Want to be a lawyer? Study physics.

Well, maybe.  I learned via Sean Carroll about a study showing that physics and math majors get better LSAT scores than people who study any other subject.  The top 5 disciplines, with mean LSAT scores:

  1. Physics/Math (160.0)
  2. Economics (157.4)
  3. Philosophy/Theology (157.4)
  4. International Relations (156.5)
  5. Engineering (156.2)

In some cases, disciplines with smaller numbers of students were lumped together, so Physics/Math were treated as one category.  Pre-law ranked 28th out of 29, with an average score of 148.3.

It’s tempting for us physicists to use this as propaganda to convince people that studying physics is good preparation for a variety of careers, including law.  Although I suspect that that proposition is true, this study probably doesn’t provide strong evidence for it, for the usual correlation-is-not-causation reasons.  Students may self-select into physics and math based on qualities that correlate with doing well on the LSAT, but that doesn’t mean that a given student would do better on the LSAT if she studied physics as opposed to something else.

Still, it’s always nice to have bragging rights over other disciplines.

The fact that pre-law ranks near the bottom sounds embarrassing, but I suspect there’s not too much significance to it.  Pre-law is a funny category: at many institutions (including, I think, every one I’ve ever taught at or attended), pre-law isn’t a major: a pre-law student majors in something else.  So I’ll speculate that the students counted as pre-law in this study are a non-representative sample: they come from a different (and plausibly biased in various ways) subset of universities than the others.

One last thing.  Sean observes

The obvious explanation: physics and math students get to be really good at taking tests like the LSAT. I don't imagine this correlates very strongly with "being a good lawyer." Then again, I don't think that good scores on the physics GRE correlate very strongly with "being a good physicist," over and above a certain useful aptitude at being quick-minded.

Regarding the physics GRE, I seem to recall some actual data showing that scores correlate extremely poorly with a variety of measures of success in and after graduate school, but I can’t seem to find it, so maybe I hallucinated it.  If anyone remembers what I’m thinking of and can point me to a citation, I’d appreciate it.

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Ted Bunn

I am chair of the physics department at the University of Richmond. In addition to teaching a variety of undergraduate physics courses, I work on a variety of research projects in cosmology, the study of the origin, structure, and evolution of the Universe. University of Richmond undergraduates are involved in all aspects of this research. If you want to know more about my research, ask me!

7 thoughts on “Want to be a lawyer? Study physics.”

  1. My wife was taking the LSAT prep course and I helped her out with some of the subjects. I am got my degree in engineering, she in english. The most difficult thing for her was the 60% or so of the test that could be solved extremely easily if you have ever solved a logic puzzle, something Physics, Math, Engineering, etc. are generally good at solving.

    I’m not talking crazy 12 people live in 12 colored houses with 12 pets and 12 favorite drinks puzzles either, it was more along the lines of four people have 4 cars figure out who owns what.

  2. This is definitely an interesting post. The most difficult part of the LSAT for me was the logic games, which it seems would be easier for someone who had majored in math or physics.

  3. Makes sense…causation and correlation comprise a huge percentage of questions on that evil test. But don’t most of us go to law school to never see a math question again? All I know for sure is that political science was of NO help on the LSAT.

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