Date: May 17, 2016
Author: Faye Deal, Associate Dean for Admissions and Financial Aid, Stanford Law School
L.A.W.S. = candy store
It’s not often that you’ll find us all in the same room at the same time. So, what does this mean for you? It means you need to make the most of the opportunity. You’ll hear some of us on the panel that kicks off each session. We’ll take some questions from the audience and then each of you will have a chance to strike up a conversation with us after the panel is over. One-on-one conversations with only 14 schools in the room. It’s like being a kid in a candy store! No one every tastes (or buys) all the candy in store, right? But in this candy store, you should do exactly that.
Take advantage of the fact that you have access to a pretty knowledgeable group of individuals, so make every effort to have a conversation with each of us. We’re not intimidating. We don’t bite (can’t vouch for my Midwest colleagues, though). We’re approachable. I suspect you’ll enjoy our conversations. But, do think carefully not just about the impression you want to make on us, but also think what you want to walk away with once our conversation is over. Is it enough to come to the table and introduce yourself and leave behind a resume? Hmmm, not so much. Should you ask about our LSAT scores and GPAs? Definitely not. Should you ask what one thing distinguishes my school from the others in the room? Probably not as you’ll discover soon enough that we are much more alike than you thought. Should you ask what areas of law we focus on at each of our schools? Nope. Should you ask how diverse our student body is? I’d say nay. Should you ask about our placement rate? Nix that one. Should you ask our attrition rate? Nix this one, too. Why are these questions not the best ones to ask? If you visit our websites you can find all the answers to these questions. You don’t need us. You can sit in your dorm room, or your apartment, or in the library and just surf the internet. No further interaction needed.
So, what you should do is this – dig deeper and ask the bigger and more pressing and pertinent questions. Give yourself some time as the date of the event approaches and think about what you most want to learn from us about our schools, about our admissions approach, about what makes us tick. You want to walk away feeling excited, feeling that you’ve learned something new, feeling that you are ready for this new adventure.
One of the things I enjoy about the LAWS events is that we have the time to have real conversations with people because there are just 14 schools in the room. So, actually, yes, you do have to introduce yourself after all to get the conversation going, but from there on out be that kid in the candy store.
Date: August 27, 2015
Author: Renee Post, Associate Dean for Admissions and Financial Aid, University of Pennsylvania Law School and
Sarah Zearfoss, Senior Assistant Dean, The University of Michigan Law School
Letters of Recommendation
Letters of recommendation allow admissions officers the opportunity to hear from a third party about an applicant’s candidacy, and as such, play a unique role in the assessment process. Effective recommendations can comment on a wide variety of different characteristics or skills that speak to the applicant’s ability to perform in an academic or professional setting, and will reflect an awareness of how the applicant performs in comparison with his or her peers. It is important for candidates to think strategically about letters of recommendation.
We outline below advice about who should write your recommendations and how to approach a potential recommender, as well as how many letters are needed.
Whom should I ask to write on my behalf?
For the applicant who applies directly from college, letters written by faculty members are absolutely key. Choosing faculty member(s) who know you well is essential; this may be your thesis advisor, or someone with whom you have taken more than one class, or simply someone with whom you have worked very closely. What is not essential, however, is that the letter-writer have a certain academic pedigree; too often applicants believe that letter writers must be the chair of the department, when a letter from a TA would provide more detailed information about the applicant and thus be more effective.
If an applicant has two or more years of work experience, a letter from the employer is strongly recommended. If more than one letter is required, a letter from the current employer and a letter from a faculty member provide a nice balance. We understand that some applicants may not wish to tell their employer of their possible departure. In this case, a trusted advisor such as a colleague or supervisor in another department will work, or perhaps someone who has supervised your work for an extended period in a volunteer setting.
Finally, think about whether there are any topics you wish an admissions officer to know but that might be awkward for you to address; those topics might be best handled by a recommender. A spotty academic record because of work demands or family challenges? An anomalous instance of misconduct that is contradicted by the rest of your record? A personal history that puts your achievements into an even more impressive context? For situations like these, having an outside voice attest to the subject often provides an elegant solution to a conundrum.
