In American universities, a pre-law degree is any undergraduate degree which is completed with the intention of preparing oneself to attend law school. While the exact subject matter of such a degree can vary widely, it generally includes classes which help students develop the broad range skills they will need both as law students and as practicing lawyers. Additionally, students who wish to specialize in a particular field of law may choose courses which increase their knowledge of that field. Many universities employ a pre-law adviser to help undergraduate students completing a pre-law degree realize their goal of attending law school.
It is often mistakenly believed that a pre-law degree, like a pre-med degree, involves a specific curriculum which is mandatory for entrance to law school. In fact, while US law schools require applicants to hold an undergraduate degree, this degree can be completed in any field. Therefore, the term pre-law degree generally refers to any undergraduate degree which is completed with the intention of preparing oneself to attend law school.
Determining which courses are best to take as part of a pre-law degree is highly subjective. Many students choose majors which allow them to develop the wide range of skills they will need both as law students and as practicing lawyers. For instance, majoring in a subject such as English or history typically enables students to hone their abilities to communicate effectively and to read and think critically.
Some pre-law students may know that they would like to specialize in a particular area of law, such as medical malpractice or immigration services, once they complete their studies. Often, these students choose a major which broadens their knowledge of the field in which they would like to specialize. Since a strong grade point average is generally critical to law school admission, some advisers recommend that pre-law students choose an undergraduate course which they enjoy, making it more likely that they will perform well.
Many universities employ a pre-law adviser. It is the job of this adviser to meet with pre-law students throughout the course of their undergraduate studies. During these meetings, the adviser may help pre-law undergraduates select the classes which may best prepare them for a career in law. He may also review law school applications and inform students of relevant internship opportunities.
It should be noted that in many countries outside the US, students are eligible to enter a program of legal study once they have completed high school. No separate course of undergraduate study is required in these countries. Since an undergraduate qualification is not required, the term pre-law degree generally does not carry meaning.