Lewis and Clark Law School Interview
Our students frequently ask us about the admissions process. We've gotten the answers directly from the source: Read our interview with Martha Spence, the Associate Dean of Academic Affairs at Admissions at Lewis and Clark Law School (the #1 US News and World Report rated environmental law program In the nation). We hope you find it enlightening.
Last year, Lewis & Clark Law School received almost 2300 applications. 800 students were accepted, and the first year class contained 215 students.
Interview with Martha W. Spence, J.D.
Associate Dean for Academic Affairs at Admissions
Click the question for answers:
1. At Lewis and Clark, what is the process for reviewing the application files?
We have a committee made up of five to six law professors and two students elected from the student body. Every application file is read by someone. The person who reads each file depends on the statistical profile of the student. For example, a scholarship committee that is a subset of the admissions committee will read some applications. Some applications will be read by a special committee that looks beyond statistical indicators for indications of law school potential. Essentially, a law professor, or a student, or a law school administrator will read each person's file and give a summary of the file to the whatever committee is making the decision about the candidate. The reporter will describe where the student went to school, their major, GPA, LSAT score, what they thought about the writing, and other significant items in the file. Then, the person who is given the file to read makes a recommendation to the committee to accept, deny, or hold for later review. The committee will discuss the recommendation and make the final decision.
2. What advantage, if any, accrues from applying early? How early?
Significant advantage occurs in a year where there is a lot of competition for spaces. That certainly has been the case over the last few years, especially this year with the LSAT test-taker numbers being so high. How early? Having a file complete no later than the end of February, preferably in January is optimal. Some schools have early admissions programs for people who want to be reviewed in late Fall before regular admissions committees begin to meet, but we don't. The reason there is an advantage is because schools try to make their offers as early as possible. We, like most schools, have what is called "rolling admissions." That means that if we get a file that looks really good in March or early April, but we've already made enough offers to fill our class, that person may not get an offer--even though the applicant may be highly qualified and be someone we would really like to have.
3. How does the "quality" of the undergraduate institution the candidate attended affect the applicant?
It has a very positive impact, as does the major. It's more important for someone coming straight out of college into law school. Since many students are spending time outside of school before they apply to law school, the undergraduate school becomes a little less important the longer you have been out of school and the more other types of experience you have.
4. What advantage does a candidate receive from applying outside the "humanities" arena, i.e. science, medicine, or math?
. We have a very strong environmental law program and attract a number of people with a science background. We also have an intellectual property program and if you want to be a patent lawyer and take the patent bar, you must have a science undergraduate degree in order to do so. So, depending on what kinds of specialties a law school has, a science degree may be a significant plus. At some law schools, having a science degree may not be a detriment, but it might not give you an advantage either.
5. Is there an advantage to having a double major?
I wouldn't say it has a huge advantage, but if someone has had a double major, it indicates they are able to take on a high volume of academic work and do well at it. I would say it's better to do extremely well in one major than to do so-so in a double major because grade point average is very important.
6. Is there any advantage to having an international degree?
No. It's not an advantage or disadvantage.
7. How does a graduate degree factor into your considerations?
It's another factor to look at when determining if someone is ready for the academic rigors of law school. Graduate school can be an indicator that someone is ready for a more arduous academic experience, depending on what the graduate work is in.
8. What effect, if any, is there from attending multiple undergraduate institutions?
It depends on how many, how long ago it was, and the reason. For instance, I might see a transcript where someone had attended 3-4 community colleges and then perhaps done part of their undergraduate work at an evening school if the reason for that was because someone was working, raising a family, or had to move for one reason or another, then I would say it was a positive. Here's someone who has been absolutely determined to get that education no matter where they were, no matter how they had to get it. If someone, on the other hand, has transferred to 2 or 3 schools, and didn't seem to know what their major was going to be, it can be a negative. You can read it either way depending on other things that are in the file. This is a hard question to answer. It's not automatically a detriment, but it is something that a committee would want to take a look at.
9. Does the geographic location of the applicant factor into your decision?
Slightly. We like to draw nationally, but that seems to happen somewhat naturally. I can't say that it would get you in or out. We notice when people are from other parts of the country, but it's not critical. We do try to recruit nationally but we don't see it as a major factor in making admissions decisions.
10. Are most of your applicants from the Northwest?
About 35 to 50 percent of entering classes in the last few years have been from this region. That means that about half to 70% have been from outside the region. I think it has to do with our environmental law program.
11. What effect does age have on your considerations?
There is a very positive impression made, at least initially, by someone who is coming back to school after they have been out, and perhaps had a career doing something else. It's not a negative, especially at this law school, because we were an evening law school for many, many years. All of our students were working while they were trying to go to school at night. So, we had an older law school population from the start.
