Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Managing Law School Student Loan Debt

For my tips re: managing student loan debt as a lawyer, law student, and law school applicant, check out:

Thanks so much to Brett at Frugal Law Student for taking the time to interview me for yesterday's post, and for sending his great readers my way yet again.

Sunday, July 29, 2007

Advice for Incoming 1Ls

Check out Tips for Pre-Law Students for some good tips to help hold it together during those first days of law school. Good luck to all of my clients who are about to begin this adventure! This post is for you!

Friday, July 27, 2007

Re-Applying to Law School & the LSAT

I just received this comment on another posting and wanted more readers to benefit from the response:
"I am in the 30+ range and did the LSAT years ago and got a 144 and did not get into the schools I wanted. I am going to do it agin this fall (September). What would you suggest that I do to get to at least 150 or more?"

This comment raises a number of issues - more than meets the surface - and I will try to address them here.
1. Something that's important to remember about the LSAT is that it's an aptitude test. Anyone who tells you to shoot for a certain score and not take the test until you're sure you're going to get that score does not understand this exam. As I've said before, I could study for a year and still not get a 180. So, while it's possible for you to get a 150, and a 150 might even be the right score for you, having a specific goal in your head isn't the right way to go about it.

2. What is the right way to go about it? If a client asked me this question, I'd first want to know what you did to prepare last time. Did you study on your own? Take a prep course? Which prep course? How dedicated were you? How much time did you spend? If you did everything the "right" way, what is your standardized testing history? I would try to determine, based on statistics and on my experience with similar applicants, whether you are a good candidate to re-take the exam. If you are, I would suggest strategies that fit your lifestyle, budget, and abilities.

3. Where did you apply? I'd want to see whether you applied to schools that are right for you given your qualifications, experiences, and goals. After all, if you applied to Top 10 schools then even getting your score above 150 isn't going to be productive. One thing I do with people in your situation is evaluate the schools you're considering and suggest others that I've seen exhibit a little more flexibility around the LSAT.

4. How strong was the rest of your application? You have to give them a reason to look beyond your LSAT score. This reason is different for every candidate, and it's why I urge applicants to stay away from "one size fits all" advice. (which leads to #5...)

5. Brett McKay at Frugal Law Student asked me how a law school applicant might save money by working with me. (The full interview will be posted on his blog early next week). Applying the right way, to the right schools, and preparing adequately for the LSAT the first time you take it are all things that will save you money (and time and agony) in the long run.

I guess what I'm really trying to say is this: Call me! Let's talk about how I can help you meet your goals. Check out testimonials on my web site from people who were in similar circumstances. And, please check out previous postings about low LSAT scores so you know that things are not hopeless.

Thursday, July 26, 2007

LOR Tips for Non-Traditional Applicants

Pete left me this comment and I wanted to answer his question so more people could benefit from the response:

"Do you have any tips for older folks (30+) who are still working their way through their undergrad degrees on applying to law school? As an evening student with a full-time job, I don't have the same opportunity to build relationships through "face time" with my professors that more "traditional" students have. (Usually everyone's ready to go when class ends at 10PM, the professor included!) I'm sure all hope is not lost, but what alternatives are there?"

First of all, understand that your efforts to get your degree are well appreciated by law schools. They understand that it takes self-financing and additional motivation and hard work to complete a degree while working full time.

Also, a lot of traditional college students suffer from the same lack of "face time" with faculty. It's not just you. You need to think about what else you bring to the table - is there someone from work? A supervisor, a client, a vendor who can speak to your accomplishments and abilities? A community service organization that you've served? Also, remember it's not too late to get to know a professor. If you did well in a class, call up that professor and see if he/she can meet you for coffee and get to know you and whether he/she would be willing to write a letter on your behalf based on your classroom performance.

Your situation is not unique, and law schools are prepared for it. It should help to know that Letters of Rec are the least important area of your application (unless they are terrible, then you are in trouble)....

P.S. The comment below is from a former client, currently attending U. of Florida School of Law. I solicited his input because it sounds like he and Pete are/were in similar circumstances.

How Many Law Schools Should You Apply To?