How should I approach a recommender?
Once an applicant identifies whom they wish to write the letter, the next step is to gather information to assist the recommender. Be prepared to provide a copy of your resume, a draft of your personal statement, and examples of work you have performed for the recommender. The more information an applicant can provide the recommender, the better the letter. Remember, the most effective letter is the letter that demonstrates the writer knows the applicant very well. In fact, the strongest letters are those that speak to the candidate outside of the classroom or professional environment. For example, a faculty member who addresses the applicant’s extracurricular activities or professional experiences, or mentions the applicant’s effectiveness in peer interactions, shows the reader the strength of the relationship.
Occasionally, an applicant misjudges the strength of his or her relationship with a proposed recommender, with the result that the letter is vague or tepid—and even if in no way actually negative, the lack of explicit affirmative support can create doubt in an admissions officer’s mind about the judgment and interpersonal skills of the applicant. Avoid this by allowing your recommenders an “out”; ask them if they can write a strong letter of recommendation, and if you perceive any hesitation, politely withdraw the request. It is far better to do the work to find an alternative letter-writer than to risk a letter that will create a negative impression. And for that reason, be sure to allow plenty of time to identify your letter-writers (as well, of course, as time for them to write the letters).
How many letters should I submit?
It depends! The first consideration has to be individual school requirements. Assuming a school will consider more than one letter, be sure to provide a mix that will paint the fullest possible picture. For example, for the applicant directly from college, a letter from a faculty member in the candidate’s major and a letter from a writer outside of the major can show nice diversity of training and demonstrate consistent performance in the classroom, even in areas that aren’t the candidate’s principal academic focus. For the working professional, a letter from the direct supervisor and a second letter from a supervisor from another department with whom the candidate has interacted can show great flexibility in the work place, as well as strong interpersonal skills.
Often, the letters of recommendation are a neutral in an application. They speak in generalities, and fail to incline the reader in one direction or another. That’s a lost opportunity. Strong, detailed, supportive letters of recommendation are impressive and make a candidate stand out—and on occasion, can be the decision-making difference.
Renee Post and Sarah Zearfoss
Date: August 3, 2015
Author: Kenneth J. Kleinrock, Associate Dean for Admissions, NYU School of Law
How can I stand out or distinguish myself as a candidate? (aka “Look at me, Look at me!”)
Not surprisingly many candidates for admission ask the following, “With so many qualified candidates who apply for so few places in your entering class, how can I stand out?” This seems like an easy question, but one that is impossible to answer when I have just met the individual. I suppose the prospective student is hoping that there is some magic formula that will work in all or at least most situations.
One of my colleagues admonishes candidates that if they stretch too far to grab an admissions officer’s attention by literally jumping off the page, that strategy is doomed. You are applying to professional school and some of the gimmicks that might have worked when you applied to college aren’t appropriate here.
My first piece of advice is to show us your “best self” and be mindful and deliberate in every document you submit. While there are a number of law schools that use an evaluative interview as part of the admissions process, most do not, and they rely solely on the elements that make up the application itself to learn about a candidate. The actual process of applying has been simplified over the years thanks to technology which allows candidates to file electronically. One can hardly blame an applicant for concluding that the process is completely mechanical. Nevertheless, I am often surprised when I see an application in which it is clear that the candidate prepared her file in a careless, haphazard manner: loaded with spelling errors, gaps in the educational or personal history, littered with typos, etc. It’s hard not to conclude that the candidate did not take the process seriously. And of course, there’s the very common error where a candidate writes a well- crafted statement about why ABC Law School is the perfect fit for her, but sends that statement to XYZ School of Law. Precision and accuracy matter in the practice of law. The bottom line is, “take your time to prepare an application that shows that you are serious about applying to a particular school”.
