The GRE Exam for Law School?

Law School Images

Update: On August 7, 2017, Northwestern University’s Pritzker School of Law and Georgetown Law also announced that they will begin accepting the GRE or the LSAT for admissions. With this news, it seems all the more inevitable that the GRE will soon be universally accepted among top law schools. Read on…”

Harvard Law is the oldest continually-operating law school in the United States. It is consistently ranked as one of the top law schools in the world, and is also the largest law school in the U.S., with about as many students as Yale, Stanford and Chicago combined. So when Harvard Law makes news other law schools are likely to follow.

And Harvard Law recently announced some big news: starting next fall the GRE exam will be accepted as an alternative to the LSAT exam. Surveys suggest that nearly half of all law schools were not opposed to accepting GRE exam scores even before Harvard made its announcement, so this is probably just the beginning of a trend.

The upshot of all of this is that beginning next fall those prospective law students applying to Harvard Law can submit a GRE score instead of, or in addition to, an LSAT score. The University of Arizona Law School has already begun accepting the GRE score from applicants, and if the results from those law schools are as positive as expected, then additional law schools will likely join them in the very near future.


I have taught the LSAT and currently teach the GRE and (as well as the GMAT), and have earned a perfect 170/170 on the GRE and a near-perfect 176 on the LSAT. Here are my thoughts on the LSAT versus the GRE:

The LSAT has long been the dreaded gatekeeper to law school admissions and the exam definitely rewards a certain type of test taker with a certain background. So, should you consider taking the GRE instead of the LSAT? Maybe you should!

First, who does not benefit from this development? Those who plan on applying exclusively to law school in the next couple of years should stick with the LSAT to have the most flexibility in the application process. As Harvard and Arizona are currently the only law schools that accept GRE scores from applicants, you’ll want to have a good LSAT score under your belt in case you decide to apply to any other JD programs.

Everyone else should at least consider the GRE. The Dean of Harvard Law School, Martha Minow, listed a few of the groups of students who might benefit from being able to use the GRE instead of the LSAT: “international students, multidisciplinary scholars, and joint-degree students…” I would add to that list students who have strong math skills, who have different possible career paths, or who have less time to devote to the process of preparing for an exam.

Advantages of Taking the GRE

Flexibility: The GRE is accepted for admission to nearly all graduate and business schools in addition to Harvard Law School and Arizona Law School (and hopefully a growing list of law schools). For anyone considering a variety of career options, the GRE is the best exam to take as it gives the test-taker the most flexibility. Even a great GMAT score is not accepted by law schools or graduate schools, and a perfect LSAT score will not get you into business or grad school. The GRE is the universal key that can open many doors – this is the number one reason to make the GRE your first choice.

Time Commitment: For many students, the LSAT is the exam that requires the most hours of preparation. The sheer variety of critical reasoning questions and “logic games” requires a student to master a huge range of information. On the other hand, the GRE tests skills that a student is more likely to possess already or can learn more readily through a preparation course or self-study. This is not to say that the GRE is not a challenge, it just may be a more reasonable challenge than the LSAT.

Credit for Your Strengths: Maybe you are strong in Quantitative areas… This can give you an important head start on the GRE, as math is not tested on the LSAT.

Convenience: The GRE is offered in convenient locations around the world on a continuous basis, with times generally available in the morning, afternoon and evening, making it easy to fit the GRE into your schedule. By comparison, the LSAT exam is only offered 4 times per year, usually at 8:00am. With the LSAT, you have to arrange your life around the exam, which can be difficult for test-takers with busy schedules.

Reasonable Retakes: If for any reason you do not earn the LSAT score that you hoped for, then you have to wait anywhere from two to four months before you can retake the exam. On the other hand, you can retake the GRE after just 21 days and you can take the exam 5 times in a year.

Advantages of Taking the LSAT

No Math Required: The LSAT exclusively tests skills that fall on the “Verbal” side of the GRE, meaning that you won’t have to memorize the Pythagorean Theorem, practice working with algebra, or brush up on your multiplication tables before you take it.  If you’re a student who hasn’t studied math in a while, the LSAT allows you to engage your logical thinking (philosophy, political science, literature) brain without having to dig back into high school math skills.

Applicable to All Law School Applications: While what Harvard says typically filters down to nearly all schools eventually, right now the GRE is only accepted at a few law schools.  If you plan to take the GRE to apply to Harvard and a few other elite JD programs, you’ll end up having to take the LSAT for those other applications, anyway.

Availability of Official Practice Problems: The LSAT has been administering essentially the same exam for decades, and has to retire its questions after each administration. The result? It has thousands of official exam questions to sell you for practice.  By comparison the GRE underwent an overhaul in 2011 and has some official test questions for sale, but the LSAT provides several times as much authentic practice material.

Is the GRE Easier Than the LSAT?

It is not easy to get into Harvard or any of the other top law schools. The average LSAT score for the most recent class at Harvard Law is above the 99th percentile, so an applicant’s GRE score would need to be near-perfect to be competitive.

Please understand that if you do plan to take the GRE for admission to law school, business school, or a competitive graduate school program, you will need to earn the best score that you are capable of achieving. Taking the GRE is not a short cut or an “easy way” to get into a top law school (or business school). But it is another option and – for some people – a better option.

My advice is this: Unless you are committed to applying to law school in the next couple of years, consider taking the GRE. The GRE gives you the most options (graduate school, business school, law school) and its scores are reportable for 5 years. This means that if you take the GRE this year your scores will still be good for applications submitted in 2022.

Considering taking the GRE? Register to attend one of our upcoming free online GRE Strategy Sessions to jump start your GRE prep, or check out our variety of GRE Course and Private Tutoring options. And as always, be sure to follow us on Facebook, YouTube, Google+ and Twitter!

David Newland has scored in the 99th percentile on both the LSAT and the GMAT, and holds a perfect 170/170 score on the GRE.  He taught the LSAT for nearly ten years for a leading firm, and has taught the GRE and GMAT for Veritas Prep since 2006.  In 2008 he was named Veritas Prep’s Worldwide Instructor of the Year, and he has been a senior contributor to the Veritas Prep GRE and GMAT lesson materials. David holds a Juris Doctorate from the University of Michigan Law School and teaches live online classes from a film studio in northern Vermont.

2011 Law School Applicant Survey Results Revealed!

Veritas Prep has just released the results of its 2011 Law School Applicant Survey! Part of the work we do in monitoring admissions trends is staying current on what applicants are thinking. This survey, now in its second year, is part of that ongoing effort.

Our new white paper — titled “Inside the Minds of Law School Applicants” (PDF link) — contains some very interesting insights! Nearly 150 current and prospective law school applicants participated in this year’s survey, representing a combination of both college graduates and current undergraduates. A breakout of select findings is below:
Continue reading “2011 Law School Applicant Survey Results Revealed!”

Complete Our Law School Applicant Survey for a Chance to Win an iPad 2!

Attention all law school applicants! Veritas Prep is conducting its second annual survey of applicants to the world’s most competitive law schools, in partnership with Law School Podcaster and the National Jurist’s PreLaw Magazine. We want to hear from YOU why you’re applying to law school, where you are in the process, and what matters most to you as an applicant.

And, best of all, by filling out either survey by August 26 you will enter for a chance to win an iPad 2! You can access the survey here. It will take you no more than two minutes to complete!
Continue reading “Complete Our Law School Applicant Survey for a Chance to Win an iPad 2!”

Admissions 101: It’s Not You, It’s Me

MBA AdmissionsGetting rejected is hard stuff. What makes it even more painful is that few MBA programs (or law schools or medical schools) give rejected applicants specific feedback on why they didn’t get in. Applicants just want to know what they “did wrong” to not get in, but, even when schools do provide feedback, the applicants normally end up confused and still guessing about what to do next.

What’s the deal? Are admissions officers trying to obfuscate the process, keeping you in the dark so that you can’t “game” the system? Are they just cold hearted, not caring about you, especially once they’ve decided they don’t want you? No and no. The truth is that, when someone gets rejected, it’s often because the school just couldn’t find any great reason to admit them over thousands of other applicants.
Continue reading “Admissions 101: It’s Not You, It’s Me”

American Bar Association May Drop LSAT Requirement

Law School Admissions
"All in favor of killing the LSAT requirement say 'aye.'"
Last week Inside Higher Ed reported that the American Bar Association is considering ending a rule that law schools require the LSAT in order to receive ABA accreditation. Right now this is just an idea being kicked around by an ABA panel charged with reviewing the associations accreditation rules, but if the panel recommends the change (which many believe it will), ABA approval may not be far behind.

