Get Paid to Apply to Law School!

In a shocking bit of news, the Wall Street Journal Law Blog has reported that the University of Alabama Law School is giving away free iTunes downloads to select prospective applicants via an email campaign.

In addition to providing $20 in free downloads, the school is also waiving the application fee. This means that Alabama is paying people to apply to law school! Surely, this is some sort of sign that the end times are coming soon.

Possibly even more perplexing is the WSJ’s confusion with regard to Alabama’s motives. This appears to be a blatant attempt to drive raw application numbers. After all, more applications means a lower acceptance rate (presuming yield rates remain constant), which means more prestige, and a possible ascension in the rankings.

This is the kind of thing that schools could have gotten away with pretty easily about 10 years ago, but not anymore. It seems that every relevant legal blog these days has readers who will forward along any correspondence that might be newsworthy, meaning that letters from law school deans (see: Stanford’s changes to its grading system) and email campaigns from admissions offices will more than likely show up on the web within about 24 hours.

I have a feeling Alabama is rethinking this one.

Veritas Prep Featured in The Wall Street Journal

An article in today’s Wall Street Journal (“Escape Route: Seeking Refuge in an M.B.A. Program”) looked more deeply into the trend of people turning to graduate school as the economy slows. Veritas Prep was mentioned as one of the GMAT prep and admissions consulting firms that has recently seen tremendous growth because of the softening economy and Wall Street turmoil.

While this trend has been covered a great deal lately, this piece raises an interesting question: If more people pursue their MBAs now but the Wall Street landscape looks dramatically different in three years, where will those grads go? According to the article:

But the severity of the financial crisis and the demise and consolidation of financial powerhouses that in previous years have nabbed top talent at schools across the country make this year’s flight to business school different. When this year’s M.B.A. applicants graduate, they will enter a dramatically different Wall Street and potentially smaller job market that has been altered by the ripple effects of the credit crunch.

“The demand for managing money and the demand for banking skills, that’s going to be here,” says Stacey Kole, deputy dean for the full-time M.B.A. program at the University of Chicago Graduate School of Business. But “it may migrate to different firms.” Ms. Kole says the school is seeing more boutique firms recruit on campus, as well as employers in other sectors recruiting for finance jobs. “People who may have gone to Wall Street will go to Main Street in a finance role,” she says.

Business schools aren’t the only ones that may see an increase in application because of the economy. According to the Law School Admission Council, this past June there were 28,939 LSATs administered in June, representing a 15.3% increase from a year ago.

Perhaps most concerning is the effect that the current market may have on student loans. Some lenders (such as Citi) have already suspended loan programs, while others are tightening their lending standards. It remains to be seen how much of an impact this trend will have on the overall graduate school admissions landscape.

If you’re just now thinking about applying to business school or law school this year, take a look at Veritas Prep’s industry-leading admissions consulting team.

More U.S. News Law School Rankings Info

U.S. News & World has made another important announcement regarding their law school rankings. Starting next year, in the 2009 rankings set to be released in March, U.S. News & World will be ranking part-time law programs in an effort to provide more information to students looking for these educational opportunities. Less clear is whether the preeminent rankings service will begin folding part time numbers into the full time rankings, as was discussed here.

Until such time that U.S. News & World decides to fold part time programs in, this story won’t affect the general rankings much. That said, it is still an important bit of information for a couple of reasons:

1. It affirms part time programs. There is definitely a need for part time J.D. programs, as they provide opportunities for people who can’t afford to stop working and they also create admission spaces for those candidates who may not be able to put forward the traditionally rewarded academic profile. By ranking these programs, it validates them as options, while also drawing attention to those law schools who specialize in this type of legal education.

2. It validates the rankings. This is a topic for a stand-alone post, but there are many critics of rankings and how they are used. However, the introduction of these part time rankings really validates why we have rankings in the first place – they serve as guideposts that inform students where they will find what they are looking for, while simultaneously alerting employers as to where they might find great employees. Without a ranking system for part time programs, there is no method by which part time candidates can predict the behavior of other part time candidates – and so they blindly select a school based on factors that are important only to full timers. As always, when you reduce any list or ranking of programs, the ultimate value is that they inform behavior and eliminate confusion in that particular market. These new rankings certainly accomplish that goal.

Law Schools Loans Still Available … Mostly

In the wake of the credit crisis, one question that has been top of mind for many prospective law students is whether the hefty loans relied upon by so many will, in fact, be available when it comes time to cut the check to the old office of the bursar.

The loan packages required to attend an elite law often soar well above $100,000 in total and are typically cobbled together through a variety of government-backed loans (Stafford, Perkins, and PLUS) and private loans. Given the way loans are drying up in other markets and industries, it was a reasonable question to wonder if they would still be there for students.

Finally, word is trickling down from sources like NYU Law School Dean Richard Matasar that the government-based loans will most likely be unaffected by the credit crisis. So most of the financial aid necessary will still be there.

Unfortunately, it doesn’t look like private loans will be as readily available. The National Law Journal worries about students applying for bridge loans to get from graduation to the bar exam, but those expenses are often covered by law firms as a benefit to the 2L summer associates who accept offers of employment in advance.

