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)

Long Term Law Timeline

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 .



Previous: The Legal Profession                                                                                         Next: Choosing a Major