Deans Share Tips for the Law School Application Process

In October, iLaw President Ken Randall and I had the honor of hosting an episode of “Live with Kellye and Ken” with the deans of four diverse law schools: Charles Campbell (Faulkner), Jennifer Johnson (Lewis and Clark), Kimberly Mutcherson (Rutgers), and Kevin Washburn (Iowa). The topic was navigating the law school application process, and with 4,000 registrants, it was one of our most popular episodes ever. It was so popular that we are pleased to revisit this topic on a second show on Tuesday, December 17, from 4 to 5 p.m. ET. Please register to join us for this upcoming event.

In the meantime, for those who missed the first show about the law school application process, you can view it here. I also wanted to share some of the key takeaways with our valued Law:Fully blog readers. Enjoy and thank you to our deans for their invaluable advice!

Why is now a good time to go to law school?
As Dean Campbell noted, many of the Baby Boomers who have led the legal industry for decades are reaching or approaching retirement age, which frees up opportunities for new lawyers. Perhaps more importantly, though, several of the deans noted a renewed respect for the importance of law’s role in shaping society and how well that fits with the goal of finding a career through which one can make positive change. As Dean Johnson put it, we’re at a critical time for justice in the world today, and the rule of law is more important than ever. Additionally, law school teaches important problem-solving and critical thinking skills, and those skills are useful not only in traditional law practice but in a wide range of careers in business, technology, education, government, public policy, and more.

What is the best way to choose a law school that’s right for me?
Do your homework about the schools you are interested in by visiting LSAC’s and the schools’ websites. Go directly to the source rather than rely on blogs, social media, or other secondary sources for information about a particular school. Be especially wary of tools on various websites that purport to find the “law school for you” by asking you a few superficial questions about yourself. Instead, go to the professionals — call the schools’ admissions offices and ask questions about the program and the culture there. Also, think about geography: If you’re going to spend three years somewhere, you want to be sure it’s a place where you can thrive. If you know you want to work in a particular city, going to law school there can help you start to establish career connections while you’re pursuing your degree. If possible, visit your top choices in person to get a feel for them. And don’t pay too much attention to rankings; while they’re a valuable part of the process, you shouldn’t base your entire decision on how high a school is ranked.

What if I’m worried about the time or money commitment?
Law school is an investment in your future and studies show time and again the value of a law degree for career earnings and satisfaction. As Dean Mutcherson noted, schools have many options to help students with affordability such as financial aid, scholarships, part-time study, and “blended” learning where some of the curriculum is completed online. Inquire with each school you’re interested in about what part-time work opportunities may be like (it’s unlikely you’ll have much time your first year, but it is doable after that). When it comes to cost, make sure you get an accurate picture of not just tuition, but also cost of living and other expenses. This is an important area in which you should not be too wedded to rankings and should think carefully about your goals. And if you get admitted to a few schools, get comfortable going to those schools’ admissions offices and seeing what they can offer in terms of scholarships. Doing so can really pay off for you.

What’s the best way to write a personal statement?
All the deans agreed that an LSAT score is only one part of a law school application. Schools consider the whole package, including undergraduate GPA, references, extracurricular activities, and the personal statement. Take Dean Washburn’s advice and focus on the “personal” by understanding that schools are interested in you. Are you the first in your family to go to college, or to consider graduate school? What obstacles have you had to overcome? What are your goals? Make it authentic and engaging, and use it as an opportunity to show off your writing ability. Keep in mind that admissions officers will read hundreds, or thousands, of these statements every year, so make sure it stands out. Don’t send the exact same statement to 20 different schools — and be sure to proofread it carefully before submitting it.

What other tips do you have for getting into the law school of my dreams?
Some schools offer interviews to applicants, and the deans highly recommended you take advantage of such an opportunity. It’s a great way for you to get to know the school, and vice versa; it’s also a good opportunity to explain any negative aspects of your application package. Do you have a hard time with multiple-choice tests? Did you have a year of undergrad where you had health or financial difficulties and your GPA was affected? An interview can be a chance to clear those things up. Additionally, when it comes to references, be sure you get people who really know what kind of person you are, rather than just a prestigious name. You want someone who can speak to your character and ability.

What kinds of people should apply to law school?
Everyone is welcome! As we always say at LSAC, the legal system works best when it reflects the diverse community it serves. That means that law schools seek broad diversity, including what comes from race and gender, but also from other backgrounds, experiences, and viewpoints, including veterans, joint-degree students, older students, students with families, and students with disabilities. All add to a robust learning environment. When you visit a law school, ask if there are other students who are in a similar situation as you; talking to them can give you an idea of what your own experience there will be like. Additionally, don’t count yourself out. Today law schools are increasingly understanding that people who were formerly incarcerated, had legal problems earlier in life, or have dealt with mental health issues can be wonderful additions to the legal community. Just be sure to be up-front about those situations in your application. You don’t want to hide them and have them come up for the first time later on during the bar admission process. In fact, your past experience can be a compelling reason for why you want to study law.

I want to thank Deans Campbell, Johnson, Mutcherson, and Washburn for taking time to talk with Ken and me. At LSAC, we aim to do all we can to help candidates on their enrollment journey and we work closely with our member schools to ensure the LSAT is measuring the skills needed for success in law school so that your preparation for it is your on-ramp to thriving in law school and beyond.  

As a friendly reminder, we offer candidates free LSAT prep through our partnership with Khan Academy, along with other free prep materials. If you’re considering a law degree, we hope this information has been helpful, and if you have any more questions, please don’t hesitate to contact us.

About Kellye Y. Testy

President and Chief Executive Officer of LSAC
Since 2017, Kellye Y. Testy has served as president and chief executive officer of the Law School Admission Council, the leading assessment, data, and technology hub for law schools and their candidates in the United States, Canada, and throughout the world.