This is certainly a question everyone should ask (and answer) before applying to law school. People go to law school for many reasons, but most seek to prepare for a career in law. This does not mean that everyone currently enrolled in law school intends to "practice law" in the traditional sense of the term. You should realize that "practicing law" encompasses a large variety of intellectual and professional activities, both in terms of the kind of law and in terms of the nature of the work. Those who earn the Juris Doctor (J.D.) degree also have skills that allow them to excel in other law-related positions, such as an estate planner in a bank, a staffer to a congressional committee, a college professor, a small business owner, or even an elected official. Whatever your career objective, almost all law students are enrolled in law school for the professional education it offers.
The responsibilities of lawyers are vast, making it difficult to pinpoint a prototypical definition of the profession. Most lawyers who engage in the practice of law devote their time to civil law matters, while some specialize in criminal law. Some attorneys (the word "attorney" is interchangeable in this country with the word "lawyer") rarely, if ever, see the inside of a courtroom; others are experts at litigation and trial work. Some lawyers belong to what is sometimes called the "plaintiff's bar"; others belong to the "defense bar." There is further specialization that goes beyond the general division between civil and criminal and beyond the classification of lawyers based on who their clients are. These areas include (but are not limited to) environmental law, tax, insurance, domestic relations, estate matters, patents and trademarks, maritime law, corporate law, constitutional law, employment law, securities, mergers and acquisitions, education, personal injury, administrative law, real property, product liability, zoning, civil rights, consumer protection, and so on.
Even though you may think law is for you, the decision to go to law school will be one of the most significant decisions of your life. This is a time when it is absolutely essential to be honest with yourself. To help make your decision an informed one, do what you can to learn more about the legal profession. An obvious first step is to talk to several people you may know, or whom your parents may know, who are lawyers - including the College's pre-law advisor. Talk to lawyers who have different kinds of practices. Let them tell you what they do. A second step is to work part-time in a law office or in a public defender's or a prosecutor's office, either as a volunteer or as a paid employee. The first is much easier to arrange than the second. Third, visit a law school, attend a class or two, and talk to a few students about what life at their law school is like. Finally, read about the law and the legal profession. Daily newspapers frequently carry articles about current legal issues and about trends in the profession. The American Bar Association Journal, a monthly publication, is another good place to start. You can find a copy of the latest issues in the Periodicals Room of Shadek-Fackenthal Library.
The list of law specialties is lengthy, however, law school students do not "major" in an area in the same manner as in undergraduate school. The first-year curriculum is fixed at most institutions. While there is a little variation, there are certain courses that every first-year law student in the United States will take. Electives and clinical opportunities become possible in the second and third years. The law school curriculum allows students to study certain areas of the law in depth, but "in depth" may mean no more than taking a few courses in that particular area and does not qualify as an official specialization in that area. Indeed, the depth of course offerings is one way in which law schools differ from one another. While all law schools will offer the basic courses, most do not offer more than one or two courses in all the different areas of the law. It is important to remember that one of the main purposes of law school is not simply to cram your head full of "the law" but to teach the method of studying the law and how to think "like a lawyer." Many of the actual practice skills which you will use as a lawyer will be learned and/or refined when you start working. Law school will give you the thinking, research, writing and other broad based skills which form the foundation of knowledge for successful training.