Of greater concern is what a reduction in loan availability will do to school choice and the inevitable leveraging game that follows when students are forced to make financial considerations the top factor in selecting a program. In the current J.D. market, students often bypass large scholarships in favor of loan-heavy packages in order to attend the top program or best fit available. However, if those discretionary private loans aren’t available, students may not have a choice but to take the bigger scholarship packages. This tends to create an environment where schools get leveraged by other programs willing to spend big, and the result is confusion in the marketplace with regards to where top students will congregate and where top employers need to go to recruit.

All of that said, the major takeaway is that most of the loans will still be there, which should continue to fuel a recession-driven spike in graduate school applications.

Is Stanford Law Making a Move on Yale?

For years, Yale Law School has been untouchable at the top of law school rankings. Armed with a prized faculty, an esoteric grading system, and lofty GPA/LSAT percentiles, acceptance rates, and yield numbers, Yale has been squashing all contenders with relative ease.

However, signs are starting to emerge that a true challenger is on the horizon.

Stanford Law School recently announced that its proposed new grading system (introduced in March of this year) will take effect both immediately and retroactively, turning a more standard evaluation model into an “honors/pass/low-pass/fail” hierarchy. The school offers plenty of rationalization for the change in a memo to students posted here, but it doesn’t take a legal scholar to recognize where such a grading scheme comes from. (Here’s a hint: it’s from Yale.)

This development comes at the same time that The Yale Daily News wonders aloud about the possibility of Yale Law slipping due to a mass faculty exodus. The piece surmises that the New Haven location is finally catching up to Yale as spousal career options drive top professors to larger cities like Boston and New York. For a small law school that is built upon the world’s most elite legal faculty, this is a rather large blow.

Throw in the fact that Yale has added a controversial question to its application this year (which may drive away top applicants who want to use test prep and/or admissions consulting and worry about disclosing such assistance) and one could surmise that for the first time in ages, Yale is primed for a bit of a decline, however gradual.

All of which creates a perfect opportunity for Stanford to leverage its ongoing status as the “laid back” law school or the “trendy” law school (or whatever title is hot in the streets these days) and make the final push up the ladder. Whether switching to a grading system that alleniates current students in order to mirror Yale is the way to go remains to be seen, and it should be noted that there is still a wide gap between Yale and Stanford, at least as calculated by U.S. News, but it looks like that gap will start closing any minute.

(Note – Not to be outdone, Harvard has followed suit and announced its own Yale copycat, err, revamped grading model. A hat tip to Above the Law for posting the key student memos involved in both grading changes.)

[Update – Georgetown is not going to the pass/fail grading system. I guess it is now news when a law school doesn’t change the way it grades students. Strange times!]

What the Bailout Means for Clients of Veritas Prep

Obviously, the hottest topic in the United States at this time is the proposed $700 billion financial market bailout, forwarded by Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson and the Bush administration on September 18. According to CNN, Congress is currently closing in on an agreed structure for the bailout and may in fact finalize the terms by the time you read this post. Obviously, the names have been huge and have transcended the interest level of Wall Streeters and market insiders to become the critical issue of the day. To date, bailouts have been engineered for Bear Stearns, mortgage holders, AIG, Fannie Mac, and Freddie Mac. This doesn’t even account for the $153 billion spent on the economic stimulus package or the nearly $300 billion in farm subsidies from earlier in the year. Next up – the entire financial industry. Click on any political or news website or blog, flip a channel, grab a newspaper and you can read and hear all about it.

But what does it all mean for the clients of Veritas Prep and of other “business school preparation” companies? The short answer is: it means a lot. The long answer is that you have to break it down into a series of key issues. Some of the issues are relatively obvious, short-term in nature, and warrant high priority consideration given the type of investment one makes when pursuing a graduate degree. Other issues are less obvious at this time and tend to have big picture implications.

Issue #1 – The recession push goes into hyperdrive. For companies specializing in preparation for MBA programs, there is almost always going to be an increase in demand in a downturn. Most businesses slow down in a recession, but education firms typically see an acceleration under such market conditions. For GMAT prep and MBA admissions consulting companies everywhere, 2008 was probably already a busy year given the recession and the likely application spike that typically accompanies such an economic climate. One simplified reason for this is that when the market takes a downturn, an advanced degree becomes a more attractive option to young professionals. Not only is there an opportunity to “ride out” a bad market, but the business school graduate almost certainly comes out on the other side with advanced skills, an improved network, and increased earning potential.

When key financial firms recently started collapsing and bailouts became commonplace, a recession climate escalated into the current financial crisis. What happens next? More than likely, the increased application activity at business schools and business school companies will spike even further. In addition to the draw, or “pull” of an MBA during a bad market cycle, now there is a “push” in the form of all the suddenly unemployed and displaced young professionals in the finance industries (and other affected industries). For many people, the MBA has gone from being merely an attractive option to an absolute necessity.