Why the proposed change? Many schools claim that the LSAT requirement takes away flexibility in the admissions process, because they have no choice but to report those scores to the magazines that that publish annual rankings (ahh, the rankings again). Since each school needs to keep up with the Joneses and keep their mean LSAT scores high (lest they risk dropping in those hated rankings), they end up turning away some students they really do want.
Continue reading “American Bar Association May Drop LSAT Requirement”

Admissions 101: What Admissions Essays and Wedding Speeches Have in Common

Business School Admissions
Who's the lucky guy?
Next week yours truly will deliver a speech at a wedding. I have known the groom for nearly two decades, and I consider him to be one of my closest friends, even though distance unfortunately keeps us apart most of the time (I live in California and he lives in Beijing). While I don’t consider myself to be an expert toastmaster, I’m not too worried, since I know that what makes for a great admissions essay or personal statement also makes for a terrific wedding speech.

Think back for a minute and consider the last few weddings you’ve been to. If you’re lucky, you only have witnessed great wedding speeches and toasts, but odds are that you’ve sat through at least one or two bombs. What accounts for the difference?
Continue reading “Admissions 101: What Admissions Essays and Wedding Speeches Have in Common”

The Worrisome World of Essay-Writing Services

MBA Admissions Consulting
We think we once saw a guy selling essays in this alley.
Recently the Chronicle of Higher Education published a piece written by an anonymous “hired gun” who writes admissions essays, term papers, and even doctoral theses for paying students, who in turn pass these off as their own. Not long after that, Bloomberg Businessweek ran a similar article that profiled a couple of similar services that write essays for business school applicants. (Veritas Prep was actually mentioned as an ethical alternative to these services in the latter article.)

Two things really bother us about the existence of these services. Is one of them the fact that they’re unethical and shady? Well, yes, we do think that, but that’s so obvious that we won’t devote any more words to it here. (If you’re the type to consider buying your essays from someone, then maybe becoming a business leader or a lawyer or a doctor isn’t the best path for you.)
Continue reading “The Worrisome World of Essay-Writing Services”

Law School Applicants Willing to Brave Gloomy Job Market

This morning we released the results of a comprehensive survey of law school applicants that we recently conducted. Our first annual law school applicant survey — conducted in partnership with Law School Podcaster and PreLaw Magazine — uncovered some interesting insights behind what drives today’s law school applicants.

There’s been a lot of talk lately about how some law schools mislead potential applicants by overstating their post-graduation career prospects. Are law school hopefuls aware of the bleak job market, disappearing six-figure jobs, and the heavy student loan debt associated with leading law schools? More importantly, do they care? The answers may surprise you.

The short answer to the question of, “Would today’s law school applicants still apply even if they knew their job prospects would be bleak upon graduation?” is YES, most of them would in fact still apply. And, many of these seem just as concerned about their long-term career prospects as they are with the question of what job they’ll land right out of law school.

Here’s what we found in our survey of more than 100 law school applicants:

  • 81% of respondents said they would still apply to law school now even if a significant number of law school graduates were unable to find jobs in their desired fields, while 12% said they would postpone applying until placement rates improved. Only 4% said they would not apply to law school.
  • Respondents are equally concerned with finding an appealing long-term career path and maintaining a healthy work/life balance once they start working (79%). Other key concerns include finding a job that allows them to pay off their student loan debt (72%) and using their law degree to make a positive impact on their community (69%).
  • 44% of respondents indicated a reasonable desired base salary upon law school graduation to be $75,000-$100,000, while 29% expect $100,000-$145,000. 11% of respondents anticipate base salaries over $145,000.

So why are they applying to law school in the first place? The majority of respondents said they want to go to law school because they are interested in the law and the way it shapes society and business (75%). Some admitted to having more practical reasons: 35% of respondents believe they will always be able to find some kind of job if they have a JD.

We’ve written a lot about”helicopter parents,” and we know that a lot of these parents are behind their children’s push to get into law school. However, only 13% of respondents are going to law school because their parents want them to attend. (Some of us wonder if the real number is in fact higher, but no 21-year-old wants to admit it.)

Finally, we wondered how much affordability factored into these applicants’ decision-making. According to our survey results, it’s only important to 54% of respondents in the law school selection process. Student loans (38%) and grants/scholarships (21%) were the two most common financing strategies for law school, while 14% of respondents indicated parental support will help them finance the degree. So, despite all of the chatter these days about runaway student loan burdens, it seems that the majority of those who do apply just accept the high costs as a fact of life.

Getting ready to apply to a top-ranked law school this year? Call us at (800) 925-7737 and speak with a law school admissions expert today. And, as always, be sure to find us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter!

How to Put the "I" in Application

Law School AdmissionsAn application tip for the graduate school candidate.

Most of our time writing on this blog is spent diving into the nuance and nitty gritty of GMAT prep and the MBA admissions process. Every once in a while, it helps to take a step back and look at things from a very fundamental, building-block level.

Today we are going to take a crack at some armchair psychology — thinking about why people have such a hard time writing about themselves in graduate school essays and personal statements. Not just the “what to say” part, but also how to say it. Put bluntly, most people produce fairly mediocre prose when it comes to writing about their own lives and goals.

Think back to the process of applying to college and try to recall the most difficult thing about the applications. No doubt it was writing the myriad essays required by each school. What made those so difficult? After all, surely your high school English classes demanded more of you as a writer. The answer is actually pretty simple: you had to write from the “I” perspective for the first time in many years.

From the time we enter elementary school, we are taught to avoid using the word “I” in our writing. Whether in fiction, research, opinion, or reporting, the use of the word “I” is frowned upon by English teachers and grammar purists everywhere. So it comes as no surprise that the task proves difficult when we are asked to do it after years of neglect.

A graduate school applicant has at least been through this once before, but the transition is still uncomfortable. The best thing an applicant can do is become fully aware of this internal struggle. Once you realize that the nagging doubt in your brain is actually the voice of your eighth grade journalism teacher, it becomes much easier to ignore –- nay, destroy – that voice and tackle the assignment at hand. So embrace your inner “I” and enjoy the rare chance to bombard your reader with the most glorious of all pronouns.

For personalized, effective MBA admissions, law school admissions, or medical school admissions help, give us a call at (800) 925-7737 and speak with one of our admissions experts today. And, be sure to subscribe to this blog and follow us on Twitter!

Defending Admissions Officers Everywhere

Law School AdmissionsLast week, Michael Kinsley, the editor-at-large for the Atlantic Wire, wrote an op-ed piece on the admissions process that highlighted some of the reasons why things have become so competitive and cutthroat over the years. The piece focused primarily on college admissions, but there are multiple mentions of graduate school and examples of HBS, so it seems fair to consider Kinsley’s words from the perspective of graduate school admissions.

And what were his words?

As they pertain to admissions officers, nothing much more than the usual screed about the arbitrary nature of selective college admissions. Make no mistake, there are some good thoughts in here: some interesting and basic (and probably more interesting because of how basic it is) math showcases the rise in competition over the years, and I certainly agree with the idea that in planning out our lives we “obsess about this college versus that only because that’s the only factor we can obsess about.” Well said and certainly true, as far as I’m concerned. Where Kinsley loses me is in his critique of the admissions process itself, and the accusation that “the decision is essentially random, the process was wildly inconsistent, and I might well have been turned down because the assistant dean didn’t care for his lunch that day.”

Here, Kinsley simply resorts to the party line of outsiders, media members, and higher ed critics, groaning on about how arbitrary it all is. I half expected to read the phrase “throwing darts at a dart board.” And make no mistake, there is an element of chance in the admissions process at an elite institution. There is luck. There is a human element that plays a large role. There are more than enough qualified candidates and it can seem harsh, unfair, and capricious when some get in and some do not. But to dismiss the entire process because of these factors is to fail to understand that process. Yes, there is luck — but the role that luck plays can be reduced through careful planning and presentation. Yes, there is a human element — but that human element can be a benefit when you take the time to consider the person on the other side of the desk. Yes, there are more than enough qualified applicants — does that mean you should just give up?

