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Pre-Law Study

SPA Students

As lawyers are engaged in issues that touch all disciplines, nearly every major can be considered for law school admission. Therefore, law school admissions officers advise that they look for a variety of majors and academic backgrounds, and there are no specific courses required at American University for students planning to apply to law school. Law schools recommend that undergraduate students pursue fields of interest to them that include rigorous upper-level courses that are writing-intensive and develop critical, analytic thinking. Words are the basic tool of lawyers;therefore, a successful lawyer must develop strong language and communication skills, including writing, public speaking, and debating.

Performance in a rigorous program of study, much more than the specific courses a student takes, will determine the student's attractiveness as a law school applicant. Admissions committees look for students who have performed well in challenging courses in their undergraduate curriculum. The School of Public Affairs provides pre-law counseling for students interested in the study of law. To ensure that you are pursuing challenging courses that will prepare you for law school, schedule a meeting with an advisor.

AU and the School of Public Affairs offer a variety of courses that may be useful if you are considering law school. The courses described here can improve your writing, communication, and critical thinking skills and enhance your understanding of the law and how it works. This will help you make an informed decision about whether you want to pursue a legal career and if you have the skills needed to do so successfully. These courses fall into the following broad categories:

1. Context and Development of American Law

Useful Courses 

  • JLC-110 Western Legal Tradition
  • JLC-225 American Legal Culture

The American legal system is rooted in the English common law tradition that requires adherence to legal principles set forth in prior cases (precedents). The student and practitioner of American law must understand the history, traditions, and values that shaped the legal principles articulated by courts over many generations and that form the basis of law today. In order to foster a broad understanding of cultural, social, political, and legal traditions that produced the American legal system, students are encouraged to take courses that survey intellectual, social, literary, political, and legal history.

2. Develop Skills Useful for Law School

Useful Courses

  • PHIL-200 Introduction to Logic
  • FIN-200 Personal Finance & Financial Institutions
  • ECON-200 Microeconomics

There are a variety of skills that pre-law students should develop and strengthen as undergraduates. These include analytical thinking, logic and philosophy, mathematics and financial skills, writing, public speaking, and debating. The study of other languages helps train students in structured memorization, expands their familiarity with other forms of expression and other cultures, and also the legal principles expressed in these different languages. The study of economics helps define and analyze principles and policy considerations upon which much civil law is based. Also, in a technological age, lawyers must be conversant in the languages of modern science and technology. Our undergraduate program offers a variety of courses that focus on these skills.

3. Substantive Areas of Law and Legal Reasoning

Useful Courses

  • SPA-350 Constitutional Law I: Powers &Federalism
  • SPA-351 Constitutional Law II: Civil Rights and Liberties
  • ACCT-301 The Law of Business
  • JLC-310 The Legal Profession
  • JLC-343 Issues in Civil Justice
  • JLC-535 Gender and the Law
  • GOVT-352 Law and the Political System.

There are a variety of courses in the undergraduate program that focus on specific substantive areas of law, legal procedure, and legal reasoning. Law school admissions committees assume that students will study these substantive areas in law school and therefore neither require nor expect undergraduates to take a full complement of law courses. However, if you want to learn whether you will find the practice of law interesting and challenging, taking courses in a substantive area of law can be helpful in making your decision. These courses can also assist you in law school by helping you develop analytical and writing skills, a legal vocabulary, and a general introduction to law.

4. Courses about the Concept of Law and Legal Systems

Useful Courses 

  • JLC-103 Critical Issues in Justice
  • JLS-104 Introduction to Systems of Justice

Both of these courses analyze the law, the legal system, and the legal profession from philosophical and social science perspectives.


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