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Podcast Episode LawSchoolStrategicAdmissionPlan

Law School Strategic Admission Plan

What You Can Do Now To Help You Get Accepted

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For students thinking of applying to law school, it is never too early to start building a strong application. In this show, we interview top law school admissions deans, admission consultants, authors, and current law students to help illuminate the process by telling us what can be done now to help applicants get in next year. Find out when to start studying for the LSAT, how many times applicants should plan to take the exam, when the best time to visit schools is, how to narrow choices, and how to address weaknesses in an application, such as low grades or potentially low LSAT scores. Find out when the best time is to submit the application. We also examine how current economic conditions may affect the application process.

 
Guests include:
  • Anne M. Richard, Associate Dean of Admissions and Financial Aid, George Washington University Law School
  • Robert L. Schwartz, Assistant Dean/Dean of Admissions and Financial Aid, UCLA School of Law
  • Ben Teisch, Current 1st Year Law Student, George Washington University Law School
  • Todd Holman, Current 1st Year JD/MBA Student, UCLA School of Law
  • Richard Montauk, Author of “How To Get Into The Top Law Schools” and Law School Admission Consultant
  • Adam Hoff, Director of Admissions Consulting and Research at Veritas Prep

Transcription:

Welcome to Law School Podcaster — your source for inside information and advice on the law school application process. I’m Diana Jordan. Those who are considering law school face increasing competition. As of the spring of 2009, the Law School Admissions Council (LSAC) reports that the number of applications is up nearly 5% over the previous year. In this show, Law School Strategic Admission Plan: What You Can Do Now to Help You Get Accepted Next Year, we’ll help you develop a strategy that will improve your chances of being accepted at the law school of your choice. In this segment, Deans of Admission, law school students, authors and consultants will help us map out a clear plan that tackles the students’ best timeline for applying to law schools and taking the LSAT, how to narrow the choice of schools and how to make applications stand out despite any perceived weaknesses.

One of the first things an applicant should focus on is to identify schools to apply to that have the right “fit” for them. We’ll hear from Anne Richard, Associate Dean of Admissions and Financial Aid, for George Washington University Law School, “People have to visit and just see what feels like the right fit because typically students will be choosing among schools that are very closely ranked.”

First Year Law Student at George Washington University Law School, Ben Teisch speaks, among other things, of his own experience in setting up a timeline for taking the LSAT, “I took a February LSAT and then spent the next probably six months or so working on my application so I could get all mine in by Thanksgiving time.”

Applicants should also look carefully at the curriculum offerings of different schools. There are differences that matter. At the UCLA School of Law, we’ll hear from Assistant Dean for Admissions and Financial Aid, Rob Schwartz, “Some people have an idea of what area of law they want to study, others have no idea and, quite frankly, either way you want to look at the curriculum and make sure that there is a wide variety of courses and a wide variety of areas. Then, if you know you have an area of interest, you certainly want to make sure there is a significant number of courses and depth in the curriculum in that area. You know if you’re interested in environmental law or entertainment law or whatever it might be, but keep in mind that you could change your mind as well.”

And, it’s never too early to start visiting law schools if you think you might want to apply. We’ll hear from First Year JD/MBA Student, Todd Holman, at UCLA, “Visit one or two schools a year if you think you might want to go and attend law school there after your graduate. It certainly makes for a nice vacation and you’ll know well ahead of time what sort of school you want to go to and potentially what kind of program or schools you might want to participate in.”

Applicants also have to consider their timing of when to take the LSAT. There are more choices for applicants on when and how often to take the test. Adam Hoff is the Director of Admissions, Consulting and Research at Veritas Prep, “There are additional test dates that one can take. For instance, there is a December LSAT, there is a February LSAT and both of those are tests that the schools will accept.”

And, part of any successful law school admissions plan should include thought about how law school fits with an applicant’s career path and goals. Richard Montauk is a Law School Admissions Consultant and the author of How to Get into the Top Law Schools. “The people who approach law school having had work experience and who have a pretty clear career path within law already mapped out tend to be the ones who enjoy law school most and who don’t suffer the angst during law school.”

Timing is important. Associate Dean of Admissions and Financial Aid, Anne Richard at George Washington University Law School, what is the best timeline for students applying to law school? “For people who are looking to start law school immediately following college, they should apply in the fall of the senior year and try to get applications in as early as possible. That said, students should make sure that their applications are as strong and in the best shape that they can possibly be so that getting an application in a little bit later is better if it’s stronger. Students typically will apply beginning October 1 and most law schools have rolling admissions so it’s an on-going process all of the way up through March and April for some schools.”

