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College of Arts and Letters


Department of Political Science and Geography





Pre-Law Advising

Pre-law Advisor: Elizabeth Hoyes Esinhart
BAL 3030, 757-683-4044

Issues to Consider

Do I really want to go to law school? This is a question students commonly ask themselves. It is certainly a question everyone should ask (and answer) before applying to law school. Old Dominion University has a pre-law advisor who will meet on an individual basis with students considering law as a profession. The office of the pre-law advisor also distributes information concerning the law school admissions process and LSATs (Law School Admission Test). All pre-law students are invited and encouraged to join the pre-law association, which offers a variety of programs, activities, and fellowship for students considering careers in law.

Obtaining a legal education will be one of the biggest and most exciting challenges of your life. As with any major investment of time and money, you should carefully evaluate the risks, costs, and benefits associated with pursuing a juris doctor degree. You may want to ask yourself the following questions as you contemplate attending law school:

  1. Why do I want to go to law school? What type of legal career interests me?
  2. Do I understand the time commitment necessary to be successful in law school? How will this time commitment mesh with my family, work, or other commitments?
  3. Can I afford to attend law school? What will my income needs be during attendance and after graduation?
  4. What is the job market like now? How will it be in three to four years?

Long before you ever place your first application to law school, think carefully about what you want to do with your life and whether a career in the law is appropriate for you. The decision to go to law school could be one of the most significant decisions of your life. This decision deserves extensive and careful thought. To help make your decision an informed one, do what you can to learn more about the legal profession. An obvious first step is to talk with people you know who are lawyers. Talk to lawyers who have different kinds of practices. Let them tell you what they do. A second step is to work part-time in a law office or in a public defender's or a prosecutor's office, either as an intern or as a paid employee. Third, visit a law school, attend a class or two, and talk with a few students about what life at their law school is like. Finally, read about the law and the legal profession. A bibliography of suggested books appears in ODU's pre-law handbook.

Assuming you still want to pursue a law degree after answering these questions and learning about the legal profession, your next step is to begin researching law schools to determine those that best suit your needs. Some factors you may want to consider when evaluating schools include:

  • Admission Requirements: Do I have a reasonable chance of being admitted to this school on the qualifications (undergraduate academic record, graduate record, LSAT score, recommendations, activities and accomplishments) I present?
  • Tuition: What will this degree cost? What type of financial aid will I need and qualify for? Upon graduation will I be able to engage in the type of legal employment I am interested in and meet my loan and other financial obligations?
  • Geographic Location: Where do I want to live and practice law? How is the job market in that area?
  • Curriculum: What are the required courses? What type of electives are offered? Are any specialty programs or joint degrees offered? What is the school's theoretical orientation?
  • Extracurricular Activities: What opportunities exist for internships, clinical experiences, club memberships, moot court competitions, law review membership, etc.?
  • Bar Passage and Job Placement: How do the schools compare on these issues?

A good starting point for obtaining basic information on law schools is The Official Guide to U.S. Law Schools, published by Law Services. A copy of this book is available for you to review in the office of the pre-law advisor at ODU. There are also a host of other commercial publications which offer school profiles and comparisons. ODU's library and bookstore have some of these materials. The pre-law advisor also has many other materials from individual law schools that you should read through. You may want to request additional application materials from the schools which interest you.

It is best to set a limit on the number of schools to which you will apply. Review your priorities and credentials, and select the schools which best match them and at which you stand the best chance for admission. For example, if you think you might want to pursue a legal career with an emphasis on environmental law, apply to law schools that offer several courses on the subject. Use the Law School Range Finder included in the pre-law handbook as a shortcut method to determining your best chances for admission, but remember that these are only general statistics and each applicant is unique.

Finally, if at all possible, visit the schools to which you are admitted before making your final selection. Ask to meet with an admissions professional to discuss any concerns you may have about the program, take a tour, and sit in on a class. The best decision concerning your law school attendance can only be reached after careful research and evaluation.