I can tell you two things, as someone who was an admissions officer at a highly selective college (acceptance rate under 30%) and as someone who now works with applicants to highly selective graduate programs. The first is that admissions officers DO work hard, as they claim in their rejection letters (much to Kinsley’s chagrin). An admissions office typically has one “file reading” professional for every 1,000 applications and that personnel is responsible for both recruiting those applicants and then making decisions on their credentials. The process features multiple layers and gets several eyes on the same profile — decisions aren’t made based on what someone has for lunch. That’s reductive, throw-away language that people use when they don’t want to wrestle with reality.

The reality is that admissions officers work hard, they care about what they are doing, and they want to see applicants who work just as hard and care just as much. This is bad news for many who view the process as more of a sweepstakes and less of a rigorous match-making and interviewing experience, but it’s good news for people who want to roll up their sleeves and treat their applications with care.

The second thing I can tell you, given everything I just wrote above, is that I wouldn’t want someone who views the admissions process the way Michael Kinsley does to advise me on my own applications.

At Veritas Prep, we both support the work of admissions professionals and believe in our ability to help candidates confront this difficult process. We don’t throw up our hands and blame it all on the fates. And neither should you.

For personalized, effective MBA admissions, law school admissions, or medical school admissions help, give us a call at (800) 925-7737 and speak with one of our admissions experts today. And, be sure to subscribe to this blog and follow us on Twitter!

Fill Out a Short Survey for a Chance to Win an iPad!

MBA Applicant SurveyAttention all business school and law school applicants! Veritas Prep is conducting its first annual survey of applicants to the world’s most competitive MBA programs and law schools. We want to hear from YOU why you’re applying to grad school, where you are in the process, and what matters most to you as an applicant.

And, best of all, by filling out either survey by June 22 you will enter for a chance to win an iPad pre-loaded with Veritas Prep’s GMAT prep books and Annual Reports!

You can find the surveys here:

After we collect and analyze the data, we will share our findings with the entire applicant community. As we said above, these are our first annual applicant surveys, and we will conduct these every year to track trends in the graduate school admissions space.

Remember, you must complete either survey by June 22! One randomly selected participant will win a new iPad!

If you’re ready to start building your candidacy for a top MBA program or law school, call us at 1-800-925-7737 and speak with an admissions expert today! And, be sure to subscribe to this blog and follow us on Twitter!

Building a Game Plan for Law School Personal Statements

The phrase “game plan” gets thrown around a lot in the hallowed offices of Veritas Prep. Our director of research, Scott Shrum, literally co-wrote the book on MBA admissions and named it Your MBA Game Plan. We offer a Personalized Game PlanTM as part of every admissions consulting package. There are a lot of people in our office that love college football and study the art of game planning for blitz packages. And so on.

So what’s the benefit of having a game plan when it comes to the graduate school admission process? There are a lot of answers to that question, but one that is often overlooked is the necessity of shifting perspective.

An applicant to a top law school or MBA program comes armed with both a set of skills and experiences as well as a cultivated perspective on those issues. The applicant is probably in good shape with regards to the former. The latter? Not so much.

The biggest problem I encounter when working with applicants – at any level – is that they fail to see themselves the way the admissions committee sees them. The skills and experiences that seem outstanding to a college senior may or may not appeal to an admissions officer at a law school. The reverse is also true – attributes that may seem run of the mill in one’s graduating class or circle of friends may be highly unique and appealing to someone evaluating an application.

I often think back to my own law school application experience and note the complete lack of perspective that I possessed at the time. As the associate director of admission at one of the nation’s top 50 universities and someone armed with a better-than-expected academic profile, I should have been able to destroy the law school application. Instead, I focused on all the wrong things. I incorrectly deemed my writing accomplishments to be singularly noteworthy when, in fact, almost every student who enrolled with me at the University of Chicago could boast of similar feats. On the other hand, I downplayed my extensive management experience, believing it to be appropriate only for B-Schools. Wrong. I found out later that it was my work – the title, the recommendations, the responsibility – that suggested an intellectual and emotional maturity. Luckily for me, the Director of Admissions at Chicago took a close enough look to find that information, since I basically hid it from her.

When students sign up for our consulting services and they ask me what “this game plan thing” is all about, I tell them it is about discovering a new perspective and avoiding making the same mistake I made. By working with an expert who has been through the process before, applicants are gaining insight into the way an objective, qualified outsider sees them as a candidate. No longer are you bound by your own limited perspective or suffering from a shortage of information. Now you know who you are in the eyes of the people who count. You’re armed with the best kind of knowledge.

And as they used to say in the old G.I. Joe’s Public Service Announcements: Knowing is half the battle.

For more information on law school admissions or for help incorporating career goals into the application, visit our law school admissions site or call our offices at (800) 925-7737. And, as always, be sure to subscribe to this blog and to follow Veritas Prep on Twitter so that you don’t miss a beat in the worlds of GMAT prep and MBA admissions!

A New Wrinkle in the Law School Rankings Game

Law School AdmissionsEveryone who operates in the graduate school admissions space knows that rankings are both important and also to be taken with a grain of salt. Any summation of programs presented in list form purports to be an objective analysis, but is always filled with subjective factors, opinion, and incomplete data.

The most famous, of course, is the “peer assessment” score that plays such a huge role and completely stems from opinion — and often uninformed opinion at that. With numbers — average test scores and GPAs, acceptance rates, job placement, and so on — we assume a bit of gaming (using a huge waitlist to improve yield rate is a favorite), but for the most part, trust that we can believe the stats.

Well, as the old expression goes, there are “lies, damned lies, and statistics.” And in the case of the U.S. News Law School Rankings, there are some very interesting statistics indeed.

Yesterday, on his popular blog TaxProf Blog, Paul Caron wrote a spicy piece that wondered aloud whether 16 law schools committed some form of malpractice last year by reporting employment numbers that were lower than the “plug-in” stat that U.S. News uses when there are no numbers at all. It’s kind of a strong word to attach to the actions of these schools, but Caron’s idea is that these programs harmed their various constituents (students, faculty, alumni, and so on) by reporting numbers that unnecessarily weakened their overall ranking.

Why was this reporting unnecessary? Well, the simple answer is that U.S. News has a default number it uses when schools do not report their “employed at graduation” numbers in time for the new set of rankings. Last year, according to Caron, 74 schools did not supply this information, and so each of them got the default stat (created by taking the “employed after nine month” number and subtracting 30 percentage points). The prevailing opinion is that all 74 schools had actual placement numbers that were lower than the x-30% stat, creating an incentive to accept the default number rather than present the real version.

Caron goes on to discuss the 16 schools that did report numbers below x-30%. The accusation of malpractice is a little strong and probably unique to this setting (hard to imagine a blog focusing on MBA rankings going there), but the premise is logical: these schools gave more info than they had to and would have done a better service to their constituents by falling back on the default stat.

But what does that do to the intended audience (prospective students, employers, and so on)? Picking and choosing between actual stats and default formulas does nothing but obfuscate the actual state of the program. It can’t possibly be a good thing when schools are strategically withholding data, or when truth-telling programs are ridiculed for sharing information with the public. Can it?

I don’t blame U.S. News for its formula (after all, it can’t very well just exclude that column of data, or — worse — exclude all the schools that miss a reporting statistic), but it definitely serves as a reminder that we have to keep the machinery in mind when we look a the tidy list of schools, ranked in numerical order. We have long encouraged our clients to take the rankings with a grain of salt, but when you see stories like this, it makes you want to recommend taking the rankings with a whole barrel of the stuff.

If you’re getting ready to apply to law school, our law school admissions consultants can help you get in. Call us at (800) 925-7737 to speak with an expert about your candidacy today. And, as always, remember to subscribe to this blog and follow us on Twitter

Law School Applicants: You Can Learn From Rappers

Law School Admissions
If you have been reading our excellent GMAT Tip of the Week series (penned by Veritas Prep’s GMAT guru, lesson booklets co-author, and Director of Academic Research Brian Galvin), then you know one thing: it is “Hip Hop Month” here at Veritas Prep. The esteemed Mr. Galvin has been coming up with interesting and nostalgic ways to use rap music examples in order to better understand complex GMAT problems and solutions.

