A look inside the demands of law school
May 24, 2011
I started law school in 1981. My older son will begin this fall. What is required first, to be accepted to law school and, once accepted, to become a lawyer?Pre-law requirements are surprisingly few. You must have completed your bachelor’s degree and you must have taken the Law School Admission Test, or LSAT. To get into a good school, you must be at or near the top of your undergraduate class and your LSAT scores must be stellar.Colorado only has two law schools, the University of Colorado School of Law on the Boulder campus and the University of Denver Sturm College of Law just south of downtown.To give you an idea of the necessary undergraduate grades and scores required for admission, at the CU School of Law, the median cumulative undergraduate grade point average for the class of 2013 was 3.61 on a 4.0 scale. The median LSAT score was 164 out of possible 180. By comparison, Yale, which again tops this year’s law school rankings had a median GPA of 3.91 of and a median LSAT score of 173 (top 1 percent) for its incoming class.Ranking the schoolsThere are 200 American Bar Association accredited law schools in the United States. There are, in addition, various unaccredited”institutions. Among the accredited schools, there are four tiers are comprised of 50 schools each. CU is a first-tier school. DU is a second. In the current rankings, the CU School of Law is ranked at 38 and the Sturm College of Law is number 77. Law school class sizes vary dramatically from institution to institution and there is, generally, high attrition. Classes may run from, on the low side (such as the University of California, Irvine School of Law) from roughly 60 students per class, to some of the larger schools (the largest is the University of Michigan’s Thomas M. Cooley Law School) which has more than 1,000 students per class. My law school class graduated 306. Law school itself consists of a three-year full-time intensive course of study. Freshmen must concentrate entirely on school and are not permitted to hold jobs. The first year-and-a-half, consists of a core curriculum dictated by the American Bar Association composed of real property law, contracts, torts, constitutional law, civil procedure, criminal procedure, legal research and writing, and ethics. The bulk of these are full-year courses. The fist year-and-a-half sees the highest drop-out/flunk out rate. After the core curriculum is completed, certain electives are available to round out one’s education. Often, law schools offer 150 or more courses, in such varied areas as tax law, intellectual property law, labor law, environmental law and so on. You need 90 credits to graduate with your Juris Doctorate degree.The Socratic methodDuring the course of school, you are – perhaps for the first time – subjected to the Socratic method of teaching (named for the Classical Greek philosopher). In essence, the method is a form of inquiry and debate between individuals with opposing viewpoints based on asking and answering questions to stimulate critical thinking and to illuminate ideas. It is a dialectical, sometimes punishing method, involving an oppositional discussion in which the defense of one point of view is pitted against the defense of another; one participant may lead another to contradict him in some way, strengthening the inquirer’s own point. The law professor’s job is to make you think and to help you learn how to articulate and defend whatever position you have taken.Only later in your practice of law will you learn the importance of the old legal adage that “there are no ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ answers, only arguments and persuasion.” Presuming you have made it through law school and you have earned your law degree, congratulations. But you’re not there yet. Next comes the Bar Exam, which is offered twice a year, and which you must take and pass to become a licensed lawyer. The failure rate is high. In 1984, the year I took the California Bar Exam, only 42 percent of takers passed.But the law is a demanding mistress. In order to maintain your license, you must take a minimum number of accredited continuing legal education courses. In Colorado, licensed attorneys must take at least 45 units of continuing education every three years, at least seven of which must consist of legal ethics. What’s more, you simply must keep up; the law changes – literally – every day.I wish my son – and any other budding young lawyers out there – great good fortune and joy in studying the law and in becoming members of this overly maligned but noble and necessary profession.Rohn K. Robbins is an attorney licensed before the bars of Colorado and California who practices in the Vail Valley. He may be heard on Wednesday nights at 7 p.m. on KZYR radio (97.7 FM) & KBTB (104.7 FM) and seen on ECO TV18 as host of “Community Focus.” Robbins may be reached at 970-926-4461 or email@example.com.