Issue #2 – The end game expectations must shift. The byproduct of this increased activity is that business school applicants must analyze eventual career prospects through a new lens. Those being “pushed” into the MBA arena surely must understand that the career path of former, enviable colleagues is likely to be unavailable. The financial sector – the same quadrant of the business school job market that is driving estimates of accelerated admissions numbers – will not look the same in two, three, or four years as it did even just a few weeks ago. This means that a significant MBA cycle (business major, analyst job on Wall Street, MBA from high profile program, banking job on Wall Street) has been disrupted if not broken altogether. This has an impact on everything from applications (how to explain short and long term goals when the goal just disappeared?) to summer jobs to recruiting to possible overcrowding in other job markets. And it isn’t just finance professionals who will be impacted. MBAs seeking careers in industries such as management consulting, health care, tech, media, product marketing, and operations will now likely face increased competition from peers who otherwise would have pursued employment at investment banks, hedge funds, and private equity firms. And if we are to make a further leap and presume (as many do) that those financial job seekers are comprised of an uncommonly high percentage of top business school students, then competition is increased all the more by the additional quality, as well as quantity, introduced into these other markets. This leads directly into the next issue.

Issue #3 – New avenues should be considered. When analyzing the impact of the bailout on MBA applicants, most of the focus is centered on the two issues above. Less prominent is the discussion of how other programs are impacted, or how they might impact young professionals. In particular, law school becomes an almost necessary consideration for a young professional previously considering applying only to business school. Not so long ago, a law degree – and the earning potential, social prestige, and community standing that came with it – was the most desirable higher education program available to a young, ambitious, business-minded professional. In recent years, the law degree has lost some of its luster as a crown jewel of the financial markets, replaced by the speed, efficiency, and more lucrative career pipelines of business school. This is not to say that a J.D. suddenly became an irrelevant degree. On the contrary, elite law schools continued to produce top-flight entrants into financial careers, and prominent CEOs continued to boast a law degree as part of (if not the centerpiece of) impressive educational resumes. Additionally, the perceptions regarding the intellectual rigor of law school, the social value of legal work, and the job security of working at a large law firm all remained largely unchanged. But let it be said that despite escalating associate salaries, “white shoe” law firms and elite law schools were losing young talent at a fairly alarming rate to their MBA counterparts.

One outcome of this change is that the JD/MBA saw an increase in popularity. Many law students with an interest in finance and the desire for increasingly lucrative careers began to see the more generous returns attached to an MBA and pursued joint degrees to gain entree into lofty markets and firms. Now, that pendulum may swing the other way. The JD/MBA continues to grow in popularity – evidenced by the addition of a three-year Penn Law/Wharton program at the University of Pennsylvania – as students desire to gain more flexibility with regards to their job prospects. However, whereas previously the MBA was primarily added to bolster career prospects and open doors for the JD, now the JD may bolster career prospects and provide job security for the MBA. Attorneys fees will always be the last budget item to be cut and therefore provides more stable career prospects for elite applicants. Pairing a law degree to a high profile MBA is likely to be the most surefire way to safeguard one’s educational investment.

Of course, traditional MBA applicants may decide to forgo business school altogether and instead pursue a JD as a sole professional degree. A law degree – particularly from an elite program – can provide young professionals with exposure to any conceivable financial instrument and remains a proven and reliable method for securing high paying positions with great job security and encouraging executive prospects. (Once you are an executive, you won’t have to worry either way – there will always be a bailout if things go wrong!)

For all of these reasons and more, Veritas Prep decided early in 2008 to add law school admissions consulting and JD/MBA admissions consulting to the Veritas Prep slate of
offerings. Given the popularity of joint degree programs and the natural convergence of law school and business school as mutually beneficial and similarly attractive options for elite young professionals, it is imperative that business school companies afford traditional MBA clients with all of the advice, tools, and services – including law school advice, tools, and services – that are necessary to succeed. This is true now more than ever.

Issue #4 – Knowledge is power. The first three issues in this post have focused on the primary concerns facing business school (and, yes, law school) applicants: how the bailout impacts a client’s application process, job prospects, and educational choices. These issues have been posited in order of most to least pressing, but they all belong to the family of “concepts that effect the bottom line.” Issue #4 is more esoteric, but no less important. Because if this bailout means anything, it means that young people need to be more informed. When this $700 billion allocation is rubber stamped and doled out, it will bring the grand total of bailout money, subsidies, stimulus packages, and war spending to a total of nearly $1.6 trillion dollars … in 2008 alone. Few can deny that much of this has been necessary, but the fact that it has occurred with so little debate, so little oversight, and so little care is, frankly, outrageous. And what has been lacking – even more than common sense – is the outrage. Outrage from young people, who are standing by as the old guard spends tomorrow’s money to bail out bad investments, business practices, and regulation. Politically connected insiders breathe a sigh of relief as they receive taxpayer subsidized bonuses, subject to none of the “claw back” provisions required by even the most rudimentary of phantom bankruptcy schemes (or corporate reorganizations, or workouts, or whatever phrase you prefer) that should always accompany a financial rescue effort of this magnitude.