Today, it is our prospective JD readers who get to experience the joyful fusion of hip hop and graduate school admissions. This only makes sense, considering we once ran a blog post breaking down the legal implications of the Jay-Z song “99 Problems.”

By now, you HAVE to be wondering: what can you, the law school applicant, possibly learn from a rapper?

It’s pretty simple, actually: what you can learn is how to tell a story. Rappers – the good ones at least – are ultimately storytellers. The hip hop album generally considered to be the best ever recorded – Nas’ Illmatic – is basically a spoken word version of his life’s journal. The late great Tupac Shakur transitioned easily from “gangsta rap” to books of poetry and back again. These guys gave us tales of their life, made the words rhyme, and put it all over produced beats and sounds. That was their way of telling a story within the confines of a particular form.

Law school applicants also have the challenge of telling their unique story within the confines of a form … the personal statement. We’ve written about the personal statement several times in the past (mistakes to avoid, how to write a great personal statement), but there is one critical mistake that applicants keep making … they want to write about all the good stuff and ignore the bad.

If you click on the above links and read my previous offerings on the subject, you know that the personal statement is all about answering the admissions officer’s biggest question. It’s all about positioning. It’s all about mitigating weaknesses. In other word, the best personal statements feature raw, honest, uncompromising storytelling. And now is where hip hop re-enters our discussion: the best rap songs are often not the brag and boast variety, rather, they are the tales told from the heart. Sure, there have been a few party anthems that have resonated over time and maybe this is me, but the hip hop tunes that have stayed with me over the years are tracks like 2Pac’s “Dear Mama,” “Keep Ya Head Up,” and “So Many Tears,” Common’s love letter to rap itself (“I Used to Love H.E.R.”), Jay-Z’s “Lucky Me,” and Biggie’s “Juicy.” Introspection, emotion, and brutal honesty is what elevated rap from shallow party music to something akin to literature. It made listeners sit up and take notice and to feel invested in the lives of the artists. There’s a reason that so many people were devastated when 2Pac died and it wasn’t because he penned “California Love.”

Law school applicants would be wise to take a page out of the same book (of rhymes). Sure, you can brag about an accomplishment with artistry and make an initial impression – you may even have an admissions officer nodding her head for the rest of the day. But when admissions committee rolls around and precious few spots are up for grabs, your odds are better if your words have staying power – if you tell a story that resonates and makes the reader sit up and take notice. You want the reader to feel invested in your life as an applicant. Make them care about you and your story.

In short, when you write your personal statement, set out to write “Where I’m From” instead of “H to the Izzo.”

For more information on law school admissions or for help incorporating career goals into the application, visit our law school admissions site or call our offices at 1.800.925.7737! And, remember to follow us on Twitter!

Veritas Prep on Law School Podcaster

If you are interested in applying to law school and are not already listening to the Law School Podcaster, we definitely recommend that you subscribe and tune in. Law School Podcaster has done a great job of assembling top admissions experts to weigh in on all of the key aspects of the admissions process and the JD experience as a whole. For someone considering law school or in the midst of the application process, it can be an invaluable resource.

Furthermore, we are excited to be a regular contributor to Law School Podcaster! Our Director of Admissions Consulting, Adam Hoff, was recently featured as an expert guest for the second time, weighing in on Personal Statements and Letters of Recommendation.

Give it a listen before tackling your own personal statements. If you would like to speak to Adam or one of our other law school admissions experts about your personal statements and letters of recommendation, give us a call at (800) 925-7737 to set up a free consultation.

Applying to Law School After the New Year

Law Schoo Admissions
Nearly every law school in the country features a rolling admissions process that runs from early fall to mid-to-late spring, which means that it falls to the individual students to research and determine when it is the right time to apply.

From our experience, the biggest waves of applications come at two distinct times:

1. Before Thanksgiving
2. In January

The reason for the first wave is pretty clear — ready candidates want to get their applications in as early as possible due to various rules of thumb that may or may not be true (we can cover these another time). Regardless of the reasons driving this first wave, most of the candidates applying before Thanksgiving tend to have thought things through and know what they are getting into.

With the second wave though, we see a different type of student applying — often, the candidate is coming off a holiday season spent going home to see family and friends, confronting “what do you plan to do next?” questions, and generally panicking about their future. They come back to campus for their last semester of school and decide to do what so many college seniors do when they lack a clear vision for their immediate career: they apply to law school.

With that in mind, what should this second wave consider?

For starters, any student applying after January 1st is probably in far greater need for consulting than those submitting applications during the first, pre-Thanksgiving wave. While we contend that all candidates benefit from proper consultation (given the vast improvement that one can make to his resume or personal statement with the help of an expert), it is especially important for a later applicant to seek counsel and advice from an expert. Whether that person is a consultant for a company like Veritas Prep or a qualified friend, family member, or academic advisor, getting insight from a trusted advisor is invaluable when confronting a major life decision that might be rushed or compromised by outside influences. A consultant can help candidates assess their chances of gaining success at various law schools, help select programs that make for good fits, and — most importantly — can make sure that candidates answer critical questions such as: Why a JD? Why now? Why these schools? Without giving real thought to these issues, a law school applicant is in real trouble of making a regrettable decision.

Next, a January applicant must consider the situation within admissions offices. Understand that the individuals reading applications and making admissions decisions are coming back from a short holiday break with a renewed energy to review files … but facing an ever-shrinking number of available seats in the class. So you have a reader who is generally optimistic about the task at hand, but hindered by the natural limitations of the process. It is important to tailor your personal statement and overall application accordingly: strike a positive and passionate note in your writing samples, while taking extra care to find unique traits and qualities that will help you rise above the crowd. For those applying early, it is all about mitigating any weaknesses that might keep them out, but for someone applying after the new year, the focus often must shift to the most positive story one can tell. It is about sweeping the reader off his or her feet at a time when they are predisposed to see the “good” in candidates.

Finally, understand that time is of the essence. Many make the mistake of thinking “well, I waited this long and the application deadline is March 1st, so I’ll just apply next month.” This is a surefire way to limit your chances of achieving admissions success. That optimistic glow that admissions officers bring back to the office after the holidays fades fast — in part due to human nature during the winter months and in equal measure due to the ever-shrinking number of spots available. With each passing week in January and February, admissions officers start to lose their zeal and optimism, making it much harder for you to win them over with your essays.

If you need help determining whether law school is right for you or if you are looking for help with your personal statement, resume, and overall application, call the law school admissions experts at Veritas Prep at (800) 925-7737.

Should Law School Applicants Use Addenda Items?

It is high season for law school applicants as candidates scramble to get their applications submitted by Thanksgiving (one of those half unwritten rules / half myths about rolling admissions) and one of the most common situations we are dealing with is whether clients should use Addenda items in their applications.

The temptation is strong to use Addenda, because it offers one more space to express yourself and maybe even get out in front of a potential weakness in your application. Nearly every school allows candidates to submit an Addenda item to the application. But just because the school allows it, does that mean you should do it?

Our default position here at Veritas Prep is that you should avoid using Addenda unless you feel you absolutely have to submit something. The “have to” category would include disciplinary action, major gaps in your academic career or work experience, or a truly horrific semester or year in college. These are truly unique situations that could be aided by including detail and explanation as to why they happened and also what you learned from it.

What we find to be far more common is the idea of a strong applicant with no huge red flags feeling the pull to include Addenda items. The most common, as one might guess, is an explanation of a low LSAT score. It is not a good idea to address your LSAT score in an Addenda item. Why? Well, three reasons:

1. It only calls more attention to a weakness in your application. This is especially true if you are explaining one low score in a series of scores. There is a chance the reader is seeing only your best score and now you are keying that person into the fact that you performed worse during another sitting. It is all risk, no reward.

