Ben Johnson was a University Scholar who graduated from Baylor in 2003 with a BA in economics, history, and English. He is now a PhD student in politics at Princeton University. His research focuses on how courts operationalize the law and how people interact with and respond to the courts. Ben earned his JD from Yale University and his MA in economics from Boston University. He was a Mercatus Center Adam Smith Fellow during the 2014-2015 academic year.
What is your best advice to current pre-law students about the LSAT (or GRE), law school applications (or grad school applications), and undergraduate work as a pre-law student?
Study for the LSAT. If you’re going to law school, the classes are worth the money. The points you move up in the LSAT get you into better law schools, and better laws school gets you more money. Paying good money now to improve your score is worth it in the long run.
Protect your GPA. Law schools care about your GPA number, not what you study or what was your degree in. A 3.5 in Physics reads worse than a 4.0 in underwater basket weaving!
What is your best advice for recent graduates who are about to enter law school?
Take it seriously and understand you’re going to have to work really hard. Understand everyone else will be working really hard. You may think that you’re smarter than everybody in school, but everyone else self-selected into this the same way you did and they all think they’re smarter. They’re all working harder, so you need to work harder. Protect the GPA. Get on the journal. Before you enter law school, sleep, because you’re not going to do much of that in school!
When you were at Baylor, what activities, clubs or internships helped you in your application process to law school (or grad school)?
Building relationships with faculty was the key in my applications to law school. The thing that helped me to get into law school was a letter from Jim Vardaman, my freshman history teacher. He wrote a letter of recommendation that I believe got me into Yale.
What are three books that have significantly impacted your life and work (besides the Bible)?
Lord of the Rings
Deciding to Decide by HW Perry
Good to Great by Jim Collins
How does your faith factor into your work? How would you encourage Christian pre-law students to enter the field of law and law school?
I’m an odd duck in this. I discovered that I take faith way too seriously and care way too much about it to do scholarship on it. I’ve seen a lot of really smart people write a lot of really dumb scholarship, because they have an almost-theological commitment to their politics or their faith. Until I become much, much better at the methodology and practice of scholarship, I try to keep my faith from intersecting with my academics. I care too much about my faith to do it badly.
You have to figure out what it is you want to do, and you have to be willing to give up a lot to do it. Lawyers who try to help people adopt, set up nonprofits, give advice to poor people is needed.…. You should only go to law school if you need to be a lawyer to do what it is you want to do.
What is the 'key to success'?
I did a lot of different things – I did grad school, I worked on a political campaign… I did a lot of things and tried to do them all well. The key to success is to impress – not to suck up, but to impress through your merit.
You’re going to be who you’re around. Pick who you want to be around. I’m lucky to be married to a wonderful, Christian woman who helps me daily to take stock in what I do. I think it’s a bad idea to hang out exclusively with believers, but a critical mass of people you hang out with should be believers.