Why are all law school applications different? Why shouldn't I submit the same application for multiple schools?
Just like you have different reasons for wanting to attend different law schools, different law schools look for different things in their applicants. Every law school has a particular mission that is unique unto itself, and it tailors its application to fit the profile of the applicants they seek. The questions on each application have gone through a painstaking process to get there, and should be answered whenever possible.
The one thing you can do to lighten the load when it comes to filling out applications is using LSAC's web-based application service—through it you can input all your biographical information once and then have it automatically inserted into all applications you do through LSAC. However, a word of caution: be sure to (1) read all applications before submitting them to make sure that your information has been inserted correctly, and (2) note if there are any "Supplemental" or "Additional" sections for the applications you complete on LSAC, to ensure that you have completed every application fully and completely. Per LSAC, “Your CAS fee covers electronic application processing for all LSAC-member law schools. Completing applications electronically will save you time; generic application sections are pre-filled with information from your account. You can add schools to your CAS school list, making it easy to work on your selected applications.
How important are the "soft" elements of my application (résumé, recommendations, personal statement, etc.)? Aren't law schools just interested in my GPA/LSAT combination?
The "soft" elements of your application are extremely important, particularly if you're like the majority of law school applicants and your numerical stats (LSAT and GPA) fall below the school's 75th percentile and/or you've got a high GPA/low LSAT or low GPA/high LSAT numerical combination (See splitters). When you're not a near-certainty for admission based on your numbers, but a school is still interested in you for potential admission, then those "soft" elements become very important. They are what will separate you from the rest of the "maybes" and will turn you into a "yes".
Yes, law schools care a great deal about undergraduate GPA and LSAT scores, particularly LSAT scores. Those are the standard predictors of how a student will do in law school. Nonetheless, you would be doing yourself a disservice by ignoring or lackadaisically dealing with the other elements of your application because you don't think they will be looked at. Even if you are a definite candidate for admission, take the time to polish all those "soft" elements, if nothing else to further convince the admissions committee that you are the full package, down to the smallest detail. After all, a lawyer's work is in the details—what kind of precedent would you be setting if you didn't treat your admissions application like the most important brief of your life?
Why is the personal statement so important, and how can I write a great one?
Schools place a premium on the personal statement because it's the one thing on your application that deals with the essence of the law profession: writing. Law school admissions committees want the opportunity to examine your writing and determine the degree of efficacy with which you can create and develop logical ideas while also reaching out and connecting with an audience. In addition, law schools are interested in knowing what you value personally, professionally, morally, and intellectually, and the personal statement is the place to see that. It presents a "human" aspect to your law school application that can be found nowhere else and, in certain situations, can be the deciding factor between a denial or waitlist, and an acceptance.
There is no one way to tell someone how to write a great personal statement, since everyone has a different writing style and story to tell, but there are a few rules you can follow that will ensure that you are at least keeping within what makes the Admissions Committee happy:
- Steer clear of "gimmicky" essays, i.e., colored or patterned paper, computer graphics, attached photos of you as a toddler, video essays, or statements written in the form of an LSAT logical reasoning question. The admissions committee wants to read a clear, well-written, well-though-out statement that demonstrates you are a serious candidate for a JD from their school.
- Don't write a two-paragraph, one-page, double-spaced essay. Give the Admissions Committee something to read and get to know you with. You can't really get to know someone in 250 words or less. On the other hand, don't ramble on for 10 single-spaced, 8pt font pages. Respect your audience, and show them that you understand how important their time is by writing a 2-3 page personal statement with default margins in 12pt font that can be read cohesively in a minimal amount of time.
- If you don't know how to use a "big" or "fancy" word, or the way you have it in your essay sounds strange, take it out. A big vocabulary is only impressive when it is used correctly.
- Grammar. Spelling. Punctuation. These are a few of Admissions Committees' favorite things. Present your best side. Don't use the personal statement to gripe about something that you thought was bad or unfair; if you must, then also take the time to talk about how that negative experience allowed you to grow as a person and allowed you to see things in a different perspective.
