, copyright, criminal, family, environmental, international, tax, and so on.

Lawyers work with clients from all segments of society to help resolve problems in the most civil manner available.  A lawyer must have analytic, creative, and logical reasoning skills, as well as reading, writing, and debating skills.  Lawyers must know how to analyze legal issues in light of constantly changing laws and public policy.  Within the context of the legal system, they must be able to advocate for individuals and diverse interest groups, represent viewpoints other than their own, and give accurate, intelligent counsel.  In particular, lawyers must be able to write clearly, communicate effectively, and negotiate persuasively.

Observe a law school class

From August through May, you can sit in on a law school class in progress at the William S. Richardson School of Law on the UH Mānoa campus. This is a good way to get first-hand exposure to what law school is really like. Click here to check out the law school’s schedule for class times and to set up a tour: Schedule a Visit

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Preparing For Law School

What does law school entail?

In order to practice law, lawyers must earn a Juris Doctor (J.D.) degree from a law school approved by the American Bar Association (ABA) and then pass a state licensing exam, called “the bar.”

Acquiring a J.D. requires approximately 7 years of education:

Bachelors Degree (~4 years)
Law School (~3 years)

Some law schools offer part-time programs in the daytime and/or evenings that accommodate those who wish to continue working while taking courses.  Keep in mind that most part-time programs extend the course of study from 3 to 4-5 years.  Some schools also offer combined degree programs (such as a JD/MBA), which often extend the course of study beyond three years.

First-year curriculum usually begins with the fundamentals of legal practice and includes general law courses such as civil procedure, contracts, criminal law, property law, torts, professional ethics, and so on. Second and third-year curricula are often elective courses in areas of interest. Law school teaches students how to think like a lawyer and how to apply rules logically.  Young lawyers typically learn the details and logistics of practicing law (filing briefs, forms, the legal system, etc.) through internships and work experience.  Some schools offer “clinical” opportunities to help students acquire such skills and to transition smoothly into a career in law.  In addition to clinical experiences, law students often participate in extra-curricular activities, including law reviews (academic journals by students), Moot Court, and Client Competitions.

Most U.S. law schools rely on a casebook method combined with Socratic teaching: in preparation for class, students research assigned cases and related judicial opinions, then in class, instructors ask students to clarify details, highlight underlying theory, and define rules in order to determine how well the students have understood the material.

Graduates from accredited law schools are eligible to take state bar exams. Although some states have reciprocal agreements that allow lawyers to practice in several states after passing one bar exam, most states require lawyers to pass a bar exam specifically for the state in which they intend to practice. All lawyers must be bar-approved in order to practice law.

What should I major in?

You should explore majors that interest you, as there are no preferred majors for law school. Law schools look for a diverse class of bright, motivated, and accomplished students. Students should choose a major that matches their strengths and interests. While your major may help guide which area of law to pursue, again there is no “best” major for law school.

Whichever major you select, you should take advantage of opportunities to develop your research, writing, and public speaking skills. Taking a broad range of difficult courses from demanding instructors is excellent preparation for a legal education.

Core Skills and Values:

  • Analytic/Problem Solving
  • Public Speaking
  • Interpersonal Communication
  • Critical Reading
  • Writing
  • Active Listening
  • Research
  • Time Management/Task Organization
  • Public Service/Promotion of Justice

Your coursework in your undergraduate major, electives or extracurricular activities can reflect your area of interest in law.

What types of classes should I take?

All ABA-approved law schools require a completed baccalaureate degree. Schools look for a variety of courses that will help you develop the kinds of skills that will be important in practicing law, such as analytic reading, fluent writing, clear ethics, and strong oral communication. Words are the tools of the lawyer, and students who can express themselves with confidence and clarity will be well prepared for law school. Across the curriculum, in departments from every college and school, UH Mānoa offers courses that afford you opportunities to hone these essential skills. See PAC’s list of recommended courses, which comes out before registration.

As a pre-law student, you should plan on taking more “Writing Intensive,” “Ethical Issues,” and “Oral Communication” Focus requirement courses than the minimums required for graduation. The importance of these courses for a legal education cannot be overstated. Be sure to take as many of these courses as possible at the upper division level, and be sure to take full advantage of the courses to hone your skills.

In addition, take courses that require extensive reading, analysis, and research, which are vital to the study and practice of law. Courses in English grammar and persuasive writing are also highly recommended.

Law and Society Undergraduate Certificate.
UHM’s Political Science department offers a Certificate in Law and Society, which involves courses directly related to law and its application. See Law and Society Certificate .