I saw one of my competitors today give the very helpful advice that you should apply to anywhere between 1-27 law schools. Helpful, right?
They were right about one thing - location comes first. (See my previous postings about why this is true).
The answer to this question really depends on your professional goals, potential weaknesses in your application, and the strength of your experiences and how they are presented in your application. For example, if you have a problem in your application, like an arrest or academic probation, this rule doesn't work for you. Likewise, if the city where you want to be only has 3 law schools you won't find this to be very helpful.
That being said, a good rule of thumb is this:
1. Apply to 2-4 schools where your LSAT is at the 25th percentile.
2. Apply to 2 schools where your LSAT is at the 75th percentile.
3. Apply to 3-5 schools where your LSAT is in the mid-range of accepted applicants.

Why am I only counting LSAT? Because GPA is too subjective. A 3.1 from one school might be equivalent to a 3.6 at another school. An upward grade trend can also make a difference. If your grades are in the 3.0 range, this rule of thumb probably will work for you if your applications are strong and really sell your strengths.

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

A great option: Applying as a Transfer Student

Frustrated that your LSAT and GPA performance will limit your opportunities? Here's something to keep in mind - If you finish your 1L year with good grades, you can transfer into some amazing schools. (Schools don't have to report your LSAT and GPA to the ABA, therefore it doesn't count in rankings).

Some examples - this year I had someone from Golden Gate get into William and Mary, and just today I heard great news that one client who I helped with his JD applications and again with his transfer applications got into Georgetown (from Catholic)! I also want to put in another plug for the ABA LSAC Official Guide to Law Schools - the only book any law school applicant absolutely must own. This year they added information about the number of transfer applicants accepted, and the number of people who transferred out. I will post more goodies about transfers another day - but this should at least put the idea in your head that there are more possibilities than you initially considered.

Sunday, July 22, 2007

UC Irvine to Open Law School in 2009

UC Irvine will be home to California's next public law school. It's sure to be competitive from the beginning - a state school in Orange County. (San Diego and LA are both inconvenient to those who live in Orange County due to traffic in the area). More information is available here.

Friday, July 20, 2007

Free Law School Application Webinar

It's true. I'm offering a FREE 1-hour webinar to readers of Frugal Law Student entitled
"I've taken the LSAT; Now What?"
You have two opportunities to participate:
Click here to sign up for the Saturday, August 4 (9 a.m. PST/Noon EST) webinar
Click here to sign up for the Wednesday, August 8 (5 p.m. PST/8 p.m. EST) webinar

I want to thank Brett and Austin (at CALI Pre Law Blog) for promoting this for me and for sending such great readers to my newly-launched blog over the last couple of weeks.

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

How to Succeed in Law School

One of my favorite clients from this year who is packing up to attend George Mason School of Law sent me this e-mail yesterday:
"about what kind of time commitment *is* law school, in practice, to succeed (by my definition, "succeed" meaning be in the top 15 or 10% of the class)?"

My answer was: Take off Friday afternoons and evenings to see a movie and relax. At all other times when not in class, eating, or sleeping, then study. I also gave him the secret to my own success in law school (top 8% of my class, magna cum laude, Order of the Coif, blah, blah, blah) - spend every weekend reviewing and outlining your class notes from the week before. That way, your outlines are done and you can just study them while everyone else is scrambling to outline tons of material. This means, of course, keeping up with your class reading during the week.
And it does get easier as a 2L and 3L - the work is harder but you know what you're doing by then and get a system down.

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Taking the LSAT

Austin at CALI pre-law blog has posted some useful LSAT advice today here. However, I'd like to make a few points about his comments based on my training of evaluating what an LSAT score says about someone and what it does not:
1. I'm a fairly bright person and I did very well in law school and passed every bar exam I took on the first try. However, even if I spent a year doing nothing else besides LSAT preparation I would not get a 175. It's an aptitute test, and it's not a memorization based test.
2. That being said, you can't go in blind. While it's not knowledge based, the questions are weird and take some getting used to. You need to train yourself to think like an LSAT taker. If you dedicate yourself 1-4 hours/day for 2-3 months, whether on your own or by taking a prep class or using a tutor, then whatever score you get is probably the right score for you. If you are not someone who studies well on your own, or if you generally struggle with standardized tests, then take the prep course.
3. If you try it on your own and think you would do better with a prep course, then the new policy of taking the higher score works in your favor. Just don't count on anyone considering you with a February LSAT score, even if they say they will (for entrance that fall).
4. If you score 5-8 points lower on the real thing than you were doing in diagnostics, then that's probably the right score for you.

