Graphic of student wearing a Cal Poly grad cap working at a desk with a book and a gavel. Credit: Brandon Schwartz / Mustang News

Post graduation, some Cal Poly students aspire to obtain a Juris Doctor (JD) to pursue a career in the legal field; however, preparation for law school begins early during one’s undergraduate years. 

By taking relevant classes, completing internships, joining clubs and gaining real-world experience, students can become better suited for the trials of law school. While Cal Poly offers some courses that prime students for this, most seek out extracurricular experiences to develop a better understanding of the field. 

Some may follow the conventional pre-law track within the political science major, while others pursue other disciplines, such as engineering or business. Law schools admit students from all majors, and consider an individual’s GPA, LSAT score and personal statement.

Cal Poly alum and Pepperdine Caruso School of Law sophomore, Dillon Garcia, discussed the areas he focused on when applying to law school. 

“The LSAT holds around 70% importance in your application, so I studied for it through an outside course, since Cal Poly did not offer any LSAT prep,” Garcia said. “However, this is currently changing because there is debate on whether or not the LSAT should be required for law school admissions.”

Currently, larger colleges with existing law schools, such as UCLA, are able to share more resources as they have more law professors, graduate student and law advisors that undergraduates can seek out. 

Nevertheless, Cal Poly has been increasing its pool of resources to better cater to its students.

Recently, the political science department invited its students to LSAT preparation workshops and continues to send weekly newsletters with updates on new classes, research/internship programs and pre-law advising opportunities. The department also holds academic panels, features faculty members and showcases clubs of interest to political science majors.

However, other majors interested in law school do not receive the same breadth of resources from their respective departments. 

“The philosophy department does not do anything related to law preparation,” philosophy junior Scott Collier said. “I haven’t taken many relevant law classes either, except Managing Technology in the International Legal Environment, which was about patent and copyright law; [however], the professor was not the best.” 

Other political science majors share similar sentiments, in that there are not enough law intensive courses that prepare students for law school or the field of law. 

“A large detractor of the pre-law concentration is that the classes don’t mimic law school, outside some rare exceptions,” Garcia said. “For me, Professor Jennifer Denbow’s Individual Liberties class was very good as she cold-called [on students] to help us understand the material, which is very similar to law school. Professor Matthew Moore also had some of the most realistic law school classes.” 

Students credit their professors from the political science department for growing their understanding of the law and encouraging them to pursue a legal career. The connections and relationships they build with faculty help them obtain opportunities, earn letters of recommendation and gain insight into the law profession, students said. 

“Professor Sada Andrews is incredible at teaching law and is equally caring about all her students,” Cal Poly alum and Pepperdine Caruso School of Law sophomore Jordan Cuellar said. “She helped me out with everything from recommendation letters to much more.”

A variety of Cal Poly clubs and organizations also help foster students’ interest in law. These include the Political Science club, Moot Court, Mock Trial, Phi Alpha Delta, Paideia and more. 

“My freshman year, I joined Cal Poly Mock Trial to learn about what attorneys do, and I loved it. I then joined the pre-law fraternity, Phi Alpha Delta, to learn if I really wanted to make it my career,” Collier said. “I learned so much about law school through these activities.”

Through participating in extracurriculars, students can network with upperclassmen, find professional mentors, visit law schools, gain real-world experience, cultivate important soft-skills and further their interest in law. 

“My advice to anyone is to join a club where you have to participate and talk to people. It helps with your social skills and making connections, which is huge in law school,” Garcia said. 

The political science department also offers two blended programs for students interested in graduate school for policy or law.

They offer the 4 + 1 Master in Public Policy program (MPP) and the 3 + 3 BA/JD program with UC Hastings Law, which are both accelerated pathways for students to earn a post-baccalaureate degree. However, the latter program is only open to students with a political science degree and a pre-law concentration. 

While some students prefer transitioning into law school immediately after their undergrad, many opt to take a gap year(s) to save money, gain work experience, and polish their applications. 

“Don’t be afraid to take the LSAT multiple times because that can get you a great scholarship,” Cuellar said. “And ultimately, choose a law school that fits you.”