2. The reason there is no reward is that readers have heard every excuse under the sun. You don’t test well, you were stressed, you were sick, you had a family problem to deal with, the person next to you was tapping his pencil … it doesn’t really matter what contributed to the score, the reader is just not going to sympathize. The exception here would be if something truly incredible happened at your test site, such as an earthquake or you were robbed on your way in or something. Big events like this will usually be recorded and noted by LSAC, but it wouldn’t hurt to point out if you were a true victim of a bad situation. Otherwise, you just aren’t going to move the needle or win sympathy points trying to explain away a bad LSAT score.

3. The biggest reason you should not discuss the LSAT in the Addenda is that you have the personal statement for this. Now, that doesn’t mean you spend the whole personal statement writing the same mea culpas or even that you deal directly with the test and the score you received. What it means is that you understand what the LSAT score indicates (intellectual horsepower and ability to thrive in law school) and you spend your personal statement describing just how smart you are and just how well you are going to do in law school. It’s pretty simply, but most people fail to see that focusing on the overarching theme in the personal statement is the best way to offset a bad LSAT score … not apologizing for it or making excuses in an Addenda item.

The above list focuses on the LSAT, but the logic can be applied to any scenario. Your freshman year wasn’t so hot? Write a personal statement about the light bulb going on once you started your major, which will indicate maturity and will point the reader toward your transcripts where they will find a nice upward trend. Don’t write an Addenda item about it. The list goes on and on.

Before we let you go, it is worth repeating that there is real risk in including Addenda that focuses on these types of weaknesses. The worst case scenario is that the admissions officer will note your overall scores, decide they are “good enough” to warrant a thorough review, then look over the resume and start nodding, thinking “I like this person.” Then the personal statement wins this person over completely – you’ve got a fan. The recommendations all check out as solid second opinions and you officially have an advocate on the committee. Alas, the last thing this person sees is an Addenda item about your LSAT score or freshman year GPA and suddenly, there are red flags everywhere and your whole file is being reconsidered. Why risk it?

So to summarize: the rule of thumb is that unless it is something that absolutely must be disclosed/explained or it is truly bizarre experience that impacted your ability to succeed, skip the Addenda and instead focus on using the personal statement to effectively convey strengths in key thematic areas that may initially be perceived as weaknesses.

To find out how to create a perfect law school application, feel free to visit our law school admissions web site or call us at 310.456.8716. You can also check out part one and part two of our series on tackling the personal statement.

For Law School Applicants, the Job Market in 2013 Matters Now

If you’re in the middle of your law school applications, then you should know that the potential shape of the job market in 2013 (when you’ll graduate) may have a big impact on your chances of gaining admission this year. That doesn’t mean that you need to gaze into your crystal ball and try to divine what the job market will look like in three or four years, but it does mean that there are some important themes that you need to keep in mind as you draft your law school admissions personal statements.

Despite an anticipated economic rebound on the horizon, the bleak career outlook that confronted 2009 law school graduates isn’t expected to change any time soon. As a result, we expect that law school admissions officers will maintain a keen eye for candidates that have given extensive thought to both short- and long-term career goals, accepting applicants whose realistic perceptions and aspirations will likely result in job placement upon graduation.

As you begin to work on your personal statements, think about these three things that admissions officers will pay extra attention to this year:
  • Goals — Attractive applicants will use the personal statement to clearly articulate both short- and long-term professional goals, which not only demonstrate that a candidate understands the current hiring landscape, but also give the admissions office confidence that the career services office will be able to assist the candidate in ultimately securing employment in a desired field.
  • Maturity — Law schools have shown increasing interest in admitting mature candidates who bring the discipline and focus necessary to succeed in a highly competitive and intellectually demanding law school environment. This year, maturity matters more than ever, because it speaks to an applicant’s level of sophistication and ability to bring a nuanced understanding of the law and legal careers. “Readiness” is another word that law schools are looking for: Is the candidate ready to succeed in the classroom and ready to practice law once he or she graduates?
  • Resilience — Given how fast things are changing, candidates need to come to the table with a Plan A and a Plan B, as well as a track record for dealing with change and adapting to new realities. The hard truth is that many current graduates find it difficult to land jobs in their desired fields and practice areas. Many successful personal statements for this admissions season will showcase lessons learned and perspective gained from a difficult past experience.

For more help in crafting your law school applications, talk to one of our law school admissions consultants by calling us at 1-800-925-7737.

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.

How Veritas Prep Started in Admissions Consulting

We’ve been helping business school applicants for a long time now, so long that it’s easy to forget that we didn’t start out in that business. After Veritas Prep co-founders Markus Moberg and Chad Troutwine launched our GMAT prep service in 2002, it quickly became apparent that our students not only needed GMAT help, but they also needed help in pulling together their entire business school applications. How did we know? Because they came back to us time and time again, asking us to help them with their applications just as we helped them with their GMAT prep.

While we were flattered, we didn’t immediately dive into MBA admissions consulting. We were only going to do it if we could do what we did in GMAT preparation — do it better than anyone else. After talking to many respected experts and learning what was out there, we realized how we could do it better, and in 2003 Veritas Prep’s admissions consulting arm was born!

(You can go to YouTube and watch the video in a larger size.)

We have built the industry’s largest team of admissions experts, consisting of graduates and former admissions representatives from all of the world’s top MBA programs. When you work with Veritas Prep, you will not only get assistance from a Head Consultant who has worked as an admissions representative — as an admissions officer, application reader, or interviewer — but you will also work with a graduate from each of your target schools, to get true “insider” information about the culture and workings of each program.

Visit our site to find out more about our MBA admissions consulting services!

Pros and Cons of a JD/MBA – Part 4

Part 4: Long-Term Career Goals

The following entry is the fourth part of an ongoing series exploring the pros and cons of the increasingly popular JD/MBA degree path. The first three posts focused on:

Part 1 – Finances
Part 2 – Opportunity
Part 3 – Short-Term Career Goals

Today, for Part 4, we focus on the impact that a JD/MBA can have on your long-term career goals.

JD vs. MBA Student. In each of the three previous explorations, there has been a heavy focus on drawing distinctions between traditional law students and those that would pursue an MBA path. There are myriad near-term considerations that are informed greatly by which degree would be the “lead” area of study and subsequent career path. In the case of long-term career goals, there is less need to distinguish, because you are looking at the end of the funnel. Whether someone starts out as a lawyer or a banker or something else entirely isn’t as crucial as the tools and skills that dual degrees may (or may not) provide down the road.

Legal vs. Non-Legal. As with short-term career considerations, the easiest way to add some clarity to the long-term career analysis is to split the jobs into “legal” and “non-legal” categories. Legal careers include general counsel work, public interest work, academia, and, of course, practicing at a big firm. Non-legal careers are basically anything else. A good rule of thumb: if your job does not require admission to the state bar, it is non-legal.

Pros, Legal. The biggest advantage to a JD/MBA during a long legal career is that lawyers are likely to possess a versatility that can help on two levels. The first is as a partner at a law firm. There are a variety of “soft” skills necessary to performing the tasks of an elite law firm partner, including negotiation, human resource management, rainmaking (or simply “sales,” as nobody seems to want to call it), and expansion – all key elements to growing a practice and a book of business. Being an associate is about acquiring the skills to be a great lawyer, but by the time the firm is looking to mint new partners, they assume technical legal skill and start looking for the other areas so they can bring in more business. This is especially true at firms where there are few “institutional” clients where partners can be stashed (such as “Boeing partners” or “Disney partners”) with no pressure to bring in business.

The second area where versatility can help a great deal is in transitioning from a firm to a company – aka, “going in house.” A general counsel position requires more understanding of business concepts, challenges, shortcomings, and everything else that is necessary in order to successfully operate within a large organization. Having an MBA and, more importantly, having worked with MBA students, is a huge asset when transitioning into that world.

Cons, Legal. The only real downside to a JD/MBA over the long haul in a legal career is that you might increasingly wonder whether you ever needed the MBA degree. Each year that someone practices or studies the law, they will increase their level of subject matter expertise. So for a corporate attorney or a venture capital transactions professor, the knowledge they will possess a few years into their career will dwarf what they might have learned in an MBA program.

Pros, Non-Legal. The biggest advantage to a JD/MBA as it relates to a long-term, non-legal career path is that it often makes it all possible in the first place. An MBA can be an ace-in-the-hole for someone looking to shed the lawyer tag and move into an executive position. We’ve seen lawyers become business professionals in sports, entertainment, consumer goods, technology, health care, finance, education (including your author), and a host of other industries.

