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June 28, 2005 1:07 PM   Subscribe

I'm looking into applying to law school, and trying to think of ways to strengthen my application. Anyone know whether passing the Bar before applying would be seen as a good thing, in terms of getting into a slightly better school than I would otherwise?

I'm in Virginia, and so I think I can just sign up to take the test, and I think I might be able to pass it, given luck and studying. But, would it help? I don't think it can really hurt, but it'd be a whole lot of time and effort to go to waste if it won't matter.
posted by kafziel to Education (14 answers total)
In some states you are required to have a JD or LLB to sit for the bar. It appears [pdf] that in Virginia you are required to either have at least a foreign law degree or law office study to take the test.

Of course what you are proposing sort of makes no sense, anyway.

a) Without going to law school first, I assure you that it would require probably at least a year of intensive independent study to have a shot at passing.

b) The whole point of going to school before taking the bar is so you learn the law and get preparation for the bar.

c) That said, law schools aren't looking for applicants who are already legal eagles. That's why you can ace the LSAT without knowing virtually anything about the law.

d) Which brings me to the main point of all this: why try to pass the bar when your chances of prepping for and crushing the LSAT are probably much better.
posted by drpynchon at 1:18 PM on June 28, 2005


If you are older, and have worked for a few years it will help.

If you are an undergrad, your GPA and LSATs will rule the day.
posted by BeerGrin at 1:20 PM on June 28, 2005

What drpynchon said. If you want to strengthen your application, focus your energies on nailing the LSAT.

The other suggestion would be to spend a year working on some project that would add an interesting dimension to your application- most law schools like people to have diverse backgrounds and experiences- so spend a year cataloging butterflies in the Amazon, or recording oral histories in Appalachia, or working on a square-rigged ship. If there is a particular area of law you think you are interested in, you could spend a year working as a paralegal in that area.

I've sat for two bar exams myself. What you are proposing sounds like an enormous amount of pain and suffering for little to no benefit.

Good luck with the law school applications.
posted by ambrosia at 1:31 PM on June 28, 2005

drpynchon, I would disagree with your point b), though it may be theoretically true.

Anyway, if you qualify for and pass the bar, you'd be better off applying for and getting an LL.M. degree (kinda like a master's in law). I have no idea if having passed the bar would be a plus (or a minus) when applying to law school, but if I had to guess, I'd say it's a minus. If you've already passed the bar, you have less of a need to go to law school than the other applicants who haven't.
posted by EatenByAGrue at 1:37 PM on June 28, 2005

To clarify, drpynchon, I disagree that you learn the law (tested on the bar) and get preparation for the bar from law school, other than in the most general sense that law school helps you to learn to think like a lawyer, and people who think like a lawyer are more likely to pass the bar.
posted by EatenByAGrue at 1:40 PM on June 28, 2005

Do not do this! Especially if you're only looking to get into a "slightly better" school than you would otherwise. If you don't do well on standardized tests (particularly the SAT) concentrate on doing well on the LSAT - review courses, prep books. Even if you do well on standardized tests, don't go into the LSAT entirely unprepared. If you are just coming out of college and have no work experience, a year of employment or volunteer work in an interesting, and maybe even law-related, field won't hurt either.
posted by amro at 1:47 PM on June 28, 2005

I also disagree with the assertion that the whole point of going to law school is to prepare for the bar (many schools, particularly upper tier schools, do not teach "to the bar" at all - I'm in the process of studying for the bar right now, and I know that a lot of the information that I am studying is totally new to me). On the other hand, while your law school education may not prepare you substantively for the bar, it does teach you how to "think like a lawyer" - and I can't imagine trying to prepare for the bar without having had spent the time developing that frame of mind.

Thus, I agree that you would be silly (provided you were even permitted) to sit for the bar prior to applying for law school. I think you're less likely to impress the admissions committee and more likely to make them question what you are trying to gain from your legal education (considering that you will have suggested that you already "know the law"). A student hungry to learn is far more appealing than one who claims to "know it all" already.

