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.

Is Grad School the Last Resort for Generation Y?

Grad School Admissions
In an article on yesterday, Deb Weinstein reports that jobless grads are increasingly turning to grad school as a backup option in the face of dismal job prospects, even though some of their possible post-school job prospects are also disappearing.

As we’ve reported here before, both of the GRE and the GMAT have seen growth in the number of tests taken in the U.S. over the past year — 13% and 4.9%, respectively. (Some of that GRE growth may have come from more business schools increasingly accepting the GRE.) Even more impressively, the LSAT saw a 20% jump in the number of tests taken in 2009 vs. 2008. This comes while some big law firms are actually paying their new hires to take a year off.

But the growth doesn’t stop there. Even journalism schools have seen record numbers of applications this past year, even as the publishing industry has shed 90,000 jobs and more than 100 newspapers have shut down. Why would these people all rush back to school now?

The obvious answer is that, although their job prospects may not be especially bright when they graduate, these young grads would rather take their chances in the job market in two or three years, rather than now. Even if the job market isn’t significantly better in 2012, then at least these folks will come out of school armed with additional skills, certifications, and contacts, making their reentry into the job market a little easier (at least in theory).

Also, human nature steers us toward a “I’ll worry about it later” mentality — even if they don’t end up being any better off in a couple of years, at least getting into grad school will give these young people the luxury of being able to hide out on campus and not quite yet have to face the real world. Sometimes, especially when the economy is rough, this can be grad school’s biggest appeal (especially when Mom and Dad pay for it!).

If you’re thinking about graduate school and want more help in getting into business school, law school, or medical school, call us at (800) 925-7737 and speak with a Veritas Prep admissions expert today!

Surveying the Law School Landscape

If you are a law school applicant, chances are you already heard about the recent LexisNexis survey that presented some pretty brutal sentiments among current law students. That said, it is still worth reviewing the survey summary and accompanying law-related blog posts to take in the carnage. Basically, when it comes to law school and the legal industry, nobody is happy.

The headline numbers from the survey are as follows:

  • 21% of law students “regret attending law school.”
  • 35% do not “feel adequately prepared to succeed in the new marketplace.”
  • 65% feel that “law schools don’t teach the practical skills needed in today’s economy.”

Yikes. That’s a lot of disappointment. And on top of that, as points out, the people hiring law students aren’t happy either, as 71% of clients feel that firms aren’t doing enough to cut costs and 77% of firm lawyers think their clients are being cheap and sacrificing quality.

It all boils down to frustration across the board with the process. What is interesting and ironic about this mess is that law school is arguably the easiest graduate program to adapt to new trends and econimic climates. It is a professional degree program that often occupies a more academic and esoteric space, rather than concentrating on vocation. So at a very basic philosophical level, law school has always had room to move toward being more practical. Beyond that, there is literally an entire academic year with which to work. Talk to any law student and ask them about their 3L year. In almost every instance, you will hear that students coasted, relaxed, got bored, explored hobbies, and basically just counted down the days until they graduated and had to take the bar. Virtually everyone knows that the third year of law school is a borderline waste of time. Given that there’s an entire year to play with and the desire from every interested party for more hands-on learning, it seems crazy that the discussion even persists.

It will be interesting to see if we have finally reached an apex in this ongoing debate about how law schools teach students and if changes are in the offing … or if this is just the latest flurry of commentary that dies out and leaves us with more of the same. It feels “big,” but so have other surveys and op-ed pieces and controversies. All we can do is wait and see how it shakes out.

But the bottom line is that today’s law school applicant needs to be aware of what is happening within law schools and out in the legal community. Surveys like this can help inform choices and create opportunities to express proper motivation (in the face of negative trends) — both of which are extremely important components of a law school application. If you need help deciding whether law school is right for you or if you need help with your law school applications, give us a call 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.

Law School Grads in the Year 2012

People are buzzing about 2012 these days, given the Mayan prediction that the world would end at that time. There’s no doubt that “world ending” qualifies as something to keep an eye on, but one has to doubt the accuracy of Mayan predictions, given how things went with the conquistadors.

Either way, of greater concern here at Veritas Prep is what is going to happen to law school graduates in 2012. Last year’s clients (as well as thousands of other students) are in their first terms right now, soaking up Civil Procedure and walking across the hot coals that are the Socratic Method. They are also watching in terror as their 3L and 2L colleagues struggle to find jobs.

We all know that the job market is bleak for recent grads and students about to graduate … but what about the students just starting out? Will things rebound by 2012? What is the landscape going to look like?

For the most part, people seem to be fairly optimistic about job prospects further down the road. The general belief that the economy will recover has a positive impact on the legal industry, as the services that bolster financial instruments stand to benefit as those markets bounce back. Furthermore, there have been new areas of the law to emerge (such as energy and financial regulation) that will give rise to more available career paths.

Additionally, job prospects in “alternative” areas, such as public interest, government, and academia, seem to be holding pretty steady. For students who plan accordingly and take advantage of loan forgiveness programs, a career in public interest is a way to take advantage of a law degree without running into the risks of a down financial market.

That said, beyond the projections of offers and available positions, one also has to wonder about the culture of the future legal environment. We’ve previously opined on this blog that law firms would take full advantage of the downturn to stamp out a lot of the niceties that had emerged in the last decade via retention efforts. Some are more optimistic, but the frozen salaries, vanishing bonuses, and minimal mentorship programs might be here to stay. The balance of power has shifted from recent graduates back to firms and their partners, as even elite grads are just hoping to land a job. Three years ago, cream-of-the-crop prospects were able to shop around and put pressure on firms to create a more welcoming, forward-thinking environment.

2012 may well signal the end of the current panic-stricken job climate, but it will also likely give rise to a whole new reality. Even as firms build back out hiring and recruiting efforts, we may not see the same with programs aimed at retention. This is likely to mean even tougher conditions in an industry already known for long hours, high stress, and lack of work-life balance.

Focusing on Law School Job Prospects

Over the past nine months, there have been numerous indications that a job crisis was looming for law students. Firms were deferring start dates for new associates, cutting summer programs, and even introducing new apprenticeship models of initial employment. Veritas Prep has been actively following each development to the hiring landscape and has covered a variety of angles in great detail. For more information, please visit past entries regarding:

However, until the fall hiring season actually rolled around, there was no way to know for sure how all of these developments would impact current law students.

