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Explore Grad School: Legal Practice
For complete information on graduate school search strategies and the application process, review our starter tips to Explore Grad School in all careers as well as the specialized tips on this page.
To become a lawyer, attending law school is a necessity after receiving your undergraduate degree. Below is an overview of many aspects of the application process.
Law School Admission Council
The Law School Admission Council (LSAC) is a combination of services and programs offered to students who are applying for law school. The LSAC administers the Law School Admission Test (LSAT), hosts forums and exhibitions of hundreds of law schools and admissions information, and is the only means to apply to law school. Any of your law school questions can be answered on the LSAC website.
Each student’s timeline for law school will follow a general set of guidelines, beginning about a year and-a-half before you intend to start law school. This means that if you intend to pursue law school immediately after graduation, you should begin preparing at the beginning of the spring quarter during your junior year. Refer to these time frames to remain on track.
- Start requesting letters of recommendation. This is not too early, considering many professors will be away during the summer.
- Decide how you will prepare for the LSAT over the summer. If you intend to prepare on your own, begin researching and purchasing any books and other materials you will need. If you intend to enroll in an LSAT preparation course, begin researching companies, cost, deadlines, and summer scheduling.
- Start drafting your resume and personal statement. It is wise to begin this process early. Many students find that writing the personal statement is more difficult and time-intensive than they expected.
- Prepare for the LSAT. Two to three months of concentrated preparation is generally recommended. During your preparation period, try to eliminate or reduce your other commitments.
- Follow up with your professors regarding your letters of recommendation.
- Finalize your resume and personal statement.
Take the LSAT. Your score will be posted two to three weeks after your test date.
- Submit all of your law school applications through the Credential Assembly Service (CAS) and review each school’s website for any additional application instructions.
- Expect to receive law school admission decisions for the following fall. The timing of admissions decisions varies. While some students receive quick decisions, others may be waitlisted and learn of their final admissions decisions in the spring. Occasionally, a student will not receive a decision until the summer.
Law School Admission Test
The Law School Admission Test (LSAT), according to the LSAC, “is an integral part of law school admission in the United States, Canada, and a growing number of other countries. The test is designed specifically to assess key skills needed for success in law school, including reading comprehension, analytical reasoning, and logical reasoning.”
Oftentimes, the main concern about the LSAT, regards how to prepare for such an important test. Recognize that your study plan will be unique to you and include factors such as the time you have available to study, your overall test-taking skills, your learning style, and your access to preparation courses.
Here are steps to follow as you are preparing for the LSAT:
- Take a timed practice test to achieve a baseline test result. You can often find free group practice tests available through LSAT prep programs or through UCSB pre-law student groups, or download a practice LSAT exam from LSAC and time yourself.
- Give yourself a three-hour window to complete the test.
- Continue taking timed practice tests throughout your studying to review progress and assess weaknesses.
- Register for the official LSAT exam. Determine the date that works best for you and that gives you enough time to study; also make sure it is early enough before applications are due in case you need to retake it.
Try to study for the LSAT when you have limited responsibilities (class, work, life). You will read many different suggestions about the amount of time dedicated to studying for the LSAT, ranging from two to six months. However, most experts agree that studying for three to four hours per day (with a 15-minute break) five to six days per week is ideal. Individuals who have two months to study should undertake the process differently than those who have six months, as there is a stronger likelihood of burnout.
Did You Know?
According to the Council on Legal Education Opportunity’s (CLEO) magazine, “EDGE,” there is a rule of thumb that states “expect to study about a minimum of one week per point of desired improvement.”
This will vary from person to person. Regardless, it requires extensive preparation, thus you should plan accordingly.
Test Preparation Options
LSAT test preparation can include paid and free services, books, podcasts, and more. Do your research to determine if paying for a test prep service is going to benefit you. Some students benefit from having a private tutor or study group to keep them accountable. Be sure to ask for scholarships and financial aid options for any paid services. Consider free options such as the Khan Academy (free official LSAT prep) and low-cost LSAT study options (preLaw Magazine) such as review books, prep tests, LSAT explanations, score analyzers, and podcasts.
