So, You Want to be a Law Student?
I've been thinking about law school admissions lately as I stare at the stack of admissions files on my desk to be read. (And the Dean of Admissions is probably thinking that if I blogged less, I could actually read the files in the stack.) I don't know how many readers out there are applying to law school or know others that are, but I thought I would give some advice from an admissions committee member. The advice is on four topics: your LSAT score, your recommendations, your essay, and your criminal record.
LSAT Score: It is what it is. Some applicants like to explain their LSAT score. I had a bad day, I had a headache, I'm no good at taking standardized tests. The people reading your file have taken the LSAT and probably a bar exam, so we know that all test takers run the risk of it not being the best day of their lives. That is why LSAT is but one factor. That being said, I've never been very impressed with the LSAT explanation. The only explanations that I do appreciate are the ones that go like this: "I'm not good at taking standardized tests; therefore, they do not reflect my true abilities. To explain, I made a 1050 on the SAT, but I made a 4.0 in college. Likewise, my LSAT is not a predictor of my law school performance." Include evidence of your SAT score, and that's a good argument.
Recommendation Letters: As a file reader, I want to know if I would like having you in my class or if I would want to hire you in my law firm. Therefore, the best letters come from professors or from employers. They can tell us whether you are a self-starter, inquisitive, hard-working, and able to manage your time. Academics can also tell us whether you get excited about your coursework. Letters that are not helpful are letters from friends of the family who happen to be lawyers or judges (or law professors). I think some applicants must get bad advice that letters from lawyers help your file, but they really do not. I don't want to read a journalistic account of your academic success as seen from the house across the street.
Essays: First, make sure that your personal statements contains no embarassing errors. When I was on the admissions committee at the U. of Houston, I read a personal statement that began, "This application is the final step in my lifelong dream to attend Georgetown University Law Center." I understand that through the magic of word processing, you don't have to write 10 different personal statements, but I don't like to be reminded of it. And of course, how sincere are you if you have 10 different lifelong dreams? So, check those envelopes! Second, this is not the Jerry Springer show. Yes, use your personal statement to show me that you were the first person to go to college in your family or that you paid your way through college, but please don't turn your statement into a no-holds barred plea to my emotions. I am much more interested to see how you write and whether you have some thoughts in your head. I know that many applicants have overcome tragedies and obstacles, and I'm sure some don't even mention them. But I get numb after reading the 100th essay about the death of a grandparent and get a little cynical that applicants are trying to use these events to their advantage. Look to the future and write a positive essay.
Criminal Incidents: Every law school application is going to have detailed questions about all criminal adjudications, including traffic tickets. Rule of Thumb: It's not the crime, it's the cover up! Be extremely honest -- more than honest. If you omit anything, this will eventually come out, and then the consequences can be quite severe. I knew a student at a different school several years ago that omitted a 9-year-old felony plea from her application, and when she applied to take the Bar, the conviction was found and the deception ended her career. If she had included it on her application, she would be a lawyer today. So, err on the side of overinclusion. Include everything, even if you were told the conviction or deferred adjudication was expunged.
Also, you will be given the chance to explain. Do not protest too much. Most applications have something in this column to explain, so you are not arguing from a position of desperation. The best answers take responsibility and say that the applicant learned from the experience. Don't try to squirm out of anything -- "I was holding my friend's beer/I was sitting next to the cooler/I was simply in the car with the other people/I was framed/They were out to get somebody." The last person that I want in my class is someone who doesn't take responsibility and believes that someone was "out to get me."
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