Applying to Law School
Once you have decided to apply to law school, you should create an account at www.lsac.org if you have not already done so when applying for the LSAT. This site will give you access to a wide range of information and allow you to research various law schools and their admissions standards. Most good law schools will provide the aggregate data on the GPAs and LSAT scores of their most recent entering class, which will help you to tailor your applications to schools that fall in your range. There is nothing wrong with applying to schools whose standards are higher than your qualifications, but if you are far out of range it is likely that a rejection letter will swiftly appear in your mailbox. The real cost of applying to a school above the level of your qualifications is the time spent preparing the application and the money spent on the application fee. There is no set number of schools that you should apply to; this varies from person to person based on qualifications and willingness to move away from New York to attend law school.
In addition to creating a LSAC account, you should also develop a relationship with one of Touro’s prelaw advisors. Vice President and Dean of Students Robert Goldschmidt is the school’s official prelaw advisor and he can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. He is assisted by Political Science professors Daniel Chill (email@example.com), Ross Zucker (firstname.lastname@example.org), and Thomas Rozinski (email@example.com). All have substantial experience in helping students with their law school applications, and they can provide helpful advice with the many aspects of the application process. This includes such things as when to take the LSAT, when to retake it, where to apply, what to write about in the application essay, what to avoid writing about, and whom to ask for recommendation letters. There are many nuances to the application process that cannot be reflected in this guide, and students who attempt to apply on their own risk making errors that will turn a likely admission into an unfortunate rejection.
Almost all law schools prefer that applications be submitted online, and some waive the application fee if you avoid the paper process. You will need to prepare a general application essay and a resume, as well as any other essays that specific schools might require. If a law school application asks for responses to a specific question, you should not submit the response to that question as an essay to other law schools, since it will appear a sign of laziness. Each and every essay must be prepared with meticulous care, and should generally go through several drafts before it is submitted. Successful legal practice requires compulsive attention to detail, so typographical, grammatical, or usage errors are likely to lead to your rejection by law schools that would otherwise admit you. A poorly-written essay is seen as the sign of a poorly- prepared student, so make sure that your essays are as close to perfect as possible. Then proofread them twice more to make sure.
You will also need to obtain at least two or preferably more recommendations, usually from instructors who are familiar with your written work. Recommendations from instructors who can say no more than that you did well on their tests do little to help your candidacy because they add nothing to your transcript. You are far better off with a letter from a instructor who can discuss a research project that you carried out in class and a paper that was well-written and thought-provoking. You can also use letters from employers who are familiar with your work, as long as it has some relation to academia. It does not help you to seek out high-level government officials to write on your behalf unless you have worked directly for them and completed a substantive project. Choosing appropriate recommenders should be discussed with your prelaw adviser since every student’s situation is unique. You will need to print out the LSAC form and give it to each recommender to submit with his or her recommendation. Make sure that you waive your right to see your recommendations if you want law schools to give them full consideration. It is also customary to give each recommender a stamped envelope addressed to the Law School Admissions Council.
Once you have completed your applications, make sure your recommenders have actually written on your behalf. You may have to nag them--nicely of course--since writing recommendations can be a tedious job, especially for the most popular instructors. LSAC also allows you to request that recommenders complete an online form that ranks you against their other students. This is optional and probably not worth the effort for you or your recommenders.
Finally, you need to be aware that the admissions offices of many law schools will conduct Internet searches for public information about their applicants. Anything that is posted on your Facebook page, that you posted on someone else’s page, that you tweeted in anger one night, or that you blogged can and will be held against you. Anything posted on the Internet never really goes away, so avoid making any posting that might cast doubt on your judgment or your fitness to practice law. In addition, make sure that you establish a professional-sounding email address and record a professional answering machine message for the phone number you submit to law schools.
