Deans Share Thoughts on the Application Process and Law School
It’s natural for law school candidates to have plenty of questions about the application process and what they can expect from law school. And who better to answer those questions than law school deans themselves? In that spirit, I was thrilled to host a recent LSAC webinar in which four distinguished deans shared their thoughts on how to make your application stand out, where our legal system is headed, and what you can do with a legal education. Joining me were Deans Erwin Chemerinsky of University of California, Berkeley, School of Law; Camille Davidson of Southern Illinois University School of Law; Linda Greene of Michigan State University College of Law; and Ted Ruger of University of Pennsylvania Carey Law School.
When I asked the panelists what led them to pursue a law degree and later become law school deans, all four noted a desire to make a difference in the world. Dean Chemerinsky recalled that after becoming a civil rights lawyer and practicing for a time, he found a passion for teaching and has been doing so ever since. Dean Davidson, on the other hand, was a child of educators but never wanted to be a teacher — until, after 13 years in private practice, she changed her mind. “I guess it was in my blood,” she said.
Dean Greene recalled growing up in segregated schools in the South and being inspired by the social change occurring in the 1960s and ’70s. “There was so much we needed to do to bring the promise of citizenship to all people in America,” she said, “and I went to law school to play a role in that.” And Dean Ruger noted the huge inequalities of wealth and lack of inclusion that he saw growing up in the 1980s. “Something motivated me to think that our democracy was not as inclusive or functioning as well as it should have been,” he said.
In terms of today’s candidates, while acknowledging that metrics such as LSAT score and undergraduate GPA do play a role in admission decisions, the deans emphasized that they’re looking for well-rounded candidates who can contribute in various ways to the diversity of their class. “We look for people to bring their authentic selves on their applications,” Dean Davidson said. Dean Greene added that her school recently revised its application to make the diversity statement an integral component, rather than an optional piece. “We wanted to be clear that we’re looking for a diverse student body that will become the next generation of lawyers and be able to serve diverse communities,” she said.
In terms of practical tips for candidates, Dean Greene recommended they be sure to use their applications to share what they have done to prepare themselves for law school, how they think their presence in the law school class would be beneficial, and what they plan to do with a law degree. “That gives us a chance to know how we should allocate this scarce resource that a legal education is,” she added.
Conversely, Dean Ruger noted that one of the advantages of law school is that you don’t need to know right away what you want to do with a law degree. “That means you can just immerse yourself in the classes for your first year,” he said. And Dean Chemerinsky urged candidates to make sure their personal statements are well written and include any life experience that might be relevant to the admission office. “We’re looking for many different kinds of people,” he said. “That’s how everyone will learn best.”
The deans highlighted the fact that our legal system continues to change along with society. Particularly during the pandemic, we’ve seen a tremendous increase in the use of technology, both in legal education and in law itself. The panelists also discussed how law school allows students to get a window into the role of law in our society. “If we’re doing our jobs as professors and institutions, we’re going to be bringing those emerging issues to you as you take your classes,” Dean Greene said.
We also reflected on the fact that law school today is much different from when we attended. From an emphasis on diversity and admitting students from a range of backgrounds, to a dramatic increase in peer-to-peer and faculty support, law school today is a place where people from all walks of life can find success and reach their full potential. Dean Greene recalled that her strategy as a law student was to move in the direction of her weaknesses, confronting them head-on rather than staying in her comfort zone. “When we acknowledge our fears, address them, and move to conquer them, the best is really yet to come, not only for you as lawyers but also for society,” she said. “We’re all continuing to grow as people and learning every day. Every day is a learning experience, and we want you to be a part of it.”
As we wrapped up the session, Dean Chemerinsky shared some thoughts on what traits make a good lawyer. “They all have a passion for what they’re doing,” he said. “They’re all tremendously conscientious, with great attention to detail in doing the work. And they’re all compassionate and ethical.”
I want to thank these deans for spending their valuable time with us and sharing their insights on the journey to a law degree. Remember, if you’re not sure where to start on that journey, LSAC is here to help, and you can find plenty of information on LSAC.org. You may also view past candidate webinar recordings on our website.