Law school admissions experts Linda Abraham and Christine Carr share wisdom about how to achieve application success during COVID-19 [Show summary]
In part two of this joint interview, TextMax Prep’s Branden Frankel and Jelena Woehr interview Accepted’s Linda Abraham and Christine Carr on what applicants should expect entering the law school admissions process.
How will the coronavirus pandemic impact law school admissions this year? [Show notes]
[Jelena] Since the COVID-19 pandemic began, have you noticed more people interested in applying to law schools, fewer, or no change? What are students’ feelings about applying to law school from your point of view right now? [0:37]
Linda: We’re seeing more law school applicants this year. There’s no question that we’re seeing more inquiries, and I think it’ll ultimately significantly increase our law school admissions businesses this year.
[Branden] Are applicants bringing different concerns to you than they were bringing before? [1:26]
Christine: Not necessarily. Actually, with respect to the pandemic specifically, I’m generally the one that’s bringing that up and asking questions as to how they’re informing their decisions based on the current state of affairs and remote learning, etc. I’ve been seeing that most of the applicants are asking the same types of questions. Personal statements are still top of mind for many people, and how to get started, so it’s not necessarily any different right now.
Linda: I think there is some concern about starting law school online and the quality of their education, especially if that continues. On the other hand, there seems to be a lot of optimism about a vaccine coming out in early 2021. So for the people applying this cycle, by the time they start law school, hopefully much of the population will have been vaccinated and the restrictions that we’re dealing with now, we won’t be dealing with.
[Jelena] Should online learning lead to any changes in an applicant’s application strategy? Should they be highlighting different traits about themselves than they would in a pre-pandemic world? [2:58]
Linda: I think, in general, adaptability is something that everybody is valuing a little bit more these days. I don’t think that’s going to fundamentally change what law schools look for in a law school personal statement. It might change a little bit. If you’re showing that adaptability, grit, perseverance, and resilience, those qualities have become more important in the last six months. But fundamentally, I don’t think you’re going to see big, big, big changes in the core of the personal statement.
Christine: I think that adaptability piece is a big piece, and that’s a thread that we carried pre-pandemic, that ability to take on many things and handle different aspects and multitask and think critically about different things. When I was working with applicants from March, when the bottom fell out, essentially, and people were making decisions about where to go, I was counseling many of our applicants to look at schools for their adaptability, how they handled themselves and how that frontline admissions office was taking questions and handling questions. Are they forthcoming with information? And are they keeping in contact? Because that’s setting the tone for the type of community that you’re going to be joining, and in order for you to be successful, ultimately, you want to be in a community that is able to adapt to those types of changes as well, right alongside you.
You don’t want to be the only one that’s adapting and showing those characteristics. You want the community that you’re joining to already be setting that tone. So I was counseling many of my clients to be very cognizant of how you’re being treated as an applicant, and how the offices are moving forward when they’re making the transition to online, because it was on the fly. Nobody was prepared for it, though that was a big testimony to how schools were doing.
[Jelena] Do you have any examples of things you’ve seen from admissions offices and schools that are doing a really good job of adaptability right now, things that other schools should be replicating? [5:33]
Christine: Across the board what I’ve been seeing is that schools are adapting well, and adapting as well as they can, given the circumstances. Again, they’re navigating waters that they’ve never navigated before and making really broad, sweeping changes that are affecting hundreds of people all at once, both students, faculty, other community members. I’ve seen across the board that schools are doing a really good job and taking students’ concerns and, conversely, applicants’ concerns to be top of mind.
[Branden] There are so many different pieces of the application, and I think it’s hard for applicants to know what’s more important versus what’s less important. How do you weigh the LSAT or GPA versus the other pieces of an application? [6:30]
Christine: We started addressing this earlier when we were talking about statistical significance. When admissions committees are looking at applications, they’re looking to set students up for success. They’re looking for areas of strength, to look into a crystal ball and predict that success. So the quantitative measures, the LSAT and the GPA, have been studied, and there is statistical significance that the higher the score, the better a student can perform in the first year of law school, which is an important year. That said, it’s not the be-all and end-all.
Many, if not most, law schools (and I think as we’re seeing this at Accepted) will see an uptick in applications, and many schools have many quantitatively qualified applicants to choose from. That’s where the qualitative measures come in. It’s the personal statement, the resume, and the letters of recommendation that make the application three-dimensional.
When schools have 5,000 to 10,000 applications to fill classes of 200 to 500 students, they’re going to be looking at the other qualitative pieces. Take the personal statement. Can you write clearly and concisely? Are you able to articulate why you want to go to law school and why you want to go to law school now? For your resume, what have you done? Have you been employed, which is important? When you’re applying to a professional school, where ultimately the goal is employment, you want to have a track record of employment. Those pieces are the differentiating pieces that go alongside those qualitative measures that have that statistical significance.