Here’s one last piece of advice. As you already know, applying to top law schools is a highly competitive process. Some candidates think that right after they press the SUBMIT button, their job is done. It’s not uncommon for me to review a candidate for a second time later in the cycle who might be in her senior year of college, or in a graduate program. I always look to see if the candidate took the time to submit grades from the fall term. If nothing has been submitted, I assume the worst and move on to the next candidate. You can stay involved in the process by submitting more grades, an additional letter of recommendation that covers some accomplishment not previously reported, or an update to your professional or extracurricular resume.
Above all, use good judgment and provide meaningful evidence that supports and builds your case for admission.
Date: July 27, 2015
Author: Sarah Zearfoss, Senior Assistant Dean, The University of Michigan Law School
Let’s take this show on the road.
Thanks to the genius inspiration last spring of a couple of colleagues around the country, last summer we debuted a new admissions event. The L.A.W.S. events began in Washington, D.C. during the summer of 2014. Fourteen of us, representing institutions that we think have a great deal to offer and a great deal in common, set up shop at the end of the workday in a giant room at the National Press Club. Guided by the inimitable Dean Kleinrock of NYU, four of my counterparts (from Chicago, Harvard, Penn, and Virginia) kicked things off by addressing both a wide range of topics that we’d come up with based on the group’s considerable breadth of experience talking to prospective students, along with actual questions submitted in advance by attendees. The subjects ran the gamut from the broadest possible—say, the value of a law school education—to minutiae like, from whom should you solicit a letter of recommendation, and how exactly does one go about doing that?
While controversy might have made things exciting, there was almost total consensus on most topics. That format is considerably less likely to lead to a reality TV contract, but given that I largely agreed with all the panelists, I found it very affirming. Then, after about an hour, the panel dispersed and the attendees fanned out to talk one-on-one to the individual schools at tables we had set up in traditional law school fair style.
I’ll be honest: I was a big ole doubter about the potential success of this undertaking, particularly given that it followed the LSAC forum in D.C. by only a couple of weeks. This kind of misplaced doubting is why I haven’t ever cleverly gotten in on the ground floor of, say, a company like Apple. I make up for being a late adopter, though, by evincing the zeal of the converted. I have both been one of the panelists and sat in the audience. While we don’t anticipate any major substantive disagreements among the panelists, I think it is possible that I’ll get myself into trouble all the same. (And that’s why we’ve agreed not to post audio of these events online—our aversion to bootlegs is just one way in which we as a group differ from the Grateful Dead.) In a few weeks we expand our efforts this year to include Atlanta. Be sure to register!
(Fun fact: The single most challenging organizational aspect was coming up with a name; it required considerable discussion over the course of at least two conference calls. Sadly, I cannot remember what creative force came up with the L.A.W.S. backronym, and who then shoehorned sensible words into place, but I bow to his or her imaginative exertions.)
Date: July 13, 2015
Author: Andrew Cornblatt, Dean of Admissions, Georgetown Law
The law school application, at its best, should allow us to get to know you better and for you to present yourself in a way that focuses our attention on the best of your accomplishments so far. And one of the main places where you present yourself is your personal statement.
For those of you who didn’t hear us talk about personal statements at the recent New York L.A.W.S. event, here a few tips, from a person who has read thousands of them (probably more).
Be brief. Some law schools have page limits. But for those schools (like Georgetown) who don’t have limits, 2 – 2 ½ pages should be your common sense goal.
Your personal statement should not be the prose version of your resume. Restating all of your experiences does not help and Admissions Committee focus on what is most important to know about you. Pulling out a particular experience or anecdote from your resume can work well, but redundancy is distracting.
Write about yourself. Whatever you choose to write about – why you want to go to law school, your family, your cultural background, your academic path, etc. – should be a vehicle to allow us to learn more about who you are.
Begin well and end well. You have one chance to make a good first impression without being gimmicky. So focus on making your first paragraph, and in particular your first sentence, count. Start your particular story quickly and well. You should leave us feeling like you brought us to a logical end, but wishing there was more to read about you.
Good writing matters. The quality of your writing often matters more than what you are writing about. That means choose your words carefully, set the right tone, be efficient and, of course, spell check and grammar check. Good rules for the personal statement, good rules for all of your writing.
Good luck and I hope to be reading about you in the near future.
