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Are undergraduate law programs helpful for law school?

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I just finished my first semester of my undergrad degree. I'm interested in going to law school later on, but was told by someone that it's a bad idea to major in law for a BA because law schools look down on it and look for more diversity.

I am currently majoring in a subject I am kind of interested in but am not sure I want to pursue. I took a law course as an elective this past semester and found it really interesting. My university (Carleton) offers a law BA program and I am considering trying to switch into it, but am worried it could have an impact on me getting into law school later. Is it true that law schools see a law BA as a negative? I am also wondering - people who have a BA in law (from Carleton or elsewhere) was it helpful in law school? Thanks

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29 minutes ago, amarac said:

 I am also wondering - people who have a BA in law (from Carleton or elsewhere) was it helpful in law school? Thanks

I didn't do a law BA, but I took a bunch (about 8 ) undergrad law classes.  They're useless.  Sure, I had a bit of background knowledge on Morgentaler, Bedford, knew some division of power stuff and learned a bit about negligence, which helped for the first 15 mins those topics were discussed in class but everything was new beyond that.  So, effectively, they helped for about 45 minutes of constitutional this semester, 15 minutes of criminal, and were no help at all in property, torts, and contracts. 

 

Take it if it interests you and you can do well, but don't do it only if you think it'll give you some sort of advantage in 1L or beyond. 

Edited by Shankar
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I had an experience similar to yours. I went to Carleton as well, but I started out as a Law & Legal Studies major. I heard similar stuff about law schools seeking diverse educational backgrounds, so I added a second major. Honestly, I think that schools care more about your grades than anything else. You're best off studying in a field that you're interested in and are capable of excelling in. To me, it seems more likely that a school would accept someone with a Law undergrad degree and amazing marks rather than someone with a more unique degree but mediocre or poor marks.

That being said, my stats weren't incredible when I applied and I think my second major was one of the big factors that made me stand out and ultimately led to my acceptance. If there's something aside from law that you're interested in, maybe consider it as a second major or minor. It might make you a more memorable applicant if, like me, your LSAT score and grades aren't outstanding. It's also never a bad idea to have a backup plan in case law school doesn't work out. 

In terms of how helpful having a law background was in law school, it (at best) gave me a very slight advantage in 1L. When I went into school I was already familiar with seminal cases (Donoghue, Latimer, Oakes, etc), the Charter, the Criminal Code, etc. I also had a base knowledge of how the legal system worked. This eliminated some confusion I think other students may have had. It also eased the learning curve a bit and made studying easier at times. However, success in law school is more contingent on work ethic, time management, etc. than having a prior knowledge of case facts. Many of my friends who had backgrounds in unrelated topics with a heavier focus on reading or a larger workload ended up doing better than me academically. Having a background knowledge also only goes so far. Once you're an upper year it won't make any difference. 

Even though I don't feel like my undergrad degree gave me a huge academic advantage, I think it was helpful in other ways. I learned about different areas of law before starting law school which gave me a bit of an idea of what subjects were most interesting to me. I also knew I was interested in law before going to law school, which eliminated the risk of getting there, not liking the program and wasting thousands of dollars. 

Something else to consider is joining law related extracurriculars. I found that mooting with the Carleton team taught me more about law (and gave me more of an advantage) than most of my classes. 

Good luck! If you have more questions feel free to DM me.

Tldr; if you're interested in law and think you'll do well as a law major, go for it. It might be a good idea to consider a second major or minor in a different field though. 

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There is nothing wrong with doing a law-related undergraduate program if that's your genuine area of interest. I would seriously spend some time considering what you would do with this degree if you don't end up going to law school - either because your plans change or because you simply can't get in - but other than that issue there's nothing wrong with the program. At the same time, there's nothing right about the program, and it won't give you an advantage of any kind.

The reason I believe students think these programs are "looked down on" or whatever is simply this. There is by far a greater percentage of unsuccessful applicants to law schools coming out of these programs as compared to any other. The reason is obvious enough. A very small number of students coming out of physics (to use a random example) are applying to law school at all. Of those that do, most are students who have been very successful and who realize, at some late stage, they want to go to law school. It's not that law schools specifically want physics undergrads. But of those that apply to law school anyway, they are likely to be strong candidates. Meanwhile, students who already took a "pre-law" undergrad ... those are students who are applying to law school no matter what. They apply even though they ended up with a 2.0 GPA. They apply with their 150 LSAT. And then they say "law school didn't want me because I took the wrong undergraduate program."

