Unlike some other professional programs, law schools do not require or recommend a specific program of study or specific coursework. Instead, the Law School Admissions Council advises students who are interested in the legal profession to pursue undergraduate education that demonstrates success in intellectually challenging curricula that enhance students’ critical thinking skills.
The ESF pre-law program helps students understand the opportunities in environmental law and develop a law school application package that demonstrates to law schools their true potential. The program is based primarily on individual pre-law advising between the student and Dr. Tristan Brown, ESF’s Pre-law advisor.
This website is designed to provide ESF students with some of the information they need to know to attend law school.
If you are an ESF student interested in law school, you need to know that the ESF Pre-law program is based upon students’ academic progress. As students progress through their ESF careers, the intensity of the program increases and students have more responsibilities. The following links give you information on the Prelaw Program and lists of tasks that you need to complete each year:
Pre-law advising for Freshman and Sophomores focuses on environmental law career opportunities and emphasizes the importance of excelling at ESF. Much of this advising occurs in a regularly scheduled Pre-law meeting each semester. While you are encouraged to meet with ESF’s Pre-law advisor, Dr. Tristan Brown, each semester, the most important thing that you can do to prepare for law school is to concentrate on your courses and excel in all of them.
Tasks for Freshmen and Sophomores:
- Strive for at least a 3.0 GPA by the end of your Sophomore year.
- Contact the ESF Pre-law advisor and introduce yourself.
Pre-law advising for Juniors is designed to allow you to evaluate the appropriateness of an environmental law career and to prepare you for the intensity of the law school application process students will experience during the fall semester of their Senior year. Pre-law events sponsored by the ESF Pre-law program and the Syracuse University Pre-law program during the Spring semester introduce you to the law school application process and the Law School Admission Test (LSAT).
You should contact the Law School Admission Council (LSAC) and register for the LSAT in July or August (before your Senior year). ESF students who register for the LSAT in September of their Senior year often have to travel to Colgate, Hamilton, or Cornell Universities to take the examination.
You should start preparing for the LSAT the first week of August (before your Senior year) – either by taking a preparation course offered by Kaplan, Princeton Review, etc., or studying on their own by purchasing LSAT Study Guides available through Barnes and Noble, Borders, Amazon.com, etc.
Tasks for Juniors:
- You should strive for at least a 3.2 GPA at the end of your Junior year. Note: Very few law schools will admit students that do not have at least a 3.0 GPA at the end of their Junior year.
- If you have not done so, contact ESF’s Pre-law advisor, Dr. Tristan Brown and introduce yourself.
- Attend ESF Pre-law and Syracuse University Pre-law events, especially those that describe the law school application process.
- Contact the Law School Admission Council (LSAC) and register for the Law School Admission Test (LSAT).
- In August between your Junior and Senior years, begin studying for the LSAT.
Many seniors put in two to three hours a night during the fall semester on the law school application process – the equivalent of a three credit class. If possible, you should lighten your course work load during the fall semester.
The LSAT is administered the first weekend in October and December of each year, but if at all possible, you should take the October test because that will ensure that law schools receive your LSAT scores by December 1 (see below). From August until the first week in October, you should prepare for the LSAT by studying two hours every night.
During this time, you should narrow your list of potential law schools to 8 to 15 schools. After taking the LSAT, you should decide on 2-3 “Long-shot,” 3-5 “Competitive,” and 3-4 “Safety,” law schools you are going to apply to. Since the number of applicants applying to law school has substantially increased for the past few years and competition for law school admission is increasing, you should not overestimate your chances of admission to particular law schools. ESF’s Pre-law advisor, Dr. Tristan Brown, can help you realistically determine your chances for admission to most law schools.
In addition to completing the application itself, law schools will require you to submit a personal statement and at least two letters of recommendation. Almost all students underestimate how long it will take to complete the personal statement and secure the letters of recommendation from their references. By October 15, you should: 1) begin to fill out your applications, 2) ask your references for a letter of recommendation, and 3) begin your personal statements.
Law schools should receive your application by December 1st – the day most law schools begin to select applicants for admission. You will substantially decrease your chances for admission to a law school if your application is received after December 1.
Tasks for Seniors during the Fall Semester:
- If you have not done so, contact the Law School Admission Council (LSAC) and register for the Law School Admission Test (LSAT).
- August and September, study for the LSAT.
- August and September, narrow your list of potential law schools to 8 to 15 schools.
- August and September, narrow your list of potential references.
- First weekend in October, take the LSAT.