12. What effect does diversity have on your admissions considerations?
We are actively looking to have a diverse student body, so we are very interested in having students from varying backgrounds and experiences. This means we look for diversity in age, ethnicity, geography and gender.
13. Do you use a multiplier or index, how is it used?
Yes. It's an initial way to sort files to determine what committee is going to read the file. It seems to be a little better way to get a preliminary indication of someone's ability than to look at one of those two statistics alone.
14. Does the multiplier have any impact on just the initial review, or does it impact the decision?
It has an impact on the initial review.
15. Would you admit someone solely based on the multiplier?
16. Which is more important-the LSAT or the GPA?
We weigh the LSAT slightly more than the GPA.
17. Do you average LSAT scores or take the high LSAT score?
That depends on the point difference b/w the 2 scores. If there is a 2 or 3 point difference between the 2 scores, the average is probably telling us the true story. If there is a 10-point difference, we want to know what caused that 10-point difference and why the change was so dramatic. If they give a plausible explanation, we're probably going to look at the high score rather than the low score in evaluating the person. Again, it depends on the difference between the scores. By the way, we use the average of the scores when we report the median, 75th percentile, and 25th percentile numbers.
18. Is there any disadvantage to canceling or missing the LSAT?
Not if you only do it once. Two or three cancellations or missed LSATs actually make the committee wonder. It's not a bad idea to explain why even if it's only been done one time.
19. Do you consider scores from other tests such as the GRE or GMAT?
20. Does the LSAT Writing Sample affect your decision in any appreciable way?
Yes, it does. I read it particularly in comparison to your personal essay, which is an edited writing sample of things that you want to talk about. The LSAT Writing Sample gives me a sense of how you write under pressure, how much editing it takes to get your writing to the point it is in that edited writing sample. It's a comparison between the two. It's also a different kind of writing-it tells me how well you do when you're thrown a large set of facts and you're asked to do some analysis very quickly, as you would be in a law school exam. We definitely factor the writing sample in, and I'd like to get that word out to applicants. It's very frustrating to get a file where a student has written 4 sentences on the LSAT writing sample. They're not doing themselves a favor. There may be schools where it doesn't make any difference-but that is not universally true. You'd better find out from the school whether they read it before you walk in and say, "Oh, I don't have to worry about this".
21. Would extensive work experience outweigh a lower LSAT score/GPA?
Yes, to some extent, but it would depend on how low the scores are, how long it's been, and the reasons for the score or grade point average. It has more of an effect in terms of how I would weigh the GPA rather than the LSAT score. There can be a lot of reasons for a lower GPA-it may mean that the student wasn't concentrating or focusing. If someone has extensive work experience and recommendations from lawyers or scientists who say this person takes on a good workload, is motivated, articulate, a good problem solver, that sort of thing, it can help counter the GPA, particularly.
22. If a candidate is involved in extracurricular activities (social, religious, and service organizations), does that have an impact on your decision?
23. How important is the Personal Statement?
The personal statement is very important. I would say that after the LSAT and GPA, the Personal Statement is the next key item because it is an edited writing sample. It's important because writing is so critical to being a good attorney.
24. How important are the letters of recommendation?
The letters of recommendation are more important at the margins. In a file where the statistics are not as strong (or one statistic is strong and the other is not so strong), the letters of recommendation can be helpful to fill in the gap.
25. Which do you prefer more, a letter of recommendation from a nobody who knows the candidate, or a letter of recommendation from an important individual who isn't especially conversant with the candidates' history?
The letters of recommendation really need to be from people who actually know the person and can talk to who that person is. The famous person that knows you and thinks you're wonderful doesn't really help us much.
26. How do you consider applicants who applied in the previous year who were rejected?
It depends on the reason they were rejected. In years like we've had the past couple of years where we've had a huge volume of applicants and we've turned a lot of people down because of timing and the fact that we simply didn't have room for everybody, a rejection may not be a negative for next year. If someone was turned down because there was difficulty with the writing, or difficulty with the LSAT, it probably is not particularly helpful to reapply.
27. How do you feel about someone who completed a year of law school and who is re-applying now to a new law school?
It depends on the reason they want to do it. If it were someone who wants to start all over, I would really want to know what the reasons were. I would assume it would be someone who had been out for a while and could not finish within the allotted time. Usually what they will do is transfer to another school.
28. How difficult is it to transfer to Lewis and Clark from another law school, particularly if they weren't accepted to Lewis and Clark when they first applied?