Part of the reason that so few are outraged is that they lack knowledge. Absorbing what is reported is only so helpful without a toolkit to understand the underlying principals – both the unavoidable principals that necessitate our government’s choices (the U.S. economy does need this latest bailout, for instance), as well as the principals that are being violated by the United States government’s methods of implementation. Such a toolkit is available in business school and in law school. Now, more than ever, attending an elite professional program is about receiving an advanced graduate school education, not just an advanced graduate school degree. For a long time, the analysis of whether to attend an MBA program, or go to law school, or attend med school, or any other grad program, has started and concluded with an examination of the career prospects and rate of return embedded in each pursuit. This bailout signifies a sea change on that front. Getting an MBA or a JD is about more than a degree and an eventual job. It is about building a knowledge base and a skill set to understand a rapidly changing world … and then being equipped to do something about it.

More Rankings Controversy – Michigan Dumps the LSAT (Sort of)

The Wall Street Journal’s Law Blog has uncovered an interesting announcement on the Michigan Law School website regarding a new admissions policy.

The Wolverine Scholars Program allows University of Michigan undergraduates to apply to the law school without an LSAT score provided that the individual in question has a GPA of at least 3.8.

Michigan provides its rationale for the program on the website, but suffice it to say that this has “gaming the system” written all over it. It is common knowledge that the Michigan residency quotas negatively effects the school’s GPA and LSAT numbers, as out-of-state applicants consistently produce higher profiles. By eliminating the LSAT requirement for UM students, the law school is able to cherry pick applicants with high GPAs and no pesky LSAT scores to offset those glistening grades. The obvious benefit to eliminating the LSAT is that it enables the school to avoid admitting high-GPA UM applicants with low scores (that would drop the LSAT percentiles and negatively affect the rankings), but the other side of the coin is that the school can lock in extremely bright students who might have scored in the 170s and gone elsewhere.

The whole thing feels pretty cheap and almost painfully obvious. Someone get U.S. News and World on the phone and let them know they have yet another adjustment to make to the rankings.

Another Public Interest Bump, Courtesy of USC Law

In what is becoming a sensation sweeping the (law school) nation, USC has overhauled its public interest loan forgiveness program. This is the second such move by an elite law school in the past month (read about Michigan’s big changes here) and comes on the heels of Harvard’s BIG announcement last fall that it would be providing free 3L tuition for law students committing to public interest.

As previously opined on this blog, these public interest bumps are often just big public relations moved cloaked in altruism, but the USC announcment, coupled with the Michigan announcement, seems to suggest actual effort to make public interest more viable for talented law school graduates. In USC’s case, the law school isn’t simply showcasing more money in the pipeline or dangling a shinier carrot at starry-eyed law school applicants; rather by removing a “salary cap,” the USC is enabling more government and public interest attorneys to access the loan forgiveness program. This speaks to graduates and current students more than it does applicants, which almost automatically makes it more valid.

Congratulations to USC for a subtle, but extremely helpful infusion of public interest dollars.

More Advice from U Chicago Law – Letters of Recommendation

The University of Chicago blog, A Day in the Life, which was detailed here yesterday, has also posted a helpful missive on the elusive letter of recommendation.

The big takeways here are A) to find someone who knows you well enough to write substantively on your academic qualities and B) to “feather the nest” (so to speak) by providing a packet of information to the recommender in question, allowing that person to do a thorough job. Chicago also makes it clear that recommendations should be from academic sources whenever possible, so applicants would be well served to cozy up to a few professors during their junior year or (worst case) during the fall.

Furthemore, Veritas Prep is pleased to see our own tips and suggestions mirrored throughout the post. The client always wins when consultants and law schools see eye to eye.

The following is from Veritas Prep’s Application Tips page and features many of the sentiments included in the U Chicago blog post:

One of the most egregious misperceptions regarding letters of recommendations has to do with the credibility of the source. While you do want to ask credible people to pen these letters, that doesn

Law School Personal Statement Advice: U Chicago

The University of Chicago is considered by some to be the most “old fashioned” of the elite law schools – quick to ban Internet use in classrooms, slow to add cutting edge cirriculum additions (although it is clear that Justice Scalia would prefer they move even more slowly).

So it might come as a surprise to many in the law school community that Chicago actually features one of the most student-friendly and transparent admissions blogs out there.

A recent post was particularly helpful for law school applicants, as it provided some insight into the law school’s perspective on the increasingly tricky personal statement component of the application.

The advice contained within is not exactly groundbreaking, but still offers some nice commentary on the difficulty of the assignment (hopefully providing some peace of mind to applicants) and seems to invite worthwhile and honest feedback, which is a departure from a recent post on the Yale Law School blog.

Among other tips, the blog’s author – Sarah Arimoto-Mercer, Director of Financial Aid – stresses that applicants do not have to describe post-graduation legal practice goals, details some major “don’t” items (grammar errors, unconventional personal statements, naive statements, and “big words”), and hammers home the point that a personal statement is about the applicant.

The best news for client’s of Veritas Prep’s Law School Admissions Consulting services is that we see eye-to-eye with the University of Chicago. Consider the following phrases:

From Veritas Prep’s “Personal Statement” page:

One of the most difficult things facing an applicant during the law school admission process is the lack of control. Many application components are set in stone or out of a student’s hands entirely. This makes the personal statement of paramount importance. Students can control their own story in this critical writing sample.

