Law Admissions Lowdown

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

When you apply to law school, admissions officers receive transcripts from every institution of higher learning that you have attended, compiled through the Law School Admission Council’s Credential Assembly Service. They will look at the grades on these transcripts. In addition to your overall grade point average, they will note any inconsistencies or trends of improvement. This is why an addendum can help provide context for an errant bad grade or underperforming semester. However, grades are not the only way admissions officers assess a candidate’s academic potential. Law school admissions officers also consider the classes you have taken. One thing they may note is any honors’ thesis, final project, capstone project or other substantial academic work. In fact, some law schools specifically ask on their application if you have completed a major written work.

If you are accepted to a law school, you may request to defer admission by a year or two, meaning that you delay your enrollment until then. If your request is approved, you will be required to put down a seat deposit and sign a binding commitment to withdraw from all outstanding waitlists and pending applications. In return, the school promises you may enroll in a future class.

Once you have deferred admission, you may not apply to other law schools. You may, however, decide not to attend after all, in which case you will lose only your seat deposit and perhaps the law school’s goodwill. Violating the terms of a deferment contract may put your future legal career at risk. If state bar examiners find out, it may put your ability to practice law in doubt.

Law schools vary in their openness to deferment. Some are flexible while others rarely grant requests. Hidden factors may influence this decision, like the size of a law school’s waitlist, their forecasts for admissions trends or the strength of your candidacy. Typically, law schools are most receptive to one-year deferments.

Anyone considering studying for the LSAT should start the same way: with a practice test. However familiar you are with the instructions and questions, an initial practice test will show you what you are up against. The score you receive on this first practice test means little. It does not indicate the floor or ceiling for your performance any more than your first golf lesson shows your handicap. Rather, the experience of taking the test reveals which sections you find most intuitive or interesting, and where you will need to put in the most work. With this context, you can start learning fundamental skills from a course or self study.

Whether shopping for new shoes or a car, most people prefer to try something out before making a purchase. Considering the cost of law school tuition, it is unwise to choose a law school blindly. In the past, law school applicants typically visited law schools – either before applying or after receiving a decision – to determine whether they felt at home. Law schools provided tours, information sessions and special events for interested and admitted students.

The COVID-19 pandemic, however, has left applicants unable to tour campuses closed to visitors. So, applicants need to be more creative and proactive in determining whether a law school is right for them. In particular, they should: (1) Research the school’s website; (2) Speak with current students and alumni; and (3)
Visualize day-to-day life at the law school.

Lawyers are as ubiquitous in America as yellow school buses and large coffees to go. From small offices near rural courthouses to skyscrapers in major cities, lawyers practice everywhere. Law schools, however, are less evenly distributed. Most states have three or fewer. While law graduates are not bound to stay in state, it can be hard to get clerkships and job openings out of state unless you graduate from a top-ranked law school. Studying law near where you plan to build a career makes sense. Your law school's clinics, internships and local alumni networks may give you a foot in the door. And law school classes may be geared to the rules and subjects tested on the state bar exam.

Q: I’m in my first year at an unranked law school, but I'm hoping to transfer into a top law school. My first semester GPA is less than perfect at 3.0, which I think I can bump up to 3.2 or 3.3 by year's end. I am an older student with considerable work experience in investment banking and corporate finance and I already accepted a summer internship at the U.S. attorney’s office. Can my work experience and a fairly good 1L summer internship boost my odds of getting into a top law school, perhaps top 30? I’m willing to go out of state for the right opportunity. – SH

A: Congratulations on your internship with the U.S. attorney’s office! Clinching such a highly competitive internship, despite admittedly unspectacular grades, reveals two things about your career potential. First, you must have excellent interpersonal skills like networking and persuasive speaking and writing. Second, discerning lawyers recognize what you bring to the table. As I have advised other transfer applicants, the most important things you can do this semester to strengthen your transfer application are raise your grades, secure a favorable recommendation letter from a professor and develop a compelling argument for your transfer.

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