Once you are all done with your undergraduate degree, you have some options. You can take your diploma and never ever have to set foot in a classroom again, and dive right in to the job market. Or, you can go back to school for 2+ more years. If you decide to go down the path of more school, you have even more options. Med school, Grad school to become a teacher, Grad school to become a philosopher, a writer, a musician. Or, if you have always thought you were good at arguing, reading, writing, and memorizing things, there is always law school. Law school is never a bad option. First off, whatever law school you end up going to, 3 years later, you are a lawyer, plain and simple (well, if you pass the bar). And once you are a lawyer, you don’t have to be an attorney forever, there are many uses for a J.D., from being a politician to a consultant.
Once you make the decision to go to law school, there is a lot of preparation ahead of you. If you want to go right from Undergrad into Law School, you will need to make up your mind at least in the spring semester of Junior year, and the sooner the better. If you are going to take a year or more off, you have some more wiggle room. I am graduating in the spring, and have been working on my own law school applications for about a year now. Based on my experience, here is the advice I would like to share with anyone who is either applying now, or thinking about applying in the future. It can serve as either a checklist to make sure you have everything you need all together, or something to use as a reference before you decide to apply at all.
1. Study for and take the LSAT
The LSAT is a relatively evil test with the ability to quickly crush one’s dreams of becoming a lawyer. It tests your logical reasoning, reading comprehension, and overall your ability to think quickly and rationally. If reading quickly and making rational decisions have never been your thing, you should probably think twice about law school. I would recommend finding some practice questions online or just reading about the test to decide if this is something you would like to do. If you want to give it a shot (and have $140 worth of confidence in yourself), you should hit the books. Start by taking a practice test and seeing how you do. If you scored decently without any practice, and have a lot of self-control, you will probably be able to train yourself using mostly books and practice tests. If you didn’t do so great, there are plenty of classes available, both in person and online, and you just need to do a little research to see what technique will work best for you. If you did worse at one section, you can also invest in prep for just that section, and study for the rest on your own
I think the most useful study materials I bought were actual, official LSAT prep tests. What better way to prepare than by familiarizing yourself with actual test questions and formatting? You should try to do your best the first time around, because it isn’t recommended to take the test multiple times, but unless you are shooting for a Tier 1 school, it probably won’t be the end of the world.
2. Build Your Resume
This seems like a simple task, as most college students probably have a working resume already that you use to apply to jobs and internships. However, the law school application resume is a different breed. The goal is to show off why you would be a good law school candidate, not a good candidate to work at a local grocery store, intern at a media company, or be President of the student government. Anything that is irrelevant to law school should not be on your resume. No objective, nothing about what you did in High School, you don’t need to list every odd job you had, and don’t bother mentioning your proficiency at Microsoft Word. Instead, you should emphasize what you accomplished during your college career, and explain that. This resume doesn’t have to be limited to blurbs, and as long as you stay in the 3rd person, you can explain things a little more. Here are some more tips and samples to get you started.
3. Get Letters of Recommendation
Before you go crazy hunting down half a dozen professors and previous employers to write you letter of recommendation, you should first take a look at the requirements of the schools you want to apply to. Some schools don’t require any letters, some 1 or 2, and most won’t really accept more than 3 or 4. Instead of getting a whole pile of decent letters, you should focus on selecting people who know you well, and can best represent your interests and give admissions agents a clear picture of who you are, as the letters could potentially make or break you if your file is lingering on the maybe pile. Overall, try secure two good letters, and let this part of the application be the least of your worries. Just make sure the people writing you letters know they are supposed to be writing said letter, and that they know when to submit it by. Also this has to be done through LSAC, but more about that later.
4. Write Your Personal Statement
Your personal statement is pretty important. When writing this document, you should be focused on demonstrating your ability to write clearly and concisely, and also explaining why you would make a good candidate for this particular law school. Your personal statement should not be full of cliches, but should give the admissions officers a clear picture of who you are. If you say that you are a good candidate because you “had to overcome a lot of obstacles and realized being a lawyer is your true calling,” you better explain exactly what those obstacles were, and exactly how those experiences shaped who you are right now. Don’t launch into some super-dramatic sob story, that is almost a sure-fire way to have your application tossed in the trash. The Personal Statement is all about finding balance. You don’t want to be so self-promoting that you read as extremely pretentious, but you also have to show that you have confidence in your abilities. Here are some more tips to help you out.
5. Navigating the LSAC website (Lsac.org)
The Lsac website should become your new best friend. It is literally where every part of your application happens. This is where you register to take the LSAT, keep track of at fill out all of your applications, and send out requests for your transcripts and letters of recommendations. One of the most important things you have to do on the site is register for the CAS, or Credential Assembly Service. What this does is gather your application materials, like LORs, your transcript, and your LSAT scores, and then sends that information out in one bundle to the schools you apply to. It definitely simplifies the process, but is also kind of pricey, so again, make sure this isn’t a decision you are rushing into. The registration fee is somewhere around $125, and then you have to pay an additional $25 for each report. You literally cannot apply to any law schools without being a CAS member, any ABA-approved school requires it.
6. Collect Application Fee Waivers
As I’ve already mentioned a few times, just the task of applying to law school gets expensive. Initially, I listed up all the schools I wanted to apply to — I think about 15 — and added up the costs of all the fee waivers and CAS reports. The grand total was close to Two-grand. Yikes. Fortunately, there are a few ways to scale down this number a little bit. First, if you legitimately have financial difficulties, you might qualify for an LSAC fee waiver. This will allow you to take the LSAT for free, and I believe get 4 free CAS reports (but don’t quote me on that). Also, if you are given an LSAC waiver, you can pretty much e-mail any school, prove your qualification, and they will waive your application fee. If you don’t qualify for a waiver directly from the LSAC, but still don’t have thousands of dollars to toss around, there are still some chances you can get some application fees waived. If you sign up for the Candidate Referral Service, some of your info., like test scores and GPA, will be made available to schools. Mostly, this means you will get a lot of e-mails from random law schools you’ve never heard of. Every once in a while, there will be a hidden gem, and a school that is on your list will send you a glorious e-mail saying that they will waive your application fee. This will help cut down on cost, and you may be able to apply to more schools than you would otherwise, increasing your odds of getting admitted somewhere.
7. Set Aside Plenty of Time
Even though most deadlines don’t start until March, it is advisable to get your applications in as early as possible. If you want to do a thorough job, and you should, this process should take time, a personal statement isn’t something you should be writing the night before. Also, filling out the actual applications is a little tedious. A lot of the information will get auto-filled from one app to the next, but you still have to go through every page and hit submit a few dozen times. Also some apps call for different information than others, so you need to stay on your toes about what is required where.
8. Get Someone to Double Check Your Work
Unless you are some kind of super genius who is good at everything, chances are you could benefit from having someone double check your work. Find a friend, professor, adviser or family member you trust, more than one would be even better, and have them look over your resume and personal statement. Something that makes sense to you might not make sense to a reader, and you want to clear that up before you submit. Also, after looking at the same thing so many times, you might miss a typo or two that a fresh eye would see right away.
I’ve heard way too many times that during your first year of law school, you essentially sell your soul to the devil himself. Before you are knee deep in legal history and terminology, enjoy your freedom. And just relax, if you’ve done everything, chances are you will get in some where. Driving yourself crazy over something out of your control is never the right answer.
Will you be applying to law school?
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