It does not work to "shoot for" a goal score. I have lots of people tell me "I really want to break 160" or some other arbitrary number that sounds good. That's too much pressure and not a productive way of looking at the test.
I'm happy to answer questions about this if anyone has..... just email me at admissionadvantage@cox.net or post a comment. I know this is a hot topic.

Sunday, July 15, 2007

List: Best Law School Admission Books

I don't believe in "one size fits all" advice for law school applications. However, there are a few books out there more worthwhile than most. You can read my reviews of these on Amazon.

Friday, July 13, 2007

Still have High School on your Law School Resume?

YUCK. When I see a law school applicant with high school on his/her resume, it reminds me how young and unaccomplished the person is. Remove it. I've made one (and only one) exception to this rule - two years ago I had a client who played the bassoon in a professional orchestra at the age of 16. That was worth keeping.
I know that sometimes those of you who went to fancy, prestigious prep schools want to show off what an excellent educational background you have. However, you should be aware that jaded law school admission officers see this and think "oh, another privileged, entitled person whose parents pay their way through everything." When applying to law school, you want to appear self-reliant and adult in everything you present. You're auditioning to be a lawyer and that thought should be pervasive in your applications.

Thursday, July 12, 2007

Very Low LSAT scores?

While I don't want to give false hope to those of you struggling with LSAT scores in the 130s and low 140s, I do want to give you a little encouragement. While you face an uphill battle, it's merely a battle and not a suicide mission. (Bad analogy? I'm sorry.)

For example, one of my clients (141 = high score) has already been admitted to 2 ABA law schools for Fall 2007 and is still on the wait list at a top 25 school. (She applied 2 years before with the same score and didn't get in anywhere). I'm not kidding or lying, and she has not saved the universe or overcome paralysis. It is absolutely possible.

Another client with a 142 and an arrest record to explain was admitted to her first choice law school. Yet another, a nontraditional applicant with a 143, got into 5 ABA law schools at last count. And, if you need encouragement to retake the LSAT here are some examples to fuel the fire: W.H., a client, rose his score from a 142 to a 151. K.P. brought hers up from a 144 to a 150.

What did these applicants do that made a difference? They made sure to give the law schools a lot of reasons why they are more than just their numbers. Their applications played to their strengths. None of these people are superheros. You could be one of them.

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Is it worth going to an LSAC Forum Event?

With the D.C. forum approaching, this is a popular question. Basically, the LSAC forum consists of 200 tables staffed by various people from most of the country's law schools. Some are directors of admission, some are students, some are financial aid officers, some are professors who know nothing about admissions but just want an all-expenses-paid trip to D.C. (or N.Y. or Atlanta, you get the picture).
If you are already in the city where the event is taking place, then it's worth going. I'm not sure it's worthwhile to drive a couple of hours there, and certainly I wouldn't spend airfare to go.
If you do go, here are some things that really annoy admission officers (*I know because I used to be one of the people standing behind the table):
1. Asking things that can be learned from the ABA LSAC Official Guide to Law Schools.
2. Asking about rankings, especially U.S. News.
3. Asking things that show you're clueless like "What's your medium LSAT score?"

If you're really interested in a particular school, then stop by for a few minutes. Don't dominate someone's time. Get a business card and follow up with a simple thank-you note. Remember that the person you talk with will be taking some notes when you leave the table. They might write "bright kid," "Professional", or "High Maintenance". (If you don't know, "High Maintenance" is a label you want to avoid throughout the law school admission process.)

Remember, if you have questions about any of my postings, please post a comment and/or an e-mail. And feel free to pass this link to any friends you feel may be interested.

