When people think of lawyers, people look to how lawyers tend to be portrayed in movies and television shows to get a sense of what lawyers do. The problem with this is that this portrayal is by and large, inaccurate. But nevertheless, countless college students, especially liberal arts majors with limited employment prospects, are sucked into applying to law school with false presumptions about the legal profession and end up hating the practice of law. So, before even applying to law school, quite obviously the most important step is to try to at least get an accurate and general sense of what law practice is like either by contacting practicing lawyers or doing some research. Now let’s suppose after this very important first step, you still want to attend law school for some reason. Now you want to tread carefully from now on because the process of becoming a successful lawyer is not quite simple.
In order to attend law school, you need an undergraduate GPA, letters of recommendation, and a LSAT (Law School Admissions Test) score. By far, the LSAT score is the most important out of the 3. Law school admissions are almost solely based on GPA/LSAT and little else. If this seems different from college admissions to you then your intuitions are serving you correctly. In college admissions, soft factors such as leadership experience and essays play a nontrivial role. In law school admissions however, it’s all about your numbers. Now by the time most people decide to apply to law school, their GPA is already pretty much fixed since they’ve taken so many credits so far. So the only factor regarding law school admissions that you can fully control for is your LSAT score. Now your LSAT score is quite simply the most important test you will ever take over the course of your legal career. Why? Because quite simply, law is a very conservative profession.
The law sector employs a bi-modal distribution of labor in which a small number of lawyers truly make it rain while most other lawyers are languishing under a less than $40,000-50,000 salary. Those employment data sheets that show the average wage of a US lawyer is around $100,000 is absolutely misleading b/c that figure exists only because of the small number of rainmaking lawyers that skews this metric toward a higher figure. Now the question you must be asking is how one gets to become one of those highly successful and well-paid lawyers. In order to do so, graduating law students need to start their legal careers at a prominent law firm that will expose them to the kinds of headline-making cases or deals which aren’t run-of-the-mill. These firms are always going to be working on high-stakes cases that require top legal talent and creativity; naturally, clients are willing to pay the big bucks to these firms for such services because other firms can’t easily replicate these firms’ results.
So how does a graduating law student get into one of these firms? Well if you recall what I said about the legal profession, the legal profession is an extremely conservative one and as such, these top law firms only hire from the top law schools. Even when you’re in a top law school, you want to at least place yourself in the upper half of your class to get a good shot at these jobs. But how do you get into a top law school? Well by now, you already know the answer to this question and that is: your LSAT score.
Now you may be wondering why someone can’t just attend a lower-ranked law school, get a run-of-the-mill legal job after graduation, and then try to work their way up the ranks to eventually situate themselves in one of these top law firms once they gain more experience and skill. Well there are a couple reasons for this. First, it is impossible to gain the experience and skills that high-profile clients who hire these top law firms require in the first place if you aren’t learning your craft in an environment that necessitates these skills; and secondly, and this goes back to the point about the legal profession being extremely conservative, top law firms like home-grown talent. They are very unwilling to hire laterals and instead, opt to grow their employees from the ground up, starting from the point they graduate from law school. Law firms, unlike other big companies like Microsoft or Target, operate as a partnership so they are of a fundamentally different nature from fortune 500 companies that you may be familiar with. So there you have it! Try to do well on the LSAT and in classes at a top law school. If you get that far, you’ve situated yourself in a nice position to embark on an enriching, successful legal career.