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The Pre-Law Myth

The first and most important issue with which pre-law advisors and students must deal is the concept of a "pre-law major." There is no such thing. Most reputable schools of law neither require nor recommend any particular undergraduate major or any prescribed course of study as preparation for law school. Schools of law encourage undergraduate students to undertake and complete a curriculum characterized by rigorous intellectual training involving relational, syntactical and abstract thinking. In addition, students should be encouraged to pursue a discipline not because it is relevant for law school, but because the student finds the discipline interesting and satisfying. Despite this straightforward and intuitive advice, it is alarming to find a large number of students willing to forego satisfying their natural intellectual inclination to pursue a major in which they have only a marginal or no interest simply because it "seems" like a good pre-law major. Pre-law advisors would accomplish much if they make this important point to the thousands of undergraduate students who cling tenaciously to the "myth of the pre-law major."


Curricular Breadth

A second and equally important point that all pre-law advisors must emphasize is the importance of breadth in the undergraduate curriculum. Specifically, despite whatever major is chosen by each law school aspirant, those students must also maintain diversity in their curricular choices. The reasons are obvious. By maintaining breadth, the student becomes an educated person who learns "how to learn" for a lifetime. The student gains exposure to a variety of disciplines throughout the undergraduate career, a useful exercise as the student either solidifies the choice of law school or dismisses law school in favor of another discipline to which the student gained exposure by maintaining curricular breadth.

But curricular breadth requires further definition, and the Harvard University core curriculum is a useful model. In selecting university courses, pre-law students must choose courses in which they: 1) learn to think and write clearly and effectively; 2) achieve depth in one or more fields of knowledge; 3) develop a critical appreciation of the ways in which we gain and apply knowledge in the areas of literature, the arts, history, social science, mathematics, and the physical and biological sciences; 4) develop an understanding of the moral and ethical problems of our time; and 5) develop an appreciation of other cultures and other times.


Communication Skills

The third component of effective pre-law advising involves instilling in each law school aspirant an appreciation for the importance of communication skills. Although these skills have been mentioned earlier, they bear repeating, particularly for those students interested in law school. Whatever else law involves, it involves sophisticated communication. Although higher education and most of the professions have entered the computer age, the tools of the lawyer are still the written and spoken word. It is, therefore, impossible to overemphasize the importance of developing verbal and written fluency. Those unable to use the language well are generally perceived as unable to think well. Pre-law advisors must emphasize language skills as they help shape their students' curricula. The student who fails to learn to communicate is basically disenfranchised from meaningful participation in the legal or any other profession.

Although somewhat simplistic in nature, the three broad components identified here can form the triptych of a core of pre-law advice that will be relevant more or less for most students. Pre-law advisors must use their positions to help students make the appropriate choices for effective law school preparation. Despite the inherent diversity in the background of pre-law advisors, they can, as a group, begin for the first time to advance a common message. What really matters is that the undergraduate student pursue his or her natural interests unfettered by advice on what major is appropriate for law school, that the student achieve breadth in the curriculum so that he or she gets not only a diploma but an education, and above all, that the student learn to communicate. Only when a student achieves these goals is he or she truly ready to make the discriminating legal, ethical and moral choices required by the legal profession.