Important New Theme in Law School Admissions

We’ve spent a lot of time in this space discussing the career prospects of law school graduates. From salary freezes to law firm job deferrals to entirely new apprenticeship programs, we’ve looked at the way that the brutal hiring landscape has changed the way current and incoming law students should look at career prospects. It is important information for applicants to consider, before they devote three years and upward of $100,000 to a JD.

But that’s really all it was – something to consider before making a big decision. Now though, it seems increasingly likely that career prospects are more than just a consideration for law school applicants. It is suddenly becoming a relevant and necessary theme on the all-important personal statement.

Law school applications have always been a different breed than those of business school and medical school. While all three are professional programs, the emphasis on career goals has never carried the same weight when seeking a JD. Medical schools want to know your career goals because they are evaluating whether to spend massive resources on training you to become a doctor. They want to know what kind of doctor you dream of becoming, or – more to the point – whether you even dream of becoming a doctor. Business schools have an obligation to make sure that candidates are far enough down a chosen career path that an MBA makes sense and will be the additional training needed. Unlike a lawyer who will start at the beginning upon graduation, an MBA is earning a degree “midstream” and must possess a clear vision for where he or she is going.

Now though, law schools are becoming increasingly concerned with the career prospects of their students. In talking with admissions professionals, you hear the same things from law school deans and directors that you do from their MBA counterparts. Common themes are: “we’re looking for resilient students,” “we want to see a Plan A and a Plan B,” “what we really don’t want on our hands are naive students who will struggle to get a job,” and – most amazingly – “we are consulting almost daily with career services.” That never used to happen! It is strange enough to see MBA admissions officers taking cues from the career services office, but to see it happen on the law school side is downright bizarre.

Yet that is what happens when the Skaddens of the world start slashing their hiring numbers and when firms shut down new associate hiring and summer programs altogether. Until this year, the only thing a law school candidate had to worry about was writing a great personal statement that proved they could do law school work. Now candidates also have to prove they can get a job. It’s an entirely new consideration and not an easy one to fold into the existing themes.

There are even larger implications that are worth exploring at some point in the not-so-distant future (including an analysis of whether this is the first crack in law schools’ long-held belief that theoretical learning is of more importance than practical training), but those issues can be tabled for now. What is most important at present is that law school candidates begin to assess their professional prospects – not just so they can make informed decisions, but so that they can write about it in their essays. In all likelihood, this will be THE biggest theme in law school admissions for 2010.

If you need help crafting your personal statement in a way that addresses career goals, don’t hesitate to give us a call at 310.456.8716.