This post comes from our consultant Jenn Kopolow, who served as Associate Director of Admissions at the University of Richmond School of Law and as a legal writing professor before joining the Spivey Consulting Group seven years ago.
Often college students will approach us to ask what they should be doing with their summers if they’re interested in attending law school. Sometimes, they're wondering how they can most effectively prepare themselves for the rigors of law school and the legal profession. Other times, they’re more directly soliciting how they can be a strong applicant for the law school admissions process. Fortunately, the response to either query is chiefly the same—but there is a subtle difference between these two approaches. We’ll discuss that difference in a minute.
If you’re currently in college and want to know how to make the best use of your summers in preparation for attending law school, think about the following:
Explore Your Professional Interests
First, and most critically, consider pursuing your professional interests through work experience. Does your work experience need to be in the legal profession to add value or gravitas to your law school applications? No, and by the same token, simply working in the legal profession (as a legal assistant or paralegal, most commonly) doesn’t necessarily elevate your law school applications beyond what non-legal employment would offer.
This is good news! It means, for example, that your tech internship with ByteDance could be infinitely more personally and professionally rewarding than handling administrative tasks as a legal assistant for your local law firm. Similarly, there are a multitude of ways to obtain the sort of diagnostic skills vital for law school and the practice of law (beyond those overtly associated with the legal profession). Any jobs or internships that build the foundational talents you will be flexing in law school and as a lawyer—think critical reading, researching, writing, and analysis; problem-solving; advocacy; teamwork; innovation; business development; client service; negotiation; and interpersonal communication, among many others—can be incredibly worthwhile pursuits for your personal and professional maturity and goal-setting (not to mention your law school applications). In this spirit, be open-minded and curious about different professional prospects. Laws and regulations are infused into every aspect of our society, so take the time to learn what motivates you in this regard, and what opportunities might foster constructive skills for your future career.
With all of that said, you may still wish to gain direct experience in the legal field, if for no other reason than the eye-opening benefits of learning what daily life is like in any slice of the profession. You may have an idea of what lawyers do each day, but unless you apprentice with one, it can be difficult to appreciate how your conceptions will vary from reality (and they almost certainly will).
At this point, you may be wondering what you can do if you’re unable to secure that coveted ByteDance internship or other professional experience in any given summer. Or, you know that your steady summer gig waiting tables is more immediately necessary to your bank account, which leaves you with precious little time to explore your occupational interests. What then?
Admissions officers understand your predicament. What they hope you will do in that case is find other ways to further your goals. Can you volunteer in your spare time? Can you become active in your community in ways that matter to you and that help others? Remember, you’re looking to enter a service-oriented calling. In the absence of securing skilled summer employment (or in addition to, if possible), showing that you’ve deliberately opted to fill your limited free time with meaningful community engagement can be personally gratifying and boost your strength as a law school applicant.
This brings me to the subtle distinction from this blog’s opening paragraph: approaching your summers from the perspective of preparing for law school and a legal career versus from the perspective of bolstering your law school applications. Happily, as I indicated, the two methods are largely in concert: if you intentionally map out your time to best prepare for law school and the practice of law, you will almost certainly be advancing your resume to position yourself as a strong applicant for law school. The difference, then, is in ensuring you aren’t doing anything just for the resume. The university student who is solely focused on the law school application process might mistakenly embark on as much “activity” as possible in a misguided attempt at self-promotion for their applications. What you need to keep in mind is that your admissions audience is savvy; if your summer employment feels out of step with the rest of your resume, or if your resume is stacked your final year with new clubs and activities, they will sense your attempt to “beef up” your commitments late in the game.
Ideally, you should focus your summers on obtaining professional work experience. Know that working in the legal arena doesn’t inherently make you a stronger applicant for law school, but it can supply personal benefits and allow you to be better informed about what lawyers do. If you don’t have the option or opportunity for professional employment, do what you can with your free time to connect with your community and the legal field. But, please avoid undertaking activities just for your resume.
Beyond exploring your professional interests, volunteer work, and community endeavors, you may be wondering what else you can do to prepare yourself for the demands of law school and a career in law—and, of course, to become the strongest applicant you can be. There’s a lot you can do! As a former law school applicant, law student, judicial clerk, practicing lawyer, and admissions officer, I can assure you that you won’t go wrong spending your time in myriad ways, including:
Engage with People in the Profession
Know any attorneys via family members, friends, friends of friends, or through personal experience? Talk to them about their work—how did they get involved in their particular niche? What do they enjoy or not enjoy about their field? What is a typical day like for them, if such a thing exists?