The same effect is shown with LSAT scores. Somewhere, there's a study that shows that students from what might be termed "pre-law" programs do terribly on the LSAT. Worse than just about anything. But it isn't because the programs themselves are bad. It's because even the really bad students who are in those programs insist on writing the LSAT, even when it's obvious they shouldn't.

Don't get sucked into the stupidity that's rampant among "pre-law" clubs and "pre-law" students. You will find plenty of students who will swear up and down that they are heading to law school because they have awesome extra-curriculars and volunteer each summer for the local Member of Parliament who is writing them a killer reference letter etc. etc. etc. The fog of delusion is pretty thick. Get the grades and get the LSAT and you'll be heading to law school, if you still want to, when you're done. All the rest is a matter of personal choice.

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3 hours ago, Diplock said:

Get the grades and get the LSAT and you'll be heading to law school, if you still want to, when you're done. All the rest is a matter of personal choice.

1

I got into a few schools this year and yup - only law related thing on my application was a poli degree but even then I only took poli phil...I don't think your program matters unless it is comparing a 3.1 in engineering versus one in an arts program. Its more about stats I believe - for some schools at lest 

Also, a lot of people I knew who were in pre-law told me they really had no substantial advantage. Personally - I think the classes that build up your ability to critically think are the most helpful from what I've heard from some L1s. I took 1 pre-law undergrad class and honestly wasn't impressed and I'm skeptical it will ever help me, but, I'm sure its different at every school. 

Honestly, take undergrad to learn some fun new things. I took classes purely out of interest in my last semester and not only was it great, but, I got my highest GPA. :) 

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the general theme I've seen perusing the internet is its not so much about what you take, unless its like to an Intro to Basket Weaving 101 type thing, its more about how well you manage to do in your program of choice. as @Diplock said, they want people capable of succeeding in their area of study.

The merits of pre-law programs are debatable (to me anyways)- I found some 2012 stats from LSAC stating that students in pre-law programs were less likely to get into law school than students in other programs, but this may not be because that program does an inadequate job at preparing students for law school, but instead that the unsuccessful applicants were never actually going to achieve the GPA necessary for admission for whatever reason. Anecdotally, almost every  "pre-anything" student I've met has had a non competitive gpa because most of the time those people are in those programs for the wrong reasons. I also can't see Law Schools turning down a 3.9/160+ applicant for a 3.3/157 LSAT one who learned the basics of Constitutional Law when they were 19. 

Im not even in law school yet though, so I may not know much. 

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I am currently finishing my fourth year at Carleton in the BA Legal Studies program and I have been accepted to two schools so far, so the major won't hurt you when applying to schools. Also, it is an amazing program and all the law profs are really great. As long as you get a good CGPA ad LSAT, you'll be ok.

 

If it interests you, I recommend you pursue this degree regardless of whether or not you want to go to law school. It has opened tons of doors for me in that I have already had the opportunity to intern for a lawyer and have done in-depth research into areas of law that I am interested in. I know that my areas of interest may change during law school, but having this degree under my belt has comforted me in that I know 100% that I want to pursue a career in law.

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Assuming that you are 100% going to law school after your undergraduate degree, I offer the following advice:

You only get that 4 years to do an undergrad once so you should pick you major carefully. I would agree that doing an undergrad in law will certainly help you in law school, as you will already be familiar with some terms and general principles in the field prior to entering law school. This may be a slight edge over your colleges who are coming from a non-legal field and are completely unfamiliar with these concepts. However, this advantage will be small, as the difference in depth of legal content that you will be exposed to in law school will not be comparable to your undergraduate degree. The alternative would be to do a degree in an unrelated field which won't necessarily help you immediately in law school, but may pay dividends later on. For example having a science or engineering background will undoubtedly make you more attractive to IP law firms or having a finance background may give you an advantage in certain aspects of corporate law. However, having a law undergraduate background will not give you any sort of advantage in terms of employment opportunities because everyone has a law degree (unless your grades are better as a result of doing law as for your undergrad) and therefore having an undergrad in law doesn't mean much. Therefore it's really a cost-benefit analysis between whether you want the short-term head start on your law school peers by already being familiar with law (which may lead to you getting slightly better grades and therefore better job prospects) or if you want to diversify your skill set by having knowledge that may come in handy later on that may make you especially valuable to employers (or may have no effect, depending on what practice you want to go into). 

