The UCLA Career Center offers a variety of opportunities to help students explore a variety of legal careers, and guide them through the application process. Every year, we host the Law JumpStart - a program where students can hear about the admissions process from a panel of law school admissions staff, and a panel of professionals working in a variety of legal careers. We also offer a variety of workshops in our Get JD series, including How to Write an Effective Personal Statement, Preparing For and Applying to Law School, and Researching Your Dream Law School. Individual Pre-law appointments are also available for students of all majors and class years. Explore all of the Career Center’s upcoming events or make a pre-law advising appointment through Handshake.
Law School FAQ’s
What is Law School?
If you want to practice law in the United States, you will—in most cases—need a Juris Doctor (JD) degree. This degree is considered to be a first degree in law, and in most cases, is required for anyone interested in becoming a lawyer in the U.S. or Canada. American Bar Association (ABA)-accredited law schools generally require three years of full-time study to earn a JD degree, and schools with part-time programs usually require four years of part-time study to complete the degree. Graduates must then take and pass the state bar exam to be licensed to practice law in a particular state. The LLM degree is an advanced law certification that has global credibility. A first degree in law is generally required. Other law degree and certificate programs have varying requirements. Some of these programs require a graduate-level law degree for admission. Others may only require a bachelor's degree. Learn more about pathways to legal careers and types of law degrees through the Law School Admissions Council (LSAC) website.
Is Law School for Me?
A law degree can lead to a wide range of legal careers that encompass many aspects of society such as business, government, human and civil rights, international relations, medicine, law enforcement, politics, entertainment, sports, and the arts, as well as jurisprudence and academia. If you have a passion for legal thought, strong oral and written communication skills, and a propensity for drawing thoughtful conclusions by analyzing fine details and complex information, then a legal career may be for you. The possibility of effecting social change, setting legal precedents, and defending basic human rights attracts many who are dedicated to making a positive impact on individuals and society as a whole. However, the cost of attending law school, and the realities of working in the legal profession should be fully explored before making a decision.
How much does law school cost, and what are the realities of employment?
While it may vary, the average total cost of attending law school can be anywhere from $150,000 - $200,000. It is important that you have a financial strategy that includes thinking about your budget while attending law school, repayment options when you graduate, and expected future income. Depending on the type of law practiced and the location, salaries can vary dramatically. An important step in making your decision is to learn about the market for new lawyers. Some questions to consider are:
- What fields of law are currently growing?
- What are the low, median, and high salaries of people in my fields of interest?
- How many new jobs are projected to open in my fields of interest?
Make it a priority to explore the various career options through Vault, the Occupational Outlook Handbook, or U.S. News & World Report. The American Bar Association (ABA) requires accredited law schools to disclose employment statistics for their graduates. The National Association for Law Placement (NALP) publishes law employment statistics.
Which law schools do I apply to?
Applicants sometimes select schools they see as “prestigious” or those that offer a particular program of study or the most financial support. Some applicants may need to stay in a particular area because of family or job obligations. Since the basic curriculum of all law schools is the same, consider a variety of factors to find the right law school for you. The school may be public or private, large or small, faith-related or independent, stand-alone or university-affiliated. The choice of the "right" law school is subjective. When selecting law schools to which you will apply, the general philosophy is that you should have a threefold plan: dream a little, be realistic, and be safe. Most applicants have no trouble selecting dream schools—those that are almost, but not quite, beyond their grasp—or safe schools—those for which admission is virtually certain. A strategic error made by some applicants is failure to evaluate realistically their chances for admission to a particular law school. You can use LSAC’s UGPA and LSAT Score Search to help you assess your chances at participating ABA-approved law schools, but keep in mind that Law Schools also evaluate the qualifications and characteristics of applicants.
Do I need to be in a specific major to apply to law school?
