Friday, August 29, 2008

Law School Expert Hits Post #200!!!!

This marks my 200th blog post on LawSchoolExpert! (That deserves an exclamation point, right?) It's been an amazing year and I want to thank all of my readers. Your comments and e-mails motivate me to keep writing, even when I'm knee-deep in law school personal statements.

In celebration of this occasion (and the holiday weekend which begins in a few hours) I'd like to point out my 5 very favorite Law School Expert topics:

1. Any and all posts written by my former law school admission consulting clients, including this one about "T-14 Not Necessary for BigLaw"

2. I want to help law applicants keep things in perspective during this stressful process, and this is one post I like to re-read when things seem unruly.

3. I get the most encouraging e-mails from readers when I post tangible tips for success in law school applications. You guys seem to love when I tell you what mistakes to look for before submitting your law school applications and common mistakes made on law school applications.

4. Taking the LSAT and Re-taking the LSAT - these issues are HUGE for my readers. In fact I have posted 22 times on various LSAT issues.

5. The only subject more popular than the LSAT is law school rankings with 23 posts. I do enjoy helping people keep things in perspective on this issue. Rankings have a purpose, but unless you know there are limits to the rankings then the importance of a school's ranking can be vastly over-emphasized.

Thank you for joining me for the last 200 posts, and please let me know what I can do in the future to keep your interest!
Have a wonderful labor day, even though this means it's officially fall and time to start applying for law school for Fall 2009 admission.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

The Relationship between U.S. News Rankings and Part Time Law School

The availability of spots in part time programs may be severely limited in the future, and applying to part time programs may no longer be the "back door" into a better law school. See this WSJ article.

Monday, August 25, 2008

Is Law School Expert Your Favorite Blog?

I'd really appreciate it if you'd go to technorati and list LawSchoolExpert as one of your favorite blogs. You can simply click on the "Make LawSchoolExpert A Favorite Blog" box on the right hand side of my blog (scroll down just a bit if you don't see it immediately).

Thanks so much!

Thursday, August 21, 2008

More on Loan Repayment and Forgiveness

Congratulations to Equal Justice Works on launching their blog this week. It already offers great resources for law school applicants and those considering a career in public interest law. Here's the post about new legislation offering opportunities for law school loan repayment and forgiveness.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Tips for Law School Applicants Interested in Public Interest Law

My good friend and the person who served as my mentor when I was in law school (more than ten years ago!), Marni Lennon, is the Assistant Dean for Public Interest and Pro Bono at the University of Miami School of Law. Because so many law school applicants express a desire to use their legal education in the public interest, I asked her to provide some insight about comparing opportunities available at different law schools. There are also some great tips here for prospective law students who do not plan on working in the public interest, but hope to incorporate pro bono efforts into their law school experience and law practice upon graduation.

Are you looking to find a way to give back through your legal career? Good news! The opportunities for service learning, civic engagement and hands-on training are growing at law schools. Finally, the world of legal education is embracing the notion that hands-on training opportunities in the public sector are good for everyone. Legal education is a privilege -- with that privilege comes a responsibility to give back. Not only do students gain the chance to develop critical lawyering and advocacy skills through pro bono work, but law schools get to celebrate the efforts of their students. WIN - WIN!

One of the challenges you face is figuring out what the campus culture and programs are like on each of the campuses you are considering. So, how can you learn about pro bono efforts at the law schools you are researching? Do your homework!

1) Look on the law school's website. Compare the schools. Make lists of the programs you are interested in and which schools have them. (From Ann: Also great to mention these programs in your personal statement!!!!)

2) Speak to the folks in the recruiting/admissions office. Ask them what they perceive as the strengths of the school. Do they mention public interest? If not, it doesn't necessarily mean that there aren't wonderful opportunities, but it might not have permeated the campus culture yet. Keep digging and ask them to refer you to faculty/administrators in clinics or public interest programs. (From Ann: a great question to ask at LSAC Forum events too.)

3) Get in touch with student leaders who are involved with public interest/pro bono. They are on the ground floor. Keep in mind that students choose many paths - some will get involved in clinical programs, some will be involved in externships and others will be very active on campus and with community outreach efforts. Ask for a few names and get a feel for the school.

