The decision to attend law school involves a very intense and arduous process. Whether or not one is sufficiently disciplined to study law is but one consideration in this decision. Is the prospect of a career as an attorney or other legal professional worth the effort? If your answer is yes, you have taken an initial step in a hopefully rewarding process. The next step in the process is to review a number of American Bar Association approved law schools to decide where you might fit in. Once the field has been narrowed down to a select number based upon your credentials, willingness to travel and financial situation, it is time to begin the admissions process. There are a number of vital elements that a conscientious applicant should be aware of in developing a plan for the admissions process.
Before going into what the application process entails, the step of “narrowing down” prospective law schools deserves some attention. There are a number of excellent publications available to a person contemplating law school. Two of these will prove very useful. One is an extremely insightful book by Sally F. Goldfarb titled Inside the Law Schools: A Guide by Students for Students, 7th ed. This book is a compilation of almost every American law school as seen through the eyes of people who have lived and studied there. As its title states, students have provided objective assessments of the law school which they have attended. This richly informative source also contains data on employment opportunities for potential graduates of each school. This, of course, is a primary concern of anyone contemplating law school.
Another helpful source is the LSAC Official Guide to ABA-Approved Law Schools, issued by the Law School Admission Council and the Law School Admissions Services. This book, published in cooperation with the American Bar Association and the Association of American Law Schools, is a first-rate source of information. The guide contains articles on the legal profession, getting into law school, choosing the right law school, financing a law school education, and a lengthy section of descriptions and profiles on each American law school. There are also useful appendices providing further law school Information. If this source does not provide enough data, there is a list of “other sources of information” in the introduction. This book can be purchased through the Law Services Information Book which, in turn, can be obtained from your prelaw advisor. The Law Services Information Book is a requirement for all law school candidates. It contains essential information and forms for the application process. There is an explanation about the Law School Data Assembly Service (LSDAS) and what it means to the applicant-which is everything. The LSDAS compiles all undergraduate and, if appropriate, graduate records into one concise report. This report is what the law schools receive as the record of an applicant’s academic achievements. There are forms and cards in the back of the Law School Information Book for the LSDAS. Also included is a list of dates and test centers for the Law School Admission Test (LSAT), which is administered quarterly. There is also a section of sample LSAT questions similar in structure to those that appear on the actual test.
The Law School Information Book contains important law school codes, undergraduate major codes and college codes -all of which will be required when filling out the cards and forms found in the back of the book. The forms are completed in the same way as an answer sheet for a multiple-choice test is completed (#2 pencil, etc.). The forms are for enrollment into the LSDAS and LSAT registration, and must be used for these purposes.
After the forms section are the card pages. The “request for information” cards are simply filled in and mailed to a desired law school. Upon receiving this card, the law school will put your name on their mailing list and send its catalog and application shortly thereafter.
Next are the “transcript request form” cards. These must be submitted to the registrar of any college that you have attended. The registrar should then attach this card to the official transcript and send it directly to the LSDAS. This step is required and assists with the orderly processing of an application when the time comes for review.
The last group is the “law school application matching form” cards. These cards must be submitted with your completed application when sending it to the law school. The law school will then use the cards to acquire your LSDAS report. This card is also required for smooth processing of an application.
Once applications have been requested from the law schools of your choice, it is wise to begin drafting what is called a “personal statement”. The personal statement is your chance to tell a law school that which has not been revealed in the application responses. This segment of the application process can be the most challenging and time-consuming. In general, the personal statement should describe you so that a law school will know what makes you a desirable and unique candidate. There is no one format that each person should follow to create a personal statement. It is important to understand that what may work in a statement for one law school may not work for another. For example, one school may ask to know whether an applicants transcript truly indicates his or her potential; another law school may mention nothing about transcripts whatsoever; some law schools will just leave it entirely up to the applicant. An informative essay on the personal statement written by a former admissions officer from Georgetown University said that “…applicants should be advised to write their personal statements with great care. In many cases, they will be the determining factor.”
In your personal statement try to stress strengths without being “obnoxious” and do not refrain from incorporating information about something that had to be overcome in the past. It may also be very wise to ask someone who possesses a strong knowledge of both you and the English language to read over the statement. The insights, reactions and suggestions provided may help to create a brilliantly polished piece, that paints a vivid picture to the admissions staff. Don’t opt to wait too long before starting the personal statement. Just remember that it has been said that the law school application is the candidate’s first opportunity to present a case. A hurried one, not carefully argued, will not help. As you progress with the personal statement and have received a number of applications, read through the applications and get a feel for what they are asking. This is the time to start planning on how the application will be filled out. A typewritten application will create a finished product that is far more appealing than a handwritten one. This is strictly stylistic, but first impressions are important. Photocopying the application prior to typing can provide an idea of what needs to be done, as well as giving some practice in filling out the application. Once the application is completed, going over it with a fine-toothed comb will help to assure a thoroughly completed application.
There are two other components to be concerned with when completing the law school application. First are letters of recommendation. In choosing an individual to write a letter of recommendation, it is advisable to select someone who is familiar with your character. If a good relationship exists with a professor in your major, ask that professor if he or she would be kind enough to write the recommendation. Be sure to ask someone who understands your abilities, eliminating the chance of an unfavorable letter. If there is a better relationship with a professor outside of your major, by all means, ask him or her but the same caveats prevail. If more than one letter of recommendation can be submitted to a law school, asking an employer to write a letter may be a plus as it shows experience in the “real world”. The other component of concern in completing your application is a certification of academic standing from the Dean of Students (this is only requested by a small number of law schools). Once the decision has been made and the individual agrees to write the letter, waiving the right to see these letters in the future would be a psychologically sound decision. There is a space on the letter of recommendation form where you can either waive or refuse to waive this right. The reason for waiving is simply to show your confidence in the recommender. Also, make a point of writing a sincere letter of thanks to the recommender!
Since there has been a significant amount of time spent on the application process, a stellar representation on paper should be the result. It is best to include all required documents when first sending int the applications-try not to send in the applications until all required documents have been received (letters of recommendation, transcripts submitted to the LSDAS, etc.) Once again, first impressions are important; if the application is neat and complete from the start, an advantage will have been obtained. Corresponding to this psychology, the earlier your application is received and completed at the law school, the more efficient and diligent you, as an applicant, appear.
Creating an effective plan for the law school admissions process will make the chances of submitting a complete and impressive application greater. An organized and well-presented application will only add to the attractive credentials you offer and will help you to get into law school.
Article written by Christopher W. Hager, Esq. 2nd ed. by Kevin J. O’Connor, Esq. Both authors are graduates of Montclair State University and Rutgers-Newark School of Law.
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