Assistant Dean for Admissions and Financial Aid, Rob Schwartz at UCLA School of Law, what is the best timeline for students who are thinking of applying to law school? “It’s best to start thinking about getting recommendations and preparing for the LSAT at least a year in advance and preferably even as much as two years in advance because the recommendations, at least in our process here, are a very critical part of the admissions process and so you ought to be giving some thought to who you would like to ask to write letters of recommendations and getting to know faculty members or employers and so I think even before one or two years out you can be giving some thought to that.”

Ben Teisch, First Year Law Student at George Washington University Law School, what’s your advice for those who are just beginning the application process? “Your grade point average is fairly fixed even if you only have a year left so the LSAT is a big component there. I think that a well-written personal statement can help although schools vary about how much weight they put on that, getting references ahead of time. A lot of it is just kind of the organizational process of doing any sort of grad school application and it helps to be clear and concise and well organized and early in the process.”

Todd Holman, First Year JD/MBA Student at UCLA, you worked at a hedge fund, did business analysis at a financial firm and finally applied to law school. How can real work and career experience be used by applicants to guide their decision about what law school can provide for them? “Students have gone out and taught for America or volunteered, worked as union organizers, worked in business, you name it these students have done it. And I think those students’ perspective really add a lot in the classroom and help them keep things in perspective when they’re studying for finals and writing legal memos.”

UCLA Assistant Dean, Rob Schwartz, what if students are debating whether to go? Does starting the process early help them to strategically make that decision? “Even a freshman in college who thinks they might want to apply to law school should think about going and visiting a law school, sitting in on a class, taking a tour, going to a Law School Forum, which is sponsored in a lot of cities by the Law School Admissions Council, to meet with admissions representatives and to start to get advice about the process. These forums that are sponsored by the Law School Admissions Council in the various cities are very helpful, you can talk one-on-one with admissions people and you can also go to workshops on a wide variety of areas including financial aid, and the application process, and the admissions process so I encourage people to check that out on the LSAC website.”

Richard Montauk is a law school consultant and the author of How to Get into the Top Law Schools. Richard, how should a candidate approach the LSAT? “One thing that I greatly discourage is people strolling in off the street, taking the LSAT, seeing the score and on the basis of their unprepared-for LSAT result, deciding whether or not to apply to law school. If you’re going to be serious about going to law school, get ready for the LSAT in advance because a weak score is likely to hurt you throughout the process.”

Adam Hoff is Director of Admissions Consulting and Research at Veritas Prep. Adam, what impact does the LSAT have on a student’s choice of schools? “Their LSAT score is going to have an impact on the reality of where they can attend. It doesn’t mean that they shouldn’t have some reach schools or apply or reach for the stars but they need to understand that the LSAT score will put a ceiling and a floor on the types of schools that they are going to be considered at.”

Rob, when should students begin studying for the LSAT when you now have the choice of taking it in June, in the fall, December or February? “Many schools today will put a lot of emphasis on the high LSAT and we do that here at UCLA — meaning if somebody takes it multiple times, we’ll put a lot of weight on the higher score. You don’t want to have to take that test more than once. And so it’s important to be prepared for it when you do take it. Many schools will accept the December administration of the LSAT and some schools will even accept the February administration of the LSAT, even in the year in which you are applying (and we’re one of those schools). But, it would be my general advice to get it out of the way sooner because, in general, it’s better to be able to apply earlier in the process — particularly for very selective law schools that are getting thousands and thousands of applicants.”

Todd, you began studying for the October LSAT in July and you took it just once, do you recommend that? “If you only plan on taking it once, I think you’ll study harder and the level of stress might be a little bit higher, but in some regards, I think that that’s appropriate. The LSAT is not a very fun experience. So, if you just focus on getting the best score you can the first time, I think you will be happier for it in the long run.”

Is it a good idea to take the LSAT numerous times, Adam? “When it comes to the LSAT, you always want to take the approach with every standardized test that you are only going to take it once. That is not something that you’re locked into. The LSAT has now joined the ranks of things like the GMAT and the SAT and other tests that people are familiar with in the sense that you can take it more than once and schools will take your best score. It used to be that the LSAT scores were averaged together. That’s been changed at most schools; they now consider the best possible score of the two. However, they will see your various test dates and they will all go into the decision-making. People who go into it, planning on taking it once, and preparing in that fashion, typically do the best. And so, our advice is to plan on taking it once, but know that you always have the opportunity to take it more than once.”

