Pre-Law Guide: An Interview with Pre-Law Advisor Patrice Barley

Summary: Dr. Patrice Barley is Duke University’s newest Pre-Law Advisor and Academic Dean. She graduated with a Juris Doctor degree from Duke University School of Law in 2005 and practiced for 3 years before coming back to Duke to work at the Organization for Tropical Studies. She recently became Duke’s undergraduate Pre-Law advisor, and Juris sat down with her to discuss the resources and words of wisdom she wants to share with students interested in pursuing a career in law.

The term “Pre-Law” at Duke can often be misleading––there are no required courses and a “Pre-Law track” is technically non-existent in an academic context. Dr. Barley said, “Pre-Law at Duke basically means you are on a path to figuring out if law school is the path for you during an undergraduate setting.” There is essentially no commitment attached to the term, unlike the Pre-Health track which requires a multitude of courses before formally graduating. 

That being said, it is still helpful to know what things could be done during undergraduate as a Pre-Law student to better prepare for law school and to determine if law is the right career path.

With the help of Dr. Barley, this “Unofficial Guide for Duke Pre-Law Students” may answer some questions and address concerns surrounding law school preparation and Pre-Law resources.

What major should a Pre-Law undergraduate study?

Dr. Barley said, “There are no majors that are particularly better for law.” Law schools are open to all majors and do not require specific coursework. She also emphasized that the various Trinity Requirements already implements fundamental research and writing skills necessary for succeeding at law school.

How does one know that law is the right path?

Dr. Barley urged active research about the field, particularly reaching out to current law students or law professors and conducting an informational interview with them. There is nothing more helpful than the words of wisdom from individuals currently working in the legal field.

Additionally, for those currently studying for the Law School Admission Test (LSAT), Dr. Barley suggested paying attention to the attitude towards preparing for the examination. “If you don’t like the LSAT, then it may be an indicator that law school might not be for you,” she said. Many of the skills required for performing well on the LSAT, namely logical and analytical reasoning, are vital skills needed for success in law school.

How can undergraduates prepare for law school?

Dr. Barley emphasized taking advantage of the Pre-Law society and community on campus. She is currently involved with Duke’s Pre-Law society Bench and Bar, which has no application process and is open to everyone. The society offers resources like informational panels, meetings between law schools, and social events to foster a Pre-Law community. It also currently has an LSAT Study Buddy program for those who need to prepare for the test.

Another resource that Barley noted is Duke’s law school right on West Campus, Duke University School of Law. Dr. Barley recommended that undergraduates look at the events that the school offers, which is often open to the general public. 

Lastly, Barley emphasized that the Pre-Law advising center is open to anyone who needs an application review or has questions about the field. She recommended that students check out the Pre-Law advising website here for more information. 

Are the LSAT and GPA everything?

Dr. Barley’s short answer was yes, as the initial screening of applicants does focus on those two numbers. However, she pointed out that law schools do care about involvements and extracurriculars as well as service or volunteer work. However, the weight of other aspects vary per school, so she recommended conducting research on the schools before proceeding with writing up the application.

Should I take a gap year?

Dr. Barley remarked, “It’s a personal call.” She said that some need and want it while others do not. She mentioned that most law school students take a gap year before enrolling. For example, 82% of Harvard Law School’s J.D. Class of 2024 is at least 1 year out of college. Nevertheless, Barley said, it is up to preference.

What is the timeline for applying to law school?

The time frame that Dr. Barley recommended for law school applications is approximately a year and a half. In the context of a student wanting to enroll into law school in the fall after graduation, the timeline could look as follows:

 

Junior spring – Study for LSAT & take the LSAT

Summer before senior year – Write up and finish applications, consult Pre-Law advising center

Senior fall – Submit applications as soon as they open up (applications technically close early early spring)

Senior spring – Decisions released

 

Dianne Kim is from Durham, NC and is studying Psychology, Economics and Markets and Management studies.