Most law schools require a bachelor’s degree, and those are the law schools that provide the Juris Doctor degree needed to take a state’s bar exam and receive a license to practice law. However, law schools do not require a specific major, such as prelaw, for admission. Choosing an undergraduate major to prepare for law school depends less on prerequisites and more on your particular goals and interests as a student and prospective lawyer.
Prelaw and Criminal Justice
An undergraduate degree in criminal justice or prelaw can prepare a student for the practical effects and implications of the legal system. Prelaw degrees, which focus exclusively on law school requirements and preparation, are uncommon but are still offered by some schools, such as Washington State University. Schools that do not offer prelaw majors may still have prelaw advising centers, which help you gear your electives and other studies around admission to law school. Even if you do not major in criminal justice, for example, use your school program’s advising as a tool to see which courses within such a major may appeal to you.
An English degree requires a large focus on critical reading and writing skills, which the American Bar Association lists as two of the core values needed before beginning education at a law school. The general nature of an English degree in relation to specific fields of law can allow a student to be flexible when transitioning from undergraduate to law school work, freeing him to choose a career based on his law school experience instead of feeling locked in by his undergraduate academic career, as criminal justice majors might feel compelled to choose criminal law.
Philosophy majors receive training in critical thinking, logic and problem-solving skills. Lawyers use these skills to craft or refute legal arguments and to understand and use case studies as evidence. A philosophy degree also demands a high quantity of critical reading across various texts, and critical reading and understanding is a large component of a law school workload.
Economics courses can prepare students for the business aspects of a law firm and provide marketing skills that lead to greater visibility and networking as a lawyer. Economics majors may also have a salary advantage in their future careers. A 2003 study published in the “Journal of Economic Education” found that lawyers who studied economics as undergraduates earned higher salaries than other lawyers. Accounting or business majors may receive similar training and specialized knowledge that can help in certain fields of law; for example, a student passionate about her accounting undergraduate studies may flourish as a tax lawyer.
According to the 2003 study in the “Journal of Economic Education,” with the exception of economics, the chosen field of undergraduate studies had little effect on lawyer salary rankings. The ABA recommends no specific majors or courses for undergraduates; instead, it recommends following your interests across a broad range of challenging courses, which will best develop the various skills required to become a lawyer.