Thinking about becoming a lawyer? Ready to apply to law school? Before you begin the trek toward three years of intense studying, sizable tuition payments, and lasting law school memories, make sure you fully understand what it takes to get into law school.
Many variables are at play when applying into law school – your grades, timing, LSAT score, location, recommenders, financial situation, and more. However, in this piece we focus on just one – timing.
Timing is the only variable exclusively controlled by your own diligence and organization.
The timeline below, adapted from UNLV pre-law advising, is a step-by-step guide, taking you from your freshman year in college to your final law school acceptance letter. If you are interested in law school but have already graduated from college, begin at the “Junior Year” stage – giving yourself at least a year to prepare your application, take the LSAT, and figure out your financial situation.
Freshman and Sophomore Years
Focus on Your Grades
Your goal in college is to earn the best grades you possibly can. For many, college is a new, overwhelming experience that takes time to get used to. If you need assistance getting acclimated to college and its academic requirements, put pride aside and ask for help. Whether it’s tutoring (many schools offer free tutoring), online self-help, office hours with professors, or participating in peer study groups, do whatever it takes to help yourself succeed. The better your grades, the more competitive you are as a law school applicant.
Build Relationships with Your Professors
Develop strong relationships with your professors early on. As you are “feeling out” college and what it has to offer, you may not be interested in networking or even speaking with your professors. But this is a no-brainer. It is your professors that must speak to your academic abilities and personal qualities in their letters of recommendation, so make sure they can easily give a glowing reference.
Network with Legal Professionals
“Shy is expensive” – do not let your fear of talking to strangers limit your opportunities. Reach out to legal professionals and use our tried-and-true approach “I’m interested in law school and want to know more about what it means to be a lawyer. Do you think I can have 30 minutes of your time to ask you questions about what you do and how you got there?” So, don’t be shy, you never know who you’re going to meet.
Join Student Organizations
As you’re beginning your college career there will be numerous student organizations that catch your attention. We encourage you to take part, gain experience, and meet some incredible people. Identify one or two organizations in which you hope to take a leadership position. Many law schools seek students with demonstrated leadership experience.
Enroll in PreLaw Programs
Get a leg up on your fellow law school applicants by participating in a pre-law program. Look beyond general programs offered at your school to national pre-law programs focused on underrepresented groups. These programs provide opportunities ranging from LSAT prep courses to full-on law school preparation. We’ll discuss pre-law programs at length in another post, but here are few: CLEO, UC Davis BOOTCAMP & KHOP, UCLA Law Fellows, and TRIALS.
Research Law Schools
Now that you have a better grasp of what the legal profession is all about, it’s time to begin researching specific law schools. Make sure to equip yourself with all the information relevant to your decision such as the cost of attendance (both tuition and living expenses), bar passage rate, employment rates upon graduation, financial aid offered (are there academic requirements to keep the financial aid?), on campus housing, law school rank, and the school’s strength in various areas of law.
Decide When to Take the LSAT
The LSAT is administered by the Law School Admissions Council (LSAC) four times a year: February, June, October, and December. Because submitting your application early may help your admissions chances, plan to take the June or October test. Law school applications are available beginning in September (the year before you would matriculate). It takes roughly 3-5 weeks to receive your LSAT score, but law schools will still accept and hold your application until they receive your score – essentially holding your place in line.
Register for the LSAT and CAS
Once you’ve decided on a test date, use the LSAC website to register for the LSAT and the Credential Assembly Service (CAS). You’ll use the CAS portal to submit your transcripts, letters of recommendations, and other applications, which are eventually sent to each school to which you apply. You’ll pay a fee for both the LSAT exam ($160) and the CAS ($155); however, LSAC fee waivers are available. In addition, many schools waive their application fees (which range from $60-$100 per school) for applicants that received a LSAC fee waiver.
Prepare for the LSAT
It’s time to focus on getting ready for the LSAT while maintaining your stellar GPA. The LSAT tests your ability to carefully read and reason in context, and strategies exist to help you ace it. Our recommendation: take a prep course. Self-study is cheaper but may cost you a coveted law school admission. Commonly used prep courses are Kaplan, TestMasters, and Princeton Review. Stay tuned for our upcoming article on LSAT success.
Identify (and Ask) Your Recommenders
Your letters of recommendation are a key part of your application. Most schools allow you to submit only between 3-4 letters of recommendations, while some allow only two. Make sure the individuals drafting your recommendation know (and can speak positively to) you and your capabilities. Recommendations from big names with little substance are worthless. If you followed our advice to network with your professors and attorneys, you should have plenty of recommenders to choose from.
Your job is to make the writing process extremely easy for your recommender: 1) Create a packet that includes your transcripts, personal statement, noteworthy work, and any other information you may want them to know about you; 2) Provide the recommender with sufficient time to draft the letter (at least 1 month); and 3) Follow up – recommenders are busy and tend to forget, a friendly reminder never hurts.