If they have done extremely well, we can say they outperformed their predictors and we would be interested in having them. The bottom line is still the same-do we think this person is going to be able to be successful here? If we have questions about that, if they've gone to a school that we don't feel is strong, and they have performed decently but not extremely well, then the answer may be the same as it was when they originally applied. It also depends on why they were turned down here. We do have people here, actually, who get admitted here, and then go someplace else, and then apply to transfer because they have decided they would really rather have come here. That's an easier question to answer, because you would have admitted them to begin with, and they've done well at whatever law school they've gone to. So again, it depends on where they went to school, what the reasons were for their not coming here in the first place.
29. How do you feel about applicants who attended your undergraduate school?
We like them a lot. We get a fair number of applicants from our undergraduate school, and we have a fairly high rate of offering admission to those students. I think it's also because it's a very good school, the students do well in their classes, and they do well on the LSAT.
30. How important is work experience in your considerations?
It's not critical, but it's very nice.
31. How long, on average, do you spend on each candidate's application?
It depends on the file. Some of them take longer than the others to read, some are easy decisions, and some make take longer to discuss among the committee members. Every file is read.
32. Do you alter your evaluation of a candidate based on the timing of the LSAT they have taken (June, October, December, or February)?
No. The only time the timing can come into play is for people who take the February test, because their applications are likely to be pretty late in getting completed. We have people that I know in the last couple of years took the February test and it's been too late for them to be considered by the time we get the test results. But as to whether we think one test is stronger than another, we haven't ever looked at that.
33. Does your evaluation of a candidate change if they take the Sabbath-day observer test?
No. I didn't even know there was such a thing. We've had seventh day Adventists and Jewish students who have not been able to take classes on Friday night, and we are happy to work with them. So, if I did know, it wouldn't make any difference.
34. Do you consider a candidate differently if they have taken the LSAT with special accommodations?
35. Does it help a candidate if they have a specific area of law that they are interested in?
It can to the extent that the area they are interested in is tied up in their background in some way. Let's say it's an engineer who wants to do patent law, then yes, that's a positive. On the other hand if it's an engineer who's tired of being an engineer and really would like to go into doing wills and trusts and estate planning, that's fine too, but it may not be a positive. You don't have to have a specialty. It's fine if you do, but it's not an absolute help.
I fear that too many students headed for law school think that law school is a graduate program where you major in something like you do in undergraduate school-where you take a lot of courses in some special field. That's really not the way law school works. You can do that, and it doesn't hurt, but you don't have to specialize.
36. If someone has overcome adversity, is that good topic to write about in the PS?
Yes, it is.
37. Are there any Personal Statement topics that you feel are in general less effective?
No, because so much of it depends on how it's written. You can get someone writing a really interesting personal statement about what they did last summer, and you could get the same topic and it would be a total bore from somebody else. It really depends on how it's written. We look at style and content equally.
38. Are there any Personal Statement topics that are particularly interesting or something you are looking for?
Because so many different people read these files, it depends on the person reading the file. What I usually tell people is to put themselves on that piece of paper. Whatever is genuinely about you and who you are is what people will connect with.
39. Is there a maximum acceptable length for the personal statement?
We don't have a page limit on ours. You might want to remember that some poor weary committee member who is reading their 10th file and comes across the 30 page personal statement may not be as friendly to you as they would have been had you been more brief. Three to five pages is a reasonable length, but no one should feel terrible if they go over 5 pages.
40. How long, on average, do you spend reading the personal statement?
It's varies because they are all different lengths. If it's well written and it's a breeze to get through it doesn't take much time. If it's not very well written and you're finding that you have to think about how the grammar needs to be corrected, it can take a lot longer.
41. What sets Lewis and Clark apart from other Law Schools?
I think it the collegiality among students and faculty, the fact that people treat one another well here. Students are competitive, but they are competitive in the sense that they each want to achieve at their highest level. Students and faculty are very supportive of each other. If someone has a death in the family, the other students pitch in and get notes and help each other out. Different schools have different cultures, and while I don't think we're unique, we are different from a lot of other schools.
42. I know that you are well known for your environmental program. Are there other programs that you would like to mention?
Intellectual property, business and commercial law, tax law, we have a criminal law certificate, and we do good work with people who want to go into litigation. We have a very broad and very well rounded curriculum.
Final comment: I feel like I gave a lot of "it depends" answers. I suppose that's a good thing, because it means we really look at the files and take the person as a whole rather than relying on one or two specific things.
Facts: 700 enrolled, 215 accepted from 2200 applications.
We had close to 2300 applicants last year and we will admit somewhere over 800 students to get a class of 215.