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Extracurricular Experience

PAC maintains a list of optional law-related extracurricular activities – check them out here!

Unsure whether to pursue law school?

If you are unsure whether to apply to law school, consider taking time off after you graduate from college. Both practicing lawyers and administrative directors recommend taking time off after college to work, travel, and experience life outside of school. During this time, you may find that law school is not right for you, or you may confirm that it is exactly what you want. Law school demands a tremendous commitment of time, effort, and money; it is imperative that you think through the decision. Work experience and maturity can also be very beneficial to your law school application.

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Researching Schools

Every ABA-approved school provides sufficient basic training in U.S. law to qualify its graduates to take the bar exam in any state. It is advantageous, however, to attend a law school in the area where you hope to practice, in part to build profile contacts within the legal community in the area, and in part to become familiar with regional variations in the law.

There are now more than 150 public and private law schools in the U.S. and Canada, each one unique in its mission, philosophy, criteria, and strengths.

Although there are resources that “rank” schools (The Gourman Report, U.S. News & World Report, The Princeton Review, etc.), rankings are rarely pertinent for individual applicantsMost importantly, there should be a good “match” between applicant and school.

To find schools that are good a fit for you (PAC pre-law advisors can help with this process):

1. Assess your individual strengths and weaknesses, your professional interests, learning style, and personality;
2. List ALL schools you would consider attending, which may be limited to the schools in one state or region;
3. Use the Law School Admission Council (LSAC) Official Guide to ABA-Approved Law Schools to create your “Long List” by omitting schools that do not match your professional interests, learning style, or personality. PAC offers a list of 7 factors to consider, found here.
4. Create your “Short List” once you have your LSAT scores by categorizing the schools into “Reach,” “Match,” and “Safety,” ranking the schools by preference. Finally, choose how many schools to apply to.
5. If possible, visit the schools to see their facilities, talk to Admissions Directors, and chat with students.
As with choosing your undergraduate school, do your homework when searching for a law school. Decide which factors are most important to you (size of school, location, course offerings), assess your personal resources, consider family obligations, and confer with people you trust: college professors, prelaw advisors, law school admission professionals, and current law students.

It’s never too early to start thinking about law school. The decisions you make today will determine your career choices down the road.

What are law schools looking for?

Law schools are seeking mature, well-rounded individuals who demonstrate the aptitude to excel in legal analysis.

While there are common criteria used by most law schools, there are also criteria unique to individual schools, which you will discover through direct contact with the school. Criteria that are considered important by most law school admission committees include:

  • Successful completion of a rigorous undergraduate degree
  • a pattern of strong or improving grades
  • high grade point average (GPA)
  • evidence of courses requiring extensive reading, writing, public speaking, research, and logic/critical thinking
  • graduate course work (optional)
  • High LSAT score
  • Strong personal statement that demonstrates
  • motivation to pursue a career in law
  • maturity
  • strong writing skills
  • thoughtfulness
  • evidence of having overcome difficulties
  • lessons learned from life experience
  • Strong letters of recommendation
  • address your academic ability, personal character and future potential
  • by recommenders who know you well. The more details your recommenders can provide, the better.
  • State of residency (for schools that give preference to residents)
  • Knowledge of and experience with the law profession through extracurricular activities (optional) that demonstrate:
  • personal initiative, maturity, leadership, and integrity
  • commitment to public service and helping others
  • commitment to the legal field.
  • understanding of what a career in law entails

Tuition, especially for public institutions, often covers only a part of the cost of educating a law student, which means that each new student represents an investment by the law school. Schools need to be certain that the students they accept will be capable of completing the law school curriculum and are likely to become good lawyers.

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Applying to Law Schools

1. The first step in applying to law school is to create an account with the Law School Admissions Council (LSAC), which you must do before registering for the LSAT.

You can register with LSAC through the mail or online at the LSAC website You should register at least three months before your schools’ earliest application deadline; even earlier is better. For LSAC, you will need to complete application information and submit transcripts, LSAT scores, and a personal statement.

2. Almost all ABA-approved law schools require that applicants register for LSAC’s Credential Assembly Service (CAS).

CAS creates your Law School Report by combining:

  • an academic summary;
  • LSAT score(s) and writing sample(s);
  • transcripts (all undergraduate, graduate, and law/professional school);
  • letters of recommendation/evaluations; and
  • other relevant information, such as prior matriculation.

3. In addition to the CAS report, each law school also requires its own application form, all of which are available both on the websites of individual law schools and the LSAC. You can submit individual schools’ applications by mail or electronically, following instructions on their websites.