Grants are available through AS and EOP to help cover the cost of graduate preparatory exams like LSAT and application fees.
There is no doubt that GPA can be one of the most distressing aspects of applying to law school. It is important to note that your law school GPA may look different than what you see on your UCSB transcript to ensure that admissions officers are seeing grades in a standardized way.
If your GPA is under par for whatever reason, consider these tips to make up for it and help you application stand out in other manners.
- Determine which schools will look at your application with a more holistic approach by attending law school forums, talking to admissions representatives, and recent graduates.
- Utilize the addendum section in your law school application to explain if your low GPA was caused by something specific, such as a rough transition to college, family problems, or a difficult major. An important aspect of the addendum is to show how you overcame your situation.
- Score an advanced LSAT score to compensate for your low GPA.
- Ensure that your other law school documents are great. Providing a great resume, personal statement, and letters of recommendation will allow the admissions committee to see past your grades.
- Take a year off so that law school admissions officers can see your senior or 5th year grades, assuming they show a progression of increasingly stronger academic performance.
- Seek experiences to boost your resume and demonstrate your dedication to law school, including legal internships and leadership positions.
- Ensure you have a letter of recommendation that speaks about your academic ability and contributions to your field of study.
Law School Addendum
In your law school application, you will be given the chance to write an addendum, or a short essay to explain a weakness in your application. There are a number of reasons why a law school applicant may write an addendum:
- Low grades
- Low LSAT score
- Withdrawal from classes
- Leave of absence in college
- Academic misconduct
- Disciplinary action in college
- Criminal record
According to “The No B.S. Guide to the Law School Addendum,” the question to ask when deciding whether to write an addendum is: “Are there unforeseen events causing or contributing to an issue?” For example, if you faced a crisis personally or with your family that caused a dip in grades, a withdrawal or leave of absence, an addendum would be useful. If your transcript shows that your first year GPA was hit hard by science classes but improved greatly once you changed majors, an addendum is not necessary. When explaining your situation, Peg Cheng suggests using the following outline to stay concise and clear:
- Introduction: establish happened utilizing facts, including dates.
- Body: elaborate on what happened, including the cause, what you learned, and how you have changed since the experience. Taking responsibility for the event can be an important aspect of showing how you have grown.
- Conclusion: Close with a positive note of the experience.
Although an addendum is not warranted in all situations, events related to your “character and fitness” section (the academic and non-academic disciplinary and criminal record, are essential to disclose. Minor problems that you faced as an undergraduate will not keep you out of law school, but a failure to mention these could cause problems down the road.
Letters of Recommendation
According to the Law School Admission Council (LSAC), “the most effective letters of recommendation are written by professors or work supervisors who know you well enough to describe your academic, personal, or professional achievements and potential with candor, detail, and objectivity. Letters that compare you to your academic peers are often the most useful. Most schools do not consider general, unreservedly praiseworthy letters helpful.”
Although letters of recommendation vary minimally across different graduate and professional school programs, there are law-oriented points to consider:
Most law schools will ask for a minimum of two letters of recommendation. Ideally, the majority of your letters will be written by individuals you know from academia. Keep in mind that the quality of the letter supersedes the academic title of the person writing it. If you had a great academic relationship with a TA, and they can speak to your academic potential in a meaningful way, do not hesitate to ask them. If you have been out of school for awhile, or wish to supplement your academic letter with a supervisor’s letter, take a look at this article from National Jurist. Make sure that the recommender feels like they know you well enough to write a letter with content about your intellectual abilities and potential to study law. Providing examples of your qualities in the letter is key.
Some letter writers will want to see your transcript, resume, bullet pointed list of the work you did in class, and/or a draft of personal statement for their letter writing task, so be sure to have those available.
