No one should decide to attend law school without doing serious reflection and research. Earning the professional degree of Juris Doctor (J.D.) involves a minimum of three years of persistent academic effort and intense dedication. The first year of law school is especially trying for many students due the unfamiliarity of the subjects studied, the new vocabulary, and the lengthy reading assignments. Not a few first year students are also surprised (or shocked) about how their law school grades are much lower than their undergraduate grades. This is due to both higher levels of competition and mandatory grading curves that typically apply to first year courses (contracts, torts, criminal law, civil procedure, property, constitutional law) and courses on bar subjects (e.g., the Santa Clara Law School grading policy).
Law School is also very expensive, and the current job market is extremely competitive. This is not meant to discourage you, but to help ensure that your decision to pursue a career in law is an informed one. You are always welcome to visit Santa Clara University's Law School, sit in on a class, and get a firsthand preview of "the law school experience" (make arrangements through the law school's admission office or contact the Director of Pre-Law Advising).
Be aware of alternatives to law school. You might consider the option of a graduate degree (Master's or Ph.D.) in your major. There are also a variety of two-year Master's programs in Business Administration, Public Administration, or Public Policy. You might also consider becoming a paralegal. A paralegal is a person qualified through education, training, or work experience to perform substantive, professional quality legal work that requires knowledge of legal concepts under the supervision of a lawyer. Paralegals are retained or employed by individual lawyers, law firms, governmental agencies, and other entities. Salaries are lower than for lawyers, but the time demands and stress of the job are usually much less burdensome. Current national trends indicate that formal paralegal education has become a requirement to secure paralegal employment in some sectors, and a four-year college degree is the hiring standard in many markets. Proprietary schools and some colleges and universities award post-baccalaureate certificates. For more information, see www.paralegals.org.
Those aspiring to be lawyers should also be aware of the true nature of the legal profession. Unlike the attorneys depicted in movies and television (where the legal system and its lawyers move like lightning compared to reality) and those who occasionally make the headlines of the nation's newspapers, the vast majority of American lawyers are not involved in litigation. Rather, most members of the bar devote the bulk of their effort to other aspects of the law, such as research and preparation of opinion letters that give clients formal legal advice. A significant portion of American law school graduates do not even practice law, although the J.D. degree is meant to prepare someone for the professional practice of law. Instead, they occupy non-lawyer positions in business or government using their legal education only indirectly, or they are writers, teachers, and administrators. Review this document for a broad look at the many areas of legal practice.
To further educate yourself about the practice of law, you should consider working at a law firm during the summer months or interning at a county government, public defender, or legal aid office. Contact Career Services (Benson Center, 554-4421) about internship opportunities. Political science majors can utilize the Political Science Department internship program. Seek out practicing lawyers to find out about the nature and scope of their practices. If you can, talk to a variety of lawyers who practice in different areas of law. You owe it to yourself to learn as much as you can about law school and the legal profession.