So Adam, when should you begin prepping for the LSAT? “You want to start preparing at least 10 weeks out from the test date so you can have about eight weeks of test preparation and then two weeks to synthesize it, do practice tests, get familiar with the timing of it, allow yourself to take the test in the actual test conditions, those types of things. The one thing that I would add to that is that if people are interested in law school, and know they are going to be taking the LSAT, they should begin their preparations immediately although less formally. And what I mean by that is that there is one area of the test that people can begin improving on right away — and that is their reading comprehension. And so, a lot of LSAT takers are already college students who have a lot of required reading but they need to read more specifically material they are not comfortable with. I spent a lot of time reading very technical journals, medical journals, things about geology. Many of the reading comprehension questions on the test are about those subjects, and so having read about them in advance gave me some familiarity. But, it also allowed me to sharpen my critical reading abilities and to not just read for pleasure but to train myself to find a key thought and the key inferences that were made in a very complicated passage.”

Dean Anne Richard, when is the best time to visit schools? “It’s good for individuals thinking about law school who don’t have any exposure to lawyers or don’t know that much about legal education, it’s good to visit as they begin the process. To try to sit in on a class, talk with law students, get a feel for what law school is all about. Once students have gained admission to some schools and have their list of the top choices of schools they are most seriously interested in, then they should spend some time at each on their final list as they make some choices as to which schools to attend.”

Current Law School Student, Ben Teisch, when do you think students should visit schools? “I think there’s definitely some value in going, maybe, before you apply but I think a lot of that kind of information and figuring out, do I want to go to law school, doesn’t necessarily require a visit to law school but could definitely be helped by talking to some law students and some people in the legal field. That’s definitely something I did before I chose to start going down that road. But I think once you kind of have an idea about where you’ve gotten in and where you’ve been wait-listed and maybe where you really, really think you want to go based on your other outside research, I think as many schools as you can visit, you definitely should. More importantly, I think once you go, you shouldn’t just do the normal, take a tour and go visit a class. You definitely should attempt to stop some random students who are either studying or walking by and ask them if you can talk to them for about five minutes. And, ask them a battery of questions that seem to get at what’s really important to you. It helps to get answers to the questions that you really want answered that help you determine if a place is really meant for you based on what’s important to you but I think it also gives you a good vibe for the school about do students seem friendly, do they seem willing to help you, what is their general demeanor, what is the vibe of the school because law school is still three years of your life. No matter how good a school it is, I think you still need to go some place you’re going to be happy.”

Dean Rob Schwartz, how can a student use the law school visit to help fine tune their application plan? “To make best use of the visit you really should try to talk to as many different people as you can. People in the Career Offices, people in the Financial Aid Office, people in the Admissions Office and go to a student lounge or an outdoor area where people are hanging out and talk to students and get as many different opinions as you can about the place. Some schools will offer, these days, travel subsidies for admitted students. So, if there are some places that are far and you want to wait and see if you get admitted, and then you are admitted, you might want to ask about a travel subsidy to go visit some schools.”

So Ben, when you were on campus what questions did you ask? “Part of it is just the general demeanor about whether or not people want to talk to me. What they are doing when I interrupt them? Do they seem to be intently studying and they don’t seem to want to bothered by anyone (even though they are in a very public, common area)? You know, do people seem to be conversing with each other? Do they seem to be collegial? On the other side of that is some of the questions I asked had to do with geographic reach of the school, both geographic mix of the student population. So some schools that I visited that were similar rank to GW had student populations that pretty much were just from that state or the surrounding states and when I asked the students about, where else did you look, why did you come here? Most of the students would say I just applied to schools in this state because I know I want to work in this state. And for me, I really wanted some geographic diversity in my options of what to do after law school. So that answered the question and was less attractive to me than schools where there was a lot more geographic diversity where I talked to people and they were like I’m from Florida, I’m from California, I’m from New York, and they’re from all over the country there is a good chance that one, I’m going to enjoy my law school experience more because of the geographic diversity but also [two,] there is a better chance that, if I want to go to any of those places afterward, we’re going to have a bulk of alumni there to make it easier for me to get there.”

Richard, how do you narrow down your choice of schools? “Law is a very snooty, hierarchal sort of profession and your choice of school doesn’t just determine the first job you get. It tends to stay with you as an important factor in being hired for your second, third, fourth jobs. People who have clear career notions, however, can make these tradeoffs more easily than someone who doesn’t. For instance, if you know you’re going to go into a certain specialty, such as tax, then you could be looking at schools that really specialize in tax. Even amongst the top schools an NYU, for example, will offer, give or take, ten times as many tax courses as my alma mater, Stanford. It’s not to say it’s impossible to become a tax lawyer coming out of Stanford but it may be a lot easier to do so coming out of NYU. And given that they’re both top tier schools, it might make sense for a budding tax lawyer to go for NYU even though it tends to be ranked just a tad below Stanford generally.”