The Credential Assembly Service (CAS) is the aspect of LSAC that stores your law school documents, transcripts, letters of recommendation, and other documents needed for your application. If you are still an undergraduate student, and intend to take time off before law school, consider asking recommenders now, while you are fresh in their memory. CAS allows storage of law school documents for 5 years for a fee, but you can also utilize other services, like Interfolio.
The personal statement for law school helps admissions committees see you as a whole person, with more depth than one can interpret from your GPA and LSAT alone. According to the LSAC website, “Law schools want to recruit people who are qualified for reasons beyond grades and scores. The essay or personal statement is your opportunity to tell the committee what sets you apart from others.”
There is no prescription or formula of what you should write about for your law school personal statement. If there is a prompt, make sure you are adhering to it, as well as abiding by the word count, font, and line spacing requirements. Here are some additional guidelines to follow when writing your content.
- Be authentic to yourself and your story by writing in the first person.
- Focus on one theme, complete with an introduction, body, and conclusion.
- Keep your statement interesting, but writing about something off-the-wall or getting too quirky might not have the desired effect.
- Stay positive in your statement; focus on how you have overcome obstacles and the value and meaning behind them.
- Use the addendum to explain something on your application which may be interpreted negatively (such as low grades or LSAT score).
- Creating a summary of your resume.
- Focusing on your love of arguing.
- Focusing on anyone other than yourself.
- Only focusing on your desire to go to law school.
Admissions committees read your personal statement in addition to hundreds more. Avoid using slang and other informal words, , but know that writing a dense academic paper which is too formal is not ideal either. This is because you still want your voice to be heard in your writing. Find a balance to tell your story in an interesting and captivating way. Here are additional tips to consider in your writing style:
- Avoid using cliches or quotes and instead focus on your own, authentic words.
- Proofread! Errors, including grammar, punctuation, or inaccurate information in a personal statement will not be overlooked.
- Ask for feedback, early and often, from people you trust to give you constructive advice. Career Services’ Pre-Law Career Counselor and UCSB’s Pre-Law Academic Advisors are available to provide critiques for personal statements, addendums, and diversity statements.
Law School Resume
After creating a traditional resume, consider variations to adapt it to your law school application, as the styles will vary for your law school resume.
- Feel free to use more than one page to showcase all of your experience.
- Do not write an objective or skills section on a law school resume.
- Keep your resume conservative in terms of style, font, and graphics. The more straightforward it is, the more the reader will take the time to review.
Deciding Where to Apply
With over 200 ABA-accredited law schools in the country, determining where to apply and how many applications to send can be a big decision. Some students apply to only one school while others apply to several. There are many factors to consider when you decide what works best for you. LSAC provides a thorough page called “The Best Law School for You,” which encourages potential applicants to evaluate what they need, and then find schools that align with those needs. Additionally, the National Association for Law Placement provides information regarding bar passage and employment rates. Although schools may look beyond just your numbers, there are tools to compare your GPA and LSAT scores against what schools are commonly admitting in order for you to remain realistic about your chances.
After researching, one general rule is to apply to a few safe schools, a few realistic schools, and a few dream schools. You should be willing to attend all of the law schools you apply to.
With law schools all over the U.S., you might be tempted to apply anywhere you can get in. However, consider that the geography of the law school you attend could play a significant role in your future as a lawyer. Because most law schools have close connections with local law firms, many of your clerkships, internships, externships, and clinics will be based in the town or state where you are attending school. Consequently, the best offers after law school often come from firms located near the school you attended. Consider what it might look like to live in the geographic area of your law school for 3-5 years until you build experience that can take you elsewhere.
Financing Law School
One of the reasons that making the decision to go to law school is such a big one is the financial commitment. The best resources for discovering ways to pay for law school are:
- Each individual law school’s website (specifically their financial aid page)
- LSAC’s website gives details about eligibility, financial aid options, applying for aid, law school scholarships, and student loan/debt resources
- AccessLex Institute provides thorough information about the cost of law school and how to pay for it
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