JSU Pre-Law Program Prepares Students for Acceptance into Law School
“It’s just a practice test.”
These are just some of the internal conversations likely racing through the minds of JSU students as they take one of the practice LSAT exams offered by JSU’s Pre-Law program.
The Law School Admission Test (LSAT) is a three-and-a-half-hour standardized test administered seven times each year at designated testing centers. Specifically designed to assess critical reading, analytical reasoning, logical reasoning and persuasive writing skills, it is the only test accepted for admission into all American Bar Association accredited law schools. Simply put, the LSAT is as important as it is difficult. That’s why JSU offers LSAT practice tests at least twice a semester for free.
“Taking that free test is how I know they’re serious about going to law school,” said Dr. Lori Owens, Pre-Law advisor and Senior Director of Undergraduate Studies and Special Programs. “The main way law schools judge students is by their undergraduate GPA and what they make on the LSAT – and it’s a bear.”
"The goal is to branch out and let students know that any major is suitable to apply to law school – it’s not just political science and English. We want to reach all students, regardless of major, including the natural sciences. Law schools want diverse majors because those students often have a different way of thinking. It all comes into play.”
– Dr. Lori Owens
Rising junior Natalie Walls has taken the practice LSAT and believes it’s one of the best things that JSU’s Pre-Law program offers.
“A lot of it is about mental toughness,” said Walls, a 20-year-old from Centre, Ala. “It takes preparation, like a mental marathon. It tests your ability to reason, to execute logically – plus, it’s four hours long.”
JSU’s LSAT prep tests are close to the real thing.
“You can sit there and look over the workbooks and do the practice questions at home, but that doesn’t really mimic the actual test,” Walls said. “At JSU, they check your ID, put you in this strange room, and time you. That’s the only way – exposure to the closest thing to the actual test – that you’ll ever raise your scores.”
JSU’s Pre-Law program prepares students for the application process to American Bar Association accredited law schools by partnering them with skilled advisors, helping them choose a rigorous course load, and scheduling meetings and interviews with law school representatives. Students may also check out LSAT prep books and guides for drafting their personal statement for admission to law school.
“We want our students to know that if they want to, they could go to law school,” Owens said.
Owens estimates that approximately five JSU students per year have applied and been admitted to ABA accredited law schools around the country over the past 15-20 years.
Tanner Love learned about the Pre-Law program from a flier he read on the second floor of Brewer Hall, home of the Department of Political Science.
“This program is very important for JSU,” said Love, who is from Pell City, Ala. “Many students are interested in law school, and providing assistance and guidance through this process is a great resource. For a smaller university to offer it as a program demonstrates a seriousness and commitment to helping students obtain real academic success.”
Now 22, Love graduated from JSU as a double major in English and political science and will be attending law school at the University of Alabama on the full Dean Scholarship, allowing him to work directly with Dean Mark E. Brandon of The University of Alabama School of Law.
“JSU does an excellent job of recognizing the academic accomplishments of its students,” said Love, who intends to study civic law. “I have personally felt that the entire university has supported me when I have obtained academic awards. This atmosphere demonstrates JSU’s friendly environment and commitment to the intellectual development of its student body.”
One of the first things potential law school students need to understand is that law schools prefer applicants from a variety of backgrounds. Therefore, JSU doesn’t have a designated Pre-Law major, minor or concentration.
“We don’t have a Pre-Law major because the American Bar Association advises against that, for good reason,” Owens said. “If you go through college as Pre-Law, then get to your senior year before deciding that you don’t want to go to law school or you can’t get into a law school, then you’re in trouble. The goal is to branch out and let students know that any major is suitable to apply to law school – it’s not just political science and English. We want to reach all students, regardless of major, including the natural sciences. Law schools want diverse majors because those students often have a different way of thinking. It all comes into play.”
As assistant professor of political science, Dr. Benjamin Gross often works closely with students who have shown an interest in law school. By taking classes such as political theory and political philosophy, for example – both of which Gross teaches – students can enhance their critical thinking and logic skills, something law schools appreciate.
“Yes, it’s about the GPA and the LSAT score, but it’s also, ‘Did you take challenging courses’ and that’s where I come in,” Gross said. “If you can read Plato’s ‘Republic,’ if you can dissect ‘Leviathan’ and understand Hobbes’ logic, if you can read ‘Thus Spoke Zarathustra’ and get the poetic imagery Nietzsche is putting out there, you'll be able to read cases, dissect the information, and clearly and concisely present the information back to an audience that has never read the case.”
What also makes JSU’s Pre-Law program unique is that, with smaller classes, relationships between students and their professors are stronger as opposed to larger universities where students may only speak to their professor once or twice. JSU professors know their students, Gross explained.
“We can write a letter of recommendation that really brings out who they are and what they can do – their strengths and their weaknesses,” said Gross, who worked closely with both Walls and Love. “Sincere and honest letters of recommendation help students receive incredible opportunities.”
Walls has wanted to be a lawyer since she was 13 years old.
“I was raised to be involved in politics,” Walls said. “When I was younger, a bunch of historically significant things happened when I was growing up – mainly the first black president – and since the law and politics seem to go hand in hand, it just made sense.”
Walls has strong ties with the university. Her father completed his master’s degree and her mother received her undergraduate degree from JSU. When she first enrolled, however, Walls didn’t know JSU had a Pre-Law program.
“It was a wonderful surprise,” she said. “It’s not like you necessarily have a certain amount of boxes to check. They just give you access to resources and opportunities that’ll help you reach the potential of being the best possible law student you can be.”
Walls made the most of those opportunities. In April, she was selected for the American Bar Foundation's 2020 Summer Undergraduate Research Fellowship Program. This highly competitive program selects only four students, with fellows often coming from Harvard, Duke, Syracuse and the University of Chicago. The fellowship introduces undergraduate students to the rewards and demands of a research-oriented career in the field of law or social science, while providing guidance about various career options.
“It was like a dream come true,” Walls said. “I didn’t really think I’d get it because of the high volume of students who apply.”
Research fellows were supposed to work in ABF’s office in Chicago during the summer, but then the world changed. “I got it, then COVID hit,” Walls said, with a sarcastic laugh.
Rather than taking an all-expense-paid trip to Chicago, she has been participating remotely while spending the summer at her aunt’s home in Tennessee.
“It’s not the same experience, but I will say that the American Bar has done the best they could possibly do under the circumstances,” she said. “It’s not the same as being in person, but I’m happy to take whatever I can get because I was afraid they were going to cancel the thing all together. I have nothing to complain about.”
Walls will take the “real” LSAT next spring, after which she hopes to attend either of her “dream schools” – The University of Chicago or Northwestern – where she will study corporate law. “But it all depends on that test,” she said.
For more information on the JSU Pre-Law program, contact Dr. Owens at email@example.com, firstname.lastname@example.org or 256-782-8269. Students are also invited to visit the Office of Undergraduate Studies and Special Programs in Martin Hall, Room 107.