Philosophy Pre-Law

Philosophy Pre-Law

While the university does offer a pre-law minor (Amy Carter advising) cobbled together from various programs and majors which include some of our philosophy course offerings, it recommends no particular major in preparation for application to law school.

There is, however, a strong argument to be made in favor of majoring in philosophy, and it goes quite beyond how resoundingly well philosophy majors have traditionally done on the Law School Admissions Test. As Keith Burgess-Jackson puts it in the second point of his "Advice for Prospective Law Students",

2. Since I have to major in something, what is best? The best preparation for law school (and for the practice of law) is . . . philosophy. I say that without the slightest hesitation--and remember, I studied political science, economics, history, and philosophy as well as law. The reason philosophy is best is obvious (once you think about it). The skills needed by law students and attorneys--careful analysis of texts, sensitivity to vagueness and ambiguity (these differ!), extraction of principles from cases, argument (often for propositions that one does not personally accept), criticism of arguments made by others, and the articulation of difficult concepts--are precisely those that are inculcated and refined in the study of philosophy. Both philosophers and lawyers are trained to analyze, argue, and criticize--not to mention speak and write. Thus, the skills that one acquires in one area readily transfer to the other.

In other words, the kinds of skills invaluable in law school and a career using it are exactly the kinds of skills developed in our philosophy courses. As David Hills (Stanford) charmingly puts it,

Philosophy is the ungainly attempt to tackle questions that come naturally to children, using methods that come naturally to lawyers.

This is not to disparage pursuing other majors to prepare for law school, necessarily. Indeed, much like medical school and graduate school, one is likely to meet many different majors in law school. Yet much like medical school, philosophy majors enjoy some of the highest admissions rates to law school of any major. To be sure, it could all just be a matter of selection bias: Smart people tend to major in philosophy, but, being smart, they would have gone on to succeed regardless of whether they had majored in philosophy. Nevertheless, the special demands a course in philosophy places on its students--analytic rigor and clarity of thought and expression in service of the creative exploration of fundamental puzzles and ideas--is hardly to be discounted.

To recognize this fact, the philosophy faculty are in the process of developing a special pre-law certification for students who complete a specific schedule of courses in their pursuit of the major in philosophy. More information will be provided here as we finalize our plans.

Some LSAT Statistics.