Well, now the fall season is here and, according to, it’s not looking good.

According to the Bloomberg article, the sting is being felt across the board, including at Harvard, which carries unique signifigance. HLS can be thought of as the castle on the hill when it comes to law school career prospects, so when the wolf is at the door of Harvard, you know the rest of the country has been overrun. According to Mark Weber, Harvard’s assistant dean for career services, second and third year students have experienced a decrease of up to 20% for initial interviews, and there seems to be a legitimate fear that “callbacks” are going to be even worse. That certainly seems to be the case at another elite program (especially with regard to career placement), as NYU is already calling the reduction of callbacks “significant.”

Again, if the truly elite programs are starting to panic, it does not bode well for every other law school beneath them in the pecking order. You can expect career service offices and students alike to start getting creative about the job search and you can absolutely expect admissions offices to start to think more about career prospects and plans than they ever have before. In fact, one of the things that has always made applying to law school so different from applying to business school is that JD programs have long been relatively unconcerned with career plans or prospects. However, it seems likely that we are entering a bold new world with regard to law schools admissions; one where career goals are of paramount importance. Plan accordingly.

For more information on law school admissions or for help incorporating career goals into the application, visit our website or call our offices at 1.800.925.7737. If you are interested in receiving an in-person consultation, contact us at law at to find out more about these seasonal events in your area.

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!

The Brutal Law Firm Hiring Landscape

When the financial crisis hit in the fall of 2008, the assumption held by many is that law school would emerge as the safest of havens for college graduates and young professionals. The length (three years, great for riding out a recession), versatility, and perceived job security of a JD all made it an ideal candidate for those students that would normally pursue plum jobs or perhaps an MBA. Many have gone on record predicting a massive increase in applications for the coming 2009-2010 cycle.

In light of what is happening at the elite law firms (so called “BigLaw”) across the country, it may be time to rethink those assumptions.

The New York Times is the latest to break down the carnage, highlighting some of the more shocking examples of BigLaw erosion:

– Skadden is slashing hiring by half

– Milbank and others are cancelling interviews at Yale

– NYU, Northwestern, and Georgetown are all placing on campus interviews at being down between 33% and 50% this year compared with last year

The piece does a nice job of detailing the logjam that exists at big firms right now: basically, all the deferred 2009 graduates will be drifting back to BigLaw firms in the fall of 2010, right when the most compressed class in law school history is graduating.

It’s a difficult time for grads, to be sure, which is why Veritas Prep continues to consult clients on more than just admissions prospects. Now more than ever, students need to be sure of their motives for going to law school and taking out the kind of debt that follows a graduate of an elite program. Furthermore, this would be a good time for prospective law students to fully explore the loan repayment programs at top schools to see if a career in public interest might actually be a safer bet (in addition to often being a more personally rewarding and flexible career path).

Veritas Prep’s Own Adam Hoff Interviewed by Law School Podcaster

Prospective law students will be pleased to learn that a new resource has become available that will help them navigate the difficult path to a legal education. The folks at the highly successful MBA Podcaster have expanded into the law school world with the appropriately named Law School Podcaster.

Three episodes are already available for download and feature topics such as planning for the admissions process, piecing together a great application, and choosing the right schools. Veritas Prep is pleased to have been a guest on the premiere episode, as Adam Hoff, Director of Admissions Consulting and Research, was featured on the initial panel of experts.

Students can access the podcasts through either the Law School Podcaster website or by subscribing through iTunes.

To learn more about what we do, take a look at Veritas Prep’s law school admissions consulting offerings, including our very popular JD/MBA admissions consulting practice.

How Does Chicago Law School Do It?

An ongoing trend in the law school world over the past few years is that the University of Chicago Law School has been losing top professors to rival schools at an alarming rate. And not just any old professors either – the attrition has included some of the most brilliant and famous legal minds in the country, as well as several other prominent subject matter experts and prolifically cited researchers.

Yet for all that, Chicago still ranks second in the country – behind only Yale – in terms of educational quality, according to the foremost authority on such things, Brian Leiter’s EQR (Educational Quality Ranking).

Which begs the question: how do they do it?

To start with, Chicago has made a decision (and stuck by it) to put the quality of the teaching at the law school on the top priority rung, even to the detriment of other aspects of the school. As other elite law schools made the cirriculum more flexible and created more “crossover” opportunities with other programs, Chicago cinched its belt and required even more classes be taken within the law school. When Internet access flooded classrooms and threatened the intense dialogue between professor and student, U of C yanked out Ethernet and wireless in every room. Students didn’t like it. Prospective students want flexible classes and wireless access, but frankly, Chicago doesn’t care. At least, they don’t care enough to risk diluting the quality of instruction that goes on within the law school.

Of course, making it all about priorities is a bit of a negative way to look at things. The other reason that Chicago’s educational quality stays elite in light of the mass exodus is that they keep finding and nurturing amazing new professors. This is done through careful planning, the work of a highly-engaged hiring committee (populated with elite professors in their own right), and also by giving young academics a chance to come and shine in a “think tank” atmosphere. Very few schools allow as many workshops, seminars, and other non-traditional courses – all taught by some of the brightest young professors. Furthermore, Chicago was one of the first law schools to implement a mandatory legal writing class – called the Bigelow Program – and they staff the teaching positions with aspiring academics who show great potential. One of Chicago’s best new professors – Adam Cox – came from the ranks of the Bigelow Program.

It’s certainly not easy to add professors of high quality at the same rate that other school’s are poaching them, but a quick glance at the highest profile names – both new and old – shows that the school is managing to keep pace. Gone are such luminaries as world-renowned legal scholars Richard Epstein (to NYU) and Cass Sunstein (to Harvard, and then to the Obama Administration), criminal law expert Tracy Meares (to Yale), beloved constitutional and legislative scholar Adrian Vermeule (Harvard), and law and econ guru Alan Sykes (Stanford). And I suppose you could add a former constitutional law lecturer by the name of Barack Obama to that list.

