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Advice for Choosing Philosophy Courses for Pre-Law Students

An excerpt from The American Bar Association’s statement “Education:”

In assessing a prospective law student’s educational qualifications, admissions committees generally consider the chosen curriculum, the grades earned, and the reputation of the colleges attended…Solid grades in courses such as logic, philosophy, and abstract mathematics are generally considered a plus…Law schools will respect your pursuit of subjects you find challenging.  This is especially true if the courses you take are known to be more difficult, such as philosophy, engineering, and science.  Also, look for courses that will strengthen the skills you need in law school.  Classes that stress research and writing are excellent preparation for law school, as are courses that teach reasoning and analytical skills. American Bar Association 

Philosophy courses can provide students with skills necessary to excel in law school; they can also fit the interests of those concerned with social justice, rights, argumentation, and law and its practice.  Philosophy courses can provide practical benefit in law school admissions for pre-law students, as well.  On the LSAT (Law School Aptitude Test), the mean score for Philosophy majors is third to Mathematics and Economics majors.  Majors in Philosophy consistently outperform majors in Pre-Law, Political Science, English, Communications, Psychology, History, and all Business fields. They therefore are more likely to get into the law schools of their choice.

The skills conferred by philosophy courses include:

Critical thinking and problem solving

  • extracting the main points from difficult material, following and reconstructing arguments, and thinking questions through.
  • learning to analyze and solve problems, considering them from many points of view and assessing the pros and cons of different proposals.

Communication

  • learning to express yourself clearly and persuasively.
  • skills in making decisions and then justifying your position in a clear, logical, and compelling way.

Creativity, research, and investigation

  • proficiency at conducting investigations - learning to ask the right questions, and to develop and assess methods and standards for answering those questions.
  • solving problems using careful but innovative techniques and basing your conclusions on reliable evidence.

Students in philosophy courses can also learn the ethical and political traditions that underwrite our legal system. This can help them think in a more sophisticated way about the law, which can lead to being more effective in legal pursuits.  Throughout philosophy courses, students learn how to think for themselves – open-mindedly but critically – about philosophical theory and applications.  To do this, they learn about specific strategies, theories, concepts, and methods that are the special emphasis of philosophy.  Students may not come to final conclusions about issues by the end of each course, or by the end of their lives, for that matter; but they will almost certainly have made progress in thinking well about issues with philosophical implications. 

Although all philosophy courses offer opportunities for pre-law students, the following courses are most strongly recommended:

  • PHIL 105: Ethics
  • PHIL 106: Theories of Knowledge
  • PHIL 107: Logic and Reasoning
  • PHIL 205: Ancient Philosophy
  • PHIL 210: The Just Society
  • PHIL 211: Philosophy of Law

By taking philosophy courses, pre-law students will encounter questions such as the following:

  • What gives meaning to law?
  • How is the law interpreted, or how are judicial interpretations justified?
  • What is the relationship between law and morality, or law and culture or custom?
  • What is the morally right thing to do in various legal contexts?  What are good reasons for answers to that kind of question? 
  • What are the relationship of legal rights to moral rights, and legal goods to moral goods?
  • What makes people responsible for their actions?  Why and how should we hold people responsible for their actions?
  • What justifies punishment?
  • What makes for rational decision-making and reasonable persuasion?
  • What is the nature of evidence, and how do we gather and assess it?
  • How much should we trust memory and testimony?
  • What is the nature of political legitimation and power?
  • How are social, legal, and political institutions interdependent?
  • What is the role of the legal system within ethical traditions, market forces, and political institutions?