Or, perhaps you don’t know any attorneys, but your roommate’s best friend’s cousin’s girlfriend is a paralegal at a family law firm. Talk to her about her role. Every person in a law firm or legal organization plays a part that allows that system to function effectively. Support staff are critical components to any such organization; talk to your friends or acquaintances about their experiences. You may learn through a new lens how attorneys rely on a capable team to perform their jobs effectively.
Have friends in law school? Ask them about their experiences, what they’re learning, what their experiential opportunities look like. Get straight accounts of how much reading, note-taking, synthesizing, and analyzing go into each day (it’s more than you think).
Or perhaps you’re a first-generation college student or first-generation law student and you don’t know anyone remotely associated with the legal profession. In that case, you still likely have access to more resources than you may realize that could link you to legal specialists. Many universities have a pre-law advisor and/or a pre-law organization like Phi Alpha Delta. Your professors (particularly in the humanities subjects) may have some contacts in the legal world. You can use these resources to connect to people working in the legal field and to learn about different areas of law.
(Pro tip: Staying on campus this summer? Use this time to get to know your professors better, if they’re around. They can be terrific resources in countless ways, and you will likely be courting at least one academic letter of recommendation down the line.)
Beyond first-hand experience, you can learn about various aspects of the legal profession by surveying those versed in it. Develop resourcefulness in researching your chosen vocation.
Consider How You Will Prepare for the LSAT
For now at least, the vast majority of law school applicants apply with an LSAT score, so it is likely in your best interest to begin thinking about and planning your approach to the test well in advance.
At the outset, it’s important to appreciate that there is no one-size-fits-all approach to preparing for the LSAT. Some may find they’re better suited to disciplined self-study with LSAT books and practice tests; others may prefer the accountability or convenience of a preparatory course; and still others like the one-on-one learning with an LSAT tutor. Now is the time for a detailed self-assessment on how you learn best, and your first stepping stone might be to look back at how you handled the SAT. Did that arrangement—whether self-study, group course, or individual tutoring—work well for you? Do you want to repeat that routine, or try a new structure? It’s not uncommon to combine techniques as well—some elect the advantages of self-study, only to realize they need a more targeted system for dissecting logic games, and thereafter hire a tutor to work principally on that section.
In deliberating what route will be most successful for your learning style, know that there is a plethora of free resources available to you. Notably, the Law School Admission Council (makers of the LSAT) and a number of private outfits offer free guides, practice questions, and practice tests. Further, some preparatory companies provide need-based discounts, so be sure to investigate your options.
Additionally, you’ll want to think about when you want to primarily tackle LSAT preparation. Do you plan to take the LSAT during your senior year in college or the summer before your senior year? If so, you might be eyeing the summer before your junior year to embark on the beginning stages of your LSAT prep—or you may not wish to use your summer for this endeavor at all. Many college students prepare for the LSAT alongside their academic studies during the school year if they plan to attend law school right after college. If, instead, you are planning to take a year or more after college to gain work experience before law school, you may wish to wait until after graduation to begin LSAT preparation.
One additional note—we typically do not recommend taking a full summer (or months off after graduation) to only study for the LSAT. For your personal and professional growth, you should also consider undertaking one or more of the other pursuits mentioned in this blog while you study.
In your undergraduate timeline, contemplate how and when you will prepare for the LSAT. Evaluate how you learn most effectively to resolve how you will prepare. Think about whether you will use a summer for this undertaking, or whether you’ll study for the LSAT during the academic year.
Read. Travel. Pursue Your Passions.
Law schools love active, involved, global citizens. To that end, it’s in your interest both personally and professionally to keep abreast of current events. Read critically and with a flexible mind; cultivating the ability to see all sides of an issue will inform your law school tenure and will make you a better attorney.
My personal bias likely comes into play when I say: travel. Get out in the world (if you can). Travel needn’t be long-term or expensive to be valuable (there are plenty of ways to travel short-term, frugally, and safely). If you’re lucky, you’ll encounter some character-building moments along the way.
Finally, spend time learning more about what makes you, you. Are you a competitive runner? Channel that energy productively into maintaining your healthy routine and reflecting on lessons learned through this pursuit. Ceramics are your passion? Law schools might just want to hear about that opacifier in your personal statement if your story is compelling and cogent. Law schools are genuinely interested in getting to know you. They relish admitting individuals who are interesting and engaged—not just smart. And any admissions officer who has sifted through thousands of personal statements every cycle will tell you: passion tends to leap off the page.
Read analytically. Travel open-mindedly. Investigate and pursue what matters to you. And who knows? You might find yourself better prepared for law school—and a more compelling applicant—if you do.