Another big advantage is that the combination of a JD and an MBA is extremely helpful in reaching the upper echelon of a corporate hierarchy. Just as an MBA can help a lawyer transition into business, so too does a JD often put an executive over the top as a CEO candidate. It is not so much legal knowledge that a CEO needs but rather the skills and tools that lawyers often possess – the ability to understand regulatory frameworks, a comprehension of deal timelines, recognizing transaction costs, and (this is the big one) knowing which questions to ask in a given situation. Lawyers often prove to be the best CEOs and a quick look at the Fortune 100 shows that companies are certainly aware of that fact.

Cons, Non-Legal. As with the legal track, there aren’t a lot of “cons” to a JD/MBA over the long run. One longstanding issue was that acquiring both a JD/MBA at the outset of a career might eliminate the use of business school as a “reset button” later in one’s career should legal work not prove to be an ideal choice. However, given the pressure on b-schools to place their graduates into great jobs in a tough economy, the reset button aspect of an MBA has all but evaporated at most top programs. Frankly, business schools simply are not looking for unhappy lawyers who want to start over. Therefore, being in prior possession of an MBA degree – and the experience that comes with it – is probably the best bet for making a career shift.

All told, long-term career goals are often where the JD/MBA path starts to make the most sense no matter what you have in mind. It is almost all upside and very little downside at this stage in the game, as most of the real “cons” have already been navigated through the process of gaining admission, paying for it, and getting a career off the ground.

For those interested in learning more about JD/MBA programs, exploring whether the degree might be a good fit, or looking for assistance with a JD/MBA application, please explore our JD/MBA admissions consulting services.

Pros and Cons of a JD/MBA – Part 3

Part 3: Short-Term Career Goals

The following entry is the third part of an ongoing series exploring the pros and cons of the increasingly popular JD/MBA degree path. Part 1 explored finances and the many costs and benefits to securing dual degrees in one educational experience. Part 2 analyzed the good and the bad with regards to opportunity — what are you gaining by pursuing both of these degrees simultaneously and what are your chances of successfully doing so?

Today, for Part 3, we focus on the impact that a JD/MBA can have on your short-term career goals.

JD vs. MBA Student. As always, any analysis of a single JD/MBA factor must first address the disparity in student “type.” Simply put, law school students and business school students often have very different considerations and in almost all cases, one program is driving the JD/MBA interest more than the other. In the case of short-term career goals, the pros and cons are often more extreme for a traditional law student adding an MBA. The reason for this is that adding a JD to a typical MBA career progression is usually seen as a minor development – potentially interesting, potentially unnecessary, but rarely make-or-break. On the other hand, as we will discuss below, adding an MBA to a law school education can move the needle quite a bit, both for better or worse.

Legal vs. Non-Legal. The easiest way to add some clarity to the short-term career analysis is to split the jobs into “legal” and “non-legal” categories. Legal careers include general counsel work, public interest work, academia, and, of course, practicing at a big firm. Non-legal careers are basically anything else. A good rule of thumb: if your job does not require admission to the state bar, it is non-legal.

Pros, Legal. As discussed last time in the “Opportunity” breakdown, pursuing a JD/MBA will naturally limit your practice area options. You basically set yourself on a path toward a transactional practice, eliminating litigation or any other type of motion practice as a consideration. That said, most people who would want to pair a law degree with an MBA are unlikely to have a strong desire to litigate, so that may not be a huge issue. So long as you are headed in the right general direction, there are several basic advantages to adding the MBA to a legal career.

The first is that it softens the learning curve. Many corporate attorneys will tell you from firsthand experience that this advantage is short-lived as you quickly acquire the knowledge you need, but there is no denying that a new associate can come out of the gates with more confidence and can perform tasks more quickly if they have a solid understanding of the business principles in play. Merely possessing a comfort level with the vocabulary can make a world of difference. There is nothing that feels worse than having a senior associate explain mezzanine loans to you or map out an org chart on the back of some scratch paper. Again, it is really only relevant during the first 18 months or so of your practice, but that is increasingly becoming a good chunk of a corporate attorney’s shelf life.

The second big “legal” advantage to adding the MBA is attorneys with extensive business school experience are often more conversant with their clients. Almost all clients are ultimately business people (even if the voice on the other end of the phone is general counsel, that person still reports to someone) and being able to anticipate their needs, empathize with their challenges, and speak their language makes an attorney far more effective. And making clients happy is a skill that never goes out of style.

Finally, a JD/MBA is shaping up to be the perfect degree path to a career in corporate governance or financial regulation. Business is booming in both industries due to the scandal, fraud, and negligence that has led to the collapse of the financial markets. It is no surprise that the response to “little-to-no oversight” is “more oversight.” Regulation of securities is likely to be ushered (at long last) into the 21st Century, companies are investing more resources in the governance of their own behavior, and there stands to be tremendous growth in both the public and private sectors when it comes to general regulation of financial markets. Lawyers of all kind will be staffed in these roles, but specifically those attorneys with a grasp of financial instruments. A JD/MBA is a great way to both acquire and – more importantly – to signal such a grasp.

Cons, Legal. The biggest downside to securing an MBA on the road to a legal career (beyond the financial and opportunity costs outlined in previous posts) is the perception it might create among potential employers. Simply put, a JD/MBA is often seen as a “red flag” at law firms, due to increased flight risk presented by the JD/MBA applicant. That said, this stigma is starting to go away and for good reason: there’s nowhere to fly off to. Law firms have been waging an intense retention battle over the past decade and many of the recent changes at the associate level (salary increases, bonuses, training programs, mentorship, pro bono opportunities, etc.) are the direct result of BigLaw’s fear that their most talented people will simply leave and go work as investment bankers, hedge fund managers, or private equity fund managers. And for good reason! Top lawyers were watching their MBA counterparts make anywhere from two to 10 times as much money while working on similar deals. It came as no great surprise that those attorneys were jumping ship.

Now, however, many of those lucrative counterpart jobs have dried up. So while a JD/MBA is still looked upon with some measure of suspicion by many BigLaw firms, the fear that they are hiring a banker-in-training is starting to go away.

So if there is no red flag (or at least a diminution in the fears of law firms that you will bail), does that mean there is no downside? Not exactly. The other “con” to a JD/MBA is that it can put you a year behind your peers when you receive your degrees through a four-year program. This is critical because a legal career depends more on “year of entry” than virtually any other profession. The people from your class will dictate your quality of life at your firm, your opportunities for professional growth within the industry, and even your chance to move or advance. Falling a year behind your friends and peers from law school is a risky proposition that may or may not be offset by the “pros” listed above.

Pros, Non-Legal. Pairing a JD with an MBA can be a great way to entice a variety of potential employers. Financial industries have long shown a certain curiosity toward MBA students with a JD in tow and you could probably spot check any number of “random” industries – from entertainment to energy to media to health care – and find examples of dual degree holders who enjoyed an advantage in the job market. However, for the most part, there is only one traditional MBA career path that consistently rewards and appreciates the JD/MBA degree: management consulting. Many elite consulting firms prefer law students over their business school counterparts due to the critical thinking, logical reasoning, speaking, and writing skills that are often produced at top law schools. However, the downside with a JD is that he may or may not know the first thing about business. Therefore, adding an MBA – and the presumed quantitative skills that come with it – is an easy way to put those fears to rest and present a “best of both worlds” scenario to consulting firms.

Some would add “entrepreneur” to the list of pros, but there is less certainty that a JD/MBA adds a great deal in this area. Basically, two schools of thought compete here: 1) “Pay Now or Pay Later,” which says that you can either pay for legal knowledge to pair with your b-school experience “now,” in the form of extra tuition, time, and lost wages, or you can pay for it “later” in the form of legal fees. 2) “Maybe You Know What Questions to Ask,” which says that the best you can glean from a JD is a loose understanding of legal frameworks and a good instinct regarding which questions to ask and which issues to tackle, but that true comprehension of the legal issues that will confront your business is unattainable and you will wind up paying legal fees anyway. I would add a third notion here, which is that a JD/MBA can provide added credibility depending on the audience, as some investors/customers/business partners/employees may respond more favorably to a law background.

