Hot Tips for Law School Students

Specialization isn't the only way to gain practical know-how in law school.

Law students in Hutchins Hall at the University of Michigan Law School in Ann Arbor.

Law students in Hutchins Hall at the University of Michigan Law School in Ann Arbor.

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Smart Choices

International Law. Cornell University and several other schools offer joint degrees with foreign universities to train students to practice in both countries. Intellectual Property. If you have an inclination toward science, look for steady employment in the growing market for intellectual property and patent law.

Insider Tip

Specialization isn't the only way to gain practical know-how in law school. Participating in legal clinics will give you the experience to impress your potential employers. Nearly every school of law now offers its students a chance to gain courtroom experience, and offerings are expanding. The University of Michigan has opened a pediatric advocacy clinic to help with medical rights; in a completely different field, Stanford University has created an international and human rights law clinic that helps foreign countries develop their legal systems.

Reality Check

Average starting salaries are expected to rise 5.4% in '08 · Young associates at big firms will see the greatest gain at 9.1%, to the $102,470-$137,000 range · The biggest firms already top $160,000 for first-years; your colleagues with 10 years' experience could be looking at $234,000 · Base compensation for midlevel paralegals is expected to rise to $48,000-$64,500; for top legal secretaries, to $55,750-$69,500 · Growth areas: legal transactions, healthcare, energy, environment, intellectual property, venture capital, antitrust, elder law.

Getting In

Score High. On your GPA and your LSAT. Not that you can be reduced to just a number, but they're considered two of the best predictors of future success. GPAs that get better by the year can demonstrate maturity and make up for a poor freshman year.

Your Essay. Your personal statement allows you to emotionally connect with the overworked admit dean, but it's less important than you'd imagine. Use it to put some meat on the bare bones of your acronyms (see above). Having something to write about is also critical (see below).

Are You Experienced? Work experience is a great topic for personal statements. Volunteering for a legal aid society or working as a legal intern shows you've invested time in the field—and have an inkling of what you're getting into.

Know Your Audience. Find out where past graduates have landed. If the strengths of the school are aligned with your own ambitions, your application has a better chance.