Law School Admissions – Are You Smart Enough?
The law school admission process is involved. Your undergraduate GPA, LSAT score, letters of recommendation and more come into play as part of your application package. One implicit law school requirement is that you be smart and, indeed, law students tend to be among the brightest of the bunch. Of all professions, few outside of academia require so much academic preparation and attract such able minds.
So, it’s reasonable to ask when you are considering legal study whether or not you can make the grade. In fact, many readers of my blog have asked at exact question: Am I smart enough for law school? So let’s spend some time considering the question and asking whether or not it is the right question in the first place.
Do law schools care if you are smart? Not really. Admissions officers do care about your undergraduate GPA and your LSAT scores, which themselves could be considered as indicators of brainpower. But what the schools actually care about is how your numbers function as predictors of success in their institution. For example, the admissions office at Stanford Law School knows that applicants who score in the 97th percentile or higher on the LSAT will have the greatest odds of succeeding in their classes at Stanford and getting good jobs when they graduate. Schools also care about these numbers from a competitive perspective — Stanford knows that they don’t have to accept anyone but the “best”, to the degree that is measurable by your application materials.
But I think it is a mistake to assume that this numbers game — which really focuses on predictors of success and competitiveness — tells the whole story about how smart you have to be for law. The question isn’t necessarily how smart, but what kind of smart you need to be for the study of law.
Law school actually rewards certain kinds of smarts and not others. What kind of smart matters in your legal education? In general, analytic smarts are far more important than intellectual smarts. A mind that is skilled in analysis is good at slicing and dicing problems — breaking problems down into pieces that can have rules or arguments applied to them (see my article on law school preparation for the reasoning skills commonly applied in law school).
Intellectual smarts, by contrast, are used for applying philosophical frameworks or historical perspectives to circumstances. Intellectuals might be interested in looking at problems from a higher level or synthesizing meaning out of the written word or cultural phenomena. It may be an over-generalization, but it’s fair to say that there is almost no room for this kind of smarts in legal study. Instead, law school involves taking certain formulas for argumentation and learning how to apply them in a variety of circumstances. Analytic smarts will get you far in your law classes, while intellectual smarts are viewed as “soft” skills.
So, then, does someone have to be great at analyzing problems in order to succeed in the legal education? The law school admissions process sorts this out for you. The LSAT, love it or hate it, is filled with puzzles that try to determine your innate analytic capabilities. And, of course, it also tests how thoroughly you prepared to take the test in the first place. It’s certain that knowing how to prepare for the LSAT will help you succeed while studying law. Practicing for the LSAT is a great test of your tenacity and ability to study. It’s equally certain that LSAT puzzles reveal a certain kind of analytic ability.
But here’s the key: There is a law school for every LSAT score. Whatever your LSAT score, there is some school out there that will accept you and they will do so because people with your LSAT/GPA profile tend to succeed at their school. You might not get into Harvard/Stanford/Yale, but there will be some school that will find your scores competitive. (The ranking of law schools and how this relates to your career interests exceeds the scope of this article.)
So, let’s regroup. Instead of asking “Am I smart enough for law school?”, ask yourself whether you have demonstrated skills in analytical thinking (either in school or on your job) and whether your LSAT score and GPA will get you into the school of your choice. If you are passionate about studying law, the law school admissions process will actually give you a good sense of how far you can go with the scores you bring to the table.
If you think you have the smarts, but are still wondering if you should go to law school, you are not alone. Before you take on the law school admissions process with all its requirements and fees, it’s important to ask with a clear mind and heart: is law school right for me?