The Prelaw Curriculum

Many students ask for suggestions in planning a prelaw educational program. At New York University, there is no formal prelaw major or curriculum, and a prelaw student, quite simply, is one who defines himself or herself as such. In other words, being "prelaw" is a state of mind — knowing that eventually you may apply to law school.

No Standard Prelaw Curriculum: As stated in the NYU College of Arts and Science Bulletin, the College endorses the viewpoint of the Association of American Law Schools (AALS) that a single, "best" prelaw curriculum cannot be identified. You should concentrate in those academic areas which most hold your interest. The choice of a major should not depend upon what you think a law school might want, but upon the field most likely to motivate you, whether art history or English literature.

Law schools do not prefer any specific major. Beyond a disciplined study of western civilization, most schools recommend that students perfect their skills in English composition. Words are the tools of a lawyer, and the student who can express himself or herself with confidence and clarity will be at a distinct advantage. Beginning with our first-year Expository Writing Program, you should be concentrating on developing writing skills to the utmost. The importance of verbal skills cannot be overstated, and the development of the ability to express oneself forcefully and accurately, both orally and in writing, is at the heart of the legal profession.

Given the above, it is possible to sketch those areas which are most suitable for eventual prelaw studies:

Reading, Writing, and Research:
Since verbal expression is at the heart of the profession, courses which require extensive reading, writing, and research should be taken. Advanced level seminars and the honors programs within several of the College's departments offer a unique opportunity to do extensive written work in the junior and senior years.

Analytical Skills & Precise Methodology:
The precision of methodology and thought required in mathematics, computer science, logic, and the natural sciences will aid in the development of analytic skills.

Behavioral Sciences and Humanities:
A background in the behavioral sciences and humanities - politics, economics, history, literature, philosophy, anthropology, sociology - is suggested since each will offer critical understanding of human institutions and values with which the law deals.

Quantitative Data:
Since many students thinking about attending law school are inherently oriented toward verbal disciplines, they have a tendency to avoid courses that involve quantitative data. However, understanding basic economic principles is of increasing importance in law school classroom analysis, and courses in economics, finance, business organization, and introductory accounting are strongly urged.

Foreign Language & Area Studies:
If you are thinking of practicing international law or in a bilingual or ethnic community, you may want to study the language and culture of the regions that hold appeal.

Issues with Law-Related Courses:
Most law schools specifically advise against taking one category of courses, those which are vocational in nature (such as "business law"). Admissions committees presume that you will spend sufficient time studying "law" while in law school, and they prefer that the undergraduate years be used to acquire a broad field of general knowledge upon which legal studies can be based. Similarly, most law schools actively discourage students from taking too many law-related classes as undergraduates.

Law is based upon sets of fundamental principles which are reflected in basic fields such as contracts, torts, criminal law, property, constitutional law, and civil procedure. These courses are almost universally taught in the first year of law school. Most law students do not fully comprehend what legal education is about until they are well into the study of these subjects. Elective second and third year courses are based upon basic principles learned in the first year.

The undergraduate student taking a variety of law-related courses cannot hope to achieve an ordered understanding of legal fundamentals. Students who overload on such courses may, upon entering law school, mistakenly believe they have achieved a head start. Furthermore, in taking such courses, you will be sacrificing the broader liberal arts background which may better serve you in the graduate program.

In short, while law-related courses may help you decide whether law is a field which interests you and may familiarize you with a new vocabulary, undergraduate law courses will neither help you get into law school nor measurably help you once you are there. Be wary of claims made by any professor that a particular undergraduate course will improve law school grades.