- Don't let your personal statement be a regurgitation of your rÃ©sumÃ©. The Admissions Committee has your rÃ©sumÃ© in front of them; they don't need to see it again in a longer format. Use the personal statement to anecdotally show them who the person who did all those things and had all those accomplishments is.
- Most importantly, don't play it safe. Write about something that touched you, something you can be passionate about, something that you know embodies you and what you believe in, even if it seems a little unorthodox. Don't let a fear of being a little too "out there" keep you from wowing the Admissions Committee or leaving an indelible mark in their minds. After all, it's better to be "that guy who juggles fire" or "that girl with the 3 show dogs" than "that kid that wrote the essay about their European backpacking trip...no, not that one...or that one...not that one, either...".
What should I do if the law school I'm applying to asks that I write my personal statement on a particular topic?
Then write it on that topic. Remember that you would be completely ignoring the wishes of the Admissions Committee if you deviate from the application instructions, even if you write an absolutely fantastic essay on something else. A huge part of being a lawyer is knowing and following the rule of the law; what kind of message are you sending if you don't even follow the rules of your law school application?
Can I have someone else write my personal statement?
The answer to this question is an emphatic "No." Admissions Committees throw out (and, in many cases, blacklist with the LSAC and the ABA) applicants who brazenly and blatantly use someone else to write or otherwise plagiarize their personal statements. Why risk it? However, it is perfectly acceptable to have others read, offer suggestions, and help you edit and streamline your statement. The statement needs to come directly from your hand, but help with crafting it is completely unobjectionable.
When should I use an addendum, and how do they affect my application?
The most important part of addendums is understanding what they are and how they are used. Addendums are used to explain problems or gaps in your application. As such, you should not use your personal statement as an addendum. Use the personal statement exactly for what it's meant for—presenting a great or unusual quality about you, your beliefs, and your experiences in an excellent, positive light. Use addendums to offer explanations for inconsistencies in your application.
Many schools will give you the space you need to explain any negative aspects of you application; if they do, and you have things you'd like to explain, then use the space to explain the whys, whens, and hows of the situation. If the application does not include space to explain the negatives, then include a separate sheet (marking it clearly with your name and any other information necessary to label it as part of your application). Keep it brief and strictly factual. The addendum is not meant to invoke pity, but rather to simply explain a situation—the more to-the-point your explanation is, the better.
How many recommendation letters should I get, and when should I ask for them?
You should get as many recommendation letters as the schools require. They may ask for one, two, or three letters; there is no "industry standard". Start looking at your applications in advance to determine how many letters you need to get, and start asking for them as early as you can.
Admissions Committees aren't impressed by names, titles, or accomplishments—they are impressed by heartfelt, radiant endorsements from people that have taught you, known you, or worked with you, and can unwaveringly testify (with concrete, anecdotal examples) that you will be an exceptional addition to their school. If you're still in school, ask professors with whom you had actual rapport, who you know will give you glowing reviews. Don't go for the big-name professor who doesn't know your name but won the Nobel Prize. If you've been out of school for a while and working, ask your immediate supervisor (who knows you, has worked with you, and can give a first-hand account of who you are), and not the owner of the company who can't pick you out in a crowd.
Ask your recommenders what they will write, and offer to help them with examples. The most important thing is to give your reviewers plenty of time to write and send their letters; don't let your applications sit in admissions limbo because of a missing recommendation.
Be involved in requesting and obtaining your letters—a fantastic commendation can sometimes be what sways an admissions decision.
Should I use the LSAC Letter of Recommendation Service?
If your school requires or recommends that you use the LSAC LOR service, then it is best that you use it. A word of caution: the LSAC LOR service can take a while to process and distribute recommendations to each of the schools that need it, so make sure to give yourself and your recommenders ample time to get everything in, processed, and sent out. As per CAS, it takes approximately two weeks to process a letter of recommendation from the time it is received. To read more about the LSAC LOR service, click here.