But just as the school features an unfortunate list of departed stars, Chicago is also compiling a roster of emerging legal minds that should keep them at the top of the academic heap for many years to come. In addition to the aforementioned Adam Cox, Chicago can also boast of young “rock star” professors like Kirkland Ellis appellate lawyer-turned McKinnsey consultant-turned corporate law guru Todd Henderson, property law scholar Lior Strahilevitz, crim law expert Bernard Harcourt, and student favorite Adam Samaha.

And of course, the school still boasts some of the stars of yesteryear, including the wildly popular contract expert Douglas Baird, constitutional law scholars such as Geoffrey Stone and David Strauss, policy and family law expert Emily Buss, and current dean Saul Levmore.

All told, the school looks to maintain its lofty perch at the top run of law schools when it comes to educational quality. The challenge for Chicago will be to keep up with the times and the changes in legal education while doing so.

For more information on the University of Chicago Law School, or any other top law schools, please feel free to visit our law school admissions consulting website or contact us at or 1.800.925.7737.

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.

Law Firm Apprentice Programs Just Might Work

One ongoing story to come out of the recession has centered on the changes taking place at the associate level of big law firms. New associates are seeing their jobs deferred, salaries frozen, bonuses going away, and mentoring programs vanishing. Much of it is being couched as temporary, but ask any young associate and they will tell you that there is reason to believe it is all too permanent. More than anything, all of these changes feel reactionary at best (attempting to deal with economic conditions) and predatory at worst (taking advantage of market conditions to drive down expectations). That’s why it is refreshing to see an entirely new idea being broached at a handful of firms that is actually trying to improve the associate model. A fascinating article on was posted today that outlines new “apprentice” programs that have been rolled out at a series of mid-size and large law firms.

The idea is relatively simple: rather than throw new associates into the typical billing gauntlet right out of the gates, these firms are trying to transition them in a more effective way through training and low stakes opportunities. Every firm described in the article is different, but the standard model seems to look like this:

– Two year apprenticeship
– Heavy focus on client meetings, attorney shadowing, and even classroom scenarios
– Low billable hour requirements (about 700, or a third of total time)
– Approximately $100K in salary
– $25K each year as a “completion bonus” to pay down loans

The impetus for the program seems to come from a desire to please clients – many of whom have grown tired of paying for young associate training in the form of long bills full of inefficient research, document review, or due diligence. The clients quoted in the article certainly seem happy about the change.

Of greater interest is how the associates themselves will feel about this model. The article expressed a certain amount of doubt that law school grads will want to pass up bigger paychecks and “real work” to pursue an apprenticeship track. There seems to be a feeling among both big firm partners and law school career officers that once the recession is over and grads have their choice, none of them will go for this new idea.

I’m not so sure that is true. For starters, some of the people quoted in the article are not fully understanding the difference between $160,000 and $100,000 in salary. Sure, the latter is more money, but its all about planning and expectations for the first few years. For many law school graduates, the primary goal coming out of school is to pay down some debt. By merely completing each year of the program, a law school loan could be knocked down close to $35,000 (accounting for taxes on the bonus amount). For someone taking out $100,000 to go to school, it would be a huge benefit to chop off a third of their debt in two years. And since the bonus is taking care of the loan piece of one’s living expenses, that leaves an entire $100,000 salary to pay for the rest.

Furthermore, the assumption that new associates crave “client work” is almost laughable. New associates have no idea what they want or don’t want, what they will enjoy or hate, what they are good at or terrible at. Everything is a learning experience. And quite frankly, unless you know you want to make partner one day, “learning” by doing high stakes billable hours and grinding through 80 hour weeks is not exactly a grand time. I believe a lot of new associate would prefer less pressure and fewer hours for lower pay.

Regardless, it will be interesting to follow this new trend – especially if and when one of the elite firms adopts the model. I personally think we are on the cusp of something pretty big.

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.

Law School Admissions – News You Can Use

We’re trying a new format today, which is to include a series of noteworthy links from the world of law school admissions and the legal market. There have been a lot of interesting takes on two topics in particular: deferred law firm jobs and the new U.S. News & World Report rankings. We’ll offer up a few links in those areas, as well as a couple of this blog’s favorite law school topics, including faculty hiring.

Here are some of the hot topics in the law school community:

  • In the wake of the new law school rankings, U.S. News & World comes right out and addresses concerns and feedback, via Bob Morse’ “Morse Code” blog. The publication’s recent movement toward transparency and dialogue about the all-important rankings has given the list even more credibility.

  • Perhaps not surprisingly, one of the more extensive responses to the rankings came from The GW Hatchet, where the George Washington student paper tries to work through law school’s drop from 20 to 28 in the latest rankings. In particular, the article focuses on the disagreement between the school and the aforementioned Morse – the former claiming that the addition of part-time programs in the rankings is what dropped GW down the list, while the latter insists that “weak placement” data is responsible. Worth a read, if only to understand how seriously everyone takes this ranking business.
  • Third-tier program New York Law School rates well behind fellow Manhattan schools such as NYU, Columbia, and Fordham, but its new building appears to be second to none. (Note also the swanky location. You could do worse.)
  • The Wall Street Journal is the latest entity to run a story on the increase in job deferments for new law firm associates. You can follow our analysis of this trend here and here.
  • The Kansas City Star also focused on the difficult legal job market, and extended the analysis to include a reduction in federal clerkship positions.
  • The Chicago Tribune ran a story speculating that President Obama’s pick to replace Justice Souter on the Supreme Court is likely to have significant ties to the University of Chicago Law School.
  • Legal writer and attorney Ursula Furi-Perry has published Law School Revealed and this article provides a solid checklist for analyzing which schools might be a good fit.
  • Stanford shook off a discouraging drop to #3 in the rankings and the loss of constitutional law scholar Lawrence Lessig to Harvard by hiring 10th Circuit Judge Michael McConnell to direct the Stanford Constitutional Law Center.
  • Stanford can also take solace in the fact that its Law School is at the top of the heap in the TaxProf Blog’s ranking of employment success. The ABA’s blog reports that Stanford rates first (followed by Duke, NYC, UCLA, and Penn) in a study based on U.S. News & World employment statistics and conducted by respected law professor Paul Caron, of the University of Cincinnati.