And from the U Chicago blog post on the subject:

The personal statement is your chance to go above and beyond the numbers. Your LSAT and GPA are pretty concrete by the time you apply to law school. The personal statement is an element of the application where you can still make a difference. Since you cannot request an interview with the admissions committee, you can think of the personal statement as your chance to say what you would have wanted to highlight in an interview.

For students who would like to receive more insight into the personal statement component of the application, consider reading the following application tips on the subject.

Justice Scalia Slams University of Chicago

The Internets are alive with chatter about United States Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia’s comments regarding the University of Chicago’s loss of conversvative street cred.

In a Tuesday speech before the Federalist Society, Scalia expressed dismay and regret over the fact that Chicago had “changed considerably and intentionally” from a “rigorous and conservative law school” to … well, a rigorous and less conservative law school, apparently. He complained about the addition of more nuanced classes, stating: “I took nothing but bread-and-butter classes, not ‘Law and Poverty,’ or other made-up stuff.”

Of course, it wouldn’t have been a Scalia speech without a bit of controversy and we’re guessing that the University of Chicago Law School isn’t terribly worried, given the fact that today’s law school applicants aren’t exacty taking their cues from Justice Scalia. Far be it for Veritas Prep to say, but our take is that classes like Law and Poverty are probably a good thing and will keep Chicago in good stead with the best and brightest law students.

A New Trend to Watch for Law School Grads

Everything seems to be changing these days at America’s top law schools, but one trend I never thought we’d see would be a sudden influx of practicing attorneys applying for federal clerkships. According to an article in the Philadelphia Business Journal, the percentage of alumni applicants is climbing rapidly from past years.

Temple has seen alumni make up 28 percent of its clerkship applications (up from 13 percent last year) and Penn claims that “35 to 40 percent” of its clerkship applicants are alumni.

Granted, the article focuses on Philadelphia area law schools, but the trend seems to expand beyond the region.

So what are the takeaways?

For starters, it confirms what I’ve been hearing from peers, which is that clerkships can be a grueling job. Once seen as both a more prestigious and less taxing entry into the legal world, it seems safe to say that only the “prestigious” part remains in play. The level of difficulty embedded in a clerkship is, of course, determined by the judge in question, but there certainly seems to be a pattern forming that includes difficult work and insane hours. A friend of mine clerked with the Ninth Circuit last year and his workload put my “big firm” hours to shame (and make no mistake, I worked a lot). The fact that judges are looking for more experienced attorneys to act as clerks seems to indicate that the workload is getting more difficult and more intense.

The other key takeaway here is that it will impact the career paths of today’s law school applicants. Many elite candidates select programs based on the chances of landing prestigious federal clerkships. Some will settle for nothing short of a prominent Appellate Circuit clerkship with the hopes that it will launch them to a gig with the Supreme Court.

But if more and more of those spots are going to more experienced alums, it puts greater pressure on all parties. Applicants – particularly those with no intentions of practicing, but rather riding a clerkship into academia – will have to chose their law schools very carefully and monitor this trend to see which programs are protecting current students by suppressing the influx of alums.

Yet another factor to consider in the very difficult decision of where to study law.

Law School Case Books: Facing Extinction?

Very interesting column today in the Seattle Post Intelligencer about law school case books.

Law schools around the country will be meeting with third party vendors at a September 27 workshop to discuss the feasibility of moving toward electronic readers and other paperless devices that will eliminate the need for costly and cumbersome books.

This probably comes to no surprise to modern law students, who typically learn quickly that most of the case information can be found on LexisNexis, Westlaw, and Google. During my three years at the University of Chicago Law School, I didn’t buy more than five books. There’s just no need as long as you have a laptop, web access, and your law school passwords for the key legal research websites.

That said, it is still refreshing to see law schools out in front of a modern trend, as opposed to being six steps behind. Gone are the days of nattily dressed scholars pouring over thick tomes in vast, dusty reading rooms. Today’s law student is reading cases on his iPhone while socializing in the student lounge. It’s not better or worse, just different. And it seems like law schools are starting to realize that, which is a good thing.

Not only that, but for particular law school applications, it may be appropriate for candidates to highlight interests in the ever-changing legal landscape. This is one more example that leading law schools are (finally?) open to change.

The Yale Question

If you are a law school applicant, admissions officer, or preparation company, you are almost certainly aware of the “Yale Question.” But for those that are not, here is the basic idea:

Yale Law School has added two questions to its 2009 application, which ask candidates to disclose the use of A) LSAT test preparation, and B) admissions consulting.

The mere fact that Yale added these questions generated a response within the law school community, but it was a blog post on Yale Law’s “203” (“An Admissions Blog”) that really ruffled some feathers and put applicants in a quandary.

In the post, Asha Rangappa, Associate Dean, takes a pretty harsh stance toward both LSAT preparation and law school admissions consulting. The thrust of her argument is that admissions consulting creates an unfair advantage — basically, that it undermines any hope of a level playing field for applicants.

