Law Admissions Lowdown

Top Law Coach advice for aspiring lawyers, published by U.S. News & World Report

Recent law school graduates across the country are cramming their brains full of legal intricacies in anticipation of the dreaded bar exam. As a law school applicant, you won't need to worry about the bar exam yet. Almost every state requires aspiring lawyers to complete law school before taking the bar exam, with a few exceptions that permit structured apprenticeship programs instead, like California and Washington. Nevertheless, it is helpful to understand the test in advance and how its character and fitness requirements might impact your application.

U.S. states and territories, as well as the District of Columbia, set their own rules of admission for the bar exam. Further information about these rules can be found through the National Conference of Bar Examiners or specific state bars. Most states offer the bar exam twice a year, in February and July. These dates allow law students who graduate in either fall or spring to have a couple of months to prepare for the test. Bar exams generally take place over two days, including both state-specific tests as well as the Multistate Bar Exam, which is also known as the MBE and is common to every state except Louisiana. Bar exams typically include essays and multiple-choice questions.

Before putting time and money into a law degree, it helps to know what you are getting into. Taking law-related classes, volunteering with legal organizations on campus or in a community, attending information sessions with prelaw advisers and law school admissions officers, and asking lawyers within your extended network about their careers can help you choose a legal career path. However, the confidential and client-focused nature of most legal work makes it hard to get a direct look at the day-to-day work that lawyers do. One of the only ways to gain direct experience in a legal workplace is by working in a law office as a paralegal.
Working as a paralegal can provide many benefits specific to law school applicants, including: Building relevant skills; A personal statement topic; A strong recommendation letter; Legal networking opportunities; and Subsidized LSAT prep or tuition reimbursement.

While most law students are in their early- to mid-20s, others run the gamut from recent college graduates to older students looking to change careers or reenter the workforce. Older applicants face unique considerations because of their age and life circumstances. At the opposite end of the spectrum, applicants still in college have to weigh the advantages of getting a head start in their legal education against the benefits of gaining work experience first.
At the far end of the spectrum are very young applicants who completed their undergraduate degrees in adolescence, often accelerated by taking community college classes, summer courses or Advanced Placement exams in high school. Starting law school before a student is old enough to legally drink is exceptional but not unprecedented. However, there are good reasons why such young applicants might consider taking a gap year or two before starting law school.

American law schools, typically traditionalist and resistant to change, have adapted with rare urgency to the continuing coronavirus pandemic. In the spring of 2020, most law schools – like other educational institutions – moved classes online, canceled campus activities and events, and restricted libraries and other facilities. Many allowed their students to take classes on a pass-fail basis. From fall 2020 through spring 2021, law schools conducted most classes and activities virtually or in a hybrid online and in-person format. Despite the efforts of administrators and professors, many students expressed frustration and disappointment that their school year fell short of a full law school experience. Now that vaccines are widely available, most law schools anticipate a return to in-person instruction in fall 2021. To mitigate health risks, many are planning safety measures like mandatory vaccination, frequent coronavirus tests and social distancing. Many also plan to maintain remote learning options to accommodate international students, students with health concerns and others unable to attend classes in person.

In 2017, a year after the University of Arizona's James E. Rogers College of Law tested the waters, a few law schools began an experiment to start accepting the Graduate Record Examinations as an alternative to the Law School Admission Test. Since the GRE is more frequently administered and more widely used than the LSAT, those law schools hoped that accepting the GRE might broaden their applicant pool. Perhaps more graduate school applicants might consider tossing in a law school application as well.

The experiment proved successful, and more law schools joined along. Today, about 70 law schools in the U.S. and abroad accept the GRE. Educational Testing Services, the nonprofit organization that designs and administers the GRE, keeps a current list online of law schools that accept the GRE.

How to Defer your Law School Admission

Law schools around the United States offer the option of deferment to applicants who have been accepted to the school but, for some reason, cannot join right away. Since there is a significant gap between the day you receive your acceptance letter and the first day of classes, your personal circumstances might change. Depending on the circumstances, you may want to consider deferring your enrollment to the next year. But what, exactly, does deferment entail?

Read on as we take a closer look at law school deferments and how you can defer your admission. 

How to Defer Your Law School Admission

When a law school applicant receives an acceptance letter from a particular school, they can request the school to delay their official induction by one year or more, depending on their reasons for deferment. 

If a student’s deferment application is accepted, they may be required to follow a series of steps to ensure that the school will keep their seat for future enrollment. These steps include: 

  • Submitting a seat deposit.
  • Signing a commitment to the school.
  • Withdrawing your applications from all other law schools. 

If your deferment application is processed successfully, you will not be allowed to apply to other schools. Failure to commit to your binding agreement is a direct violation of your deferment contract and can jeopardize your legal career. If you decide to not join the school altogether, you will likely forfeit your seat deposit. 

Not all law schools are equally receptive to deferment applications. While some might accommodate students if their reasons for deferment are valid, others might not entertain their requests at all. Besides the specific law school policy, factors like the length of the student waiting list and the strength of your application profile also impact the school’s decision to accept or reject your deferment request. Most law schools grant deferments of one year to applicants, depending on their school’s admissions policy.

Grounds for Deferment

Your request for deferment is likely to be accepted if it has a sound basis. Most law schools grant deferment requests for unforeseen circumstances, including medical conditions, familial emergencies, military placement, etc. For unusual circumstances, the admissions department of the law school might allow you to delay your enrollment until your situation has been resolved. 

[Read more: How to write a perfect deferment request]

Law schools also tend to offer leeway to students interested in deferring their admission due to receiving a rare academic or professional opportunity that might benefit the law school indirectly. A fellowship might not only be a valid reason for deferment; it might also enhance your potential future career in law, and thus reflect well on the deferral-granting institution.

Your request is likely to be accepted by the law school if the reason is sudden and your request is brief. If you seek deferment for a family emergency, you may be allowed to delay your enrollment temporarily, so that you might successfully resolve your personal issues and return to continue your education.

Other Factors Affecting Your Deferment

Since you sign a binding contract with the law school to obtain deferment for a year or more, you might have to compromise in terms of financial aid offers and other merit aid. Additionally, if you are an international student seeking deferment, you might have to deal with extra complications regarding living in the United States if you are not actively enrolled at the law school.

While it usually only makes sense for students to defer in case of emergencies, some law schools also allow students to declare their interest in deferring in their application to the school. Some law schools offer specially-designed deferred admission programs for students who aim for post-graduate education. 

Requesting Your Law School for a Deferral

If you are accepted to a law school but are interested in deferring till a later date, you can check your law school acceptance letter or contact the law school admissions office to obtain more information on the school’s deferral policy. Similarly, it is also advisable to check with the school if any scholarships or financial aid will transfer with your deferral if your deferment application is accepted. 

If the law school rejects your request for a deferral, you still have the option to enroll for your original term. You also have the option to withdraw your application from the school and reapply at a later date, depending on your circumstances. It is advisable to refresh your application in case you choose to reapply next year. 

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