If you have questions at any point in the process, you can contact LSAC via telephone or email. Note: Individual schools have different deadlines and procedures, especially regarding letters of recommendation and personal statements. It is your responsibility to follow all instructions and to meet all deadlines, so read all of the application instructions carefully!

4. Many schools prefer or require that your letters of recommendation be submitted through LSAC’s Letters of Recommendation and Evaluation Services; others accept letters directly. Instructions for submitting letters are on the LSAC website.

The Timeline for Applying

Regardless when you graduate from college, the timeline for applying is the same for everyone. Apply early in the application cycle! Application cycles typically open in early September and run through February, but be sure to research the deadlines for your schools.

Fall Spring Summer Fall Spring Summer Fall
 Study   Take LSAT (June) ApplyBackup LSAT date (Sept/Oct) Decisions   Enter Law School
Undergrad Junior year     Senior Year  May Grad   Enter Law School
Gap Year Senior Year  May Grad  Work      
Returning Student (graduated)  Work          



Tip: Plan to apply one year before you intend to go to law school. Most law schools admit students on a rolling basis, so applying early gives you an advantage.

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ABA-approved law schools require applicants to take a standardized test called the Law School Admissions Test (LSAT). The LSAT assesses your knowledge and skills in Logical Reasoning, Logic Games, Reading Comprehension, and Writing. The LSAT is a test of endurance: five 35-minute blocks of multiple-choice testing, plus a 35-minute writing sample.

The LSAT is administered in a paper-based format and is offered four times a year: February, June, September/October, and December. Students should plan on taking the LSAT early, either in February or June so they have their score a full year before entering law school (for example, test in June 2012 to enter Fall 2013). A more detailed summary of the LSAT is on the PAC website.

*Note: February test dates are for the upcoming cycle (for example February 2013 LSAT is for Fall 2014 entry); Scores from February exams usually arrive too late for the application deadlines of the same year.

How is the LSAT scored?

You will receive only one score for the entire LSAT. Scores range from 120-180 on a bell curve, with 180 being the highest and 150 being average. Competitive scores begin in the 150s. The writing sample is not scored but is transmitted to schools along with the score.

How can I prepare for the LSAT?

Remember that almost everyone who takes the LSAT is academically strong, and that many ‘A’ students receive average LSAT scores. On average, students study an hour a day for 6-9 months prior to taking the exam. If you only have 3 months, prepare to study 2-3 hours per day. Consider using prep books by different companies to learn different techniques and perspectives on how to approach the LSAT. PAC offers a lending library program that is a good place to start.

Once you are familiar with the test, take as many timed practice tests as possible, imitating the LSAT test-taking environment as closely as possible. Be sure to analyze your results and figure out both how you found correct answers AND why you missed questions. This will help you identify your strengths and weaknesses and will help you focus on areas for improvement.

The Only Official Test Preparation Material:
Guide to the LSAT and Practice Exams, available on the LSAC website.
There are many ways to prepare; choose whichever works best for you:

1. On your own
2. Study groups
3. Prep books
4. LSAT practice exams
5. Commercial prep classes
If you need the discipline of a class and prefer in-person and/or online instruction, consider taking a prep course (see Available Resources ). Even if you take a prep course, to get a competitive score, you must still prepare on your own outside of class.

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Writing a Personal Statement

Generally, all law schools require applicants to write a personal statement.  Even if you have a perfect GPA and LSAT score, a bad personal statement can easily discredit an otherwise strong law school application. Law schools are interested in admitting students for reasons beyond grades and scores. Your experiences, training, goals, or dreams can demonstrate who you are and your potential to succeed in law school and beyond. Most law schools do not hold interviews, so your personal statement is the best opportunity to showcase who you are and your strength as a writer.

Below are some helpful guidelines to keep in mind as you construct a winning personal statement.  Keep in mind that page and/or word limits for the Personal Statement differ by law school, so it is essential to verify with each school’s requirements.