[Jelena] What are your thoughts on the personal statement, one of the most important qualitative measures on the application? How can students make a great one? [8:39]
Christine: My first advice is three words: proofread, proofread, proofread. You want to have a proofread personal statement. You don’t want my eyes to be the first person looking at this narrative. The legal career is where attention to detail is of utmost importance. Treat this as your first contract. You want all the details, all T’s crossed, all I’s dotted. That said, the personal statement is this open-ended question, and you’re writing about yourself, which is often the most difficult topic to write about. You’re trying to boil it down into two pages, double-spaced, so you’re looking at 20 plus years of living. You’re trying to find that one pivotal, life-changing moment and then write clearly and concisely.
When I’m working with clients and talking about the personal statement and I’m brainstorming with them, one of the first things I do is, in conversation, ask them why they want to go to law school. In that conversation, generally, there’s a few themes that come out. I can ask back, “Okay, well, let’s talk about this. What happened here? What happened there?” And then in that conversation, I’ll be like, “Okay, that’s your personal statement go ahead and start writing.”
In my career, I read a lot of personal statements. To hopefully dispel some of the fears of applicants, I’ve read more good than bad. And the bad ones were the ones that just weren’t proofread, that had grammatical errors in the first paragraph, or wrote that they wanted to go to Northeastern and I’m reading for BU, so that’s a strike against you. Those types of things. That’s what makes a personal statement stand out as a bad personal statement.
A good personal statement has a clear, concise narrative. It starts off strong. It ends strong, and it has details, like the same essays that you were learning in fourth grade.
Linda: You want your personal statement to have an engaging opening, a persuasive middle, and a conclusion that concludes. The distance between the opening and conclusion can’t be too long, and it all has to be built around the cohesive theme that addresses your motivation for law school. But I think it’s also important that applicants keep in mind that the purpose of the personal statement is threefold. Number one, it has to provide insight into the human being writing the essay. And that goes to the motivation that Christine was talking about. It has to provide insight into you, the human being, and your motivation and fitness for law school.
Two, it has to add value to the other elements of the application; it shouldn’t just repeat it. Don’t just tell them your LSAT; they already know that. Don’t tell them your resume or job history; they know that. It has to go deeper than that; it has to add value. And three, and this goes very much to Christine’s first tip: proofread, proofread, proofread point. It’s a demonstration of your writing ability and your communication skill, which is foundational for lawyers.
[Branden] The job market for attorneys is fairly tight, and it can be difficult to get a job out of law school. I would say there’s a three-tier classification of law schools: ABA-accredited law schools, those accredited by state bar associations, and unaccredited. If you have clients who are looking into non-ABA-accredited schools, what do you tell them? [12:23]
Linda: Be careful. Be very careful. I think it depends on their reasons for wanting a law degree. If they want to practice law, I probably advise them to avoid the non-ABA-accredited schools. If they want a legal education because they want the investment, for the knowledge, not as preparation for a career as a lawyer, I might be a little bit more lenient or open to the concept. Also it depends on if they can get into an ABA-accredited school. If they don’t have a choice, then again, it would depend very much on what their motivations are.
Christine: There are so many opportunities in ABA-accredited schools that afford you, again, more opportunity. I think non-ABA-accredited and unaccredited schools are limiting, but at the same time, Linda, I think you gave good advice. Think about why you’re applying to law school, and do the same type of shopping that you would do if applying to accredited schools. Look at the career placement, look at where the alumni are, look at what faculty are doing. Look at the type of education. Talk to other students. Again, talk to alumni, talk to graduates. And that’s all the same advice I give to applicants who are applying to accredited schools.
If it’s fitting the need, and you’re seeing yourself there, then okay. But I caution very highly because it does limit you, especially if you ultimately want to transfer to an ABA-accredited school. You cannot, in most cases, transfer from an unaccredited school to an accredited school. At BU, it was there right in our instructions. We had a dropdown menu of all schools, saying, “Select where you did your first year of law school,” and we did not have any unaccredited schools listed because we were only taking transcripts from accredited schools. It does limit you even while you’re pursuing an education, and then it ultimately might limit you afterwards.
[Jelena] What about the students who aren’t sure if they want to go to law school? When you get students who are debating whether or not to apply, what do you tell them? [15:34]
Linda: I advise them to work in a law office and do work related to what they see themselves doing after law school. Branden mentioned earlier that law school primarily prepares you to practice law, to be a lawyer. Law school is a means to an end, as are most graduate programs. You want to increase the likelihood that the end is something you will find satisfying. I think it’s very risky to go to law school because you don’t want to face the working world. One of my offspring considered that option and decided against it, because we weren’t going to finance it, wisely, at that point. I would get as much information as you can, and the best information is just by working in a law office, if at all possible, or legal clinics.