Cons, Non-Legal. There aren’t a lot of huge “cons” to securing both degrees when pursuing a non-legal career. The biggest is also the most basic: you may spend time and money acquiring a degree that ultimately goes unused. Since most MBA career paths are accessible simply by securing an MBA, the 1-2 additional years it takes to nab the JD could wind up being a huge waste.

For those interested in learning more about JD/MBA programs, exploring whether the degree might be a good fit, or looking for assistance with a JD/MBA application, please explore our JD/MBA admissions consulting services.

Pros and Cons of a JD/MBA – Part 2

Part 2: Opportunity

The following entry is the second of an ongoing series exploring the pros and cons of the increasingly popular JD/MBA degree path. Part 1 explored finances and the many costs and benefits to securing dual degrees in one educational experience. Today’s post explores the good and the bad with regards to opportunity — what are you gaining by pursuing both of these degrees simultaneously and what are your chances of successfully doing so?

JD vs. MBA Student. As always, any analysis of a single JD/MBA factor must first address the disparity in student “type.” Simply put, law school students and business school students often have very different considerations and in almost all cases, one program is driving the JD/MBA interest more than the other. In the case of opportunity, as with finances, the JD/MBA is often seen as the more attainable and feasible pursuit for the would-be law student, as the opportunity cost is relatively lower than it is for an MBA student. However, due to the differing natures of the admissions process at each program, there may actually be a greater barrier to entry facing the law student in gaining access to the MBA program in question, due to the added importance placed on work experience by many prominent business schools. More on this below.

Sequence. One thing that is important to bear in mind when considering the chances of gaining admission to a JD/MBA program is that there are a variety of ways to arrive at the desired end result. The following are some of the ways that a student might find themselves enrolled in both programs at the same university:

1. Accepted into a three-year JD/MBA program via a single/joint application (notable schools: Northwestern and Duke).

2. Accepted into a three-year JD/MBA program via a dual/concurrent application process (whereby each program makes independent admissions decisions — notable school here is Penn Law/Wharton).

3. Accepted into a four-year JD/MBA program via a single/joint application (notable school: NYU).

4. Accepted into a four-year JD/MBA program via a dual/concurrent application process (all other top schools with JD/MBA offerings).

5. Accepted into a three-year accelerated JD/MBA program during the first year of law school (currently only available at Yale).

[Update: Penn/Wharton also allows first year law students to apply for the three-year accelerated program. Apologies to Penn for the omission.]

6. Accepted into a four-year JD/MBA program during the first year of law school (most schools allow some variation of this).

7. Accepted into a four-year JD/MBA program during the first year of business school (very rare).

8. Accepted into a four-year JD/MBA program during the second year of law school (many schools allow this).

As you can see, there are many ways to arrive at a similar destination. And depending on where you are in the process, the sequencing options will make a big difference regarding your opportunity. We work with a large number of admitted law students who have developed an interest in a JD/MBA late in the process, and so we point them to options 6 and 8 (and 5, if they are going to Yale Law). For someone at the very beginning of the process, we work through all of the sequencing options to decide what makes the most sense, often circling back to the very pros and cons upon which this series is based.

Pros. The biggest advantage to the JD/MBA is that you can consolidate your time. Except in rare circumstances (such as the 1-year MBA program at Northwestern), the combination of a JD and an MBA achieved separately takes five years to complete (two for the MBA, three for the JD). By enrolling in both programs simultaneously, students can boil this process down to four or even three years of school. As discussed in the section on finances, every year saved is both one less year of tuition and one more year that you are out earning income, so this is no small consideration.

Furthermore, there is an argument to be made for “education volition.” Many subscribe to the thinking that most people really only get the ball rolling on a graduate school education once and so if there is interest in both degrees, you would be best served to go after them all at once. In other words, if you don’t do it now, you never will.

The other opportunity advantage that pertains more specifically to law students is that getting into an elite law school can sometimes provide a “backdoor” into a great business school. For someone who may not have the work experience, leadership skills, and analytical abilities to get into Harvard Business School in a typical admissions process, one way around that may be to crush the LSAT, pair it with your high GPA, get into Harvard Law and that walk across the Charles River and ask to be let in to HBS. Is it that easy? Sometimes it is, but not always. We’ll explore the biggest obstacle to this approach in the “cons” section below, but law students do have a relatively good chance of gaining admission to the accompanying business school after enrollment. The odds of having that kind of success corresponds directly to the relative program strength of the law school and business school in question. At the risk of over-simplifying things, here are four university tiers that may help students better understand how this works:

Tier One — MBA is king. At universities like Penn and Northwestern, the MBA program tends to reign supreme. Wharton and Kellogg are more prestigious, relatively speaking, than Penn and Northwestern Law, and the business schools often drive the admissions process for joint degree applicants. The odds of getting into Wharton or Kellogg through the backdoor by gaining admissions to the law school are very low. In fact, the word on the street is that Wharton has grown extremely tired of the practice.

Tier Two — Law School is king. The flip side is when the law school is clearly the flagship school of the two programs, making the transition much easier for JD students. Examples would include Yale, NYU, Columbia, and Georgetown. These are the schools were a law student might even find themselves in a “get this score on the GMAT and you’re in” type of scenario.

Tier Three — Coin toss. At many universities — examples include Chicago, Berkeley, Duke, Cornell, Virginia, and UCLA — it is hard to know which program has the greater relative strength. They are often rated similarly by the prominent ranking systems and have similar national reach. In these cases, you can often assume that the law student will still enjoy the benefit of the doubt and find good opportunities at the business school. This author experienced this first hand at Chicago, where attendance at the law school served as a sort of de facto qualification for attending the business school.

Tier Four — Harvard and Stanford. These two universities belong in their own separate category. Because both are at the top of the heap for both law (usually ranked second and third) and business (often first and second), they qualify for “coin toss” status, except that HBS and the Stanford Graduate School of Business are so competitive that there may not be enough admissions flexibility for even the law students on their own campuses. There is anecdotal evidence to support the notion that Harvard and Stanford law students can indeed migrate over to the business school, but most research suggests that it is more difficult to do so at these programs than other “coin flip” universities.

Cons. The first bit of “bad news” regarding the JD/MBA surrounds the notion of getting in. We’ve danced around this topic above, but the cold, hard truth is that you are doubling your degree of difficulty if you seek acceptance at both a top law school and a top business school. Getting into, say, Anderson is hard enough, but to gain acceptance to the UCLA School of Law on top of that? No easy task. And since there are so few universities that handle the application process jointly, you really have to strike gold twice at the same place in order to get the opportunity you desire.

Even if you try the “backdoor” approach as detailed above, there are considerable risks. By attending a law school to which you gain admission, you are solving one half of the equation and — in most cases — putting yourself in a better position to finish the deal. However, there is no certainty that you will get into the business school in question. While some business schools are trending younger and there are exceptions made all the time for law students who want to add an MBA, a lack of work experience can often prevent a JD from tacking on the MBA. You may also be trying to insert yourself into an over-enrolled class, which is pure bad luck, but can’t be ruled out.

Of course, even if you don’t get into the MBA program in question, there is still the silver lining that you can have a very “business school” type of experience at most law schools (through elective courses, cross-curriculum opportunities, and clinical work), while preserving the MBA for a rainy day. In fact, that is the second “con” to getting both degrees at the same time: you use up your last bullet when you get a JD/MBA. Above, we discussed the school of thought that says you have to capitalize on your educational momentum. There is another school of thought that says to wait and save the MBA as a “get out of jail free” card in case you need to make a career change down the line. Much of this stems from short-term and long-term career goal considerations, which are the subjects of future entries in this series, but each prospective student should give careful consideration to this notion of saving the MBA as a possible career change option.

All told, there is no perfect way to consider this factor in a neat tidy way. Whether it is opportunity cost or mere opportunity that is in question, there are a tremendous number of variables that can impact both the choices students should make and whether they will even have the chance to make them.

For those interested in learning more about JD/MBA programs, exploring whether the degree might be a good fit, or looking for assistance with a JD/MBA application, please explore our JD/MBA admissions consulting services.

