As a graduate student instructor at UC Berkeley in various courses that are at least law-adjacent, I regularly receive some version of the following question: I want to go to law school. What can I do to best prepare myself during undergrad?

Over a few years, I've developed some standard responses to these questions, but I was curious what others might add to them. So, in a bout of productive procrastination during exam season, I turned to #lawfedi on Mastodon. What follows is a compilation of my own thoughts and some reflections shared by a number of generous souls in response to my social media call:

  1. Get as much experience working in legal settings as you can, either while you're in undergrad or, better still, working full time between undergrad and law school. This experience will give you invaluable insight into what it is that lawyers, judges, and so on actually do on a day-to-day basis. Being armed with this information will give you a head start in studying law, may help bolster your law school applications, and will certainly inform your decision about whether to apply at all (more on this last point later). Beyond these, if and when you do start looking for a legal job after law school, it will also mean you have at least the start of a network in the field—people who can guide and advise you, and maybe even help you find a position.
  2. Understand that the vast majority of legal practice looks nothing like what you've seen on TV. I knew this on some level when I started law school, but when you've never seen anything else of legal practice, it's hard to know what's out there. You'll get a better sense than I had if you follow the advice in point 1, but your view will still be limited. This is where researching and talking to lawyers (and former lawyers) of all stripes to learn about their little corner of the profession will be a huge help.
  3. At the same time, don't worry too much about having an exact plan for what kind of practice you'll pursue after you graduate. Countless people change their minds about what they want to practice while they're in law school. (Myself included! I thought I'd practice art law and here I am futzing about with civil procedure and international law!) This is both normal and good because it means you're learning and growing through the educational process. Just make sure there is some kind of practice that you'd like to pursue, where it is also possible to get a job, to be sure that the costs of law school are costs you want to take on.
  4. Seriously consider where you'd like to live and practice after law school. As Sarah Burstein of Suffolk Law School put it: "US News seems to suggest there's one big national market but that's not true. So I'd modify the traditional 'go to the best school you can get into' advice to 'go to the best school you can get into that regularly feeds into the market you want to work in.'"
  5. Seriously, seriously consider the finances. Law school can be expensive. Really, really expensive. You may need to take out significant loans to pay for it, and if you have any loans from undergrad you should carefully review how those will be affected. If you're offered a scholarship, that money may be tied to maintaining certain grades, which can be a challenge particularly at schools that have more punishing grade curves. Or the scholarship may drop off for your third year because the school is assuming you'll land a high-paying job for your second summer, which you may or may not ultimately want or get. And, if you're lucky enough to be able to pay outright, you could always spend that money in a lot of other ways. Develop a realistic plan of how you're going to pay for law school—ideally one that doesn't require working during your first year if you're in school full time—and carefully assess whether this is an investment you want to make.
  6. Prepare yourself for the unique demands of law school by consulting some of the wealth of materials on the topic. I've found Orin Kerr's "How to Read a Legal Opinion" particularly useful, and retired lawyer Jon Berger recommended Jeff Adachi's "Law School Survival Kit." But there are so many great books and articles out there. Find a couple that make sense to you.
  7. If you're lucky enough to have some connection to current law students (if you're one of my students at Berkeley, you have this!), ask if you can shadow them and get a real sense of what law school is like. One day following a law student around and asking them questions won't tell you what three years of law school is going to be like, but it will give you a much better sense than you had before doing it.
  8. It may be a cliché, but it's true: Life is short; careers are long. There is no rush to go to law school straight from undergrad, and if anything you may benefit from a bit more work experience before you're thrown into the law school pressure cooker. More importantly, you are a person first, and everything comes after that. This field tends to emphasize and value prestige, and it has a very particular view of what counts as "prestigious." Don't get me wrong; it can be good to play the game, up to a point. But be careful not to let that overtake whatever are your ultimate life goals.
  9. Keep asking for advice. This list may feel long—at least it certainly does as I write it—but it still reflects the perspectives and experiences of only a small number of people, filtered through my own lens. In fact, the existing "so you want to go to law school" genre is so vast that these reflections would barely register as a drop in the pond. So keep seeking out advice, including from your professors in law school, listen carefully to the pieces that come up again and again, and feel free to set aside anything that doesn't seem to fit your path or circumstances.

Now, if you've gotten this far, I'm assuming that you're already pretty sure you want to go to law school, and the advice collected here has been pragmatically oriented toward that end. But the more fundamental question really is: Why do you want to go to law school? And, as a somewhat pedantic but no less important corollary: Are you sure? I feel so strongly about these two questions that, as you may have noticed, they've already seeped somewhat into my reflections above. Far too many people go to law school without good answers to them. Some who didn't have good answers before starting law school get lucky and they stumble into a fulfilling career they love. But only some.

When you have convincing answers to these questions—and if you're not sure whether they're convincing, feel free to talk them over with me ([email protected])—it's time to apply to law school. Once you have those answers, I have no doubt that you'll be successful—in applying to law school, learning and growing through law school, and pursuing a meaningful career on the other side.