Frequently Asked Questions

  1. What factors are considered in admission to law school?

    There are basically two important factors involved in the law school admissions decision; a student's undergraduate Grade Point Average and a student's score on the LSAT (Law School Admissions Test). Extracurricular activities should be a part of the student's college experience and may also be considered. Recommendations will be required and may have a bearing upon law school admissions, as well. However, LSAT scores and GPA carry the most weight.
  2. When should I take the LSATs?
    The LSAT is offered four times each year--February, June, October, and December. In general, studies show that students perform better after their junior year in college, and since there is no reason to take them before this time, students need not plan to take them earlier. It is best to take the LSAT in the June following your junior year. You will receive your scores in July, and if you do not score as high as you had hoped, you will have ample time to register for and take the LSAT offered in October. You will then get your scores back in November, which will allow you to request additional application materials from law schools, read through them carefully, and meet the application deadlines. You should not wait until December to take the LSAT initially, since information most vital in deciding where to apply will be delayed. If a retake of the LSAT is necessary, the February test date may be too late for scores to be of any real support to an application for admission.

    LSAT scores will range from 120 to 180, with 151 being the approximate median. The LSAT presumes to test a student's ability to do the types of thinking considered essential for success in law school, but is not an intelligence or general aptitude test. Except for the writing exercise, questions probe or try to measure reading comprehension, analytical reasoning, and logical reasoning. Multiple LSAT scores, going back three years, will be reported along with the most recent ones for a student taking the exam more than once. Some schools average multiple scores, others look at them independently. Before taking the LSAT, be sure to practice. Preparation for the test is essential. Several practice books for the LSAT are available for self-instruction and can be purchased at ODU's bookstore. Law Services sells copies of previous tests, and information about ordering them is found in the LSAT/LSDAS registration and information booklet. Again, the office of the pre-law advisor at ODU can provide you with copies of these booklets and with other information about practice materials. ODU offers an LSAT prep course through its continuing education department, as do several other commercial companies. Information about these prep courses can be obtained from the pre-law advisor. The office of the pre-law advisor does not sponsor or recommend any particular commercial prep course. If a student chooses to take a prep course, he or she should take it as near to the time of the actual test as possible.

    Students are encouraged to report their LSAT scores to the pre-law advisor for evaluation. The pre-law advisor has data on law school admissions from the previous year's class. Of course, anonymity is maintained, but it may be helpful to know how particular schools reacted to various combinations of LSAT scores and grade point averages for students from ODU.
  3. What major should I choose?
    It does not matter which major is selected. There is no pre-law major and law school admission committees do not have preferred majors. Rather, students should seek breadth in their undergraduate curriculum with depth in one or more areas (i.e. the major). In short, students are free to choose whatever major they wish. A double major is fine if a person wants to do it, but it is not necessary in terms of law school admissions. Many courses at ODU require that students employ oral and written communication, critical thinking, issue discernment, and analytical reasoning. Skill in all of these things is what law schools are looking for, and the schools really do not care whether these skills are cultivated in political science, philosophy, physics, English, math, criminal justice, economics, chemistry, engineering, or art history courses. Can a physics major go to law school? Absolutely! The real question is not what major prepares you for law school. Rather, it is what major is of sufficient interest to you to enable you to do well academically and is of sufficient interest to pursue in depth. Majors, courses, and instructors at ODU who demand that students write well, think clearly, and communicate effectively should be preferred by those who aspire to the legal profession.
  4. What about recommendations?
    Most law schools require one to three letters of recommendation, usually two from professors and possibly one from a dean. In general, the purpose of this is to obtain some comment from a person who has a view of the student's academic record and performance at ODU. In seeking professors to write recommendations for you, ask those persons who know you best regardless of their position in the department. It is especially valuable to seek professors who have had you in class more than once, or for whom you have written a major paper. If you want a professor to write recommendations, please give the professor all the forms you wish for him to do at the same time. It is obviously much easier to do several at the same time than to do them separately. For each recommendation, be sure to give the professor a stamped and addressed envelope so that the professor may mail them directly. As a matter of courtesy and because they will be interested, when you hear from a law school about your acceptance, you might want to inform the people who wrote recommendations for you of this acceptance.

