You may be in your 2nd or 3rd year of University – or you may be out in the workforce. You may have wanted to be a lawyer ever since you were 5 years old and saw your first episode of Law & Order or you may have just decided that a career in law is a good fit. No matter where you are now or why you want to go to law school, you need a plan to make law school a reality.
So, what are the steps you should take to realize your dream?
First up is research. You’re reading this blog, so you’re already on the right track! You need to understand the components of your application. You should definitely do some research on your own – the LSAC website is definitely the place to start for basic information about North American law schools (and even Australian ones!) and the LSAT. Some jurisdictions have their own websites; for example, Ontario (the Province in the Great White North, not the sunny suburb of L.A) applicants need to visit the OLSAS website. You should also get help! Kaplan, for example, offers numerous free events related to the LSAT, learning about law schools and your application.
Your research should include finding schools that match your criteria. Here are some key questions to ask:
1) Where do I want to be during law school? If you’re young and unencumbered, you may decide that law school is the perfect time to experience life in a new city or even country. If you’ve got a family who won’t be too happy with you going away for 8 months of the year, then you’re probably restricted to local schools.
2) Where do I want to be after law school? While the majority of law schools offer the same curriculum, they definitely differ in their alumni networks and career opportunities. If you want to be on Wall Street, then you need to be aiming for a top-25 school; if you want to take your family’s practice at home, then you just need to graduate from an accredited school. Chances are most of you are somewhere between those two extremes, so finding a school with a good reputation and network where you want to practice will have a huge impact on your job prospects.
3) What requirements do my target schools have? The two key quantitative factors are LSAT score and GPA. Chances are pretty good that your GPA is fixed (or close to fixed) by now, which means that you need to take control of the LSAT to maximize your chances of getting in. Here’s another key thing to consider: the better you do on the LSAT, the more tuition discount, bursary and scholarship opportunities will be available to you. Law school is expensive! LSAC even has a tool to help you find likely matches based on GPA and LSAT score.
Second on your list should be to ace the LSAT. Set aside 2-4 months to study – it’s a tough test that requires skills that you may have never before consciously employed. Start by taking a free practice test to get a feel for the LSAT, then choose the course of study that best suits your needs. For example, if on that practice test you score within 3-5 points of your target, then conscientious self-study will almost certainly be sufficient to reach your goal. On the other hand, if you’re more than 5 points away from what your schools demand (and remember, you’re not aiming for the schools’ minimum requirements, or even the school average – you’re aiming well above the average to maximize your chances of getting in and saving money), then you should definitely find an expert to coach you to Test Day success.
You want to take the LSAT well before you need to start on your application – get the LSAT out of the way first, so it has your undivided attention.
Third is the application itself. During the research phase you identified deadlines – give yourself plenty of time to submit a flawless application. At the very least, get some free advice on the application process; if you’re applying to a competitive program and want to maximize your chances, make the investment in a professional admissions consultant (which will not only help you get into law school, but also increase your chances of a tuition discount or scholarship). Once you get past the “gatekeeper” criteria of LSAT score and GPA, your application essays will have a huge impact on the admissions decision. One caveat: never let anyone else write your essays for you. An ethical consultant will work with, advise and guide you, but your essays need to be in your own voice. If a consultant offers to write your essays, then get as far away from that person as quickly as you can.
One more general piece of advice: be proactive throughout the process. Unlike applying to undergrad, during which one fills out the application then sits around passively waiting to see if you get the happy thick envelope or the sad thin one, applying to law school should be interactive. Attend law fairs; reach out to school admissions officers; participate in online application forums (which are often visited by people who successfully got into law school – perhaps even the school to which you’re applying). If you end up on the waiting list, figure out what you can do to improve your chances of getting in.
Finally, share your experiences with your peers and us! Ask questions you have here – I’m sure others have had the same experiences and can give valuable insight into whatever issues you’re currently facing. I look forward to your comments!