Law schools, unlike some graduate programs, do not require a specific undergraduate course of study. Instead, law schools accept a diverse pool of applicants who major in anything from engineering to political science, to film & television. They do, however, seek applicants that exhibit foundational skills critical to success in law school including:
- Analytic and problem solving skills
- Critical reading abilities
- Writing skills
- Verbal communication and listening abilities
- General research skills
- Task organization and management skills
- Values of serving others and promoting justice
If you are in a major that does not entail much writing, we strongly recommend that you take writing courses as electives. Some classes that are not required, but may help prepare you for law school are:
- English Composition 131A - Law and Politics
- Political Sciences 123 A/B - International Law
- Political Science 145 A-D - Public Law and Judicial Process
- Philosophy 9 - Principles of Critical Thinking
- Philosophy 31 - Logic
What is the difference between binding early decision and non-binding early decision/early action?
Some schools offer binding early decision or non-binding/early action options to applicants. Binding early decision is a binding commitment to a school that if you are accepted, you must attend. Because it is a binding commitment, you can ethically only choose one school for which to apply. On the other hand, non-binding early decision/early action is not a binding commitment. Applicants who apply under non-binding early decision or early action are signaling to a school that they are extremely interested in attending and wish to be considered prior to review of the regular applicant pool; it is non-binding. If you apply for either, you will generally hear back from those schools early in the application cycle. Explore this List of Binding and Non Binding Early Decision/Early Action Law Schools.
Law School Application Overview
The Law School Admissions Council (LSAC)
The Law School Admissions Council (LSAC) is the organization responsible for administering the LSAT and operating the Credential Assembly Service (CAS), a service which compiles your transcripts and LSAT score into a standard report. The first step is to create an LSAC account.
Credential Assembly Service (CAS)
LSAC’s Credential Assembly Service (CAS) simplifies your law school application process. With CAS, your transcripts, letters of recommendation, and any other documents required for each of your law school applications only need to be sent one time, to LSAC. All ABA-approved law school applications are available electronically through your CAS account as well, saving you time and effort. LSAC combines your documents with your LSAT score and forwards a full report to all the schools you apply to. Most ABA-approved law schools and many others require that JD applicants use CAS. Learn more about the CAS registration and fees.
Candidate Referral Service (CRS)
LSAC’s Candidate Referral Service (CRS) gives you the opportunity to be discovered by law schools you may not have considered. It helps law schools recruit you based on specific characteristics such as LSAT score, GPA, age, citizenship, race or ethnicity, or geographic background. Learn more about the CRS and free registration.
The Components of the Law School Application
The components of the law school application are as follows:
- Personal Statement
- Optional Essays
- Letters of Recommendation
Details of these individual components can be found in the sections below.
The LSAT is a standardized test that is administered several times a year. The test is designed specifically to assess key skills needed for success in law school, including reading comprehension, analytical reasoning, and logical reasoning. While some law schools accept the GRE and/or GMAT, the LSAT is the only test accepted for admissions purposes by all ABA-accredited law schools. Most law schools require that you take the LSAT by December at the latest, but ideally, you should take in in the summer of your application year to account for the possibility of taking it again if your score was lower than anticipated. If possible, allot approximately three months to study for the LSAT, especially if you plan to work or study full-time in addition to preparing for the test. This is a skills-based test that requires dedicated practice over an extended period of time. Do not take the LSAT if you are not ready. In the grand scheme of your legal career and life, it is better to apply to law school one year later with a score that reflects your full potential than it is to apply one year earlier with limited options. Khan Academy offers free, personalized prep materials to help you achieve your highest score. Learn more about LSAT Test Dates, Registration, and Preparation on the LSAC website.
Transcripts reflect an applicant’s GPA and undergraduate course selection. LSAT score and GPA are likely the two most important elements of a law school application. If your GPA is below average for the law schools you would like to attend, then you will need to compensate with a good LSAT score and/or distinguishing experience. Request transcripts early in the admissions cycle, and be sure to request transcripts from every college that you have attended, including any community college at which you took for-credit courses during high school or a college from which you transferred. At UCLA, you can order an academic transcript through the Registrar’s Office or through MyUCLA.
