Philosophy as a Pre-Law Major

Why Philosophy?

Reason #1 - Valuable Skills

The Law School Admission Council's Official Guide to U.S. Law Schools states:

While no single curricular path is the ideal preparation for law school, you should choose courses that sharpen analytical reasoning and writing skills. Law schools prefer students who can think, read, and write well, and who have some understanding of what shapes human experience.

The vast majority of the work you will do as a philosophy major will involve reading, analyzing, and presenting written summaries and critiques of arguments. These are precisely the skills you will use most as a law student, and later as an attorney. And law schools know this. Consider the following excerpt from American Bar Association's Council of Legal Education and Opportunity:

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.

Reason #2 - Highest LSAT Scores

Many schools view the LSAT as the single best predictor of a student's success at law school. Your LSAT score will often play as great (if not greater) a role in determining your admission as your undergraduate GPA.

According to data provided by the Law School Admissions Council from the 2007-2008 exams, philosophy majors had the highest average LSAT scores among the the twelve most popular pre-law majors, tied with economics.

Major Score Number of Students
Philosophy 157.4 2,184
Economics 157.4 3,047
Engineering 156.2 2,197
History 155.9 4,166
English 154.7 5,120
Finance 153.4 2,267
Political Science 153.0 14,964
Psychology 152.5 4,355
Sociology 150.7 1,902
Communications 150.5 2,230
Business Administration 149.1 1,971
Criminal Justice 145.5 3,306

NOTE: For major fields with at least 1,900 students taking the exam.
Source: Niaswiadomy, Michael "LSAT Scores of Economics Majors: The 2008-2009 Class Update," Journal of Economic Education, Vol 41(3) July-September 2010:331-333

Are there any particular philosophy courses I should take to prepare myself for law school?

There is no official pre-law emphasis within philosophy. However, the department regularly offers courses of special interest to prospective law students. Those courses include:

  • PHIL 102 - Basic Symbolic Logic: An in-depth study of Sentential Logic. Topics include symbolization, syntax, truth tables, truth trees and two systems of natural deduction.
  • PHIL 400 - Intermediate Symbolic Logic: This course will focus on symbolization, syntax, semantics, and derivations for predicate logic. It will include some metatheory such as soundness and completeness proofs.
  • PHIL 460 - Legal Reasoning: This course introduces students to concepts and forms of argument they will encounter in the first year of law school. It will examine the reasoning involved in the concepts of legal precedent, proximate cause, and burden of proof, and it will also investigate the legal reasoning in certain landmark cases from torts, contracts, property, constitutional law and criminal law. Prerequisite: Philosophy 1 or consent of instructor.
  • PHIL 333 - Legal Ethics: An examination in the light of traditional and recent moral theory of the ethical issues faced by the practicing lawyer: the values presupposed by the adversarial system; the moral responsibilities of lawyers within corporations and government; the conflict between personal ethics and obligations to clientele; and whether legal education involves a social conditioning process with its own implicit value system.
  • PHIL 461 - Philosophy of Law: What is law? How is it different from morality? Do we have an obligation to obey the law, and if so, how strong is that obligation? This course is an exploration of philosophical issues arising from the interpretation and application of the law. The course examines classic answers to the above questions. The focus of the course may be either historical (e.g., Plato, Hobbes or Hegel) or more contemporary (e.g., H L. A. Hart and Ronald Dworkin), paying special attention to constitutional law.
  • PHIL 462 - Political Philosophy: The nature and end of the state; relation of the individual's rights and duties to those of the state and vice versa, and the relation between states; the kinds of states; their institution, preservation and destruction.