    Recommendation forms contain a waiver form. Each student has a choice as to whether or not he will waive right of access to the recommendation. It is certainly everyone's privilege not to waive the right to read a letter of recommendation and anyone feeling strongly about the matter should not sign the waiver. However, some schools may discount the value of the recommendation if the waiver is not signed on the theory that the writer may be less candid if he knows that it may be read by the student. The office of the pre-law advisor recommends that, barring a strong reason otherwise, students waive their right of access.
  5. Are there any guidelines for succeeding in law school and as a lawyer?
    Learn to think critically, analytically and clearly and to express yourself well in written form and orally.
  6. Are there any books a person considering law school can read which will give an accurate picture of law school and the practice of law?
    There are a number of good books which may give a prospective law student or lawyer some insight into the practice of law and legal education. A bibliography of recommended books is included in ODU's pre-law handbook.
  7. Do extracurricular activities count?
    Law school admission committees want to know about the extra curricular activities and pursuits of law school applicants. Of special interest are the various positions of responsibility and leadership roles that the student may have held, as well as work experience on or off campus, participation in the arts or competitive athletics, and community service. However, do not expect a law school to accept a record of involvement in extra curricular activities in place of demonstrated academic performance.
  8. What is law school like?
    The law student must be ready and willing to meet one of the biggest challenges he will ever face. Law school is a full-time business. It takes many hours each day, every day of the year. It can be quite exhausting, particularly during the first year. There is a new vocabulary to learn, and a new way of thinking. In law, every word is of crucial importance; you don't just read to get the gist of the material. You will read and analyze more than you ever have before. It will be three of the most challenging and grueling, yet rewarding and intellectually stimulating years of your life.
  9. Do you have any general suggestions about applying to law school?
    Entrance into law school is becoming a increasingly competitive matter. Every student interested in attending law school, no matter how good his academic average and LSAT scores, should apply to as many law schools as feasible, and should apply to law schools in varying ranges of difficulty in terms of entrance requirements. The student, after assessing his academic record, should set up three categories of schools and apply to some schools in each category. These categories are relative and the schools within each category will vary according to the desires, academic record and LSAT score of the individual applicant. The first category should be the one in which the student lists those schools which he most desires to attend but may be the most difficult for him to gain admission to. The second category should be schools where the individual would be perfectly satisfied and present at least a 50-50 chance of admission for the student (obviously this requires an "educated guess" on the part of the student). The third category should represent "safety schools," that is, schools where the applicant's chances seem to be very good. These schools may not be the student's first choice, but they do offer a good legal education. However, because admissions is a personal thing, admissions committees are composed of human beings, and there are many variables, a student should consider applying to any law school the student is genuinely interested in regardless of the "odds" against admission. Occasionally, schools admit students who may not meet their published standards because of some nonquantitative variable. In short, you may want to take a chance, but always hedge your bet with more realistic choices and safety schools.

    Remember to APPLY EARLY! With the increasing number of applications to law schools, it seems to be advantageous to have your file complete as soon as possible. Seniors are urged to take the LSAT by October, and submit applications during the month of January.
  10. Suppose I want to delay law school?
    Whether to save money, to travel, to rest, to work, or to combine some of each, some students will choose to "sit out" a year or two following graduation from college before entering law school. Students should not expect law schools to "hold" places for them, but instead should delay applying for admission. For instance, someone graduating with the class of 1998, but not wishing to begin law school until Fall, 2000, should not apply until January, 2000.

