January 20, 2005
So You Want to be a Law Student, Part 2
Posted by Christine Hurt

So You Want to be a Law Student, Part 2

As the admissions files are coming fast and furiously onto my desk, I thought I would revisit an earlier topic, applying to law school. If you have already sent in your applications, then you probably just want to skip down and look at the picture of Gov. Rick Perry doing the hula. If you are thinking of applying late or next Fall, read on.

I have organized my January thoughts into the following topics: Application Form; LSAT essay; and Personal Statements. Please remember that these thoughts are my thoughts and that most admissions committees are constructed so as to represent different schools of thought. With that disclaimer. . . .

Application Form

Most applicants type their form. I know that typewriters are a little hard to find, but if you are not applying online but are filling out a hard copy of the application form, you may want to find a typewriter. However, if you don't know how to use a typewriter, you may want to ask someone to help you. I've seen some messy typewritten forms with a lot of white-out and crooked typed lines.

The application form is going to ask you for some personal information. One of those items is your email address. If you have a silly email address, then get another account before applying to law school. We don't want to correspond with [email protected].

I'm not sure how many applicants realize that admissions committee members have access to your entire file. We get a folder that has every scrap of correspondence between you and the school. If you forgot to send your check, we see that. If you forgot to send your letters of recommendation, we see that, too. Just be aware that the process is transparent and that interactions between you and an unnamed staff member do not stay at that level.

The application form may ask you to voluntarily identify your race or ethnicity. This is not a space for debating the pros and cons of affirmative action, but just know that not identifying your self is the same as identifying yourself as Caucasion/White. If a school takes that information into consideration, that school may edge applicants up if they identify themselves as minority candidates. If you do not identify themselves as such, then your race or ethnicity will not be taken into account, as if you had identified yourself as a "majority" candidate. You cannot fool the committee into assuming that you are a minority candidate, a la Soul Man, and you aren't making an effective stand for your anti-Affirmative Action views. I just thought you would want to know.

LSAT Essay: In keeping with the above caution that admissions committee members see all, be aware that we also see your LSAT essay. I will tell you that I can't read half of them because the handwriting is hard to read and the reproduction of the page is so small. That being said, the essays with a lot of edits and arrows pointing everywhere send a message. Also, a few applicants get bored during the essay and draw pictures, create satire, or otherwise mock the process. Just be aware that if you find yourself in a discretionary pile where your file is read, then someone will read that essay. Many people put more stock in that essay, which is clearly the product of the applicant alone, than in the personal statement, which could have been written or edited by anyone.

Personal Statement:

Admissions committee members feel differently about personal statements, but these are my opinions. I personally prefer the humorous to the morbid, but that may just be me. My earlier post mentioned the personal statement essays and cautioned against turning the essay into something from the Oprah show, and I stand by that advice. Admissions professionals tend to be young and sympathetic to these essays, but faculty members tend to be older and less sympathetic. The average age of an admissions committee member is probably around 50, so your audience has seen a lot of tragedy, including a lot of loved ones with cancer. Many have buried parents, siblings, friends, maybe children. Although the death of your beloved grandparent may stand out to you as a turning point in your life, most admissions committee members will have lost all their grandparents some time ago.In addition, the following are some words that make me cringe when I read personal statements:

Argue: Don't tell me that the reason that you want to go to law school is because you love to argue. I don't like students who argue with me. Tell me that you love to engage in ideological debate. I like students who do that.

Jail: Unless you volunteer at a jail, then this word should not be in your essay. Telling me that your interest in the law began when your family member was arrested/convicted/incarcerated sort of makes me feel ooky.

Sorority: I hate to say this as an alumni of a social-service organization, but admissions committees are not chock-full of sorority girls. There's no Chi-O on the committee who is looking out for other Chi-O's. Surely the most meaningful story that you have did not take place in a sorority house. Include leadership positions that you held in your sorority in the applicable spot on your application.

Beauty Queen: For the same reasons as above. Also, not everyone has a great opinion of beauty queens after Jon-Benet Ramsey. Most will find it hard to identify transferable skills from that activity to law school. Again, put it on your application in the applicable extra-curricular spot.

Quotation Marks: OK, quotation marks aren't a word, but I was trying to stay in the pattern. What I want to caution against is opening your personal statement with a quotation, as the majority of applicants do. Interestingly, the most-cited quotation is the line from Robert Frost's The Road Not Taken. Ironic -- think about it. Anyway, most quotations are trite or fairly fluffy and do not add much. There are exceptions. I particularly like funny song lyrics, but again, that's just me. Also, be careful not to quote a controversial figure, and if you don't know if someone is a controversial figure, then find someone else or skip the quotation. Everyone comes to the admissions table with their biases and prejudices, and that quote from Michael Moore may push someone over the edge.

Kaplan: As in, "I consisted scored 5 points higher on practice LSAT exams during my Kaplan prep course." Everyone scores higher on practice LSAT exams during the Kaplan prep course than in practice. I have heard people theorize that Kaplan has easy practice exams on purpose to give everyone confidence going into the LSAT. I have no idea if this is true or not. I do know that this statement in itself does not lead me to believe that your LSAT score is a fluke.

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