Reach Out to Pre-law Advisors/Mentors
Use the resources at your school, but know that school pre-law advising can be hit or miss. Ask your pre-law advisor to share the list of law schools to which alumni have been accepted. Also, make sure to reach out to attorneys or other advisors that may have connections to the law schools you are interested in attending. They likely won’t get you in, but they can help you get your foot in the door with the admissions department.
Take the June LSAT
It’s test day and time for all your prep work to payoff. Start your exam day of right with a few sample questions to get in test day mode. Leave your home with plenty of time to ensure you arrive on time. Once at the test center, focus on doing your best on the exam. You don’t want to be thrown off your game by how others perceive the exam, so try not to talk about the exam while waiting in line or during the break. Afterwards, relax and move on. Scores are released in 3-5 weeks and obsessing over yours won’t make it arrive sooner.
Begin Your Personal Statement
Now that you have more time on your hands (or not, if you are studying for the October LSAT), you need to begin working on your personal statement. You can begin on your personal statement before the applications are available as most law school personal statement prompts are the same vein – “Please tell us why you want to go to law school and why we should accept you.” You can also look at previous personal statement prompts. Check back for our post on perfecting your personal statement from a law school admissions professional.
Finalize Your Resume
Law school resumes are different from your business resumes. Think of law school resumes more as a CV, so be comprehensive. We won’t engage in the one page resume debate, and instead encourage you to balance the need for substance with brevity. Resist the temptation to share that you were the 2nd Grade Spelling Bee Champion, but you should share, for instance, that you worked throughout college or that you were student body president.
Visit Law Schools
We strongly encourage you to visit your top law school choices. We understand that this is a luxury and is very expensive. But it often is the only way to truly know if a school is right for you. Another alternative is to postpone your visits until you are admitted. Some law schools, as part of their admitted student days, offer admitted students a travel stipend and overnight law student hosts to defray the cost of your visit. Check with your prospective law school’s admissions office about possible stipend or student hosting programs.
Send Your Transcripts to LSAC
You must request that each post-secondary institution you’ve attended send a transcript to LSAC. Do not wait to request your transcripts; typically, the faster you need them, the slower the registrar processes your request. So, take care of it early.
Finish Your Personal Statement
Take the time to make sure your personal statement is perfect – no grammatical or stylistic mistakes. If you’re using the same statement for several applications, check the name of the law school before you press the submit button. Attention to details such as these is a critical lawyering skill and a careless application does not demonstrate your potential to write well. So how does your personal statement become flawless? Review, Revise, Edit, Repeat. Once you’re done, have someone you trust do the same. Very few law schools allow for a face-to-face interview, so your personal statement may be your only opportunity to “speak” to your law school: make it great.
A often asked question is, “How many drafts should I go through?” Our answer – as many as you need to end up with engaging, error-free writing. Some candidates go through 15+ drafts of their personal statement. Depending in your writing process, you may require more or less. In addition, reach out to those who know you well – your parents, mentors, or friends review your personal statement. You may also consider asking a seasoned writer who doesn’t know you as well to review your personal statement. One candidate even asked a copy editor at his local newspaper to review his personal statement for grammatical errors. Whatever your process, make sure your end product is flawless.
Write Any Optional Essays
If you are an underrepresented minority, have a unique story, or feel the admissions panel should be privy to information that is not reflected in your personal statement, make it known in an additional statement. For example, an underrepresented minority may wish to write a diversity statement explaining how it shaped his or her life and the unique prospective he or she will bring to the law school environment.
You may also want to address your GPA or your LSAT score. Tread carefully as these statements are not meant to be your opportunity to engage in a round of inappropriate, unconvincing excuses (e.g., you were ill when you took the test or you weren’t excited about your major). Instead, you must persuasively explain why the number does not reflect your ability (e.g, you have a low LSAT but your stellar GPA demonstrates your proven track record or your sophomore grades tanked while you were coping with a death of a loved one). Later in this series we’ll discuss how to make the most of these additional statements.
Update Your Resume
Make sure to update your resume if you have gained any substantive experience during the Summer or Fall.
Take the October or December LSAT
If needed, you may retake your LSAT. Before you do, check with your prospective law schools to see how they treat multiple LSAT scores. Some law schools look only to your highest score, while other law schools will average your scores. How your school treats your scores may impact your decision to retake the exam.
Finalize Your Application
Though law school applications are largely similar, make sure that you follow the directions for each and every application you submit. Some ask for additional recommendation, others ask for additional personal statements. Read the directions carefully and follow them to the letter.
Submit Your Applications Between Halloween and Thanksgiving
Submitting your application your application (even if it is missing a final transcript or LSAT score) during this timeframe will maximize your opportunity to be admitted to your top choices. Many law school accept students on a rolling basis, so it’s first come, first served. Many qualified candidates are denied admission because they waited too late to apply. So, apply early!!
Send Fall Transcripts to LSAC
After you receive your latest round of grades, quickly send your final transcript to LSAC. At this point, you application could be reviewed at any time and you’re racing against your admission officer’s timetable.
Wait for the Admission Letters to Begin Rolling In
Sit back and relax. Trust me, you have earned it. It will be a nerve-wracking wait, but when you receive your first acceptance I guarantee you the work will have been worth it.