So, you are going to be a law student and you want to gain some experience? Great idea! There are many ways to get involved on a volunteer basis. Contact local legal services/legal aid agencies and see if they are open to having you volunteer. Sometimes, just by giving a day a week, you can find yourself working alongside an attorney who is thrilled to have an extra set of hands and you can gain experience at the same time. Great ways to get involved are to volunteer for clinic intakes, know your rights presentations, community talks and research projects.

Any community involvement which helps you to get to know the face of an issue is a good step. Check with your local volunteer organizations for opportunities to work with varying populations. Large cities like Miami, Atlanta, San Francisco, New York and others have volunteer organizations where you can take part in several different projects. Google your way to your local community opportunities for volunteering.

Are there attorneys in your community who have been recognized for their pro bono work? Contact them and see if you can shadow them to court, meet them for coffee and gain a glimpse into the world of practice. Their guidance could be invaluable.

Once you are at law school, take the following steps to ensure that pro bono advocacy can be a part of your path:

1) Make a beeline for the student groups with advocacy and outreach projects. They might be the public interest law group, the criminal law society, the society for human rights or others, but be sure to find your way and ask folks what they do through their groups.

2) Meet with the clinical faculty and regular faculty with practice experience in the areas in which you are interested. Don't wait; they are real people - human, interesting, dedicated and usually receptive to the eager students who want to make a difference through law. If they aren't, don't be discouraged - there are many more around the corner. Keep going!

3) Get advice about the courses which will put you in a position to gain experience. Ask about courses with field components, opportunities for externships, certified legal internship status (which allows you to speak in court!) and skills training courses such as litigation skills, mediation, mediation-advocacy and more.

4) Don't wait for opportunities to come to you - seek them out! Speak to your career planning folks, current students, faculty and attorneys about the best ways to get involved. Make the leap! It will be rewarding, fulfilling AND practical as you develop your lawyering skills.

Thank you so much to Dean Lennon for taking the time to share her passion and information with readers of LawSchoolExpert. Here is more about the incredible opportunities available through the University of Miami School of Law's HOPE Program.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Top 5 Mistakes Made When Re-Applying to Law School

Each year, I work with people who were either unsuccessful in their attempts to apply to law school previously or were unhappy with their options at the end of the admission cycle. There are absolutely things you can to to bolster your applications, but here are some common mistakes people make when reapplying to law school:

1. Sending the same personal statement and letters of rec to the same law school that rejected you last year.

2. Thinking that simply getting an internship/paralegal position in a law firm will make all the difference in the world, even when you have a letter of rec from an attorney.

3. Attempting to "go back to undergrad" to improve your UGPA. It doesn't work. And getting a paralegal certification isn't going to impress anyone. But do take care to update your transcripts (see this post about reapplying to law school).

4. Not Retaking the LSAT when you didn't prepare adequately the first time. (See this previous post for more about how the LSAT factors in when you are reapplying to law school)

5. Failing to evaluate your schools list with a candid view of your credentials.

Re-applicants get into law school all the time, but the trick is overcoming any weaknesses you may have (inadvertently) shown the school in the previous admission cycle. Here's more about reapplying to law school.

Monday, August 18, 2008

When is a Low LSAT Score Too Low?

My most-read blog topics are those dealing with very low LSAT scores; there are a lot of you out there. So, what constitutes a "low" LSAT score? This is not a discussion for those of you who find yourselves disappointed with your 158s. Let's aim this conversation at those of you below a 147 LSAT.
I get a lot of calls from people in this category. There are certain people whose chances will not be helped even with advice from a law school admission consultant. We are not, after all, miracle workers. If your LSAT score is in the 130s or low 140s, it's very hard to find an ABA law school anywhere in the US that will offer you unrestricted acceptance (especially in the increasingly competitive environment of our c. It may be possible to gain acceptance to a conditional program at an ABA law school (especially with scores in the low to mid 140s) but even that has its problems. You may get yourself to Appalachia or somewhere to try the conditional course, and then they may only offer acceptance to 2 of the 100 participants. The problem is that once you are unsuccessful in gaining acceptance through a conditional admission program, other law schools will be hard pressed to find a reason to give you a chance at their own school, even with a slightly improved LSAT score.
If you haven't exhausted your opportunities to take the LSAT, then take it again. However, you must prepare differently than you did before. And don't rush the process; it's too late for October. Wait until December. Make improving your score your focus; without it, the world's best personal statement, most impressive resume, and illuminating letters of recommendation won't make a bit of difference.
Those of you who know me know that I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but I will always give my honest opinion.....