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Law School Admission Timeline - December LSAT

Someone e-mailed me a question yesterday that might be helpful to many of you considering applying for Fall 2008 law school admission.

"If I were to try to take the December 1st LSAT, would my chances of acceptance be lowered due to a late application?"

The answer is that while a June or September/October score is ideal because of the opportunity to re-take the exam if needed and to have applications complete at schools earlier (a benefit because of rolling admissions policies), almost every law school will accept the December exam.

If you aren't going to be able to study in the next 2 months, then December is the next best option. Just really prep for it - February is too late for a "do-over" for this application season. (Even schools that say they accept a February LSAT have already given away their seats for the class and they are only holding out for February scores in the event they get an applicant in their 75th percentile range).

And, please don't wait for your score to come back in January to start getting your applications together. This is a recipe for having to re-apply the following year. Get started on everything now - transcripts, letters of rec, resume, essays, and submit some apps before you get your score. Just save room in the application budget for additions once you know your score.

Frugal Law Student Blog - Check it out

Another law student with a great attitude, especially about making law school financially feasible, is Brett McKay of frugal law student fame.

He has some good tips, and his blog happily avoids the negativity I see so much in writing by pre-law and law students.

I also want to give a shout out to Erik who worked with me last year when he was applying for J.D. programs and called me again when he was ready to transfer. GW called him today to admit him as a transfer. Congratulations, Erik!

Monday, July 9, 2007

Thanks to Austin at the CALI pre-law blog

Thanks to Austin at the CALI blog for giving me such a great mention in today's posting. He's right - I do agree with him. Going to law school is not a way to put off the inevitable decision about what to do with your life. It's not a good time wasting activity because (a) it's expensive; and (b) it is a great opportunity to grow and learn, and if you're not motivated you won't do well and won't gain anything from having the degree.

Still on a Wait List?

It's July. And I know many of you are still on waiting lists. Those calls are coming in every day so don't lose hope. But many schools will go to a wait list once Orientation has already started. It makes for some hectic changes, but no one will ever know you were a waitlist admit - you get the same degree and the same opportunities as everybody else.
For those of you still waiting, if you haven't sent a letter expressing your continuing interest in the school then now is the time. If you can schedule a time to visit the school and meet an admissions officer, even better. The follow-up after that visit is crucial. I've also had clients offered a place in the class during a campus visit (Duke is one of those schools, btw).
Congratulations to T.M., one of my clients who was just pulled off the waitlist at UCLA this morning!

Sunday, July 8, 2007

Financing Law School

Cute ideas for how to make money while in law school are provided by a recent law grad at I.U. Bloomington.

The best piece of advice I can give on this subject was something I heard when I was on a panel discussion as a law student speaking to incoming 1Ls:

If you live like a lawyer while you're in law school, you'll live like a student when you get out.

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I have my June LSAT score - What now?

Now that you have your June LSAT score, the application process begins. I'll add some postings this week and next about a timeline and the next steps to take.

Decision #1: Are you retaking the LSAT?

As of June 2006, law schools count the highest of multiple LSAT scores because of a new ABA policy. Therefore, the only downsides to retaking it are: (1) time spent studying; (2) cost; (3) delay in getting your applications reviewed; and (4) the possibility that you might have to explain to a law school why your score decreased the second time.

99% of law school applicants are disappointed with their score on their first LSAT. The question is, how disappointed are you? I listen to my clients and determine from speaking to them whether the circumstances surrounding their score make it likely they would improve on a second attempt. There is no hard and fast rule that applies to everyone so I'd be doing you a great disservice by posting a supposed answer here. Just don't wait until the December exam.

Friday, July 6, 2007

LORs Part 2: The Lukewarm Professor

You ask a professor for a Letter of Rec ("LOR"). She hems and haws and sort of turns the responsibility back to you. "You'll need to give me your resume, final draft of your personal statement, and I'm going to Timbuktu tomorrow so it'll be about 6 weeks before I can get to it." she says.

Your response should be as follows:

1. "Thank you so much for making the time to do this for me when you have so much going on. Unfortunately, I really was hoping to have my applications complete in the next four weeks. Perhaps if I'm waitlisted somewhere I could ask you again in the Spring?"