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Throwing in my two-cents.

I knew I wanted to go to law school in high school. I knew law school had no pre-requisites, so I majored in Film Studies because I enjoyed it and knew that I could get good enough grades in that program to get into law school. I minored in business for the sake of practical knowledge.

Got to law school, met a lot of criminology/political science/philosophy majors who, in some cases, chose those majors under the assumption that those degrees would provide an advantage in law school.

Aside from the first couple weeks in which you learn about the history of law in Canada and the structure of the court system, those "law oriented" programs provided no discernible advantage. And those first couple of weeks of school weren't even going to be tested on the exam. I managed to "beat the curve" without ever feeling once like I was at a disadvantage for having studied film instead of something more law-oriented.

I say study whatever interests you, because you'll be more likely to succeed academically which will help your chances of getting into law school.

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It’s like doing a program about what it would be like to learn Japanese but without any Japanese actually taught. For the sake of being an intelligent and interesting person who enjoys their studies, I’d just take the most challenging program you’re interested enough in to put in the full effort.

Edited by theycancallyouhoju
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1 hour ago, theycancallyouhoju said:

It’s like doing a program about what it would be like to learn Japanese but without any Japanese actually taught. For the sake of being an intelligent and interesting person who enjoys their studies, I’d just take the most challenging program you’re interested enough in to put in the full effort.

[emphasis added]

I strongly disagree. If one's only goal is to get into law school, take the program in which you believe you will get the highest marks.

I do agree taking something one is interested in assuming that makes it easier to stay motivated and study and work, but not if it's going to be difficult enough to get significantly lower marks.

There are good reasons to take a more challenging program (in terms of what is more challenging to the individual, not arguing objective difficulty!), for instance, someone who was stronger in non-STEM might take a STEM program even expecting they would get lower marks than in another program, because they weren't sure if they wanted to go to law school, but might like a STEM career, and if they did go to law school they were thinking of IP for which an engineering/science background is helpful. But there are consequences to such a choice and getting lower marks. Not that it's easy to predict one's marks, but if e.g. one expects in challenging program one gets B+ and in less challenging gets A average, the latter is better if the only consideration is law school. If one expects A's in challenging program and slightly higher A's in the less-challenging, in which one would be less-motivated, well then it's a tougher decision.

For OP, unless this law program is something they expect to get high marks in, wouldn't it be better to take either (1) an easier (for them) program in which they'd get better marks; or (2) a program which would help in a career that wasn't law if they decide not to go to law school? That is, what possible benefit is there to a pre-law program? I agree with others that what one learns of law before law school is of limited utility in law school (caveat, knowing something is good, e.g. taking one course, or a high school course, or something, but I'm more dubious and skeptical about the usefulness of a 4-year-degree majoring in the subject).

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1 minute ago, epeeist said:

[emphasis added]

I strongly disagree. If one's only goal is to get into law school, take the program in which you believe you will get the highest marks.

I do agree taking something one is interested in assuming that makes it easier to stay motivated and study and work, but not if it's going to be difficult enough to get significantly lower marks.

There are good reasons to take a more challenging program (in terms of what is more challenging to the individual, not arguing objective difficulty!), for instance, someone who was stronger in non-STEM might take a STEM program even expecting they would get lower marks than in another program, because they weren't sure if they wanted to go to law school, but might like a STEM career, and if they did go to law school they were thinking of IP for which an engineering/science background is helpful. But there are consequences to such a choice and getting lower marks. Not that it's easy to predict one's marks, but if e.g. one expects in challenging program one gets B+ and in less challenging gets A average, the latter is better if the only consideration is law school. If one expects A's in challenging program and slightly higher A's in the less-challenging, in which one would be less-motivated, well then it's a tougher decision.

For OP, unless this law program is something they expect to get high marks in, wouldn't it be better to take either (1) an easier (for them) program in which they'd get better marks; or (2) a program which would help in a career that wasn't law if they decide not to go to law school? That is, what possible benefit is there to a pre-law program? I agree with others that what one learns of law before law school is of limited utility in law school (caveat, knowing something is good, e.g. taking one course, or a high school course, or something, but I'm more dubious and skeptical about the usefulness of a 4-year-degree majoring in the subject).

Strongly agree

I will also consider schools that give you an edge (easier to get the grade you need)

I didn't do that because no one told me then.  