Dean Rob Schwartz, how should students narrow their choices for schools? “The most important things that people will consider is location and environment because you want to be happy when you’re in law school. You want to do well. Your grades are going to be very important in terms of your future opportunities. So, being in an environment where you can see yourself and thrive is critical. So, as students begin to narrow choices, they should think about where they are going to comfortable, where are they going to be located, do they want to be in a city, in a small town? The other thing is where they want to work after they get out of school and, as they think about their choices, they want to ask questions of the law schools. Where are students going after graduation? Are they going nationally, are they going internationally or are they mostly staying in the region where the law school is located? And, even if they are staying in the region where the law school is located, is it by choice or are there opportunities for students who want to go elsewhere?”

How did you narrow down your schools, Todd? “Well, I looked at lifestyle. I recognized that there was a pretty large disparity between schools on the East coast and schools on the West coast in terms of how students and teachers approached the law school experience. I looked for joint degree programs; I knew I wanted to do an MBA while I was in school as well. I looked at the focus of the schools — so whether there was more public interest or whether it was a law firm feeder school. And lastly, I took rank into consideration as well when narrowing down my choice after my first three criteria.” Why is ranking your third choice, Todd? “Just solely focusing on ranking, students tend to place themselves last and their futures first, and I’m not sure that’s the best approach because you’re going to spend the next three years of your life in a fairly stressful environment. And if you’re not happy with that environment, I think your performance will suffer and so I wanted to make sure that I was comfortable with where I was going.”

Dean Rob Schwartz, you suggest students look for law schools that have clinics, law school programs that afford students the opportunity to gain real, practical legal experience while supervised by members of the faculty. Why? “I actually participated in the clinic while I was in law school, a tax clinic, and I thought I wanted to be a tax lawyer but I quickly learned when I represented a real client in federal tax court that I was not cut out to be a tax lawyer. And the tax court judge made that very clear to me. So, I am grateful that I had that experience in law school, as opposed to on the job. And when students think about clinics, they should think about, what are the clinics, are they interesting to them, how many clinics are there at a particular school, how many spots are there in a particular clinic? And at UCLA, for example, there are close to 30 different clinical programs — things that run from the environmental law clinic, to the human rights clinic to the immigration clinic, to a sports law clinic, a number of different clinical programs in the criminal law area, mediation and negotiation, even a deposition and discovery clinic, where you can learn how to take depositions and do discovery.”

Rob, what else should applicants focus on? “Financial aid; it’s going to be critical to people. Law school is getting more and more expensive and certainly that is going to be something to think about and students should make sure that they apply for financial aid on time. There are other things that people should look at, like bar passage rate, the statistics in terms of where people go and salary information and law journal opportunities. I think they are important. Does the school have not only a law review but other opportunities to write?”

Adam, what do law schools look for? “There are five themes that most every law school is looking for. Basically they are looking for intellect; they are looking for motivation, discipline, collegiality and leadership. Those are the traits that they want in a candidate and so every item of an application is going to speak to some of those.” What if the person gets a low LSAT score? If an admissions reader is reading a file and sees a low LSAT score, their inclination is going to be, alright, my concern is over this person’s intellect. So what someone needs to do is prove, through the rest of their application, that that is in fact a strength of theirs. That they have intellectual curiosity based on the courses that they have taken and the internships that they have sought, that they have intellectual horse power and that they have put themselves in very challenging environments and thrived. Get recommendations from professors who can speak specifically to the quality of a great thesis or a great performance in a course. Things that say wow this person is smart.”

Anne, when is the best time to submit an application to law school? “The time to submit the application is when it is done and in the best shape possible but, earlier is better, because I believe most law schools have a rolling admissions process.”

Rob, when do you think it’s the best time to submit the law school application? “Most people will tell you that it is certainly better to submit your application earlier than later. For example, at UCLA, our application deadline is February 1st, we received about 8,200 applicants this year and we’re only going to admit a class of 300. We do admit conservatively enough because we know that we’re going to be getting applications through February 1st and we know there are going to be applications that will come in later that we are going to want to admit to the law school. So generally, it is good advice to get it in as soon as possible. I generally would say to people to try to shoot for the latest by the Christmas, New Year’s period and if you can get it in by Thanksgiving or between Thanksgiving and Christmas, even better.”

Richard, what if there are weaknesses in the application? “The most useful approach is likely to be to do some really good work for a few years. Log two or three years or four years in a career in which it is possible to demonstrate that you are good, that out in the real world, you really perform. It’s all the better if that’s done in the context in which you’re competing with the best and brightest.”

