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Senior Daniel Cody leads a meeting of the Fed­er­alist Society. Daniel Cody | Courtesy

Each year, Hillsdale College sends several stu­dents to top 20 law schools, including schools such as Yale and Harvard. Not one of these stu­dents is a pre-law major.

In fact, Hillsdale doesn’t even offer a pre-law major. Instead, stu­dents inter­ested in law school are encouraged to pursue their other aca­demic pas­sions in their under­graduate studies. The result: a diverse group of uniquely equipped stu­dents entering their first year of law school.

“We’re a liberal arts college, so we don’t provide pro­fes­sional or tech­nical degrees, which is what a pre-law major would be,” said Nathan Schlueter, Pro­fessor of Phi­losophy and Religion and a pre-law advisor. “For­tu­nately, a real liberal arts edu­cation is the best prepa­ration you can get for law school.”

The Uni­versity of Cal­i­fornia, Berkeley, School of Law — con­sis­tently a top 15 ranked law school —  keeps a list of per­tinent skills for law stu­dents to possess on its website. Chief among these are strong written and oral com­mu­ni­cation, critical and ana­lytic thinking, ability to research, and aca­demic orga­ni­zation. According to Hillsdale stu­dents planning on attending law school next fall, these are skills their respective majors developed within them.

As an example, senior English major and co-founder of the Hillsdale College Fed­er­alist Society Daniel Cody said he ini­tially decided to study English because of a per­sonal passion, but within the major he found incredible oppor­tu­nities to develop his writing and ability to dissect the written word.

“The English department at Hillsdale teaches you to write with pre­cision and to read closely,” he said. “I can’t imagine two more fun­da­mental skills for the practice of law than that.”

Beyond his study of English, Cody said he believes a liberal edu­cation itself is a valuable resource to those entering the legal field.

“At Hillsdale, we’re always talking about being a more-full person, and that somehow knowledge and learning brings us closer to whatever we’re sup­posed to be, and I think that’s true,” he said. “I think that the people you want making, enforcing, and helping you comply with the laws ought to be the best they can be, intel­lec­tually and morally.”

It’s not only English majors who have dis­covered value for their legal aspi­ra­tions in their spe­cific field. Senior history major Jacob Weaver — also a co-founder of the Hillsdale College Fed­er­alist Society — noted the research com­ponent of law school, and how the history department has pre­pared him for that.

“I am doing my thesis right now, and it’s just digging through old doc­u­ments and case law and trying to match these doc­u­ments with my thesis, and shape a thesis around these doc­u­ments, and that’s what you’re going to do in law school,” he said.

Cody said he believes all of the depart­ments at Hillsdale bolster these skills, citing phi­losophy and pol­itics specif­i­cally.

For senior Dugan Delp, the eco­nomics department taught him to approach each sit­u­ation and problem within its broader context. He said this was par­tic­u­larly helpful in taking the Law School Admission Test, a test which focuses heavily on logical infer­ences and con­tex­tu­al­ization.

“Eco­nomics helps you think crit­i­cally and log­i­cally,” he said. “So with the LSAT, it really helped me find the issues, and find the logical dis­crep­ancies, and work through the logic games. I felt like I had a better grasp on all of those because of my under­standing of eco­nomics.”

Delp, who is also majoring in Spanish, added that his foreign lan­guage back­ground served as a strong point of diversity and interest in the appli­cation process.

Stu­dents don’t stop finding these ben­efits when they close their books, either. For senior theatre and history major Glynis Gilio, the stage pro­vided its own prepa­ration.

“When you’re an actor, you’re required to embody and take on people from many dif­ferent places in history and many dif­ferent social classes, and so you have to be able to get into that mindset, get on stage, and defend them. That’s basi­cally what you’re doing as an actor, making a defense,” she said. “I think that empathy and the mechanics of [acting] are so important and helpful to attorneys.”

Addi­tionally, she said she strengthened her researching skills while preparing to place her char­acters con­vinc­ingly within a given play’s setting and framework.

The unique ben­efits of diverse study for prospective law stu­dents extend far beyond the human­ities. In fact, stu­dents studying physics and math­e­matics rou­tinely achieve some of the highest accep­tance rates at top law schools, according to infor­mation pub­lished by the Law School Admis­sions Council. Hillsdale itself has a record of sending STEM majors to pres­ti­gious law school.

Weaver said the range of majors rep­re­sented by prospective law stu­dents speaks to the diversity of the field and the pos­si­bility to find one’s own niche within it.

“More than the broadness itself, it’s about the mental devel­opment you can get from these dif­ferent fields,” he said. “Having this diverse back­ground within the field of law allows people to go off into dif­ferent areas of the law that can be more of their spe­ciality.”

Cody sug­gests that younger stu­dents inter­ested in law school should pursue an under­graduate degree in some­thing they are pas­sionate about, rather than viewing their under­graduate years as simply “pre-law.”

“Every­thing that you need to learn voca­tionally, you will learn in law school and through practice,” he said. “If law school needed to be seven years, it would be seven years…focus on having a work ethic and an intellect which have been trained for the spe­cific tasks of learning, com­pre­hending, and focusing. Those are things you can learn in any under­graduate pursuit.”

  • Alexan­derYp­si­lantis

    Per your com­ments on STEM majors going on to Law School-one of the least known spe­cialties in the legal pro­fession is Patent Attorney’s. I’ve known several engi­neering grad­uates who went on to Law School to pursue Patent Law. Great article, by the way.