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I agree with the posters above too! That’s essentially the strategy I took (taking a program that I was interested in besides law, where I thought I would get good marks but also could serve as a back up career if law didn’t end up working out) and I would make the same decision again in a heartbeat! 

There are also so many opportunities to get exposure to law in the form of ECs which is something that I have done for the past 3 years to get my law fix despite being in a program that is technically unrelated. OP, you mentioned you go to Carleton, and I know they have many opportunities to get involved with mooting and mock trials which is something you might want to look into/try. :) The way I see it, you’re getting the best of both worlds that way!

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 @epeeist - Take the easiest program you can suffer is certainly a path. But there’s value in trying to grow as a person, which also contributes to your long term career prospects. 

I say go become the smartest person you can, taking whichever program is most challenging/still gives you a good shot at As. 

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I think any high school student imagining they can predict what program will be easy for them vs what won't be is out to lunch.

I mean, sure - if you spent the most time studying calculus in highschool and still ended up with a 75, but spent no time on English and got a 99 and some kind of provincial medal in it - maybe don't study pure math. 

But to imagine that you will be able to know if you'll do better at a BBA degree or a BA degree in grade 12 just sounds crazy to me.

People who do well in university eventually do it. Some may slip up in first year, even second. But eventually they get there. And that's why law schools have differing admission formulae that forgive certain grades. Even med schools from what I've heard are diversifying their view to admission from a pure cgpa/mcat formula.

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1 minute ago, pzabbythesecond said:

I think any high school student imagining they can predict what program will be easy for them vs what won't be is out to lunch.

I mean, sure - if you spent the most time studying calculus in highschool and still ended up with a 75, but spent no time on English and got a 99 and some kind of provincial medal in it - maybe don't study pure math. 

But to imagine that you will be able to know if you'll do better at a BBA degree or a BA degree in grade 12 just sounds crazy to me.

People who do well in university eventually do it. Some may slip up in first year, even second. But eventually they get there. And that's why law schools have differing admission formulae that forgive certain grades. Even med schools from what I've heard are diversifying their view to admission from a pure cgpa/mcat formula.

I still don’t agree. People have different skill sets, sure, but it’s also true that no one ever took Real Analysis because they thought it would be an easy class for them, where I know a bunch of guys who got drunk four nights a week, watched sports half the day and got A- averages in Comm or Polisci or whatever. I’m very firmly of the view that math is harder to excel at than history and I did both well. And honestly, I have more of an innate advantage in math than history, yet the former was still harder as a program. Gifted math students who become serious contributors to the field can still struggle in the latter half of their undergrad, while I got stoned to write A papers for 500 level history seminars. So...

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We each only get one life to live, don't rush through it. University is not a pit stop along the way to law school, treat it like the one opportunity you have to basically study whatever interests you. 

Ultimately whether it is getting admission to law school, graduate school or getting a job, you are better served by being well rounded and eager about what you are doing. There is nothing wrong with planning for the future but live and focus on the present. 

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On 12/30/2018 at 11:17 PM, bigfudge2017 said:

the general theme I've seen perusing the internet is its not so much about what you take, unless its like to an Intro to Basket Weaving 101 type thing, its more about how well you manage to do in your program of choice. as @Diplock said, they want people capable of succeeding in their area of study.

The merits of pre-law programs are debatable (to me anyways)- I found some 2012 stats from LSAC stating that students in pre-law programs were less likely to get into law school than students in other programs, but this may not be because that program does an inadequate job at preparing students for law school, but instead that the unsuccessful applicants were never actually going to achieve the GPA necessary for admission for whatever reason. Anecdotally, almost every  "pre-anything" student I've met has had a non competitive gpa because most of the time those people are in those programs for the wrong reasons. I also can't see Law Schools turning down a 3.9/160+ applicant for a 3.3/157 LSAT one who learned the basics of Constitutional Law when they were 19. 

Im not even in law school yet though, so I may not know much. 

You're confusing American pre-law programs with Canadian interdisciplinary undergrad programs that focus on legal studies. They are not at all comparable. For example, the law and legal studies program at Carleton is offered by the Faculty of Public Affairs and places many graduates on track for jobs with the federal government. There are also many tracks into. Related graduate programs. It's not at all designed to "prepare you for law school", and it's graduates are well-positioned to pursue other career paths, as most of them do. 

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