Law School Admission: Thoughts on New Year’s Eve
Before we pour the champagne on the west coast, I wanted to share some of my thoughts on the current law school admission climate.
People are taking the LSAT more than they used to, thanks to the June 2006 ABA policy that encourages law schools to “count” the highest of multiple LSAT scores. But I do think it’s getting a bit ridiculous how often people are retaking the LSAT who really shouldn’t. If you study appropriately for the LSAT and you get within 3-5 points of your average practice exam scores on the real thing, there’s really no reason to retake the test. Yet so many people choose to do it in hopes of chasing just 2 or 3 more points. This usually ends badly, with no increase in score, or even a cancelled score, and then you’re applying later in the cycle than you intended. This tends to cause people to go a bit crazy – they wasted three or more months waiting for an LSAT administration, not to mention extra money spent on tutoring, prep courses, study materials, and the opportunity cost from all the fun you missed, hours you could have worked, etc.
It can be really frustrating to wait and not be any better off (aka, not any more competitive for law school admission) as a result. Law schools aren’t helping this trend: the University of Virginia told one waitlisted applicant that I’m working with that he would be admitted if only his LSAT score were two points higher. What a dumb thing for the school to say, especially for an applicant who has a documented history of struggling with standardized testing, and even dumber for any decision makers at UVA to think that he would be a better law student or practicing lawyer with a negligible increase in LSAT score. A top law school shouldn’t be chasing rankings to this degree. Of course, you’re applying to law schools, so you don’t really care about the dumb decisions law schools make so long as they admit you. If what you take from this example is that a 2-point increase is worth chasing then you’re missing the point; my guess is that I’ll be reporting in May that he will have been admitted to UVA without retaking the LSAT. I’m almost willing to put money on it. And this kind of attitude only feeds the monster – literally – of LSAC and LSAT prep programs, etc.
For everyone who says law school admission is all about the numbers, I have a client with a low 150s LSAT score and a GPA under 3.0 who is already admitted to top 50 schools and who is on the waitlist at a Top 20. And he’s not the only one. Of course, before everyone with a 153 LSAT gets excited I should say that it’s really important to honestly evaluate your credentials, accomplishments and experiences. Not just anyone can do this. Do you have a compelling story to tell? Are you self-sufficient? Do you write exceptionally well? Did you do things that no one could have predicted for you based on your background? Are your goals for the future reasonable based on your past accomplishments? Do you have people who will vouch for the fact that you are the real deal?
If you’re a traditional applicant without significant work experience, life experience, diversity, etc., then I agree with those who say it’s mostly about the numbers. However, you can be more than your numbers if your personal statement is insightful (not traumatic or dramatic, but insightful), your resume shows focus, and your letters of rec show that you took your endeavors seriously. We all make mistakes – MIP citations, a bad start to college, a poor choice of major for the first two years, taking the LSAT without adequate preparation – it’s how you deal with these things that matters in life. You don’t have to be perfect, but growth and maturity are important. If you can demonstrate these, you can make up for a lot in a law school application. If I believed it was all about the numbers, I would pack up my business. Exceptional applicants get in to schools beyond their numbers: people with 159s get into Penn, not regularly but it happens. Present yourself well, trust yourself. And if you know you’re not that exceptional, just present yourself with maturity and thoughtfulness. These things will take you far.
Don’t feel pressure to choose an area of law to specialize in. Everyone seems to be the next big international law attorney. Intellectual property law is a close second. Of course, this is slightly better than five years ago when everyone claimed to want to be a public interest lawyer. If you’re a traditional applicant with maybe a few extracurricular involvements, and you don’t speak any other languages and you studied abroad in Australia, your “strong interest in international law” will fall flat. Some people can really “sell” that they have a specific goal within law, but I highly suggest you take the advice of Jaret Davis from my most recent Blog Talk Radio Show and be open to legal careers that are booming in this economy, or whatever economy we’re in when you graduate in 2014.
If you’re taking the February LSAT, I hope you’re either applying for Fall 2012 law school admission, or using the score increase to get in off wait lists that you are already on (and that the schools you’ve applied to are not holding your application for the score.)
A possible New Year’s resolution? Resolve to be less susceptible to law school adcom gossip. I’ll stay away from saks.com if you promise to avoid law school numbers and law school discussion. Why does it help you to see that someone who applied to GW before you already got their acceptance letter but you haven’t? How on earth is that helpful information? Read a good book, visit friends – heck, visit law schools. But stay away from all things (and people) toxic to your emotional well being during this stressful in-limbo time.
For those of you planning to submit apps in January, look for next week’s U.S. News.com Get In Law School post about how you can plan to fare applying in January. This Monday’s post will be about transferring after your 1L year. Then, I think I’ll stop writing for U.S. News and save my best ideas and blog posts for my loyal and supportive readers of the Law School Expert blog.
In this new year, I wish you wonderful opportunities, experiences that lead to personal growth, meaningful friendships, and success – however you define it.