Throw yourself into acing the LSAT - or do some volunteer work or an internship in a law related area to show your passion for the field. Good luck!
posted by roundrock at 1:58 PM on June 28, 2005

After law school you study for three months just in order to pass the bar (study like "hell" for appox 1 of those months).

Where they make "law office study" an option in lieu of law school it usually requires some number of years of law office study before they will allow you to sit for the bar. If I remember correctly, it must be study under the tutelage of an attorney who has been admitted to practice. Self study won't qualify.
posted by Carbolic at 2:01 PM on June 28, 2005

While I can't say for sure they're wrong, I'm willing to go against the grain here and say that you should not look for a job or volunteer in a law-related field prior to applying for law school. Or at the very least, doing so is unlikely to make you stand out, since so many people do just that. I've lost count of the number of people I've met in law school who were paralegals prior to law school. Having said that, if what you are doing is unique in the field of law (such as interning at the International Court of Justice), then it will help you, though probably more because of its uniqueness or what it says about your abilities generally, rather than because it's in the legal field.
posted by EatenByAGrue at 2:16 PM on June 28, 2005

I stood out by working for five years before law school in a completely unrelated field, then by declaring in my application that the analytical skills I'd learned in that field would serve me better than my liberal arts undergraduate degree.

The LSAT is what will make you stand out the most. Focus on acing that. If you get a 175 on the LSAT but still don't get into Yale (for example), I wouldn't fret, as someone in the top 10% at a lower tier school would have most of the same job opportunities as someone who attends a top tier school, if you sell yourself well.

I would, however, HIGHLY recommend working for at least two or three years before going to law school, if you haven't. Of the top 20 in my class, all but 5 or 6 were people who had prior work experience. Professors liked the slightly older students, and interviewers loved us.
posted by socratic at 2:30 PM on June 28, 2005

It's a cold, unfeeling numbers machine. You could single-handedly invent a new strain of legal thought that resounds across the planet, after passing the bar exam in eight countries, and you'll still lose to someone who took one of those Kaplan classes and pleased the LSAT cabal with a higher grade.
posted by inksyndicate at 3:55 PM on June 28, 2005

I'd also recommend the work before you go to law school option--though this might be something yo'ure totally uninterested in--but for different reasons than socratic's. This could just be me, but I think one advantage to working in advance is that you're not quite so self-indulgent or idealistic in your studies--you lose the assumption that what you're learning must be either interesting or relevant to your personal interests. This is a pretty valuable amnesia for law school, I think.
posted by kensanway at 4:01 PM on June 28, 2005

inksyndicate has it just 'bout right, IMO. LSAT LSAT LSAT, then GPA, then recommendations, then anything else. From my experience, "soft" factors like work history (or even your undergraduate major or the quality of your university) only come in to play when applicants with similar numbers are being competing for the same seats.

The 4.0 from State U trumps the 3.0 from Harvard. The 175 fresh out of undergrad is the more attractive candidate than the 165 with 10 years of work experience.

I would be afraid that sitting for the Bar before applying for law school would make you look worse, not better. Like you're some sort of trouble-making smart-alec. I can't imagine professors at any law school want to field questions from their 1L students that start: "Well, they didn't ask this when I passed the bar..."

Any time you would have spent prepping for the bar, use that time to prep for the LSAT. Your application will be that much stronger.
posted by herc at 4:33 PM on June 28, 2005

kensanway - Nope, you've got it exactly right. I didn't take law school so seriously, I didn't drink the Kool-Aid, and, so, I didn't stress out and I did much better than I might otherwise have done. Working before law school gives you perspective and helps you see that it's just a job. So, I agree 100% with you. Due respect to anyone who went straight through, but if you give me someone in the top 10 who went straight through and someone in the top 15% who worked before law school, I'm going to hire the person who worked, even if their numbers aren't quite as strong.
posted by socratic at 4:38 PM on June 28, 2005

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