An Accepted consultant’s daughter was seriously considering law school and worked at a Manhattan law firm for six weeks and decided she absolutely hated it. It was the best six-week miserable experience she ever had because if she had gone to law school, she would have invested thousands upon tens of thousands of dollars for years only to discover that she was in the wrong field.
Christine: Law school is a very expensive investment of time and money, so it is not something that you should enter into lightly. While I was at BU, even talking with clients and with prospective applicants who weren’t sure, I would counsel them right in my office and say, “Do informational interviewing. Find someone who’s holding your dream job right now, and talk to them, and see what they do on a daily basis, how they got there, and what path led them there.” In that interviewing, you’re going to come to your conclusions and your decisions, but it is too much time and money to do it without being certain.
[Branden] Do law schools prefer legal experience to other experience? [17:49]
Christine: Do they prefer only those that have gone and had legal experience? No. They want some certainty that they know what they’re getting into, and they’ve done all of that information-gathering, and they’re not coming in lighthearted. But that said, there’s no perfect formula for the path that leads people to law school. At BU, we admitted flight attendants, we admitted firefighters, we admitted bartenders and people directly from undergrad. So people are coming to law school from all different avenues; it’s just a matter of making sure that you are staking your claim. “I understand why I want to go to law school, this is my time now, and my narrative is my application, and I’m making all of those points for myself.” The preference is only in that we know, then, that the applicant has done the legwork and has an understanding of what the culture is. So again, after what Linda was saying, after those six weeks, if they’re still there, that’s a good sign that they are committed and wanting to go.
[Jelena] During COVID-19, a lot of law firms have canceled their internship programs or are not hiring paralegals and legal assistants. Do you have any thoughts on what applicants can be doing right now to pad their resumes and make themselves look better as applicants for law school or graduate school? [19:17]
Christine: One of the pieces of the resume is that it serves as a timeline. At Boston University, no time can be unaccounted for, so you’re going to have to account for your time, and that includes this pandemic time. You’re going to have to talk about what you’ve done. If your application and your narrative is, “I want to be an agent for change. That’s why I’m going to law school,” and there’s not much evidence of that when there is opportunity… And I understand and admissions committees are going to understand that your safety is first and foremost, and there are safe ways of doing things. And if that means that in this time of pandemic and elections, you want to be an agent for change, and you’re not involved in the elections, whether that’s calling for or texting for your candidate of choice, but you’re just staying at home and playing video games, then it’s hard to make that argument. There are opportunities even in this time of uncertainty, and as long as you’re maintaining safety and doing things well and also continuing that narrative thread as to why you want to go to law school, you should be able to account for your time.
[Jelena] How would someone format or include that in a resume to account for time where, maybe, they didn’t have a full-time or formal part-time position? Say they were doing mutual aid in their community or volunteering? [20:57]
Christine: A resume for law school applications, I’ve always said, is quite different from a business resume. It doesn’t have to stay on one page. You can have more of a CV than just a standard business or one-page resume. So volunteer opportunities, unpaid internships, different opportunities, you can account for that in your law school application resume. And if it doesn’t fit, if it doesn’t work, then an addendum. Having an addendum specific to your resume and accounting for that time, I think, is totally fine and welcome to a committee. You never want to have the committee ask the question “Why?” or “What were they doing?” and not have it answered in your own words. Adding that informational aspect in an addendum is fine and welcome.
Linda: There are so many opportunities right now. It might be harder to get a job, but volunteer opportunities are all over the place, and volunteering doesn’t just mean using your Netflix subscription. There’s community service and leadership, free legal clinics, hotlines, representing tenants who are being evicted, contact tracing, organizing services for the vulnerable. The election, obviously, is right in front of us. There’s the social unrest that’s sweeping the country. There are so many opportunities. There’s also the possibility, and this is a harder one, of actually getting a law-related job. Now, that is harder because everybody is working from home now. There’s a possibility of trying to get a job in an area that’s related to where you want to go in law. So maybe you want to go to corporate law; try and get a job in business. Maybe you’re interested in patent law. Make sure that you have a technical background to support that interest, but also get a job in a related technical field. There are just so many opportunities and so many ways to not pad your resume, but to build your resume. And that should really be the goal.
- Christine Carr’s bio
- Applying to Law School During the Coronavirus Pandemic
- The Law School Application Series
- Accepted’s Law School Admission Consulting Services
- Acing the LSAT
- Law School Admissions: What You Need to Know
- What Does a UVA Law School Application Reader Look For?
- What to Expect From the New LSAT-Flex
- Wake Up to Your Amazing Career Possibilities