February is a fascinating month to work with law school admissions consulting clients, because half are scrambling to find their way off the waitlist and decide which program to attend, while the other half are already planning for next year. It is a great reminder that, for some people, the idea of law school isn’t a major practical decision staring them in the face, but rather an esoteric concept that seems an eternity away. It also a reminder that many of our clients still control most of the factors that will ultimately impact their law school opportunities.
Therefore, we are focusing on are the five things that people should be doing if they plan to apply to law school next year:
1. Plan around the LSAT. More than any other standardized test, the LSAT is a major influence on your admissions prospects. Part of the reason for this is that the LSAT actually does test a lot of the key critical thinking, reading, and reasoning skills that will have a huge impact on your level of success in the classroom, so law schools put a great deal of emphasis on the resulting test scores. Therefore, ensure that you make the proper investment in your preparation. You may or may not decide to pay for a course (or even just for help with logic games), but you should plan on doing as many practice tests as possible and spending the time necessary to become completely comfortable with the exam. This sounds obvious, but you would be surprised how often people procrastinate in their LSAT preparation … especially when there is “an entire year” to get it done.
2. Mitigate a weakness. The name of the admissions game is to try to read your own profile (GPA, LSAT, resume, etc.) the way an admissions officer would and then use your personal statement to answer their big questions. In short, you have to write away your weaknesses. In a perfect world, there aren’t weaknesses to write away, so you can focus simply on drafting an amazing personal statement. Therefore, one thing you should absolutely do in the next year is identify your biggest weaknesses (this is where consulting or some other form of advising is extremely helpful) and then go out and conquer them. If you have some issues with focus and discipline due to a spotty GPA, take a job that requires great maturity. Even better, take some challenges courses and knock them out of the park. If your motivation as a law school applicant seems questionable, seek out an internship somewhere within the legal space. Rather than merely chasing the “best” job or the most “unique” experience, see if there is something more valuable you can do with your time that will round you out as an applicant.
3. Secure your letters of recommendation. It seems like it would be easy to zip over to the office of your favorite college professors and ask them for a quick turnaround on a great letter of recommendation. It’s not. Instead of letting time lapse, go to them now and start the recommendation process. Ask them for their advice on whether you should apply to law school and perhaps which schools. Start outlining a timeline for the process, whereby you will supply them with updates, bullet points about your future application story, and other items that will help them write a great letter.
4. Read. Many people will tell you to avoid studying or anything resembling law school life, since you will be doing so much of it once you get to school. Nonsense! You don’t have to read books about Civil Procedure or Tort restatements, but you should always be reading. It will help you with the LSAT and it will certainly help you hit the ground running once you arrive on campus. Don’t let your mental muscles atrophy.
5. Visit Campus. A common misconception in the law school universe is that rankings are everything and there is no need to worry about “feel” at the various programs. This is false. That said, it can be difficult to tell schools apart based on their online descriptions. The classes, the clinics, the on campus recruitment, the journals … it definitely bleeds together. And few programs have a flagship designation like “Law and Econ” (University of Chicago). Therefore, the best way to tease out which schools are the best fit is to go visit them. You will get an idea for where they are located, how people interact, and even the “types” of students that attend. Not only that, but you may have the good fortune of meeting with admissions reps or professors on your visits and making a lasting impression.
In short, make use of the next year in ways that will aid both your candidacy and your level of preparation so that you can make the experience as meaningful as possible. If you are willing to spend countless hours applying, three years and six figures attending, and then a career practicing law, you should be willing to spend the next year preparing for those things.
If not … well, that’s another post entirely!