Admissions Checklist

Freshman and Sophomore Years

  • Visit ODU's pre-law advisor.
  • Choose a balanced and diversified course of study, including classes that encourage logical reasoning and good communication skills.
  • Try to develop a personal relationship with two or more faculty members whose interests are similar to yours.
  • Read broadly, including some law-related materials and talk to lawyers about the nature of the profession.
  • Work hard to build a strong undergraduate record and grade point average.
  • Take immediate corrective steps to remedy any weaknesses.
  • Obtain an LSAT practice book and start to informally familiarize yourself with the question types.
  • Get involved in some activities which relate to the law field and talk to the pre-law advisor.
  • Consider joining the Pre-law Association.

Junior Year

  • Continue to work on grade point average.
  • Select a major and electives that emphasize reasoning and communication skills.
  • Study The Official Guide to U.S. Law Schools to determine which schools interest you and at which you appear eligible for admission based on your GPA.
  • Begin to obtain catalogs from schools of interest.
  • Attend law school forums if possible and talk to law school representatives.
  • Discuss law school admission and letter of recommendation with faculty member(s) you know personally.
  • Pick up copy of the LSAT/LSDAS Information Book from your pre-law advisor. Study the materials and register to take the LSAT in June following your junior year.
  • Complete LSAT practice books
  • Consider taking an LSAT prep course immediately before you take the test.
  • Meet with the pre-law advisor
  • Take LSAT in June
  • Consider an internship related to the law field.

Senior Year

  • AUGUST-OCTOBER

    • Visit the pre-law advisor
    • Register for the October LSAT if you have not yet taken it or if you choose to retake it. Registration forms are available in the pre-law advisor's office.
    • Sign up for LSDAS as per the instructions in the LSAT/LSDAS application bulletin, which is available from the pre-law advisor. Order a transcript from the registrar's office to be sent to LSDAS.
    • Write to every law school in which you have an interest, asking for a bulletin and application materials, including financial aid applications if necessary.
    • Take LSATs in October if you have not already done so or if you need to retake them.

  • NOVEMBER-DECEMBER

    • After receiving your application forms, begin working on your basic essay/personal statement. If you wish, the pre-law advisor will read this essay and make suggestions.
    • Report your LSAT scores to the pre-law advisor. Check with pre-law advisor for additional suggestions regarding applications to law schools.
    • Obtain any additional application materials from law schools.
    • Give out recommendation forms to professors. Provide faculty members with any helpful information to enable them to write a strong recommendation. Please give the professors all you want them to do at one time or tell them there will be more so they will be aware of the need to save a copy of what they write.
    • Begin to fill out applications. Apply to a range of schools to maximize your chances to be accepted .
    • If you are applying for financial aid, obtain a copy of the necessary forms. Prepare and submit all loan applications as early as possible.

  • JANUARY

    • Finish up applications and final editing of personal statement. Check with pre-law advisor regarding any last minute suggestions. Mail applications before the deadline. The earlier, the better!
    • Mail financial aid applications.

  • FEBRUARY-MARCH

    • Wait.
    • With a letter, or by phone, monitor your files at every law school to which you have applied to make sure all items, LSDAS reports, recommendations, etc. are in and your file is complete. If the item is not in, contact the appropriate person.
    • If there are any problems, see the pre-law advisor.
    • When you have been accepted to a school, let the pre-law advisor and those who wrote your letters of recommendation know. When you have been accepted to a school that you have decided to attend, notify the other schools that have accepted you that you will not be attending.

  • APRIL

    • Pay deposit to school you will be attending.
    • Order a final transcript from the registrar's office to be sent upon graduation to the law school you will attend.
    • Check in with the pre-law advisor one more time before graduation (and remember to keep in touch while in law school).

Application Checklist

Law School

Application Requested

Application Received

Application Mailed

Recommend Requested

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Contact Information

For more information concerning pre-law at Old Dominion University, contact Elizabeth H. Esinhart, Pre-Law Advisor, Department of Political Science and Geography, 3030 Batten Arts and Letters (BAL), Old Dominion University, Norfolk, VA 23529, 757-683-4044, e-mail: EEsinhar@odu.edu.