I’ve had a chance to engage in a dialogue with Asha about some of this and find her to be extremely intelligent and sincere, with a very idealistic viewpoint toward the world of admissions. It is that idealism that makes her stance both compelling, but also — in my opinion — incomplete.

In a vacuum, law school admissions consulting does indeed create an uneven playing field. Because all things being equal, an available resource would allow “consulting applicants” to gain an advantage over the rest of the applicant pool. And certainly, even in the real life version of admissions, some candidates do indeed gain a competitive advantage by paying for services that others can’t afford.

Of course, law school admissions does not exist in a vacuum, and that type of analysis ignores the enormous advantage held by a percentage of the applicant pool that is fortunate enough to enjoy built-in resources right at its fingertips. I’m referring, of course, to those candidates who have a brother that went to Yale Law, or an uncle from Sullivan & Cromwell, or a family friend who taught at Harvard. I’m referring to the candidates from Princeton and Cornell and Stanford, who have amazing pre-law advisers at their disposal. All of these advisory options are allowed and encouraged by Yale. But how many people have these types of resources?

The applicant from a state school, with limited pre-law advising (if any), no family members in the law, no close friends from Yale … how can that person possibly compete with the advantages described above? Based on the preexisting disparity between segments of the applicant pool, it is my opinion that admissions consulting actually levels the playing field.

Access

Of course, I would be remiss if I did not return to the idea that there are applicants who can’t afford such services. Knowing that there is an “access” problem (and when is there ever not an access problem when it comes to admissions?), should we just give up on the idea of consultation altogether? That hardly seems like the best solution. Doing so would just continue to create massive information advantages for the privileged upper crust and leave the masses behind. “Admissions Consulting for no one” doesn’t really solve anything. “Admissions consulting for everyone,” on the other hand, might just be the answer.

Imagine a situation in which each applicant had the same insight, guidance, and perspective on the process. It sure seems like such a scenario would allow the best stories, skills, and fits to emerge from the applicant pool. Which, of course, is the end goal of any admissions process. And yes, “admissions consulting for everyone” is a pipe dream at this point, but it is not unreasonable to think that pro bono options will emerge at companies like ours, or that schools like Yale will one day provide financial programs to allow for low income applicants to receive consulting services (which would be an advanced — and admittedly more expensive — form of application fee waivers). I’d much rather aim for this form of idealism than Yale’s. Because the provision of admissions consulting for every applicant is still possible, if not likely. On the other hand, eliminating the “legacy” portion of the applicant pool that I described above is absolutely, unequivocally impossible. That cat is already out of the bag.

Process versus Substance

In addition to the access argument, I’ve also heard it argued that admissions consulting is a particularly bad fit for law school applications, because the “application process” counts as much as the “application’s substance.” What this implies is that law schools are evaluating not just the merits of candidates, but also their analytical and presentation skills. The argument goes like this: law schools are trying to admit tomorrow’s leading lawyers and one of the lawyer’s tasks is to identify key components and then present them in an articulate way — therefore, any assistance in doing so eliminates the law school’s ability to evaluate those skills.

I find this argument to be unconvincing. For starters, one need look no further than law school itself to recognize that “developed legal skill” is not the primary goal of this process. Find me one elite law school that makes “process” its educational mission — my guess is you will be looking for a long time. Law schools strive to teach critical thinking skills and explore theoretical underpinnings for the way laws and legal systems work. You don’t spend three years writing motions and briefs — you’ll be lucky if you spend three classes honing those skills.

Furthermore, whenever the analysis in question is introspective, the challenge becomes unique and distinguishable from any other process of compiling and presenting data. One can’t draw inferences from the admissions process as to a candidate’s ability to draft memos, motions, or briefs, because the two tasks are apples and oranges. Ask a talented person to write an op-ed piece or a research paper and that person will more than likely handle the task with aplomb. Ask that same individual to write a bio and it is just as likely he or she will struggle mightily. It is much harder to analyze one’s own life than it is to analyze facts, cases, and statutes. It is much harder to write a personal statement than it is to write a legal brief. If not harder, then different. The skills are not the same. To attempt to evaluate such skills in this context is foolhardy. Not only that, but I suspect if law schools were really serious about analyzing lawyering skills, they would include a closed universe assignment. If you really care about it, make it apples to apples.

Burden Shifting

All told, there is not a compelling reason to dismiss admissions consulting (let alone LSAT prep) outright. Sure, if companies or consultants approach this process in a way that lacks integrity — if they broadcast secret tricks or write their clients’ essays for them — then crack down on them. By all means. And there is no doubt that admissions — and the services that support candidates — are complicated and difficult to structure and police. But to shift the burden and put the pressure on the applicant (do I pass up a resource? use it and lie? receive assistance and risk being denied for it?) is completely unfair. And to denigrate a helpful and needed service based on a limited and slightly archaic viewpoint seems irresponsible. Particularly when the author holds so much sway on such influential subjects. Because when Yale speaks, people tend to listen.

For the time being, clients of Veritas Prep’s law school admissions consulting services can expect to receive thorough, honest, and helpful service that will level the playing field and help them overcome those built-in advantages enjoyed by the most connected candidates in the applicant pool.

Just know t
hat if you use our services, you will be asked to disclose that fact to Yale Law school.