Date: July 9, 2015
Author: Monica Ingram, Associate Dean for Admissions and Financial Aid, Cornell Law School
Yesterday I had the good fortune of meeting a gentleman lawyer and his son who was finalizing his law school plans. I accompanied them on tour, but stayed a few steps behind with the father. We had the best conversation. The father attended Hofstra about 27 years ago and remains awed by the life he has built for himself and his family. We both agreed that school choice has become a very difficult decision for applicants to make. Further, he shared that all he wants for his son–all of his children–is to be ambitious, follow his passions and make decisions that allow for unexpected opportunities (a risk management discussion is for another time).
So, how do you prepare for unexpected opportunities especially as they relate to law school? There isn’t a specific game plan that I am aware of but I am definitely a beneficiary. Foremost, don’t be so intimidated by your excellent grade point average that you avoid challenging coursework. College is all about challenge! Yes, law schools seek applicants with strong academic performance, but they seldom recognize one-dimensional applicants only. If it stimulates your interest, there’s a reason. Explore! If helping end poverty by improving drinking water sounds like a good idea, consider volunteerism with a clean water initiative; intern with the World Health Organization; fundraise for UNICEF or desalination units. Frankly, it doesn’t matter what you elect to do, just get involved. I am an Army brat, and proud of that fact. For the last two years I have volunteered with American Corporate Partners (ACP) as a mentor. This is my small way of saying thank you to our veterans. I am positive that I benefit more from my outreach than my mentees.
What does this have to do with law school? Everything and nothing. Certainly, accomplishments help distinguish candidates within the applicant pool. Resume-builders is a trite phrase, but applicable. Character-builders is a better descriptor of the attributes law schools seek. There isn’t a singular formula to get in to the law school of your dreams. Chart your own path and I, for one, will look forward to reading about it.
Date: June 25, 2015
Author: Nkonye Iwerebon, Dean of Admissions, Columbia Law School
The LSAT-G.P.A. Admission Matrix
Given the title, you are probably saying, “Aha! they do use a formula after all.” The truth is that there is no magic LSAT score-G.P.A. combination that will gain you admission into one of our schools. Is the LSAT score important? Absolutely. Does the G.P.A. matter? Definitely. But so do the academic record, personal statement, letters of recommendation, demonstrated interests shown through your résumé, and, not least of all, judgment. Certainly, if you have worked, we will weigh that experience, too. Columbia (and our peer schools) uses a holistic review process when rendering admissions decisions. Instead of relying on a matrix or algorithm to determine admissibility, admissions officers who review holistically take a “whole candidate” approach to reading an application. In doing so, both the quantitative and qualitative components are evaluated to determine who you are and the potential contributions you would make to the law school experience. Simply put, we are trying to take into consideration the entire story that the candidate has presented instead of a reductive checklist based solely on numeric indicators.
There is so much to say on each of the qualitative factors that are mentioned above, but I’ll just highlight a few things. The personal statement illustrates a candidate’s writing ability, as well as articulates in some manner the reasons behind arriving at this point in the applicant’s life . . . completing an application to law school. A résumé provides a cursory explication of how engaged you have been in varied communities and the experience that you can bring to the classroom. My favorite are letters of recommendation because they provide third-party, independent commentary on your work ethic, strength of character, and, in many instances, they include comparisons to other similarly situated people who have applied to law school. As for the academic record, it goes far beyond major and G.P.A., but speaks more to, among other things, the rigor of your curricular choices, and how you have overcome any challenges you may have faced in the academic realm. And judgment is simply critical. Whatever you do, please be sure to use it. It is helpful to view the various components as chapters in a book, so that when taken together, they convey a full and relatively complete story of the things that challenge, motivate, and inspire you.
My best advice is not to overlook any part of the application, as it is not always certain which part of the application will draw the most attention from the reviewer. Put time and effort into ensuring that each component of the application is thoughtfully prepared and that, in its totality, it reflects a candidate who would make meaningful contributions to the legal academy. If you are unsure about your preparation of these application components, then you should use the resources at your disposal—law school visits and events like L.A.W.S.—to speak directly to those reading your applications. I look forward to speaking with you at an upcoming event.