Responding to admission and waiting list offers
Once you submit your applications, you should not forget about them until the first response arrives. If you have never visited the schools that you applied to, do so, especially if they are in the New York area. Every school welcomes applicants to visit, and you should determine whether each school will be a good fit for you. Are there kosher restaurants nearby, or must you bring your own food each day? Are there other observant students at the school, and what do they think about the law school they are attending? What accommodations will the law school make when you tell them that you cannot attend classes during Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur, and Succos? What would your commute be like, or should you look into a dorm or apartment? Knowing the answer to these questions will help when you need to make decisions about which school to attend.
You should rank the law schools you applied to in order to help you if you receive multiple offers of admission or waiting list placement. Both types of offers are usually accompanied by requests for a deposit of up to $1500 by specified dates, so you will have to make financial decisions if you are still waiting to hear from your preferred law school. There is nothing illegal or unethical about accepting a position at one school while waiting for a better offer, unless you have no intention of attending that school. This could deny a place to a deserving student, so if you no longer have interest in that school, you should simply decline its offer of admission. This is also true for waiting list placements, which usually require deposits as well. However, there is nothing wrong with remaining on several waiting lists while you await final admission decisions.
If you do well enough to earn a scholarship, you will often have to make a decision between a reduced rate at a lower-ranked law school and full tuition at a higher-ranked law school. While saving $10,000 or more on your first-year tuition might seem an easy decision, you need to know that most scholarships come with renewal conditions, such as maintaining a certain average. Law school is a hypercompetitive environment and law schools place percentage limits on how many “A”s each professor may award, so even if you have maintained a 4.0 GPA at Touro, this practice of grading “on a curve” may make it difficult to achieve a 3.2 at a local law school. A significant amount of students given first year scholarships lose them after the first year, in some law schools more than half. You need to consider whether you would still be happy attending a lower-ranked school if you failed to meet the minimum first-year GPA, had no realistic hope of transferring to a better school, and had to pay full tuition for the last two years.
The more important consideration is that law schools are more highly ranked if they provide their students with better job opportunities and better classmates. The former are important so you can find a job upon graduation; the latter are important when you look to change jobs in the future. At some lower-ranked law schools, many graduates will no longer be practicing law ten years out, and so they will be less helpful than graduates of a school whose students remain in the legal profession for decades. This means that unless you have a guaranteed job before you enter law school, you should usually try to attend the best law school you can. While saving tens of thousands of dollars seems mighty attractive when you have just graduated from Touro and have no income, you may be foregoing even more money in future salary by accepting a full scholarship to a lower-ranked law school. Furthermore, many top-rated law schools have loan forgiveness programs that substantially reduce your debt if you accept a public-interest job.
Once you have heard from one law school, you can use it to your advantage in negotiating with other law schools that have yet to decide. One Touro student I know used an offer of a scholarship at a lower-ranked law school to convince a higher-ranked law school to admit him. Another used an offer of a scholarship at one law school to obtain a scholarship from a similarly-ranked law school, and then used that scholarship offer to convince the first school to match his scholarship at the second school. While this strategy does not always work, it is more likely to be successful earlier in the application process rather than later, when scholarship funds have been depleted. You should discuss such strategies with your prelaw advisor should the opportunity arise. Also, remember that law schools are training future professionals, and the more professionally you handle any negotiations, the more likely you are to be successful. Those employing excessively aggressive tactics to get a larger scholarship may find their scholarship offer withdrawn.
At some point, you will be ready to make your final decision. When you do, submit your acceptance and deposit, and notify other schools that you are no longer interested. This should be done even if they have not made a final decision on your application. Should your life circumstances change after you have applied, and you need to defer for a year, many law schools will allow this so you can hold your place and avoid having to go through the application process the following year.
While the economic prospects of lawyers may not be as rosy as before, this might be good news if you are applying to law schools now. Law school applications are down, and schools that may have rejected you in previous years may be more willing to consider you for admission, especially if you write an impressive personal statement and have good references. Becoming a lawyer offers a very broad range of career prospects, and there will always be a need for good lawyers.