Getting In to Law School: Dublin High School’s Kirsten Johansson University of Texas Law School
Ever since high school, I knew I wanted to be a lawyer. For a while I didn’t know what type of law I wanted to practice, although I was drawn to criminal law from the crime TV shows I loved. Around my junior year in Dublin High School, I become very interested in environmental law and I have continued down this path ever since. My law school experience has consisted of two parts – getting in and my experience as an actual law student.
The first part of making my dreams of going to law school a reality sounded simply enough; I had to get in. When I was choosing a college, I chose the one that gave me the most opportunities for extracurricular activities and an excellent pre-law program. For me, this college was Southern Methodist University in Dallas. I learned later on that having a “pre-law” program is far from necessary for law school, but having this program made me feel more comfortable.
When choosing a major, most pre-law students decide to pursue a political science degree. If you love political science, I think this is a good option, but overall I think having a broader range of knowledge is useful when applying. I was interested in the environment, and so I double majored in Environmental Studies and Public Policy. This exposed me to both the politics and the science behind environmental law, which I have found very useful. My biggest recommendation to anyone, but especially those planning to go to graduate school, is to take classes you like. Keeping your GPA up is one of the single most important determining factors for getting into law school, and I found I always did better in classes I enjoyed.
The other major component for getting into law school is the LSAT. In some ways, the LSAT is like the SAT in that it is a standardized test that incorporates several sections to give you one score. However, the LSAT is unlike any test you have ever taken before. The three parts include Analytical Reasoning, Logical Reasoning, Reading Comprehension as well as a writing section. In order to prepare, I took an online prep class. Many of my peers took a class that was taught on campus, but I liked the flexibility of an online class. I also took a logic course at SMU to help me prepare.
I chose to take my LSAT in June after my junior year. I also took summer school classes to boost my GPA. Many of my peers in law school took a few years off to work, but I knew I wanted to go straight through. Once I had my LSAT and my GPA, all that was left to do was apply and wait. Many schools have a law school councilor who can be extremely helpful in reading over your application and personal statement. Getting in your applications early is extremely advantageous. I finished applying before Halloween and got my first acceptance at the end of November. I chose to apply to 9 schools, which was on the higher side, and heard back from 5 by the end of my winter break. This gave me time to visit the law schools I was considering in the spring of my senior year and make the best decision from there. I chose the University of Texas because of its national reputation, small class size, and opportunities in environmental law including a clinic and a journal.
On my first day of class at UT Law, I had no idea what to expect. In the months before starting law school, everyone started filling me with horror stories about their friends or distant relative’s law school experience. However, I found if you worked hard in undergrad, law school was manageable in the beginning. UT does a lot to make its students comfortable, from creating small mentor groups with an older student to help guide the first years, to social events like our boat cruise in October. I also got involved with a few student organizations, like the environmental law society and the student recruitment committee to help with next year’s incoming class.
No matter where you go, almost every first year takes the same courses: Property, Contracts, Criminal Law, Civil Procedure, Torts, Constitutional Law, and a writing class. In some ways law school is a lot like undergrad, in that you have several different classes each with their own workload. In other ways it was completely different. In undergrad most of the classes were run primarily on a lecture or volunteer basis; in law school “cold-calling” is the norm. This is where a student’s name is picked at random off the seating chart to discuss one of the cases for the day, from the facts to the reasons the court ruled in favor of one side. It is essential to be prepared for every class every day. The other major difference is that your entire grade comes from one test, the final, and the grade is on a curve. Luckily for me, UT has a relatively generous curve; the average grade is a B+. However, everyone in my classes had to be extremely intelligent in order to get into law school, so being graded in comparison to my peers has been intimidating.
Because there is only one exam, studying for law school finals is very different than studying for a test in high school or college. Beginning in November, students start “outlining,” or creating a comprehensive study guide of the entire course. These usually range from thirty to sixty pages, but are a very useful way of studying for the final. At UT, all the past exams are available from the law school, so I took several practice tests with my study group to prepare for the exams. It’s definitely a new way of studying, but I found everyone in my class learned to adapt pretty quickly.
The final major difference from undergrad is that grades can take over a month to be returned. Finals concluded in December, but I will not be getting my grades back until January. Starting December 1, first year law students are allowed to start applying for summer jobs. Almost all law students spend the summer doing legal work, either for a firm, government job, or non-profit organization. Although it seems applying in December is very early for a summer job, it is essential to apply this early as firms begin hiring as early as January.
So far, law school has been a unique experience that was impossible to fully prepare for. There are times when I felt very comfortable with the coursework and times I felt very challenged. People always say law school teaches you to “think like a lawyer,” and although it is difficult to understand until you have gone through law school, it really is true. Law school teaches you not to jump to conclusions and really look at both sides of every argument. Sometimes that is hard, especially in criminal law when something can seem so morally wrong but legally permissible. I can see why law school isn’t for everyone, as it takes academics to a whole new level that can be emotionally and mentally exhausting. Despite the difficulties, I have learned to love the law. Making the decision to come to law school is not one that should be taken lightly, but I think that for anyone who makes the decision to come to law school and is willing to put in the work, it can be an extremely rewarding experience.