- October and November, determine your 2-3 “Long-shot,” 3-5 “Competitive”, and 3-4 “Safety,” law schools to apply to.
- October and November, fill out law school applications.
- October and November, ask your references for a letter of recommendation.
- October and November, complete your personal statements.
- By last week in November, complete and mail all your law school applications
If you have submitted your applications by December 1, you should begin to hear from law schools in February or March. After accepting you (but often before you accept a school’s offer of admission), law schools will mail you information on financial aid and other items. You should complete any forms you receive from law schools as soon as possible. You should complete the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) on the Web early in the Spring Semester.
By May 1, you must decide on where you will attend law school – the traditional deadline most law schools use for students to accept their offer of admission.
During the first week in May, students who will be attending law school in September and ESF’s Pre-law advisor, Dr. Tristan Brown, meet for dinner to discuss the first year of law school and how to prepare for your first year of law school.
Tasks for Seniors during the Spring Semester:
- Complete all forms students receive from law schools.
- January and February, complete your FAFSA.
- Inform ESF’s Pre-law advisor, Dr. Tristan Brown, which law schools have offered you admission and which have denied you admission.
- By May 1, you must decide which law school you will attend.
- First week in May, join ESF’s Pre-law advisor for dinner to discuss your future as a law student.
Law School Admissions
Law School Enrollment and Student Bodies
The academic qualifications of a law school’s student body are important to consider. You should select a law school where your classmates will challenge you and a school where your grade point average (GPA) is similar to your fellow law students. This is especially true if you have a high GPA, since you would do well at any law school. Your legal education may not be as rewarding as it could be, if your classmates do not challenge you.
You should also consider the diversity of the student body. Are a majority of the students the same age, race, sex, etc.? Remember, differences among students expose you to various points of view – an important aspect of legal education. Class size is also important. Much of the learning in law school depends on the quality of the class discussion. Small classes provide essential interaction; large classes and the Socratic method provide diversity, challenge, and a good mix of reaction, opinions, and criticism.
Your Academic Record
Undergraduate performance is an important indicator of how a student is likely to perform in law school. Law schools look closely at college grades when considering individual applications. Course selections also can make a difference in admissions evaluations. Applicants who have taken difficult or advanced courses in their undergraduate studies often are evaluated in a more favorable light than students who have concentrated on easier or less advanced subjects.
Many law schools consider undergraduate performance trends along with a student’s GPA. They may discount a slow start in a student’s undergraduate career if the student performed exceptionally well in later years. Similarly, law school admissions committees may see a strong start in the Freshmen and Sophomore years followed by a mediocre finish as an indication of less potential to do well in law school. You should comment on irregular grade trends in your personal statement.
The Law School Admission Test
The Law School Admissions Test (LSAT) is a half-day standardized test required for admission to all law schools that are members of the Law School Admissions Council (LSAC). It provides a standard measure of reading and verbal reasoning skills that law schools use as one of several factors in assessing applicants. The test is administered four times a year at hundreds of locations, including Syracuse, New York.
The LSAT consists of five 35-minute sections of multiple-choice questions, in three different formats. A 30-minute writing sample is administered at the end of the test. Four of the five sections contribute to your score. The fifth section typically is used to pretest new test items. The writing sample is not scored: copies of it are sent to the law schools.
Some law schools place greater weight than others on the LSAT. A low LSAT score will hamper your chances for admission, particularly at the most competitive schools. However, most law schools make a genuine effort to evaluate all your credentials. There is a registration fee for the LSAT, but it can be waived for qualified applicants. Information on the LSAT and fee waivers is available from ESF’s Pre-law advisor, Dr. Tristan Brown, and from the LSAC.
The LSAC’s Law School Data Assembly Service
Almost all ABA-approved law schools require applicants to use the Law School Data Assembly Service (LSDAS). Law schools will not accept materials that are not processed by the LSDAS, so you must use (and pay for) this service.
The LSDAS prepares and provides a Law School Applicant Report for law schools. The report contains information that law schools use to make a decision on your application.
Information contained in the report includes:
- Your undergraduate academic summary,
- Copies of all your undergraduate, graduate, and law school/professional transcripts,
- Your LSAT scores and writing sample copies, and
- Copies of your letters of recommendation, which your references mail directly to the LSAC.
You can get more information on the LSDAS from the LSAC.
Law School Information
Law School Locator
The Boston College Law School Locator lists the 25th to 75th percentile LSAT scores and GPA ranges of first year classes at accredited law schools. This means that half of a law school’s entering class scored in the range indicated.