For more on the law school admissions process, be sure to follow us on Twitter.

Law School Applications Are Going Up After All

In early March, the consensus within the law school admissions community for 2009 was that the recession had not sparked a noticeable increase in applications for the fall. At the time, the ABA reported just a 1% increase in applications across the board, leaving many to speculate about the reasons for the delay. We looked to the 2001 recession and the application trends that followed, as well as the difficulty in “throwing together” a law school application at the last minute and assumed that the big increase was still coming, but that it might not take place until the 2010 cycle.

It turns out, everyone was a little premature in their thinking. According to a post on its online journal, the ABA is now reporting that the number of law school applicants is up 3.8 percent for 2009 and that the number of total applications submitted is up 6 percent.

These new numbers bolster the notion that as potential applicants become more informed, they are increasingly likely to see law school as a best option for dealing with the economic downturn. Due to the scarcity of LSAT opportunities (offered four times a year, which is up from the two dates offered in the past, but still far more difficult to schedule than the GMAT), many law school applicants were unable to even complete their applicants until the results of the February test date were in. Others still were willing to buck trends and apply at the back end of rolling admissions deadlines, actions that run contrary to the cardinal rule of getting an application in early to have any chance.

Schools are also responding to this late charge by trying unorthodox admission practices. Columbia Law School has created a unique (and somewhat controversial) late stage process whereby they are shelving applicants and classifying them as “reserve” groups – withholding decisions until the end of May. Even a prestigious school like Columbia is playing a dangerous game by forestalling admissions decisions for candidates who got their applications in on time, so you have to believe that the surge in last-minute applicants forced their hand.

For 2009 applicants, this simply means more waiting and more jockeying among people on the waitlist. For 2010 applicants, it is likely a sign of things to come. Applications will almost surely keep going up as more and more people take the LSAT and have time to forward a compelling candidacy, and there are likely to be a fair number of 2009 applicants who do not have success and are forced to re-apply next year. All of which sets up 2010 to be one of the most competitive admissions seasons in recent memory. Of course, for every challenge, there is opportunity. Strong candidates with a clear sense of direction and those who can articulate their goals and motivation will stand out from the hordes of people applying out of panic and those savvy candidates will remain competitive, regardless of the increase in volume.

For useful advice on your law school applications, visit our Veritas Prep Law School Application Tips, or explore our various consulting services. And, be sure to follow us on Twitter.

Law Firm Deferrals Put Future Grads on Notice

The Philadelphia Inquirer ran an interesting article about the recent trend of deferred associate jobs at major law firms. Many of the article’s key points echo the thoughts of a previous column on this blog, which lauded the efforts of several current law students who seek to create a union of sorts in order to push back against some of the more onerous changes taking place during the recession. That blog post anticipated that law firms would capitalize on current market conditions in order to cut back salaries, benefits, perks, and quality of life expectations of incoming lawyers. The column in the Inquirer further illustrates that point and suggests that the current changes will indeed have a lasting impact beyond the current economic downturn.

In the column cited above, several credible sources weigh in on the most visible and dramatic recession trend, which is the deferral of start dates for new attorneys. James Leipold, the executive director of the National Association for Law Placement (NALP, the producer of the leading law firm guide) notes that both the breadth and the volume of deferrals dwarfs what occurred during the 2001 recession, while David Skeel, a corporate law professor at Penn Law, envisions the deferral movement paving the way to lower salaries and other cutbacks in the future.

The Inquirer article doesn’t go far beyond salary considerations when analyzing potential permanent changes to the legal landscape, but it seems a safe bet that other perks and quality of life efforts will melt away as well. This is what we posited several weeks ago:

That is why it is a near certainty that law firms will go right back to squeezing every last drop out of their associates. Without fear of a Wall Street exodus and armed with lowered expectations, firms are likely to keep practice groups

U.S. News Law School Rankings for 2010

Back in October, we linked to an important announcement made by U.S. News & World Report that the magazine would be ranking part-time law schools for the first time in 2009. We endorsed the decision, noting that it would affirm both part-time programs and the ranking system itself. Less clear was whether U.S. News would be folding part-time matriculation numbers (mainly average GPA and LSAT) into its general rankings, which was another topic of discussion on this blog. Well, the magazine has gone all the way, adding part-time numbers to its rankings, which is big news indeed.

Part-Time Programs

The whole “part-time stats” situation is important because the fact that such numbers were not included in the law school rankings in the past presented an ongoing scenario whereby schools could game the numbers to soar up the charts. By admitting students with substandard academic profiles into the part-time program, schools could keep enrollment up while protecting the class profile that was used for purposes of ranking the various institutions.

Robert Morse of U.S. News was up front about the reasons for adding part-time numbers then and he and co-author Sam Flanigan shoot from the hip again in yesterday’s announcement.

In the article, Morse and Flanigan write:

This year, we modified our main law school rankings methodology. We used the combined fall 2008 class admissions data for both full-time and part-time entering students for the median LSAT scores, median undergraduate grade-point averages, and the acceptance rate in calculating the school’s overall ranking. U.S. News’s previous law school ranking methodology used only the full-time entering student data for those three admissions variables. This change improves the methodology because U.S. News is now comparing each law school’s entering class against every other’s based on the entire student body, which produces the most complete comparisons

“Part-time program” is about to become a very buzz-worthy phrase in the law school space over the next several days and weeks, as the change to the rankings elevates the profile of part-time programs. In fact, U.S. News ran an accompanying article today by Nikki Schwab that highlights some of the virtues of part-time law school and you can be sure that some of the highest ranking part-time schools will take full advantage of their suddenly official place at the top of a list. That list is likely to be DC-heavy, as the nation’s capital placed four of the top five part-time programs: Georgetown (1), George Washington (2), American (4), and George Mason (5).

