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Legal Education In The US

There is no undergraduate law degree in the United States; thus, students cannot expect to study law without first completing an undergraduate degree. Basic admissions requirements for American law schools are a Bachelor’s degree in any field and the Law School Admissions Test (LSAT). The American law degree is called the Juris Doctor (JD) and usually requires three years of study. The JD program involves courses in American common and statute law as well as international and business law.

Overseas students who are considering an American JD should note that this program focuses on preparation for US legal ractice. Undergraduate Preparation for Law School No particular subject or major field of study is required at the undergraduate level. Law schools are concerned that applicants have taken courses which develop communication and analytical skills, and that they have exposed themselves to a variety of disciplines.

The Prelaw Handbook (Association of American Law Schools) suggests students study some or most of the following fields but stresses that “well-developed academic ability” is preferable to intense specialization in any one field: economics, social sciences (sociology, sychology, anthropology, political science), computers, accounting, and the sciences. Most pre-law students earn their undergraduate degrees in one of the social sciences, rounding out their general preparation with courses from other disciplines.

All these subjects may be studied at virtually any university. Law schools in the US do not require that students complete their Bachelor’s degree in America, but because of fierce competition for places in law schools, few students are accepted from overseas universities. At the beginning of the final year of undergraduate study, JD applicants should take the LSAT. No knowledge of law is needed to do well on this exam; it is a standardized test of academic aptitude in the areas of reading comprehension and analytical and logical reasoning.

Legal Education Students thinking of law study soon discover that the programs of most law schools have a great deal in common. The choice of one school over another is not easily made on the basis of catalog descriptions of the teaching methods, course offerings, and formal requirements. The similarity is natural, since most American law schools share the aim of educating lawyers for careers that may ake many paths and that will frequently not be limited to any particular state or region.

Although many lawyers eventually find themselves practicing within some special branch of the law, American legal education is still fundamentally an education for generalists. It emphasizes the acquisition of broad and basic knowledge of law, understanding of the functioning of the legal system, and development of analytical abilities of a high order. This common emphasis reflects the conviction that such an education is the best kind of preparation for the diverse roles that law school graduates occupy in American life and for he changing nature of the problems any individual lawyer is likely to encounter over a long career.

Within this tradition some schools combine an emphasis on technical legal knowledge and professional skills with a concern for illuminating the connections between law and the social forces with which it interacts. To promote the first, schools provide students with opportunities for the application of formal knowledge to specific professional tasks, such as intensive instruction in legal research and writing during the first year, clinical education, and courses or seminars focusing on concrete problems of ounseling, drafting, and litigation.

The second concern is reflected in curricular offerings that devote substantial attention to relevant aspects of economics, legal history, philosophy, comparative law, psychiatry, statistics, and other disciplines. Almost all law schools offer students the opportunity to work on law reviews that are published by them but are student run and edited. The law reviews, of varying quality and influence, publish scholarly work as well as work done by law students. Most schools have a moot court program that uses simulated cases for training in brief writing and advocacy.

Prudent applicants should consider the quality of a school’s faculty and student body and how a school’s view of legal education and its course offerings relate to their own interests and future plans (as to course offerings, more is not necessarily better). Also important are: the character of the school, formal and informal opportunities for joint degrees if the law school is part of a university, library facilities, and placement record. All of these elements, in addition to individual preferences, should be carefully weighed, but no single factor should ever be considered decisive.

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