Anne, how do you strengthen an application? “Whatever the hurdle is, the applicant has to deal with it and just try to do the best to strengthen every other part of the application. The other thing is, law school admissions committees get very, very wary of excuses so the whole personal statement shouldn’t be focused on a poor academic record or a bad LSAT score. It’s really just to highlight the strength and put together the best package possible.”

Ben, your thoughts on addressing your weaknesses in an application? “The personal statement is your chance in 500 words to try to give the person reading the file a real idea about who you are and what you stand for. They want to get a feel for you as a person, beyond what they already know through all of these other pieces of information they have. So, if you really want to work around the weakness in your application package, a lot of schools will accept, kind of, an additional — keep it very brief — kind of short explanation of something if you want to address it and I might do that and keep my personal statement centered on — this is who I am.”

If students have weaknesses in their applications, Rob, and they decide to provide addendum, what should they say? If there are questions that are going to appear from your application, let’s say you took the semester off or a year off from school, where your grades have a significant trend either lower to higher or higher to lower, anything that you think somebody looking at it is going to question, I would encourage an applicant to explain by writing an addendum to the application.”

Anne, are supplements a good idea? “If someone makes Phi Beta Kappa or wins an award, gets a new job or promotion, certainly they should supplement their files but I have seen a number of applicants who are supplementing just because they were sloppy. So you know, here is my corrected personal statement or, I made a mistake on my resume, so here’s a new one. An applicant should be careful. When you file a brief in court, you’re not going to file a supplement and have the judge very pleased with you. The trend I am seeing of students trying to get everything in early and then realizing that they made errors is probably not a good way to kick off one’s legal career.”

Rob, what are the national application figures as of spring 2009? “The number of applicants in the country is only up 1.8% over last year, is what the Law School Admission’s Council is reporting. And the number of applications that are filed is up 4.7%.”

Adam what impact does a down economy have on applications? “The personal statement is the new LSAT, meaning that there is going to be so many applicants with strong LSAT scores and with strong GPAs and good resumes that they are going to pay extra attention to the personal statement. They can get those questions answered of motivation, get an understanding of exactly who this person would be and what kind of impact they would make coming out. There’s going to be new industries, there is going to be a need for people with legal skills in financial regulation markets, in new energy and in all sorts of new industries and they want to be able to be the law schools that are in the forefront of that putting people in those jobs. So they are going to be paying more and more attention to who you are as a person than they ever have before.”

Anne, how should potential law school students play this economy? “The best thing to invest in right now is oneself and investing in one’s own human capital and building up skill-sets. So I think it’s a very good time to go to law school. Law schools, GW, others, we still fortunately have scholarship funds available both merit-based and need-based. Student loan funds are still available so that, you know, in terms of being able to go to law school, I think it’s doable for many people at this point and, in three years, hopefully things will have turned around in the economy — so everything will be back and booming. That’s the hope, so I think now is a very good time for individuals to pursue higher education.”

What’s your advice, Todd, surrounding the economic crisis? “Be really certain what it is that you want to do with your law degree and why you might want to come to law school.”

Ben? “Although there are definitely some prudential reasons to kind of take the economy into account when deciding whether or not you want to apply to law school, I would argue that you really just should be considering, do you want to go to law school? Is it going to lead you some place that you want to go? Law school is definitely going to imbue you with all sorts of great skill-sets that are applicable across different career fields, but the question is, is that really going to be worth your time and your money and is that really going to get your somewhere where you want to go or can you get there anyway and is it going to be just a detour for you? Another thing to note, from a student perspective, is the job climate right now for students is difficult but I wouldn’t take that necessarily into account in deciding whether or not you should go to law school. I think you should decide that whether or not it’s right for you if it’s going to lead you where you want to go.”

Rob, what’s your view? “If you go about it smart and apply to a range of schools that are good schools for you, and think about the factors that are important to you, it can be a really fun process. I think getting a legal education is just a wonderful thing and provides a lot of useful skills — whether you practice law or you don’t. There’s a lot of people who go to law school who don’t practice law. And I think it’s exciting.”

Our experts have given you a strategy for tackling the timeline and they provided tips on when to start preparing and when to take the LSAT, preferably only once, how to use law school visits to narrow choices and how to fine tune your application, how to showcase strengths and the easiest way to deal with perceived weaknesses in grades or test scores. What they all recommend is presenting your best, most positive and authentic self as soon as possible in the application process.

I’m Diana Jordan with Law School Podcaster. Thanks for listening. Stay tuned for more shows as we explore another topic of interest to help you succeed in the law school application process and beyond.

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