New Rankings

Of course, all of the talk of part-time programs was just an undercard for the main event, which is the new rankings, including the top 20 schools for 2009:

Current rank [Previous rank] School Name (Rating) [Previous Rating]
1 [1] Yale (100) [100]
2 [2] Harvard (95) [91]
3 [2] Stanford (93) [91]
4 [4] Columbia (88) [88]
5 [5] NYU (87) [85]
6 [7] Chicago (84) [80]
6 [6] Berkeley (84) [81]
8 [7] Penn (82) [80]
9 [9] Michigan (81) [79]
10 [12] Duke (80) [77]
10 [9] Northwestern (80) [79]
10 [9] Virginia (80) [79]
13 [12] Cornell (78) [77]
14 [14] Georgetown (75) [74]
15 [16] UCLA (74) [71]
15 [16] Texas (74) [71]
17 [15] Vanderbilt (73) [72]
18 [18] USC (72) [68]
19 [19] Washington U. (69) [67]
20 [21] Boston (66) [64]
20 [22] Emory (66) [63]
20 [23] Minnesota (66) [63]

There isn

Power in Numbers? Top Law School Students Talk Unions

In the midst of a recession that has graduates from top law schools scrambling, there are still a large number of current students from elite programs who are looking forward, trying to shift the balance of power in the legal workforce. Anyone with a working knowledge of the world of law firms knows that once a law student graduates, that person is suddenly and totally at the mercy of the machine that is BigLaw. A group of elite law students belonging to an organization called Building a Better Legal Profession (BBLP) are trying to change that. And at their National Conference of Student Leaders, they started talking unions.

The details of the conference can be found in the link above and there are some interesting and nuanced thoughts presented on hot topics such as billable hours and workplace diversity. It is also exciting to see future lawyers trying to take control over their destinies, rather than just waiting to get there and then complaining about things. However, what I found most fascinating and inspiring about the conference is the way these top law students are focusing on the future of the legal industry, rather than the present.

In a legal climate that is completely overrun with panic over the recession and the resulting actions – elimination of bonuses, salary freezes, deferred jobs – there are too few people thinking about the big picture. There is no doubt that in some indeterminate amount of time, the legal market will regain its footing. Litigation and bankruptcy practices are currently thriving, new practice areas will emerge in regulation and corporate governance, and once lending starts to kick back in, most transactional practices will be overflowing with work. Other than perhaps commercial real estate (which might never fully recover to its 2007 heights) and investments (such as hedge funds and private equity firms, where new securities regulation may limit the flow of capital through those financial vehicles), the legal work will return to corporate practice groups in all the major markets. And when that happens, what will law firms do? Will they immediately hire back all of the associates that were previously on the payroll to make sure no one becomes overworked? Will they reward those who stuck around with bonuses and salary increases? Will they nurture their incoming attorneys and mold them into the future of the firm?

The chances of any of that happening are somewhere between slim and none. Instead, what law firms will almost certainly do is take full advantage of what the recession has done to hiring practices and the expectations of incoming associates. Consider the following shifts over the past 12 months:

– Entire industries that used to steal away young corporate associates, such as investment banking, have either vanished or been stripped down to almost nothing, meaning that the panic-fueled retention efforts of big law firms (including salary hikes, special bonuses, training, mentorship, and other attempts to keep attorneys happy) are almost completely unnecessary now. After all, where are these associates going to go now to make more money?

– Salaries and bonuses were frozen or slashed, which created an entirely new level of expectation for both current and future attorneys.

– A large number of incoming associates had their start dates pushed back or were paid stipends to stay away for an entire year, radically changing the relationship between graduate and firm. A 2007 graduate from an elite law school felt entitled to her job at a big firm. A 2009 elite grad is going feel desperate just to keep hers.

All of these changes were driven by the economy, rather than by the firms themselves, which puts the law firms in the enviable situation of being both blameless and sitting on top of a work force that will now toil for less pay and with lower expectations regarding job satisfaction. That

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 Rankings – Exploring Ethics

Should ethics be part of the U.S. News law school rankings? That was the question posed recently at a conference of the magazine’s editors, and the subject of a recent blog post by Bob Morse, of Morse Code.

Ethics has obviously become a hot topic in recent months, given the financial crisis causes by the negligent, if not clearly unethical, behavior of many of America’s most trusted institutions. This topic certainly surfaced during the scandals of Enron and WorldCom, but it seems to have new life, as the subject of ethical training was featured recently in a New York Times article pondering the need for reform in MBA programs.

However, the fact that U.S. News is considering adding an ethical component to its ranking system is probably the most radical thing I’ve heard yet regarding a sea change in how our professional education systems handle the subject of ethical behavior in both academia and in the workforce. Most, if not all, law schools already require a course on professional responsibility, which doubles as preparation for the MPRE (multi-state professional responsibility) exam, which is part of the bar admissions process in all states. Adding an additional layer of measurement (no doubt both objective and subjective, which is indicative of the rankings system as a whole), puts the notion of ethics in a whole new light. Morse grapples with many of the issues (or at least relays what they dealt with at the conference) in the blog post, but this approach gives rise to many questions: will schools begin to promote workshops and speaking series on ethics to game the rankings rather than for the good of the students (or are the two mutually inclusive?). Will ethics courses start to replace elective options? Will they become mandatory courses? Which schools will rise or fall based on this new element … or will it make a dent at all?

It is hard to say what kind of impact this change in approach would have, but it would certainly make things interesting. And as “ethics” becomes more and more of a buzzword in politics, the media, and in academia, we can only expect the attempts to measure it in quantifiable ways to increase. On balance, that would seem to be a good thing. Time will tell.

For more updates on school rankings, be sure to follow us on Twitter.

UC Irvine Law School Faculty Ranked in Top 10

We put you on notice that the new UC Irvine Law School could be a force to be reckoned with right out of the gates with its inaugural 2009 class. Now we have our first confirmation of this new program’s validity, in the form of Brian Leiter’s faculty rankings, which places the scholarly impact of UC Irvine’s law faculty in the top 10 in the nation.

The announcement that a brand new law school without any students currently occupying its building could rank in the top 10 in any list seems insane, but Leiter is one of the most respected individuals in the rankings game. That said, this particular placement of UC Irvine has to be taken with a grain of salt, as Leiter acknowledges that less than half the faculty has been staffed at the program. Since the rankings are based on “scholarly impact,” and therefore, the number and prestige of academic citations, it is entirely possible that the front half of the Irvine roster is stacked with great researchers and writers, which would inflate the impact of the final faculty. Of course, it could go the other way as well, and Leiter has appeared to take great pains to assess this as fairly and accurately as possible, even diluting the impact of Dean Erwin Chemerinsky, one of the world’s most prolific and respected constitutional law scholars.