  • Research:

    • Check the website of each law school you are applying to.
      • What is the prompt for the Personal Statement?
      • What are the page/word limits?
      • Are there additional essays/interview?
    •  Give yourself enough time to have friends, family, mentors, and/or advisors read your Personal Statement and provide feedback.
    • Optional: Look up sample law school Personal Stateents via books, internet, etc.
  • Brainstorm the essential elements of your Personal Statement:

    • What would you like the admissions committee to know about you? Is there a particular theme you would like to get across to the reader?
    • What kind of traits and motivation do you have that cannot easily be gleaned from your other application materials?
    • Why do you want to go to law school?
    • Have you showed through concrete examples how you are prepared for law school (academically, socially, etc.)?
    • Have you given some thought as to why you are applying to that particular law school (special programs, joint degree opportunities, etc.)?
    • Other areas to consider including: geographic origin, racial or ethnic group, personal interests/talents, prior life experience, successful employment history, and leadership qualities
  • Create your rough draft:

    • Who you are matters more to law schools than who you were 4-5 years ago or more.
    • Page length/word count does not matter in the rough draft stage.
    • Keep it “personal”: 
      • This is a “personal” statement, thus the subject matter should focus on you, not your family or society in general.
      • Define features of your persona that set yourself apart from the crowd.
    • Keep in mind who your audience is: 
      • Admissions committees often include experienced law professors, admission representatives, and current law students.
      • Are you someone who would be a likable addition to that law school’s student body? Show why in the Personal Statement.
    • Common mistakes at the rough draft stage:
      • Avoid restating your resume.
      • Avoid writing about awards, honors, and accomplishments earned in high school.
      • Avoid writing on subjects completely disjointed from the study of law and law school.
  • Revise, revise, revise:

    • What is the tone of your Personal Statement? Is it professional?
    • Does each section, paragraph, and sentence flow together in a cohesive essay?
    • Is there anything in the content that might offend your reader?
    • Does the Personal Statement accurately portray who you are as an applicant and a person?
    • Start to trim down your Personal Statement to meet the word limit or page requirement.
  • Finishing touches:

    • Grammar and spelling matters! There should be no grammatical or spelling errors!
    • Be concise!

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Letters of Recommendation

Most law schools require 2-3 letters of recommendation, but be sure to check each school’s requirement.

Whom should I ask for a letter of recommendation?

If you’re still in school, your strongest letters will likely come from professors, who are in a position to evaluate your academic performance and your potential for law school.

If you are no longer in school and are working, your strongest letters will likely come from supervisors, professional colleagues, or mentors, who can share their knowledge of you and evaluate your potential in a professional setting.

Regardless of who you ask to write a letter of recommendation, make sure that the reference can advance your case for admission and help you stand out.

DO NOT obtain letters of recommendation from relatives or famous people.

What documents should I give my references?

Your letters of recommendation should be sent to the LSAC, which will include them in your CAS report to schools. Make this process as easy as possible for your references! Providing the items in a letter packet will facilitate the process, making it easier for your references to write your letters and avoid delays.

Your letter packet should include:

  • Instructions for submitting either online or hard copy. Be sure to include the deadline (at least four weeks before you need the letter).
  • Recommendation form, downloaded from and signed by the applicant.
  • Your Personal statement and your resume, including a clear statement of your intent to go to law school.
  • A list of courses you have taken from the reference, including grades you recieved and examples of work you completed (copies of term papers, essays, tests).
  • Your transcripts (unofficial copies are fine).
  • stamped envelope addressed to the LSAC.

Thank your references for writing a recommendation

After your reference has submitted your letter of recommendation, be sure to write a thank you note to show your appreciation.

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Financial Aid

Attending Law School is an investment in your future, but it can also be a considerable financial burden. Tuition alone can range from a few thousand dollars to upwards of $50,000 a year, in addition, you will need to calculate selected costs of attending school such as housing, food, books, transportation and other personal expenses. The total cost of a law school education can exceed $150,000.

How do I finance my education?

Scholarships, grants, and fellowships are available but limited. A majority of law school students rely on loans for their primary funding. These loans must be paid back with future income, so the more you borrow, the more of an impact debt will have on life after graduation.

Federal student loans usually have the lowest interest rates, offer the most flexible re-payment options, and offer more opportunities for payment relief than loans funded by private sources. Typically, students who are ineligible for federal student loans use private sources.

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Additional Resources

William S. Richardson School of Law
Elisabeth Steele Hutchison, Director of Admissions and Special Projects
2515 Dole Street, Room 225-227
Honolulu, HI 96822

Phone: 808-956-5557
Fax: 808-956-3813

Pre-Health/Pre-Law Advising Center: PAC offers a lending library of books on law schools and law careers, volunteer opportunities, academic planning, and one-on-one advising by current law students who can help you prepare for and apply to law school.

ABA-Approved Law Schools by LSAC/ABA available in PAC
Law School Admission Reference Manual
available in PAC
UHM’s Manoa Pre-Law Association (MPLA)
Law School Admissions Council (LSAC)
Law School Admissions Test
Law School Credential Assembly Service
The Law Engine
Jurist: The Legal Education Network
Find Law for Students
American Bar Association (ABA)

Check out to learn how you can make a difference!

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