For more updates on Yale and other top schools, be sure to follow us on Twitter.

Justice Roberts at Florida Law School

In a shocking bit of news, Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts will serve as the guest judge of the Justice Campbell Thornal Moot Court competition at the University of Florida Law School.

The competition takes place this Friday and is sure to provide UF with at least a small bump in applications this fall.

If you were planning to apply to Florida this fall for other reasons, just know that the competition probably got a bit tougher thanks to their high profile guest judge.

Finally, a Public Interest Incentive That Means Something

If you have been following the law school admissions game, or even if you just read this blog post, then you know that public interest incentives are all the rage at top law schools. By advertising creative loan forgiveness programs, J.D. programs are able to appeal to those candidates with the best intentions … even if the majority of those students graduate and go on to work in corporate law firms. The gaudy numbers advertised by the loan forgiveness program don’t amount to much if students don’t actually work in the public interest sector.

The appropriate question here is why? Why do so many starry-eyed law students give up the dream of helping people and instead trudge off to help corporations and hedge funds and banks? There are a lot of answers to that question, but I would suggest that the biggest reason for this public interest melt is that quality summer jobs are harder to come by when one moves outside of the law firm arena.

The most attractive public interest summer positions often come with little or no compensation, putting students in a bind when it comes to, well, surviving. Already strapped with massive loans, law students often find themselves working at a law firm during their 2L summer just to reverse the ugly financial trends. These same students wind up getting wined and dined and convinced (some might use the word “tricked”) into staying at that same firm after graduation. It is easy to be seduced by the big paycheck, promises of ample pro bono work (“you can make a difference here!”), and the idea that one can easily escape it all and turn to public interest work after a few years. It rarely works out that way.

That’s why it is exciting to see that Michigan Law School has launched a new program called Public Interest Guarantee. Unlike so many other public interest subsidy devices, the UM program promises to pay all students $5,000 for their 2L summers, provided they intern with a qualified government or public interest group.

[Update: Harvard Law already offers a similar program. In fact, Harvard offers a guaranteed public interest scholarship of $5,000 to both 1L and 2L students. Impressive stuff and I would venture to guess that there are other schools doing this as well. Kudos to Harvard, Michigan, and anyone else helping students work in the public interest sector.]

Granted, students can earn $5,000 in less than two weeks of work at a big New York or L.A. firm, but it is still a step in the right direction. This might be just enough money to keep some promising and well-intentioned lawyers in the public interest fold.

Law School Rankings in Upheaval!

Big law school news today courtesy of The Wall Street Journal. According to a front page article about law school rankings, U.S. News is considering a methodology change to its ranking system.

The whole article is worth reading, but the main takeaway is that many law schools have made huge moves up the rankings in recent years by admitting a higher number of part-time students (thereby increasing revenues while preserving the GPA and LSAT numbers which are generated only by full time students), and that those same schools are primed to fall back down the list if and when the rankings take this trend into account.

The article doesn’t name a lot of names (aside from Toledo), but you can imagine that a number of schools have been taking advantage of this loophole to pad their stats. This seems particularly true in light of the fact that “part time” students can take nearly as many credit hours as full timers, and then just transfer over to the full time program for the 2L year. Maybe I was being too hard on the University of Chicago after all!

The flip side to all of this, of course, is that the practice of stockpiling part time students has created opportunities for candidates with lower GPA and LSAT profiles – many of whom are thriving in law school. If their scores start “counting,” then they may lose their spots, creating even more of a numbers game than ever before.

Announcing Law School Admissions Consulting Services

We are pleased to announce the newest arrival to the Veritas Prep family of services: Law School Admissions Consulting.

Taking the strongest elements of our successful MBA admissions consulting services and combining them with approaches specifically tailored to law school applicants, Veritas Prep has added another customized feature to a series of offerings that stand alone as the most expansive and thorough in the industry.

Law school admissions consulting is available to any individual interested in obtaining a J.D., no matter where that person is on the timeline. Hourly consulting is available for college students seeking advice and perspective on the process and evaluation services exist for every aspect of a completed application. And for those candidates who are ready to start the application process, we offer our featured service, the start-to-finish, comprehensive Admissions Brief package.

The hallmarks of Veritas Prep are expertise and level of care. Each of these attributes are on full display here as clients are paired with an expert law school admissions consultant from the program or tier of their choosing. The level of specificity provided by our “school specific” pairing model enables the client and consultant to work with unrivaled focus, strategy, and thoroughness.

Our consulting team features graduates from each of the top 20 law schools and boasts an impressive collection of former law school admission officers, law school faculty members, and legal professionals. We proudly display each and every member of our team on our consultant profiles page. Clients can be assured that they will work with one of these incredibly talented people – and that their consultant will be hand-picked based on the program of their choice.

Feel free to explore our website to get a better idea of our law school admissions consulting services, purchase our law school admissions consulting packages, and even discover valuable law school application tips.

Surviving the Rankings Game

The U.S. News & World Report grad school rankings for 2009 came out a few weeks ago and revealed some interesting developments. (By the way, what is with the “2009” rankings coming out in April of 2008? Have academic rankings gone the way of automotive companies?).

