Many Bowdoin students are interested in justice and advocacy. Some consider law school — but there are other ways to be involved in issue advocacy, without earning a J.D. Consider working for an issue advocacy group, government or politics, human resources, community relations, public affairs or journalism, or compliance, to name a few alternative careers. A legal career can be challenging and rewarding. Nationally, law school graduates on average incur a debt load of $117,000 over their 3 years. This, coupled with the fact that about a quarter of recent law school graduates nationally, did not secure a long-term, full-time job that required they pass the bar (which is what most people attending law school expect to pursue upon graduation), means that all factors, including how to pay for it, should be considered before making this decision.
Applying to Law School
Many students decide to go to law school after Bowdoin. Most choose to take some time off before applying to law schools, but each year some seniors apply and are admitted directly to law school. Both current students and alums can get advice and feedback from the pre-law advisor in Career Exploration and Development.
First & Second Year Students
Concentrate on getting good grades. A high GPA will help you get into law school. You can major in whatever you like — here at Bowdoin, all major choices involve the kind of critical thinking, reading, writing, and analysis that will serve you well in law school. Bowdoin students from every major have succeeded in law school applications. Your choice of extracurricular activities will have little impact on how you are evaluated for law school admission, so allocate your time to those things you care about most, and make sure to leave enough time to give priority to your classes.
It’s time to think a little bit about the LSAT. The LSAT is a standardized test offered four times a year (six times a year beginning in 2018). Besides your GPA, your LSAT score is the biggest factor most law schools will consider when they evaluate your application. Register with LSAC.org if you haven’t already, and block out some time to take a practice test. Knowing what the test is like will give you a benchmark for thinking about how you want to study and prepare yourself for it. You should prepare carefully and thoroughly, so you only have to take the LSAT once, and so you get as high a score as possible. Each point can make a difference, and the test rewards practice. Especially if you are studying abroad in the spring, come in to Career Exploration and Development and we’ll help figure out a good LSAT strategy for you. To get a sense of your preparation options, block an hour of time and carefully read the comments on this thread. The range of methods you’ll read about will give you some useful ideas about how you might choose to prepare for the test. Law schools vary in how they review and consider multiple LSAT scores. Most will consider only the highest score, while others will review all scores and use an average score when they consider your application.
Another thing to keep in mind junior year is which professors you might ask to write your recommendation letters in the fall. Law schools want to hear from people who can testify to your academic talent and your performance in the classroom. It does not matter which academic department a professor is in or how distinguished her publication record; rather, you should choose faculty who know you well and in whose classes you have shown discipline and promise. A benefit of being at a small school like Bowdoin is that you have the chance to know and talk with professors during and outside of classes; don’t be shy about building these relationships.
If you intend to attend law school directly after Bowdoin, you’ve either taken the June LSAT, or you’ve been studying all summer and are getting ready for the fall LSAT. If you have not already done so, register for the Credential Assembly Service, which will compile all of your materials and will be the means by which you submit your applications to law schools.
Because most law schools have a rolling admissions process, there’s an advantage to submitting your applications early — we recommend applying around Thanksgiving.
If you intend to take time off after Bowdoin
If you think you’ll apply to law school later in life, consider asking for letters of recommendation now, while your professors are most connected to you and your work. You may also wish to think about studying for and taking the LSAT now, while you are in the rhythm of studying for and taking exams, and have fellow students working toward the same goal. Your LSAT score will be good for 5 years, although most schools prefer scores that have been earned within the 3 years of your application. Many, but certainly not all, Bowdoin students considering law as a career investigate work as a paralegal.
Salary for legal professionals varies widely depending on role, education level, and location. Here is a sample of 2016 median salaries from the Occupational Outlook Handbook published by the Bureau of Labor:
- Arbitrator/Mediator: $59,770
- Court Reporter: $51,320
- Judge (advanced degree): $109,940
- Lawyer (advanced degree): $118,160
Because median salaries can be so misleading, a better approach to considering what you might earn in the early years as a lawyer can be found here, via the National Association of Legal Professionals.
Organizations and Alumni
There are hundreds of Bowdoin alums at law schools, working as attorneys, and who have chosen not to practice law after earning their J.D. Career Exploration and Development can help you meet and talk to some to learn whether law is right for you.