Planning Your Law School Application Strategy
Hopefully, this isn’t the first time you’ve sat down to think about your timeline for applying to law school and all the work that will go into it. At this point of the year, many people have just finished taking the June LSAT. For those of you that did, that’s great! Even if you did not, or if you didn’t do as well as you think you could have, there is no need to panic; there’s always October! Nonetheless, if you don’t have an LSAT score that you’re happy or comfortable with under your belt by now, it’s definitely time to buckle down. Preparing for the LSAT like it’s a full-time job for the next couple of months should be your priority. But, while you’re preparing, you shouldn’t lose sight of the other things you need to be doing to be ready to apply to law school in the coming Fall so that you are ready to submit as soon as schools start accepting applications. Applying earlier in the application cycle will help your chances at schools that use a rolling admissions system.
It goes without saying that, besides the LSAT, your law school personal statement is the most important piece of your application. It is your best opportunity to showcase yourself, to convey your strengths, to explain your weaknesses or any gaps in your application, and to convince the admissions readers that you will make a valuable contribution to their next year’s 1L class. You should already be brainstorming topics for this, and thinking about how to weave many of the most meaningful experiences of your life into a cohesive narrative about your desire to attend law school. We invite you register for our free presentation fom Jean Webb—the former Director of Admissions at Yale Law School for 17 years—about “You, Yourself, and the Law: Crafting your Ideal Law School Personal Statement.”
Besides the LSAT and the personal statement, which are obviously critical to your chances for law school admission, the components of your application that need the most planning and work are the ones that are not entirely within your control:
1. Letters of Recommendation – These are absolutely critical to your success. They don’t just involve handing forms and materials to your professors; you should have already been cultivating relationships early on, interacting frequently and closely with your potential recommenders.
If you think about the law school personal statement as your chance to write one or two pages about pretty much whatever you want (within certain boundaries) to show off to the admission committee, then you should think of your letters of recommendation as your opportunity to have externally verified, independent information of the same length conveyed to the admissions committee on your behalf. Thus, you should plan for and treat your letters of recommendation as meticulously and carefully as you do for your personal statement. No matter how much a professor likes you, don’t let them have complete ownership over the process of writing your letter. It’s their letter, but it’s your application. Don’t be shy about this. It’s perfectly acceptable to tell a professor that you want him or her to focus on your writing ability because you have two other professors focusing on your quantitative aptitude and problem-solving ability. Telling them that you’ve carefully planned your application will most likely help you gain their respect more than anything else. More importantly, telling them what you would like them to do makes their lives easier. Typically, a professor will ask you for your personal statement draft (which I advise against if at all possible because they end up just parroting much of what you’ve already said), your transcript, and sometimes written work from their class(es). We think you should go several steps further than that. After providing a short summary of your application persona and the way in which you see this recommendation fitting into that narrative, you should bullet point a couple of key traits or characteristics that you want each recommender to emphasize and flesh out in great detail substantiated with concrete anecdotes. The more specific, the better. Every one of your peers will be submitting recommendations that say how great they are. It’s important for yours to stand out from the pack. To this end, you should write a couple examples of work you did with that professor to exemplify each trait or characteristic you’re asking him or her to discuss in your letter. This makes their job much easier in writing the letter, and makes your letter turn out much better. If you have any questions or hesitation about approaching your professor in this way, then reach out to one of our admission experts who’s done it before and had several of his/her students do the same with wildly successful results. Remember, while you don’t have control over when the recommender sends the letter (and thus should stay on top of that professor/employer/mentor throughout the process, you can exert some control over what goes into your letter…much more than you think! Remember, it’s your application, not theirs.
2. Transcripts – Schools can be notoriously slow about getting transcripts sent in, and the process for requesting the transcripts can be frustratingly bureaucratic. Make sure you know exactly what your schools’ process is for submitting transcripts and how long it takes. Check your LSAC Credential Assembly Service page when you think they have been submitted and keep checking until you see that it has been received and that item has been successfully completed. You would think the school is always on top of this type of thing, but they have thousands of students to deal with in this respect and each of them applies to dozens of schools; it’s not always their fault, so be respectful and stay attuned to what is going on with your application.
If you have been abroad for a semester or a summer and you took classes for credit at that institution, you will most likely be required to get a transcript from that institution as well even if your work there did not result in a degree. This can be an even more difficult problem because you’re dealing with international mail and people in different time zones who are not necessarily full time registrars. Talk to them early and often to make sure that you get the documentation that LSAC and schools will require. It took me two months to get mine submitted properly, and it was questionable whether I even needed to or not initially. To be on the safe side, get your official transcripts from abroad submitted to LSAC ASAP, even if you don’t think it’s strictly necessary.
3. Dean’s Certification of Your Academic/Disciplinary Record – You usually are required to get some sort of Dean’s Certification of your academic and/or disciplinary record from college, and the process for obtaining this certification or acknowledgement varies from school-to-school. Most schools are pretty good about this, and they have standard forms for submitting the certification. Sometimes, though, these forms are not adequate and so you will want to make sure that they fill out the LSAC form or each school’s specific form as well. Stanford, and a couple of other schools, have unique Dean’s Certification forms and will not accept a standard from your college in many cases. Go through your school list, and make sure that you are abreast of the requirements for each school. Don’t hesitate to call the admissions office to clarify exactly what you need if you are hesitant about what your college told you. Or, of course, you can always reach out to one of the law school admissions experts at InGenius Prep.