The Locator can help you identify schools where your LSAT scores and grades are most competitive for admission and help you gauge your chance of admission at a particular school. The chart is useful in evaluating law school choices but cannot determine where you should or should not apply. The law schools are placed in cells on the chart according to their 25th percentile scores.
All schools accept applicants with marks above and below these scores. The ranges give an idea of the quantitative criteria expected. In selecting schools, you should choose some law schools where your GPA and LSAT scores make you competitive and consider some “safe” schools and “long-shot” schools.
Competitive Schools : Each cell in the Law School Locator represents a specific range of LSAT and GPA scores. You can find your “competitive” law schools by locating the cells where your scores are in the top half of the range. Your statistical chance of admission at these schools is roughly fifty-fifty based on the numbers alone. Your personal statement, letters of reference, and other qualitative credentials are very important in determining admission to these schools.
Long Shots : The cells above and to the right of this competitive area represent “long-shot” schools. You should apply to some long-shot schools if there are one or two that you truly want to attend for very specific reasons. You must provide a clear reason for these schools to accept you and explain the special programs that interest you, your unusual experiences, or other personal characteristics that make you an attractive candidate for each school.
Safety Schools : In the cells below and to the left of your competitive area, you will find schools that you can consider “safe bets” on the basis of their numbers alone. However, even the highest scores do not guarantee admission. Pay close attention to presentation and qualitative aspects of your application even at schools considered “safe.”
Law School tuition ranges from a few thousand dollars a year to more than $35,000 per year. After adding in housing, food, books, and personal expenses, a three year law school education can exceed $125,000.
The first step in applying for financial aid for law school is to complete the free Application: Federal Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA), and available from ESF’s Office of Financial Aid. Applicants can also apply for need-based and merit-based scholarships, grants, and fellowships. However, their availability is quite limited, and they are usually awarded by law schools. Individual law school’s financial aid offices can provide you with more information. Federal Work-Study programs also provide funding for students to work part-time during the school year and full-time during summer months. Education loans may be awarded directly by the school or through other private agencies. The largest student loan program is funded or guaranteed by the federal government.
Law School Curriculum
The range and quality of academic programs is one of the most important factors to consider when you choose a law school. Almost all law schools follow the traditional first-year core curricula of civil procedure, contracts, Constitutional law, criminal law, property, and torts. If you are interested in environmental law, you need a thorough grounding in basic legal theory (civil procedure, contracts, Constitutional law, criminal law, property, and torts) so that you can apply the principles from these courses to environmental law.
Here are some books that past ESF students have recommended on the LSAT:
- Kaplan LSAT With CD-ROM by Simon and Schuster,
- Kaplan LSAT 180 by Simon and Schuster, and
- The Princeton Review Cracking the LSAT by Robinson and Blemel.
Here are some books that past ESF students have recommended on how to choose a law school:
- How to Get Into The Top Law Schools by Richard Montauk,
- The Princeton Review Complete Book of Law Schools by Eric Owens,
- The ABA/LSAC Official Guide to ABA-Approved Law Schools, by the LSAC and ABA,
- Inside the Law Schools: A Guide by Students for Students, edited by Carol-June Cassidy with S.F. Goldfarb.
Many of these books come out every year, so you should make sure you purchase the most recent editions. You can purchase them at Barnes and Noble, Borders Books, Amazon.com, etc.
In addition to these books, past ESF students have highly recommended the following article:
- "Advice for Getting into Law School," by Daniello Pinello. This article summarizes a discussion on Pre-law advising held on the American Political Science Association's Law and Courts listserv in 2003.
- "If Only I had Known Then..." by Elaine Bourne. Written by the Director of Career Services at Boston University School of Law.
Dr. Tristan Brown
Tristan Brown, J.D., Ph.D. is an assistant professor in the Department of Forest and Natural Resources at SUNY-ESF. He has a B.A. in Political Science from the University of Iowa, a J.D. from the University of Missouri-Columbia, and a Ph.D. in Biorenewable Resources and Technology from Iowa State University. Professor Brown has also been a member of the Missouri Bar since 2009. More information on his teaching, research, and service activities are available at his website.
If you have questions about the program or would like to discuss how it can help you reach your environmental law career goals, you can contact Professor Brown at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Other Pre-law Internet Resources
- Internet Legal Resource Guide's Pre-Law Student Services: contains a comprehensive listing of links to relevant information for students considering law school. This is a great site that discusses every aspect of the application process.
Amanda Knapp (‘03), Rebecca Salm (‘03), and Eldon Harmon (‘01) provided substantial contributions to this website.