Date: June 22, 2015
Author: Ann Perry, Associate Dean for Admissions & Financial Aid, The University of Chicago
Researching law schools is one of the first and most important steps you should take during the application process. There is a lot of research you can do by simply browsing the websites of each law school you are interested in. We spend a lot of time designing and updating the information on our websites so that they are a valuable resource for prospective students. So spend some quality time on the websites and look beyond just the admissions pages to get a sense of what the academic and student community is like at each school. And this is an easy way to start because you can do it anywhere you have access to a computer and the internet….which is almost anywhere!!
In addition to your online research, there are other opportunities you should take advantage of to learn more about law schools and the applications process. The more information the better!! Law schools attend a variety of recruitment events including LSAC forums, campus visits, panel discussions and events like the L.A.W.S. workshop highlighted on this website. These are great events for you to attend in order to meet representatives from the different law schools.
When you decide to attend an event and talk with law school representatives it is best to come prepared. This will allow you to get the most out of the event and to demonstrate to the representative that you have thoughtfully prepared for your interaction with him or her! Think of questions ahead of time that are not answered on the school’s website. This will allow you to have a much more productive conversation with each law school representative that you meet and to really begin the process of differentiating each school based on the type of academic environment you would like to study in for three years. The L.A.W.S. workshop is a particularly valuable event to attend as you will have a chance to meet with the Deans of Admission from leading US law schools and learn directly from them how best to successfully navigate the admissions process. I hope to see you at one of the upcoming L.A.W.S. events!
Ann Killian Perry
Date: June 15, 2015
Author: Edward G. Tom, Dean of Admissions, Berkeley Law School
A few years ago, a faculty member who had served for many years on the Admissions Committee was moved to compose a memo about personal statements. A portion of that memo follows:
“…the most overworked and avoidable word in statements is ‘passion,’ as in ‘my passion for intellectual rigor [or learning, or social justice, or country music or whatever – every interest or activity is a passion these days].’ It has become a terrible cliché. Perhaps our guidelines for statements should caution against the use of cliches generally, and give ‘passion’ as an example.
Now for the second and more serious complaint: ‘I felt the cold, sharp edge of a knife at my neck.’ ‘‘You rich Americans are all alike,’’ she screamed.’ ‘I’ve never been so scared in my life.’ ‘The child’s belly was swollen and scabbed.’ You get the picture. Start the essay with a dramatic, unexplained sentence designed to grab the startled reader’s attention. (In fact, what it does to the reader is produce a dismayed feeling of, ‘Oh no, not another one of these.’). Continue this dramatic episode for a short paragraph without tipping off its relevance to the application. Begin the next paragraph by switching to expository style and informing us of what you were doing in this dire situation and how it was part of the background that makes you a special applicant to law school. Develop why you are so special in the rest of the statement. Conclude with a touching statement returning to the opening gambit, about how now, after law school, you can really help that little girl in rags.
It is very clear that many applicants have been coached by someone that this is how to write a compelling personal statement (I noticed this even 10 years ago, but now it has become a raging epidemic.). This format is transparently manipulative, formulaic, and coached. Except for the occasional novelist we admit, none of our students or graduates is going to write in this style again; none, thank goodness, is going to begin a brief with ‘He stood frozen in fear as the gunman appeared out of the darkness.’ So, this artifice is irrelevant to law and counter-productive: Once it ceases to surprise – and it did so more than 10 years ago – it just becomes a cliche which really ought to be held against the writer. Not only using cliches, but also having been coached ought in an ideal world to discount an application. Needless to say, however, I did not hold these statements against the writers; you don’t feel you should do that. Often the bulk of the statement does report on impressive activities that are relevant to admission. I would suggest … that it is transparent when essay formulas have been coached, and we (should) strongly advise applicants to write in their own voice and style and without trying to dramatize what they have to say in order to attract our attention.”
Edward G. Tom
Date: June 1, 2015
Author: L.A.W.S. Participating Schools
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