The WSJ on Law School and the Recession — A Deeper Look

Law School AdmissionsLast week, Nathan Koppel of the Wall Street Journal wrote a thoughtful piece about young professionals retreating to law school as a form of safe harbor in the current economic climate. The column explored both sides of the issue, offering both reasons for and against going back to law school. While I agreed with much of it, I also felt that a great deal of analysis –- and more importantly, critical advice -– was missing from the article.

Again, I want to stress that Koppel’s take on this issue was fundamentally solid and that he presented the issue without much by way of an obvious agenda. That said, the first aspect of the column with which I take issue was his use of statistics. To put it bluntly, I believe he cherry-picked his “application increase” stats around which to build the story, citing Washington and Lee (29% increase), Yale (8%) and Texas (8%) as proof of a massive migration. However, as we wrote a while back, the ABA reported only a 1% increase in applications across the board this year. So again, I don’t think there has been quite the “retreat!” mentality that Koppel makes it out to be. Of course, that may just make the underlying question — Is heading to law school right now a good move? — all the more relevant because that small increase for this year is a harbinger of a huge increase next year. (See that same blog article for an analysis of the 2001 recession that saw a very small spike that year followed by 17% increase in 2002 applications.)

As to whether or not going to law school at this time is a good idea, I am more on the “yes” side of the fence than I am down the middle. With that in mind, here are key considerations that were either missing from the column or were not explored in great enough depth:

Safe Harbor. For starters, law school lasts three years, so the “hide out” argument could be bolstered by the fact that it gives students longer to ride out the recession. I think Koppel missed an easy chance to compare MBA students (who only get two years) and to introduce the notion of a JD/MBA degree, which provides even more of a diversified skill set and, depending on the school, can allow a student to ride out a down economy for four years. Even the most skeptical among us likely believe that things will be better four years from now — especially in the legal markets, where transactional attorneys will be in great demand once lending starts up again. In fact, when that day comes, there simply won’t be nearly enough junior and mid-level attorneys to draft all the documents that will be needed to support those deals. I could see a major corporate associate hiring boom in the next two-to-four years when lending kicks back in throughout the financial markets (commercial real estate, not so much, but that is beside the point).

New Jobs. I also think Koppel missed an “emerging industries” angle with regard to financial regulation (which would have been a perfect transition from talking about JD/MBA degrees and their value) and corporate governance. Given the clear cause of the economic crisis and the reform being called for by the Obama administration, I believe there are going to be a plethora of new legal jobs in the regulatory sector — both within governmental agencies (existing bodies like the SEC and possibly those that have yet to be formed) and within companies and law firms as well.

Alternative Career Path. One additional angle that Koppel went for in the column was some advice on how a graduating law student can prop himself up in a down job market. Not to beat a dead horse, but he missed a few things here as well. Koppel got the “elite school” thing right when he discussed the impact that graduating from a top 14 law school has on one’s prospects with BigLaw, but when he wrote about pursuing a non-legal job, he made it sound way too easy.

In fact, this part of Koppel’s article would have been the ideal place to drop in some of the soundest advice a prospective law student could ever receive: start your alternative career path while in law school. Too many law students make the mistake of assuming they can just waltz out of an elite law school with a JD and get whatever job they want, in whatever industry they want. And while a JD does signal certain things (critical thinking, strong writing skills, work ethic, problem solving) that can make a law school grad immediately attractive in particular industries such as management consulting, it doesn’t help much at all in the wide majority of industries who naively see law school as “lawyer training.” Never mind that this isn’t really true; that’s the perception.

So a law student who wants to work for an NBA team, or in business development for Warner Brothers, or for a hedge fund (or name your industry/company) can’t simply go take summer jobs at big law firms, graduate, and then send out their resumes. Yes, those summer associate gigs pay a mint, but they put law students on a straight-line path with 20-foot walls towards working at a big law firm. If a law student really wants to work for Warner Brothers, that person has to spend her summers working there for free or for cheap, so that the big guns at Warner Brothers get to know her and value her and desperately want her to work there. Then, when she graduates with her prestigious law degree, they have to pay her and position her accordingly. That is how it works for “alternative” career paths.

And I just desperately wish people would tell prospective students this reality. Maybe the Wall Street Journal wasn’t interested in that type of social good or perhaps Koppel didn’t even think of this or know about this reality, but this article would have presented a perfect opportunity to broadcast an important message.

The Money Game. The only other thing I would have put in this article is that students should be more cognizant of the financial aspects of their law school choices. With an uncertain job market at the other end of the pipeline, it is no longer a cavalier thing to take out $150,000 in debt to obtain an elite law degree. In 2004, I would have been crazy to go to Duke for $70,000 rather than Chicago for $150,000. Now, in 2008? I’d probably be crazy to do the opposite. Schools are leveraging each other right now too, so it is a good time to pay attention to trends (this year Michigan appears to be the big spender) and also to barter with the schools.

All of this signifies a sea change in the selection/enrollment process. Until now, I would have told a student to pick among the top 14 law schools in this order:

1) fit
2) rank/prestige
3) cost.

Now, under these market conditions, I would change the order to:

1) cost
2) fit
3) rank/prestige.

In my humble opinion, it is far better to go to Cornell and have $50,000 in debt than go to NYU and carry $120,000 in student loans, when it might not matter much with regard to job prospects. Either the deals are going to start happening by the time you graduate (in which case you can get a great job from either school), or they’re not (in which case you might be trouble coming from either school). This is now a major consideration. Put another way: students have to consider law school a little more like undergrad with regard to their cost versus return on investment (ROI) analysis.

All in all, Koppel’s article got some key issues out on the table and will get people talking. That’s the most important thing. I simply wish the analysis had gone deeper and that some key and useful messages would have been delivered to the confused law students and prospective law students who need that information so badly.

To get more law school admissions news and analysis from Veritas Prep, be sure to follow us on Twitter.

Law School Applications: On the Rise for 2010?

According to an interesting report from the American Bar Association, law school applications only increased by one percent this year, despite the severe economic recession that typically serves as a catalyst for large application increases.

There are a variety of reasons why the total number was lower than expected. The biggest is probably the limited number of LSAT test dates, which makes it harder to spring into action during a downturn. Furthermore, many typical law school applicants are more insulated from the early signals of a recession than, say, MBA candidates who are working in directly impacted industries.

Regardless of the reason for the delay, history tells us that application spikes are usually just around the corner. When the market went into a recession in 2001 following the attacks of September 11th, the impact on law school applications didn’t occur until the following year, when schools saw a whopping increase of 17% across the board. It is highly likely that a similar increase will occur this fall and winter for candidates applying for the fall of 2010.

In short, we are probably on the cusp of the most competitive year in the history of law school admissions.

This means that the steps candidates take between now and then are of paramount importance, as every action must show motivation for the study of law so that your application doesn’t look like your own personal bailout plan. Furthermore, it will place more emphasis than ever before on the personal statement component of the application process. No longer will law school admissions simply be a numbers game where decisions are made based almost entirely on GPA and LSAT. How candidates address weaknesses in their profile and how they answer the unasked questions of the admissions committee will determine their chances for success.

Never before has achieving perfection on the personal statement been so important. If there was ever a year to explore LSAT preparation or – even more importantly – assistance with your application, this is the time to do it.

To learn more about Veritas Prep services that can help you maximize your application, set you apart from the crowd, and give yourself the best possible chance of success, please visit our website to explore our expansive offerings.

Announcing Our Law School Admissions Contest!

To introduce our new law school admissions consulting services, Veritas Prep has announced a contest for law school applicants. The contest winner will receive a complimentary Veritas Prep Admission Brief consulting package that includes comprehensive assistance with the application process for three law schools. The Admissions Brief is a $3,100 value, and includes:

  • An admissions consultant from the school of your choice to personally work with you throughout the entire law school application process
  • The Veritas Prep Law School Game Plan

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.

University of Chicago Law School – Accepting Applications

A quick glance at the University of Chicago Law School’s website may not reveal much to an anxious applicant, but, in fact, the school has officially started accepting applications as of September 1.

You can find this information in a message from Ann Perry, Dean of Admissions, which is located in the law school’s “A Day in the Life Feature.”

So now you know.