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Resources for Advice about Getting into Law School

Here's an article by a CUNY John Jay Criminal Justice professor with some worthwhile information about how law schools view undergraduate GPAs from various schools and between various majors. It's called "Advice for Getting into Law School."

My alma mater, the University of Miami School of Law, has a great document called "Law School:29 Critical Questions to Ask Today." It's definitely a recruiting piece for UM law, but a good place to start thinking about what you should be asking as you begin the daunting process of applying to law school.

Lastly, because it's late and I've been up watching the Olympics, here's a link to a bunch of articles offering advice to the Fall 2009 Entering Law School Class (written in 2006, but still....).

Advice Upon Starting Law School

I happened across this today, and although it was written in 2002 (when many entering 1Ls were still in high school!), it rings true today. The only part I really disagree with is about not looking at your grades because they don't matter, but on the whole the other points will help you put the coming semester (and 1L year) in perspective and I hope my clients and readers who are starting the adventure of law school enjoy this. It's called Letter to Young Lawyer.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Law School Personal Statement Tips

One of my law school admission consulting clients sent me an email this morning with 6 key questions about law school personal statements. The questions were so good (and so common) that I wanted to share my responses with all of my pre-law readers.

1. What does a personal statement do/ what does it add to the application/ what is its function?

If someone with your numbers has a possibility of being admitted to a particular school, but not everyone with your numbers is admitted to that school, then the major deciding factor is the personal statement. It's your chance to become more than a list of your accomplishments, more than your transcripts, more than your LSAT score. This is your chance to be personable, likable, impressive (without being arrogant) and to generally give the impression that you'd be a great asset to their school and alumni base.

2. What to you makes a statement stand out? What are the components of a great personal statement?

There are certain things a law school wants to be assured of - maturity despite youth, commitment to the study of law despite lacking a specific career aspiration, ability to succeed in a rigorous environment, independent thinking skills, feeling a duty greater than simple self-interest. A good personal statement uses none of these phrases, but tells a story that convinces the reader to come to the conclusion(s) on his/her own.

A good personal statement is interesting to read, without needing to rely on shock value. It has a conversational rather than academic tone. It's not there to show how many big words you know. Lawyers need to write like real people - clear sentences. Start now.

4. What made you groan when working in admissions? What were common mistakes people made?

I would groan, roll my eyes, and write sarcastic comments on personal statements hinting of the following:

Arrogance/Elitism. A purported drive to serve others and to heal the world and be a public interest lawyer when there's little community service in the person's background to back it up. Repeating a resume. Listing every internship and position ever held. Providing lots of conclusions with few facts to back them up. (For example, "My strong work ethic......" and then not really showing anything remarkable about your work ethic). Not being specific enough - talking around issues ("I had a rough time but overcame obstacles" without giving details about the obstacles so that the reader can evaluate for him/herself whether the feat was impressive).

For common mistakes made by law school applicants in their personal statements, see this post I wrote about 6 Mistakes People Make in Law School Personal Statements.

5. What, if any, subjects or themes should be avoided, either because they are cliche/common/inappropriate?

Some topics that have become trite and overused include the injured athlete story, the study abroad story, and a personal statement based on a current historical event. See this post about Current Events as Law School Personal Statement Topic.

I think there is a misconception that personal statements must be about overcoming paralysis or poverty. You don't have to apologize for having a privileged life - just show what does make you remarkable. I also think a lot of people remember their clever undergraduate essay about contemplating the lumps of peanut butter as they spread across the bread and think they should repeat that (please don't - remember, we're going for maturity here).

Generally, I urge people to stay away from high school unless there's a really good reason to talk about it. (Again, maturity). I also urge people to stay away from anything that will make them appear to be high maintenance or complainers in general. Law school faculty and staff won't want to touch you with a ten foot pole.

6. Is it better to think of the personal statement as telling a short story that has broader implications/ says things about me as a person, or should I think of it as a theme through which I can incorporate many components/stories etc.

Tell the right story for you and the theme will be apparent. You're marketing yourself, not a theme.

For another great resource about law school personal statement tips, see Law School Personal Statement Tips.

[By the way, I'd like to note that the client who sent me this e-mail does not have to worry about any of these common mistakes and is not in danger of annoying any law school admission committee member. It just goes to show that the wrong people are always asking these questions, and the people who should be worried about making these grave errors usually fail to recognize these traits in themselves.]