Either way, this is yet another sign that UC Irvine is probably going to buck the trend of a slow road to accreditation and respect, and come out of the gates as a legitimate top law school option.

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.

Five Tips for Applying to Law School… Next Year

February is a fascinating month to work with law school admissions consulting clients, because half are scrambling to find their way off the waitlist and decide which program to attend, while the other half are already planning for next year. It is a great reminder that, for some people, the idea of law school isn’t a major practical decision staring them in the face, but rather an esoteric concept that seems an eternity away. It also a reminder that many of our clients still control most of the factors that will ultimately impact their law school opportunities.

Therefore, we are focusing on are the five things that people should be doing if they plan to apply to law school next year:

1. Plan around the LSAT. More than any other standardized test, the LSAT is a major influence on your admissions prospects. Part of the reason for this is that the LSAT actually does test a lot of the key critical thinking, reading, and reasoning skills that will have a huge impact on your level of success in the classroom, so law schools put a great deal of emphasis on the resulting test scores. Therefore, ensure that you make the proper investment in your preparation. You may or may not decide to pay for a course (or even just for help with logic games), but you should plan on doing as many practice tests as possible and spending the time necessary to become completely comfortable with the exam. This sounds obvious, but you would be surprised how often people procrastinate in their LSAT preparation … especially when there is “an entire year” to get it done.

2. Mitigate a weakness. The name of the admissions game is to try to read your own profile (GPA, LSAT, resume, etc.) the way an admissions officer would and then use your personal statement to answer their big questions. In short, you have to write away your weaknesses. In a perfect world, there aren’t weaknesses to write away, so you can focus simply on drafting an amazing personal statement. Therefore, one thing you should absolutely do in the next year is identify your biggest weaknesses (this is where consulting or some other form of advising is extremely helpful) and then go out and conquer them. If you have some issues with focus and discipline due to a spotty GPA, take a job that requires great maturity. Even better, take some challenges courses and knock them out of the park. If your motivation as a law school applicant seems questionable, seek out an internship somewhere within the legal space. Rather than merely chasing the “best” job or the most “unique” experience, see if there is something more valuable you can do with your time that will round you out as an applicant.

3. Secure your letters of recommendation. It seems like it would be easy to zip over to the office of your favorite college professors and ask them for a quick turnaround on a great letter of recommendation. It’s not. Instead of letting time lapse, go to them now and start the recommendation process. Ask them for their advice on whether you should apply to law school and perhaps which schools. Start outlining a timeline for the process, whereby you will supply them with updates, bullet points about your future application story, and other items that will help them write a great letter.

4. Read. Many people will tell you to avoid studying or anything resembling law school life, since you will be doing so much of it once you get to school. Nonsense! You don’t have to read books about Civil Procedure or Tort restatements, but you should always be reading. It will help you with the LSAT and it will certainly help you hit the ground running once you arrive on campus. Don’t let your mental muscles atrophy.

5. Visit Campus. A common misconception in the law school universe is that rankings are everything and there is no need to worry about “feel” at the various programs. This is false. That said, it can be difficult to tell schools apart based on their online descriptions. The classes, the clinics, the on campus recruitment, the journals … it definitely bleeds together. And few programs have a flagship designation like “Law and Econ” (University of Chicago). Therefore, the best way to tease out which schools are the best fit is to go visit them. You will get an idea for where they are located, how people interact, and even the “types” of students that attend. Not only that, but you may have the good fortune of meeting with admissions reps or professors on your visits and making a lasting impression.

In short, make use of the next year in ways that will aid both your candidacy and your level of preparation so that you can make the experience as meaningful as possible. If you are willing to spend countless hours applying, three years and six figures attending, and then a career practicing law, you should be willing to spend the next year preparing for those things.

If not … well, that’s another post entirely!

Law School Admissions: Tackling the Personal Statement (Part II)

Last week we initiated a two-part series on the law school personal statement. Part I focused on the art of positioning and answering the reader’s biggest question, Part II will describe the five law school themes as well as some thoughts on creating entertainment value in the personal statement.

The Law School Themes. In addition to your primary positioning, you also want to try to round out the key law school themes. They are:

1. Intellect (both intellectual curiosity and intellectual horsepower).
2. Motivation.
3. Discipline.
4. Collegiality.
5. Leadership.

For most applicants, two or three of these themes are readily apparent from the academic profile and resume. Most commonly, things like leadership, collegiality, and discipline jump off the page

Freeze on Law Firm Salaries

Much has been made of the economic crisis and its impact on the job market, but other than some anecdotal evidence (“Latham just made a capital call!” “Howard Rice is paying new associates to go away for a year.”), there hasn’t been much insight into the way jobs are being affected at top law firms.

Thanks to a recent article in the Sunday edition of The New York Times, we finally have a little knowledge on the subject. According to the article, Latham & Watkins decided to freeze associate salaries – a move that was emulated by several other major firms. This ends a cycle of escalating associate salaries that began in earnest during the early part of this decade as a recruitment and retention tool to both draw new attorneys to the firm and to keep junior and mid-level associates from jumping ship to either in-house legal jobs or more lucrative financial posts.

The good news is that salaries are not dropping (even though the retention needs have obviously softened – because what lucrative finance jobs are there to jump to?) and that the salary freeze actually seems to be fending off the more drastic move of cutting associates.

On balance, the news is pretty good. A JD from a top law school continues to show strong earning potential and a high level of job security. This certainly calls for another application increase during the next admissions cycle.

Law School Admissions: Tackling the Personal Statement (Part I)

For law school applicants, this time of year tends to be all about personal statements. It is often the last remaining piece holding up submission of an application. Candidates struggle with the blank canvas nature of the assignment as they try to figure out what to write about and how to fit it all into two pages.