Your personal statement is an opportunity to tell your story and demonstrate why you will succeed in law school. What is crucial is that your personal statement provides insight into who you are as a candidate. Some topics you could write about include, but are not limited to:
- Personal identity and characteristics
- Formative events or obstacles you've overcome
- Motivations, values, and goals
- Skills, experiences, and qualities that relate to law school
Regardless of what you decide to write in your personal statement, it must be written well. Law schools are looking for strong writers who are articulate, persuasive, and engaging. Use this opportunity to stand out from the crowd, and demonstrate how your story is different from others’. Give yourself time to ask for feedback from multiple sources, and undergo multiple revisions. Learn more about writing your personal statement.
The two most common optional essays are “Why X Law School?” and a “Diversity Statement.”
Prepare for the “Why X Law School?” essay by researching that law school’s particular focus or ethos. More specifically, research classes you would like to take, professors with whom you would like to work, and clinics in which you would like to be involved. It also helps to demonstrate alignment between your identity and an aspect of the school, such as mission, values, skill, or experience.
The “Diversity Statement” asks applicants what diversity they would contribute to an incoming class, and what diversity means to you personally. In the context of this essay, diversity is not limited to race, ethnicity, socioeconomic status, religious affiliation, sexual orientation, etc. Diversity is any personal characteristic or experience that gives you a unique perspective. Identify what makes you unique, and articulate how your perspective will enrich the law school. Like the personal statement, the Diversity Statement is not merely a description of who you are; it’s an argument for why the law school should admit you.
Letters of Recommendation
Most law schools require 2-3 letters of recommendation. Recommendations are critical for marginal candidates, and provide an opportunity to highlight characteristics or facts that are not apparent from the other components of the application. The most effective letters of recommendation are written by professors or work supervisors (though the former are preferable) who know you well enough to describe your academic, personal, or professional achievements honestly and objectively. Letters that demonstrate how you stand out from your academic peers are often the most useful. Be sure to provide your recommenders with all of the information they need in order to write a recommendation that specifically and compellingly attests to your academic abilities, writing skills, and personal characteristics. Request letters as early as possible, since gathering them will take longer than you anticipate. If you are considering taking a gap year (or more), request recommendations from your professors prior to graduation, and store them through the CAS. Learn more about asking for letters of recommendations.
Your resume demonstrates what you have accomplished with your time outside of the classroom, and helps round you out as a candidate. Students are not expected to have law-related experience prior to applying to law school. In fact, legal internships are usually reserved for currently enrolled law students. The few legal internships that are available for undergraduates tend to be in government agencies, nonprofits, and some corporate legal departments. Many students also seek out law-related administrative/clerical jobs or volunteer opportunities to demonstrate that they have immersed themselves in a legal environment. Most law schools permit applicants to submit a two-page resume, although you should carefully review each school's application to confirm this. Unlike most employment-oriented resumes, which are tailored to a particular job function, the law school resume is broad, and should include all of your significant post-high school experience. Learn more about building your resume.
An addendum is an opportunity to address an element of your application that could raise concern, such as an atypically poor-performing quarter or an incident of misconduct. If you write an addendum, it should be factual and brief. Describe the concerning issue, explain how you resolved it, then tell the reader how the lessons you learned will make you a successful law school student. Do not write an addendum if doing so will unnecessarily highlight a minor flaw.
Law School Application Timeline
The law school application process begins during the year prior to your anticipated attendance at law school. While many schools have “rolling admissions,” it is strongly recommended that you apply as early as possible, ideally by December prior to the year you plan to start law school. In other words, if you are planning to go straight into law school from your undergraduate program, you should submit applications during the Fall quarter of your Senior year.
Spring of Your Application Year
- Create a Law School Admissions Council (LSAC) account
- Register with the Credential Assembly Service (CAS)
- Register for and begin studying for the LSAT
- Make a list of target law schools
- Write a draft of personal statement
- Request Letters of Recommendation
Summer of Your Application Year
- Take the LSAT
- Review law school choices in light of LSAT scores
- Check status of Letters of Recommendation
Fall of Your Application Year
- Take or retake the LSAT if necessary
- Send official transcripts to CAS
- Finalize personal statement
- Request financial aid information from law schools
Winter/Spring of Your Intended Start Year
- Contact law schools to confirm application completion
- Submit financial aid materials
- Evaluate admissions offers
- Thank writers of your Letters of Recommendation