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

The Value of Internships in Applying to Law School

During my first phone consultation with prospective law school admission consulting clients, often a parent or applicant will tell me they've had "great internships." These invariably include things like UC-DC programs, interning with a Member of Congress (which really just means answering calls and giving tours of the Capitol building, right?), or perhaps something in the business world like being a marketing and promotions intern for a sports company (which is really just throwing t-shirts into a crowd).

So, where do internships come into play when building the strengths of a law school application?

1. Internships are better than working at the GAP. Unless, of course, you had to work at the GAP to pay your rent and tuition. Then, working at the GAP - if explained the right way in your application - shows a lot more about you than an internship would.

2. On the other hand, an internship in a law-related field shows you are not just applying to law school to avoid looking for a job.

3. It's even better, however, to have had 2 or 3 internships in quasi-related fields. If you've had 2-3 internships in totally (seemingly) unrelated fields (public relations and finance, for example) then it can look like you lack direction and haven't found your stride yet.

The same goes for job history - if you've been out of college for 2-3 years and have held 2-3 jobs that weren't promotions within the same company or industry, then applying to law school can appear insincere - it can look like you're floundering.

How do you counteract some of these assumptions?

First, don't assume your experiences are more amazing than anyone else's. Choose to emphasize your internship in a personal statement only if you learned something specific in a unique situation or were able to contribute meaningfully, or - in the alternative - if you learned something significant from having a negative experience at an internship. Think about what makes the experience interesting because simply having the internship on your resume probably isn't impressive enough to a law school admission officer or law faculty member.

Second, stay away from LORs based on internships unless you did take the lead on a project or acted in some way above and beyond the standard intern. The letter should be written by the person who most closely supervised your work and can add the most substantive detail to the letter, and not necessarily the most famous person in the office.

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Best Majors for Law School Applicants

How do law school admission committees evaluate people with different undergraduate majors? Are there good majors and bad majors for law school applications? I wouldn't quite say there are bad majors - I think there are good things about most areas of study, and if you have good grades then you're absolutely set.

Law schools do not want to fill their classes with political science majors. Where is the diversity in that? Law schools want people from different backgrounds, and from different schools for that matter. Here is a rundown of the major groupings and how law schools are apt to evaluate you based on your undergraduate major area of study:

1. Majors with scientific fields: You often risk having a lower GPA, but it can be excused because of the difficult curriculum and lab hours. Of course, it also helps to make the case that you want to be a patent/IP lawyer if your have a science/math background. However, it can also risk looking like you really would have preferred to go to med school but you just didn't have the GPA. If you did well in a science major, you will find that law schools like that and it will help you in the admissions process generally.

2. Pre-Law Majors: Law and Society, Pre-Law, Political Science, and Criminal Justice studies show you have a sincere interest in the subject matter. It's especially helpful if you do a thesis and/or significant academic or internship work to supplement the curriculum. However, lackluster grades in these subjects will not impress an admission office. A 3.3 GPA in poli sci is not the same as a 3.3 in biomedical engineering or physics.

3. Art/Music Majors: A BFA makes things tricky, but if you do well academically and do a thesis or have something to show for yourself other than being an unemployed actor, then this absolutely works. Actually, I think Art History is one of the best majors for preparing you for law school because it teaches you to look at something you've never seen before and apply the facts you've learned to determine what you're looking at. That's pretty much a law school exam in a nutshell. Anything that shows you've done some serious writing will help. Music composition shows you're a thinking person.

4. Business Majors: Marketing, not so impressive but if you have strong grades and showed a sincere interest in serious things then it's fine. Economics is better - shows more analysis and academic inclination.

5. Philosophy: Again, writing and analysis. Great stuff.

The question is this - knowing how law schools view your major, what can you do to make up for that weakness? If you haven't had much writing in your curriculum, how about writing for your school paper or trying to get research published? This is just one example of a way you can use your weaknesses to build your law school applications.

1. Pick a major that sincerely interests you.
2. Get the best possible grades in that major.

Law schools want to see people who are serious about their goals, but not singularly minded. Have a hobby too, and if that hobby demonstrates your thinking skills, cultural interests, passions - all the better. Do well at the things you do.

(For those of you worried that your physics degree will be competing against people who studied history, I would say that if your grades are solid and you have strong academic letters and perhaps someone who can attest to your writing ability, then you'll be absolutely fine.)