January 11, 2011

Preparing for Law School: Before You Apply

So you've decided that you definitely want to go to law school.  Now what?  This first installment in my three part series on preparing for law school focuses on what you need to do before you start applying to law schools.

1. Talk to your pre-law advisor
If you are in college, the best thing you can do is get to know your pre-law advisor.  Most colleges have one, and he or she will be your best resource when it comes to questions about the application process, law school, or being a lawyer.  Your pre-law advisor has already earned a JD, and will be able to help you perfect your personal statement, prepare for the LSAT, and put you in contact with any pre-law societies on campus.

2. Sign up for LSAC

LSAC stands for Law School Admission Council.  You must sign up for the LSAT, the law school admission test, through LSAC.  LSAC also runs the Credential Assembly Service (CAS), which stores and sends all of your admission information to law schools.  The CAS simplifies the application process, and most schools will only take applications submitted via the CAS.  The CAS currently costs $124, and there is a $12 processing fee per application on top of the school's application fee, which is usually somewhere around $60.  This will not be the last time you will hand over way too much money in your quest to become a lawyer.  Get used to sucking it up and just paying.

3. Ask for letters of recommendation
Different schools require different numbers of letters of recommendation, but you probably won't need more than two or three general letters.  I recommend asking for these well in advance of your application deadlines, as professors and employers are notorious for procrastinating on these.  An interesting and detailed recommendation from someone who really knows you is better than a letter from a person you think will be more impressive if they can barely remember your name.

4. Write a personal statement
I approached my personal statements the same way I approach cover letters.  I wrote a template that said everything I wanted to say about me, and then personalized the template for each school I was applying to.  Just like a potential employer, law schools know if you sent them the same generic personal statement you sent every other law school.  Try to at least mention the name of the school in your statement, and if possible write specifically why you chose to apply to that school.
When writing your personal statement, focus on something that makes you unique.  Try to stay away from a generic "why I want to go to law school" thesis, but if you do chose that route, make sure that your reasons will make you stand out.  Before I even started thinking about my personal statement, I read this book cover to cover: 55 Successful Harvard Law School Application Essays: What Worked for Them Can Help You Get Into the Law School of Your Choice.  The wonderful thing about this book is that it not only has 55 examples of successful personal statements, but that it also gives an explanation of why each statement worked and what parts could have been better.  This was a huge help to me, and I was able to impress my pre-law advisor with a sophisticated first draft when I went to him for editing and advice.

5. Get good grades
Different law schools will weigh different parts of your application in their own way, but in most cases only your LSAT score will weigh heavier than your GPA.  Some schools may not even consider the rest of your application if your GPA or LSAT score are too low, so focus on doing well in your classes.  Don't worry too much if you had a bad semester or dropped out of a class - many schools will let you write an additional explanation if you have a good reason for the slip up.

6. Be active
Like when you applied to college, your involvement in extra-curricular activities is considered, so try to get involved in one or two activities outside of your classes or job.  Better yet, start something yourself!

7. Stay out of trouble
To become a practicing lawyer, you must pass a character and fitness test.  If you were involved in some legal trouble in the past, it will not be an automatic bar to becoming a lawyer (well, unless you murdered someone or something really serious), but be prepared to fess up.  Until then, stay away from breaking the law or getting into trouble at school.

Up next: what is the LSAT and how can you prepare?

- Lauren
E-mail: lauren@internlikearockstar.com | Twitter: @Musicn3rd
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