A lukewarm letter "Iz No Gud" as they said in "My Big Fat Greek Wedding." I'd rather see you with 2 great letters (and only 2 letters) than 2 great ones and one that says "Jessica was prompt and attended class regularly and her handwriting was legible on all of her exams."

And now that I've posted 2 days in a row on "who should NOT write your LOR", I promise to post a list soon of people who should write your LOR. Check back often and feel free to ask questions on this blog. I'm happy to answer them for the benefit of all readers.

Thursday, July 5, 2007

LORs Part 1 - Absolutely No Family Friends

This is a gnarly - but essential - topic. So I'll cover it in several parts.

First, tell all those well-meaning, successful friends of your parents "thanks, but no thanks." Why can't that nice judge who has played golf with your dad for 25 years write a letter? Think about what he might say (because trust me, I've read it) -

As a friend of Joey's father for the past 22 years, I have heard stories of Joey's progress during our weekly golf outings. I have seen Joey grow from a young boy to a college student who is bright and inquisitive. He is unfailingly polite and his parents are very proud of his accomplishments at fill-in-the-blank college. It is my understanding he did very well on his LSATs and that he has been active in community service and in his church. I am confident he will make an outstanding law student.

BLECH. I promise, even if you've been out of school for 10 years and don't want your boss to know you're applying to law school, we can find someone better to write a letter of recommendation for you. Scared of burning a bridge when someone already offered to write a letter? Tell him (if you're applying to the law school he attended) it would be so nice if he might make a phone call on your behalf after your application is complete at the school.

Think about why a letter of recommendation is important: The writer is the only person who gets to talk in your application other than YOU. He/She can say things you can't say about yourself (you'd sound arrogant). Your letter writer must say things about you that he/she knows from personal experience. And the things he/she says must be relevant to your law school application.

I promise to write a lot about this topic this week. It's too much to cover in one post, but I had to start somewhere.

Wednesday, July 4, 2007

Arizona Gets its first Private Law School

The ABA has provisionally approved its first private law school in Arizona - The Phoenix School of Law. It appears their 25th-75th percentile LSAT range is in the low 150s. This is a great new option for people in AZ, NV, NM, Utah and nearby states to keep in mind. http://www.phoenixlaw.org/

Google yourself!

Quick - before applying to law school or for any job - Google yourself.
Does your MySpace page show you drunk in a bikini with the caption "why surf when you can ride a surfer?" (I swear, I hired a babysitter once then saw this on her MySpace page...she was gone the next day). I'm not saying the fun is over, I'm just saying that you should protect your privacy more vigorously.

Employers and admission officers check this stuff so please start controlling what's being said about you on the internet.
This works both ways - watch what you say about others. You're entering a profession where ethics is highly valued (no snide remarks here!). Conduct yourself accordingly.

Here's a post that talks about a brilliant law student who didn't get a job because of her unprofessional peers posting jealous rantings about her on message boards.

If you have any questions about this, please leave a comment - I'm happy to answer!

Current Events as Personal Statement Topics

Happy 4th of July! This is a great day to talk about current events, but that doesn't make it a great day to write about current events in your personal statement for law school.

As Director of Admissions at Loyola Law School in Los Angeles in fall 2001, I must've read hundreds of September 11th essays. I think only one of them was by someone who was actually at ground zero that day.

A few people this year have asked if they should write about how the Virginia Tech massacre impacted their decision to go to law school; the only person who has asked me this question who should consider writing about it is the client who actually attended Virginia Tech this year.

Why is this? Because, above all else, your personal statement must be PERSONAL. You must pick a topic that demonstrates your own growth, maturity, professionalism, background and experiences. Sentiment toward a headline makes you human, but make sure you tell your own story and not someone else's if you want a law school personal statement that works to your advantage.

Have a wonderful 4th of July.

Tuesday, July 3, 2007

Law Degree is Not Just for Legal Practice

I disagree with those who say "Don't go to law school unless you're sure you want to practice law." A legal education, earning a J.D., passing a bar exam - these achievements have intrinsic value even for those of us who do not practice law.

