The law school application process can be daunting – choosing which schools to apply to, figuring out what to write about in your personal statement, and taking the dreaded LSAT – where do you begin? First, think of the application in two parts – the quantitative and the qualitative.
Quantitative stats and law school admissions
Let’s review the quantitative measures: your GPA and your standardized test scores. Notice I did not immediately drop the dreaded four-letter word – LSAT. Each cycle, more law schools announce their acceptance of the GRE as the standardized test score for admissions. Applicants have options and should choose the appropriate test for themselves and for the schools to which they are applying. (This is particularly helpful for applicants who have or are completing a master’s degree and may have a current GRE score.)
The quantitative measures are concrete and statistically significant. An applicant’s GPA attests to the applicant’s ability to perform daily in the classroom. The LSAT has a positive correlation to success in the first year of law school. Both are important tools for evaluation. Study hard in the classroom – 0.01 of GPA points can make a difference. And study for the LSAT or GRE – while most schools take the highest score, why torture yourself? Make the most of your quantitative measures.
Qualitative criteria for law school acceptance
Yet, admissions committees are enrolling learning communities of actual human beings who will become actual human lawyers working in society. Thus, I promise you – after having served for nine years on BU’s law school admissions committee – that committee members mean it when they say they review applications “holistically.” The qualitative measures are important as well.
Utilize all the additional components of the application – personal statement, resume, optional essays, and interview if possible, to make an inherently two-dimensional process as three-dimensional as possible. Humanize your application with a strong personal statement that tells your narrative clearly and concisely. Detail your experiences and interests on your resume, including any quirky hobbies like quidditch playing or calligraphy.
Taking account of just the qualitative parts, here are tips for a successful law school application:
- Don’t forget the three P’s of the personal statement – Proofread, Proofread, Proofread!
As a member of a law school admissions committee for nearly a decade, I would often find myself reading an application, coming upon a proofreading error or other carelessness in the document and think – “I would not want this person to be my lawyer.”
Seriously. If I read a personal statement that had a proofreading error in the first paragraph – not necessarily a grammatical error – but a careless mistake of an extra word or, worse, the name of the wrong law school, I would take it personally. Literally, personally. An applicant, seeking a spot in law school to pursue a degree for which attention to detail is manifest, is creating a narrative screaming that they are not interested in proofreading this document so how likely will they proofread future documents? Will they be equally careless with future documents where a client’s interests are at stake? I would not want to be that client. I can’t say it enough, proofread!
- The resume does not need to be one page unless specified.
Remember, you are not applying to business school or to a job. Law school admissions committees generally want details, and generally do not require that you keep it to one page. One to two pages is fine, allowing to provide information like: what were your responsibilities, was it part-time, full-time, paid, unpaid? Where did you volunteer and what was your role? Are you a runner, cycler, knitter, reader?
Essentially, committees are looking for you to account for your time since starting your undergraduate career – no high school stuff at all please – and leave no gaps. If you have gaps in your resume, your application may be placed on hold until you are contacted to fill those gaps. Timing is essential in rolling admissions, so don’t leave gaps. If you must explain something, like a couple of months of unemployment while you were job seeking, do so in a short addendum or paragraph at the end of the resume submission. Just remember, aside from a few weeks of job-seeking or travel – leave no gaps!
- Letters of recommendation – ask early and ask if it will be good.
A letter of recommendation is not always required, but when it is, please know that committee members are reading it. Thus, if you are still in college, great. Cultivate relationships with your professors. Go to office hours, ask questions, make yourself known. First, this will likely make for a better academic experience and help with grades, but it will also serve you well when calling upon that professor to write a letter on your behalf. If you are a few years removed from undergraduate, fear not, you may ask an employer or grad school professor to pen a recommendation for you.
In any case, ask early, give the letter writer enough time, and ask if they can write you a “good” recommendation. Trust that if they say they cannot, whether they are busy or may not remember you well, they will not, and you should ask someone else. When a letter of recommendation begins with “I am not sure why Applicant X asked me to write this letter…” it does not bode well for the applicant.
- Character and fitness – answer the questions as they are asked.
My primary advice to all applicants is this: do not get in trouble. Seriously, stay out of trouble. Drive the speed limit; remember 21 is the drinking age; if your dorm does not allow candles, then don’t burn candles; and don’t cheat/plagiarize. Make good choices.
But I realize that not everyone wants to be forever judged by the actions of their sophomore-year self. Thus, I say to you, an infraction or two may not preclude you from being admitted to law school, but you must answer honestly to the character and fitness questions as they are asked. The questions are not standardized, and each school asks the C & F questions differently. If you have a question about a character and fitness question, call the admissions office for clarification. Your law school application will be reviewed after graduation by the state’s bar examiners, thus, while answers may not preclude your admission to law school, mistakes or dishonesty may haunt you later.
- Optional essays – optional really means optional.
Never feel bad if you have a great personal statement that conveys your narrative and writing anything else would not be authentic. That is fine. In fact, reader fatigue is real, and if you have stated your case in two double-spaced pages of personal statement excellence, admissions committees everywhere are bidding you a hearty thanks. That said, if you have more to say and adding additional information into your personal statement will detract from the theme but remains important, then by all means, submit an optional statement, historically called the “diversity” statement. It allows the applicant an opportunity to provide insight into the future community member the applicant will be and again, create a more three-dimensional perspective. And it, like the personal statement, should be clear and concise and of course, proofread. Please take as much time and effort composing a thoughtful optional essay as you did the personal statement or do not submit it. All components of your application deserve your utmost attention.
- Addenda – Don’t leave the admissions committee asking the question “WHY”
Not all admissions committees feel the same about addenda, some schools say no to any additional information. If you are considering sending along an addendum, seek out whether it is accepted. As a reader, I found addenda helpful. As such, I counseled prospective applicants to make certain that if there are “blips” in their application, and an admissions reader may ask the question, “Why did this or that happen?” to make sure the answer is in your own words. Thus, use an addendum to state your case. If your sophomore spring was not your strongest semester and your grades took a dive, and the reason was you had mononucleosis, a short addendum is appreciated. It is helpful that you acknowledge the blip yourself and provide context. Not excuse, but context. And keep it short, it should not be longer than your personal statement. Clarity and conciseness rule the day.
As I stated previously, the law school application is daunting. Yet, when broken into its parts – quantitative and qualitative – you can certainly manage it. Study hard for a strong GPA and test score. Answer each application question honestly and cogently. Proofread each component and present the narrative of a strong law school applicant. Opening acceptance packets will be in your future!
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