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Pre-Law Study

SPA Students

Law school admissions officers advise that nearly every major can be considered for law school admission. Therefore, there are no specific courses required at American University for students planning to apply to law school. Lawyers are engaged in issues that touch all disciplines and, thus, law schools recommend that undergraduate students pursue challenging courses in fields of interest to them. Admissions officers do suggest, however, that applicants include rigorous upper-level courses which are writing-intensive and which develop critical, analytic thinking in their undergraduate programs. Words are the basic tool of lawyers; therefore, the successful lawyer must develop strong language and communication skills, including writing, public speaking, and debating.

American University, especially in the departments of Justice, Law and Society and Government, but also in other departments, offers a variety of law-related courses that may be useful for students considering law school. These courses fall into the following broad categories:

1) Courses on the Context and Development of American Law: 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. "Western Legal Tradition" (JLS-110) and "American Legal Culture" (JLS-225) are particularly useful courses.

2) Courses that Develop Skills Useful for Law School: There are a variety of abilities 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 (especially computer science skills). Our undergraduate program offers a variety of courses that focus on these skills. Particularly useful courses are PHIL-200, Introduction to Logic offered by the Department of Philosophy and Religion; FIN-200, Personal Finance and Financial Institutions offered in the Kogod School of Business; as ECON0200, Microeconomics offered by the Department of Economics.

3) Courses on Substantive Areas of Law and Legal Reasoning: There are a variety of courses in the undergraduate program that focus on specific substantive areas of law, legal procedure, and legal reasoning. These include such courses as GOVT-350, Constitutional Law; GOVT-215, Civil Rights and Liberties; ACCT-301, The Law of Business; JLS-343, Issues in Civil Justice; JLS-420, Legal Reasoning; and JLS-382, Determination of Fact.. In addition, students should consider courses such as JLS-301, The Legal Profession; JLS-535, Gender and the Law; and GOVT-352, Law and the Political System.

Law school admissions committees assume that students will study substantive areas of law 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: There are also a range of courses beginning with JLS-103, Critical Issues in Justice and JLS-104, Introduction to Systems of Justice, that analyzes law, the legal system, and the legal profession from philosophical and social science perspectives. These can contribute to a more sophisticated understanding of what the law actually does and its social impact, and thus can be useful in placing law in a larger social and human context.

Students should remember that no one course is essential to gaining admission to law school. Admissions committees look for students who have performed well in challenging courses in their undergraduate curriculum, rather than students who have taken specific undergraduate courses. The courses described here can make students stronger law school applicants by improving their skills and enhancing their understanding of the law and how it works. Such an understanding will help students make an informed decision about whether they want to pursue a legal career. Ultimately this understanding will be reflected in the strength of the law school application. 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. SPA provides specific pre-law counseling for students interested in the study of law. For more information, please contact one of the SPA Pre-Law advisors.

SPA Pre-Law Advisors 

Linda Spicer, lspicer@american.edu, (202) 885-6456, Dept. of Justice, Law and Society
Nathan Williamson, nwillia@american.edu, (202) 885-6142, Dept. of Government

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