For me, the most interesting development of all could be found in the Law School Rankings, where the 5-10 spots continue to undergo a major transformation.

First, a quick note to say that I am a graduate of the University of Chicago Law School, which helps explain my attention to this sort of detail and my concern over some recent trends that pretty much boil down to two things:

1. Chicago does not care about rankings

2. Everyone else does.

These two trends have, obviously, led to significant changes at the top of most ranking systems, with U.S. News being no exception. While Chicago has continued to keep the ranking process at an arm’s length, other programs have embraced it, even staffing positions that deal exclusively with ranking services. Not only that, but many law schools have made strategic decisions to boost their profiles by pouring scholarship dollars into securing the best GPA/LSAT yields they can muster.

The combination is an effective one indeed. Schools are influencing public (and private) opinion in order to score higher in the subjective areas, while increasing their academic profile in order to score higher in the more quantitative ranking components.

Meanwhile Chicago is going the other direction. The administration has taken an “anti-rankings” stance that is both admirable (in that they refuse to game the system) and destructive (in that it is hurting the school). The problem with refusing to engage in the rankings world is that everyone else cares about this. Employers, investors, voters, and pretty much any other “er” is going to put some stock in rankings like U.S. News, which means that students will care about it. They have to, because it is their future on the line. Students can’t afford to rest on their laurels or sleep easy knowing how great the faculty is. They have to think about the rate of return on their educational investment. And if that return isn’t as promising at Chicago as it is at Columbia, then the student is going to Columbia. Period.

As recently as this decade, Chicago was ranked third in the country among all law schools by U.S. News. When I was admitted for the fall of 2004, the school was fourth (Stanford had moved up), just ahead of Columbia and NYU. By the time I reached my 3L year, the New York schools had moved ahead and dropped U of C to sixth. Last year, Penn moved into a tie for sixth.

Now, Berkeley has vaulted into the #6 spot, leaving Chicago in a tie for seventh with Penn.

No matter how you feel about academic rankings in general, or U.S. News specifically, going from third to tied for seventh in under 10 years is a pretty terrible.

Even worse, it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. As the school slides in the rankings, it starts to lose out on the top students. Then, the quality of each class starts to drop. Before long, the school is sliding down the charts, not because of an aversion to “The Rankings Game,” but because they simply don’t have the same caliber of students.

And that’s what I fear for Chicago. It is a school with a lot of great qualities and a very pure approach to academia. But it is also a law school with a crappy old building, an increasingly archaic approach to education (one of the last schools to cling to the Socratic Method, one of the first to turn off wireless Internet in the classrooms), and a stodgy campus setting. If the University of Chicago starts to lose its level of prestige – which is derived largely from rankings – then what is left to keep the best and brightest from going elsewhere?

[- Read the rest here -]

Loan Forgiveness Programs: Should Applicants Consider Them?

Obviously, one of the primary factors that govern a graduate school applicant’s enrollment decision is The Almighty Dollar. As in: how much will this cost, what kind of aid can I get, and what sort of earning potential am I looking at once I finish? Analyzing educational cost is a complicated task because students must first identify actual numbers (sticker price – available scholarship and grant money) and then put those numbers in the proper context by understanding loan repayment and properly estimating future salary figures.

See, complicated.

One thing that is further complicating this financial aid stew is the addition of loan forgiveness programs. Popularized by elite law schools, the concept is a relatively simple one: eschew the big paychecks (and long hours) of a big law firm in favor of public interest work and, in exchange, you will get help paying back your enormous graduate student loans. Law schools have discovered that an attractive loan forgiveness program is a terrific marketing tool. This is primarily due to the fact that a huge number of law school applicants (especially those who are qualified to land admission spots in the elite programs) are highly optimistic people who view themselves as truth-seeking, freedom-fighting altruistic beings. In other words, everyone thinks they are going to do public interest work when they first apply to law school.

This poses an interesting question: how much stock should a top-flight candidate put in a school’s loan forgiveness program?

A quick look at any reputable survey (I’m too lazy to find one at present) will tell you that the number of law school graduates who ultimately do public interest work is far, far less than the number of law school applicants who say they will one day do public interest work. There are many factors that play a role in this phenomenon. It is easier for a student at an elite law school to secure a summer associate position at a law firm than with a cutting edge public interest entity. Public interest firms and groups have fewer recruiting resources. The pressure to work in the big legal markets like New York or L.A. force students to search for an accessible path that will also pay the costs of relocating and then living in those cities. There are also simple (and often perverse) economic incentives, career-building considerations, and personal preference factors to consider. But the simple truth is that the number of actual public interest lawyers is so much lower than the number of hypothetical public interest lawyers because – pay attention now – people have no idea what they want to do when they are applying for law school! In fact, it is safe to say that the “actual” number for any subset of the legal profession is substantially lower than the suggested numbers generated by surveys of law school applicants.

It is human nature to change one’s mind, especially after being exposed to hundreds of hours of logical reasoning and critical analysis.

So this takes us back to our initial question, framed in a new way: if students think they might want to do public interest law, but know they probably won