Many of our clients seem to be making one of two common mistakes: 1) trying to cram everything into the personal statement, to the point it sounds like an annotated resume, or 2) writing at great length about their strengths. It is tempting to throw it all at the wall and see what sticks, or to lean on what you know works. Neither of these methods will get the job done.

Below are some suggestions for your personal statement that will help candidates avoid these problems and craft a meaningful, persuasive writing sample. The Veritas Prep approach to creating a great personal statement always centers on three elements: 1) positioning, 2) the law school themes, and 3) entertainment value.

Positioning. Positioning focuses on the major thrust of the personal statement. What is the strength you most want to advertise? The weakness you most need to mitigate? Is there a unique factor you can showcase? What is the one hole in your application that the admissions committee is dying for you to resolve in this space? This can be different for each applicant, but the one thing I know for sure is that the personal statement exists for you to tell the reader what he needs to know. Forget what you think you should write about or what makes for the best traditional essay

UC Irvine Law School to Offer Free Tuition

This story broke during the holidays, but is worth examining after the fact, because UC Irvine’s new law school is planning to offer free tuition to students entering in the Fall of 2009 — which will be its inaugural class.

This is a bold and smart move for a program with ambitious goals. The dean of the law school, Erwin Chemerinsky, has stated that the school’s goal is to be “a top-20 law school from the first time we are ranked.” This is part of a multi-pronged attack to hit the ground running and instantly be part of the country’s elite programs.

Part A was to bring in Chemerinsky, a noted constitutional law scholar famous for his BarBri lectures and advanced work done at the law schools of both USC and Duke. This step hit a few rough patches when Chemerinsky was fired and then re-hired. All of the gritty speculation over the original firing can be found here. Now that he is back in the fold, however, it seems that Irvine has tapped the right person to usher in the rest of their far-reaching strategy.

Part B focused on faculty, which is obviously a key in driving student interest, peer evaluations, and, ultimately, rankings (and, presumably, educational quality, although no one ever seems to mention this part). This blog has spent countless posts dissecting the faculty migration patterns and how they have affected schools like Yale, Harvard, Stanford, and Chicago. Suffice to say, luring top professors is paramount when piecing together an aggressive launch or expansion. Irvine has been able to snag a variety of well-respected academics such as Rachel Moran from Berkeley and Carrie Menkel-Meadow from Georgetown.

Finally, there is Part C. This is where the law school has to make a big splash to win the hearts and minds of top applicants and sure enough, that is what Irvine has done by offering free tuition (for all three years) for the approximately 60 members of its first class. This financial incentive — coupled with big name faculty members and talk of top-20 rankings — should be enough to convince at least that many top tier applicants to eschew the traditional powers and give the new guy a shot. And with the inevitable rankings win that would follow such a haul, Irvine is positioned to pull a rabbit out of its hat and actually meet the goal of being ranked in the top 20 from the very first time it is ranked.

At the very least, Irvine offers another interesting option for law school candidates, who are surely tired of hearing about increased applicant numbers and talk of waitlists and rejection letters.

For those interested in learning more about law school admissions trends, please visit our law school events page for information on upcoming events, and see what law school admissions resources Veritas Prep offers. Also, for regular updates on top law schools, be sure to follow Veritas Prep on Twitter.

Harvard Law School Snags Another Top Professor

Adding to a faculty that is becoming an embarrassment of riches, Harvard Law School has once again nabbed one of the nation’s top legal scholars to come teach in Cambridge. Harvard recently named Lawrence Lessig to its faculty and announced that Lessig will run the Safra Foundation Center for Ethics.

This hire both continues a pattern of aggressive faculty hiring by dean Elena Kagan and also signifies an important wrinkle in that pattern, which is is that Harvard went after a Stanford professor in this instance. Harvard and Stanford have been dueling for some time now as both schools made recent announcements of new grading systems (to mirror those of Yale) and have been taking turns hiring away renowned professors from Yale, Chicago, and other top schools. But this time, one has hired away a monster name from the other.

Lessig has been at Stanford since 2000 and has become a powerhouse in both constitutional law as well as in the ever-evolving intellectual property space. For Harvard to land him now, on the heels of hiring Cass Sunstein away from Chicago, shows some serious resolve.

Harvard’s ongoing makeover from a bureaucratic machine to a vibrant, student-centric educational community has been addressed before in this space and is nothing short of remarkable. And though this too has been stressed in previous posts, law school applicants simply can’t ignore these types of stories. The faculty hires and departures of today are what impact and define tomorrow’s educational experiences and the next day’s job prospects. Harvard is winning the battle on all fronts.

For those interested in learning more about law school admissions trends, please visit our law school admissions events page for information on upcoming events.

Free Law School Admissions Webinar – Dec. 15

This Monday, Dec. 15, Adam Hoff will host an online law school admissions seminar for those who are considering applying to law school this year.

Adam, who is Veritas Prep’s Director of Law School Admissions Consulting, is a law school admissions expert, former admissions officer, and University of Chicago Law School graduate. He will discuss:

  • Admissions trends for the 2008-2009 application season
  • What law school admissions officers look for in an application
  • The increasingly popular JD/MBA dual degree program
  • Strategies for dealing with rising applicant numbers
  • What to do if you’re waitlisted by your dream school
  • Q&A and general discussion

This free online event will run this coming Monday, Dec. 15., from 4:00 PM to 5:30 PM PST. All you need to need to access it is a PC or Mac with an Internet connection and sound capabilities.

Register for our online law school admissions seminar here!

The Exodus Continues at Chicago Law

One of the most underrated tools for monitoring and projecting law school rankings is to track the migration patterns of the country’s most prominent legal scholars. An influx of elite law school professors is sure to impact a program in ways both subtle and obvious. It can swing a candidate’s decision about where to attend (typically unlikely) but more importantly, it will certainly affect the all-important “peer evaluation” component of the U.S. News rankings. The flipside is true as well – when a school starts to lose its most highly regarded faculty members, it is certainly going to generate some negative results.

That’s why the University of Chicago has to be pretty bummed right now.

Richard Epstein – prominent legal scholar, prolific writer, king of market theory, and larger than life character – is leaving Chicago for NYU. This comes on the heels of Cass Sunstein (another legal giant) setting sail for Harvard earlier this year. And while Chicago has been effective at bringing in some entry level talent (Lior Strahilevitz and M. Todd Henderson, in particular), this is sure to affect the perception of other law school deans.