Here's a blog post from last year that has a funny David Kelly quote about the decline in law school applications. But some of the comments argue that people unsure of their reasons for attending law school should not apply. I disagree.

Here are some of my reasons for disagreeing:

1. I do not practice law. However, my experiences as a law applicant, law student, and law school graduate led me to my career in law school administration. In turn, (although I did practice law for 3 years before doing this) I was able to open my own business as a law school admission consultant. Without my law degree, no law school would've hired me - at the age of 26 - to head up their entire recruiting and admissions effort. With my law degree, I was better paid -and happier- than most of my peers who were practicing law 1 year after earning a J.D.

2. My legal education changed the way I think and approach problems. It made me smarter. It made me realize what is relevant, in business and in life. I think better. That is worth every penny I'm paying back in law school loans.

3. My law background allows me to make a difference in my community. For five years, I've participated as a member of the Santa Barbara Chapter of the Anti-Defamation League Civil Rights Committee. I now serve as Chair of this committee and am a member of the local Board of Directors. My law degree allows me to contribute to my community, whether or not I practice law.

When I applied to law school in 1995, I wrote in my personal statement that I wasn't sure I wanted to practice law. In 1999, as the student speaker at my law school graduation, I repeated the sentiment but added that I knew the kind of life I wanted to lead and that my law degree would allow me to live that life. I stand by that statement.

What about Regional Rankings?

New to blogging and completely happy with some of the information I'm finding on the blogosphere for law school applicants! One law school admission committee member wrote this 2 years ago, and I'm only discovering it now but it's still valid. She has four suggestions for committee members too caught up in the "rankings versus interesting candidate" conundrum, including not counting "old" GPAs and only counting the last 2 years of recent GPAs. Here's the link:

You'll see my comment (#19) suggesting Regional Rankings - West Coast, East Coast, Mid West, Southwest and Southeast. After all, Alabama attorneys and judges probably rank Cumberland a lot higher than UC Davis, and for good reason. But California lawyers would be crazy to do the opposite.... Another great reason to recycle your copy of US News and go with your gut when picking law schools. (Can you tell I'm on this tangent this week?)

Brian Leiter agrees re: Law School Location

On his blog, Brian Leiter talks about rankings vs. location of law schools.

I absolutely agree with him about the silliness of choosing a law school based on any particular year's ranking. He has a good anecdote about a law student regretting his choice of Vanderbilt over Hastings when he wants to practice in the Bay Area.

See also: This post about weblogs that share information more relevant in choosing a law school than the stats used by U.S. News.

Monday, July 2, 2007

California Western School of Law

We just received my husband's alumni magazine from California Western School of Law. I've always been fond of this school since I was Director of Admissions there in 2000 - 2001. The content of their alumni magazine (compared with mine from the University of Miami School of Law) gets an A+ for helpful articles - one was about starting your own firm within your first 5 years of practice, another highlighted the Innocence Project for recently freeing someone from jail after 20+ years. Congratulations to California Western on this great magazine for alumni. (And hint, hint to U.M. - enough with the pictures of swanky campus events already...)

Shoutout to Peter and Brian

Just a quick thank you shout-out to Peter (Boalt Hall) and Brian (Northwestern) who sent friends my way over the weekend, both of whom signed up to work with me. That's the best thank-you I could ask for - wishing you both good luck in law school!

Picking a Law School? Location, Location, Location

Thinking about where to apply to law school? Put the rankings aside. It's all about location. Where do you want to live your life and practice law? If it's Los Angeles, then pick Loyola over BU any day of the week. If it's New York, why go to Indiana-Bloomington instead of Cardozo just because U.S. News says so?
There are so many flaws with ranking logic, that's a topic for a different day. Of course, you don't want to go to a 4th tier school when you could go to a top 20, but there are exceptions to this too (like scholarship money!). But, in general, trust local lawyers and law firms over U.S. News every time. You'll want to work during your 2L and 3L years, and these are the jobs that will lead to your entry-level attorney job.
Don't be a snob; think about where you want a job.