Philosophy and Law

Note: this page is about using your philosophy degree as a stepping stone to law school. We also have a special B.A. in Philosophy with an Emphasis in Philosophy and Law. For more on the B.A. in Philosophy with an Emphasis in Philosophy and Law, click on this link.

Pre-Law Program

If you are interested in a career in law, the Philosophy Department encourages you to consider a major in philosophy. Philosophy courses provide an excellent foundation for the study of law, and the department offers a B.A. in Philosophy with a Pre-Law emphasis.

Why Should Pre-Law Students Study Philosophy?

Philosophy teaches the skills and knowledge that law schools value.  As the American Bar Association has said, there are some "important skills, values, knowledge, and experience that you can acquire prior to law school and that will provide a sound foundation for a legal education."  These attributes include:  abilities or skills to analyze and solve problems, to read critically, and to communicate clearly and effectively; concerns and commitments to relationship-building, public service, and social justice; and exposure to and knowledge of human experience and of our society. (American Bar Association, Section of Legal Education and Admissions to the Bar, “Preparing for Law School").

While no single curricular path is recommended or singled out as furnishing the best preparation for law school, study of philosophy is widely acknowledged as a highly effective way of preparing students for success in law schools and in the legal profession thereafter.  In particular, students who take philosophy courses learn to read difficult and closely argued texts, to analyze and clarify sophisticated concepts, to explicate and critically evaluate complicated arguments, to construct and articulate independent positions, and to test and defend these positions clearly. Philosophy also explores many dimensions of human life, and thereby provides a broad exposure to and knowledge of human nature and experience.

According to the American Philosophical Association, a wide range of philosophy courses are valuable to Pre-Law majors:  Intermediate to advanced courses in logic; a number of courses in ethics, including political and social philosophy, philosophy of law, and medical ethics; epistemology, which examines standards of evidence; philosophy of mind, which bears on issues of human motivation as well as those of moral and legal responsibility; philosophy of language, which dwells on multiple dimensions of communication; and philosophy of science, which is of particularly value for those interested in practicing in the areas of law concerned with technology and sciences.

(American Philosophical Association, “Philosophy: A Brief Guide for Undergraduates”).

Philosophy Coursework is Rigorous and Challenging

One very significant indication that a study of philosophy is an excellent way for students to acquire many skills necessary for success in law schools and in the legal profession is the high degree of success that philosophy students have had in the LSAT.

Some of the most recent published data indicates that philosophy (along with economics) is the major that produces the highest average LSAT score among test takers. 

Average 2007-08 LSAT Scores (for major fields with at least 1,900 students taking the exam):

Rank

Major Fields

Average Score

No. of Students

1

Philosophy

157.4

2,184

1

Economics

157.4

3,047

3

Engineering

156.2

2,197

4

History

155.9

4,166

5

English

154.7

5,120

6

Finance

153.4

2,267

7

Political Science

153.0

14,964

8

Psychology

152.5

4,355

9

Sociology

150.7

1,902

10

Communications

150.5

2,230

11

Business Administration

149.1

1,971

12

Criminal Justice

145.5

3,306

(http://www.potsdam.edu/academics/AAS/Phil/upload/LSAT-Scores-of-Majors.pdf)

Student Success

Email from SFSU philosophy student:

Hello Professor Hood,

Many years ago you gave me a letter of recommendation to go to law school. I finished my undergraduate at SFSU in 2002. I wanted to inform you that I passed the July 2009 California Bar Exam.Thanks for everything - I would not have made it through law school without the wonderful education that I received at San Francisco State University.

Richard Ballesteros

What Courses in Philosophy Should Pre-Law Students Take?

The Philosophy Major

Pre-Law students who wish to major in Philosophy may choose from the following options:

a) Bachelor of Arts in Philosophy – The standard B.A. in Philosophy provides a solid, well-rounded education in philosophy, with some flexibility for courses of special interest to Pre-Law students, e.g., Philosophy of Law.

b) Bachelor of Arts in Philosophy with an Emphasis in Philosophy and Law – The Philosophy Department offers an emphasis area within the philosophy major specifically designed for Pre-Law students. It combines philosophy courses with selected courses in the humanities and social sciences.

c) Individualized Bachelor of Arts in Philosophy – Students may also purse an individualized B.A. in Philosophy designed in consultation with the Chair of the Philosophy Department and the Philosophy Pre-Law Advisor.

Note: In all cases, PHIL 110, Critical Thinking, or its equivalent is required of all students as a prerequisite to the B.A. in Philosophy. Students who have not met this requirement may begin the program but must satisfy the requirement at the earliest opportunity. Equivalencies must be approved by a departmental adviser.

The Philosophy Minor

Pre-Law students may also wish to pursue a minor in Philosophy. To complete the minor, students must take at least 21 units in philosophy, with at least fifteen (15) of these being upper division units.

Other Websites Pre-Law Students May Wish to Visit

California Law Schools

Law School Admission Council (includes information on the LSAT)

U.S. News Law School Rankings

Leiter’s Law School Rankings

American Bar Association

California State Bar

FindLaw Pre-Law Resources

Internet Legal Resource Guide (includes additional Law School rankings and profiles)

For Additional Information

If you would like further information about the Philosophy Pre-Law Program, feel free to contact the Philosophy Department Pre-Law advisor, Professor Kevin Toh, at: ktoh@sfsu.edu.