NYU, of course, gets a bump for the Epstein add, and their students are sure to enjoy the antics of one of the more interesting classroom forces alive. However, the larger impact of faculty hiring tends to center on cumulative trends. Harvard and Stanford remain the big gainers on this front, while Chicago now joins Yale as one of the schools in jeopardy of suffering a systemic blow due to hiring patterns.

Something to keep an eye on for sure, as anything that moves the needle in the rankings department is sure to eventually effect degree prestige, employment trends, admissions prospects, and everything else that JDs truly care about.

For more advice about law school admissions, visit Veritas Prep.

Announcing Veritas Prep’s JD/MBA Admissions Consulting

We are pleased to announce the latest offering to Veritas Prep’s admissions consulting options: JD/MBA Admissions consulting.

The choice of whether to pursue a law degree or an MBA has always featured a certain amount of crossover and the convergence of those two professional degrees has become even more of a nexus point this fall in light of the current economic climate. For many, the choice has become both, rather than one or the other. Given the rise in popularity of the JD/MBA, it makes sense that a company like Veritas Prep become the industry expert on the subject.

With its team of hundreds of expert business school and law school admissions consultants representing the most comprehensive possible approach to MBA and JD admissions, Veritas Prep has created another start-to-finish process that helps candidates determine whether the JD/MBA is right for them and then assists them in crafting the best possible applications to the nation’s elite joint degree programs.

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

If you’re interested in general law school admissions or business school admissions consulting, visit our web site to learn more!

The Day the LSAT Died?

On November 7, the American Bar Association Journal posted an entry about a very interesting study being conducted at the UC-Berkeley School of Law. According to the ABA post, the study is being conducted by “researchers” and has unearthed tests that measure legal skills such as negotiation and problem solving (in addition to the rather ridiculous “skill” of stress management). The biggest news of all? Berkeley’s law school dean, Christopher Edley has announced that two professors have validated the test and is now pushing to take the study to a national level. The Law School Admission Council (LSAC) is taking a look and plans to help fund the research. Amazing!

Setting aside whether the LSAT is a valid test, or whether any test can (or should) assess “lawyering skills” (rather than the skills that would project well for law school success, which I don’t have to remind anyone, is a staging ground for more than just lawyers), it seems impossible that LSAC would ever throw its support behind any test other than its prized LSAT.

It is commendable that Edley and the good people at Berkeley are striving for a better test and the fairest possible assessment process, and I suppose that November 7 could go down as the day that the LSAT died, but we’ll believe it when we see it.

In the meantime, if you’re applying to law school, take a look at Veritas Prep’s law school application tips.

Addenda Advice (from U Chicago Law)

The University of Chicago Law School’s increasingly helpful blog A Day in the Life has posted a particularly interesting bit of advice regarding addenda and supporting materials in the application process.

There is a great deal of confusion in the law school community as to whether addenda items are allowed as part of the application. Some schools welcome them while others forbid their inclusion and will refuse to review anything outside of the required components.

So whenever a law school comes out and makes a clear statement on this issue, it is extremely helpful. Here, Chicago is stating that addenda items are allowable and seem to actually be encouraged as a device to explain inconsistencies or weaknesses. The value of this stance should not be overlooked.

For starters, having the opportunity to mitigate a weakness outside of your personal statement preserves valuable space to tell a positive story in your application. Minor weaknesses are often best left alone and major weaknesses demand a forward approach, so there is almost no downside to being frank and forthright in a separate document. Again, even though addressing the issue in addenda calls more attention to the weakness in question, that isn’t a problem since the issue in question will stand out regardless (otherwise you wouldn’t be writing about it). Dealing with the negative factor (examples could include a wide gap in LSAT scores or low letter grades from an exchange program that was pass/fail for your program) on its own allows you to address it, move on, and deal explicitly with your strengths in the actual personal statement.

Additionally, it is helpful to note that Chicago Law is open to the idea of addenda because it may serve as a way to update your application should something eventful transpire during the review process. Addenda items are often a great waitlist tool and knowing that a school is open to the instrument allows you to position yourself aggressively should you land on the waitlist.

Chicago’s stance should not be assumed at other programs, but it provides clarity on that particular application and it establishes a baseline of inquiry at other schools. The most important thing is to discover how each program handles this component of the application process so that you can maximize every available resource in telling your story.

Law School Fever at Princeton

The American Bar Association blog is reporting a spike in LSAT prep among Princeton students due to the recent financial crisis. While law schools have been tight-lipped with regard to application increases, this is further anecdotal evidence that the expected recession-driven law school bump might be headed toward something historic.

Not only do the typical graduate school temptations come into play (ride out the downturn, increase earning potential), but the erosion of many MBA career prospects has further pushed finance escapees toward J.D. pursuits. As the ABA post notes, many Princeton students (and, presumably, students across the country) who were destined for careers in finance are now racing to take the LSAT and ready their law school applications.

The flip side of all this is that legal careers are also being impacted by the financial crisis, which is putting evermore pressure on students to get into elite programs. (This is where I’ll note that Veritas Prep’s law school admissions consulting is a great option for law school applicants who seek to work with experts from specific programs, providing the kind of insight to navigate the current application frenzy.)

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

Terrific Profile on Harvard Law School

There is a great feature on Harvard Law School from Sunday’s Boston Globe that puts a whole new spin on the “is Stanford catching Yale?” question asked on this blog just a few weeks ago.

It turns out that blog post might have been about the wrong school.

The Globe makes a pretty compelling case that it is Harvard – not Stanford – hot on Yale’s heels. Which is great news for law students who seek the name brand and prestige of Harvard and are going to discover that in addition to the pedigree, they might be stumbling into a rapidly-changing and stimulating educational environment.

It is worth keeping an eye on, to be sure. And if nothing else, Drake Bennett’s piece is a great read for anyone interested in Harvard, law school, or even higher education in general.

[Update: The WSJ Blog has also linked to the Globe’s Harvard feature and draws similar conclusions. Interested parties can get their take here.]