Let me start off by saying that preparing to apply to Law School takes months and months and months of preparation and even then it’s still challenging.
I started preparing around July of 2016 to apply for Fall 2017. First, came the endless research. I scoured the internet for tips from current and former law students on how to choose the law schools you wanted to apply to. There seems to be a general consensus: Ranking, Area, Focus Areas, ABA approved–not necessarily in that order. I knew I didn’t want to go to a school that was ranked really low because, well, there is a reason they are ranked low. When I started undergrad I started at a low ranking school and ended up transferring to a much, much higher ranking one for better educational opportunities. I don’t want a sub-par education and I don’t want to make the mistake of going to a low ranked school again. Along with rankings I noticed the high ranked schools also had a higher percentage of students passing the bar. That’s another huge thing I looked at that I didn’t see many people explicitly saying. Many schools ranked in the middle, or even a little bit lower, still have a high bar pass rate. I don’t want to go to law school to not become a lawyer, so bar pass rate is definitely important. Another, HUGE thing for me was whether or not the school was ABA approved. ABA stands for the American Bar Association. Basically, if a school is not ABA approved you can’t even take the bar exam in most states. As I mentioned previously, I’m not going to law school to not become a lawyer. Believe it or not, there actually are quite a lot of law schools that are not ABA approved. Next, was looking at focus area, i.e. what type of law do I want to practice. My major in college was essentially studying international law, except it was looking at the most depressing parts of world conflicts and how they exist in the realm of international law. If you’re looking for some chipper stories definitely do NOT ever read my undergraduate research. Long story short, I knew I wanted to go to a school with international law as an option. However, I still wasn’t sure what other areas of law I’d be interested in. It took a long time to figure it out, in fact, I didn’t figure it out until around November 2016. The last thing I looked at was where in the country I might want to live. That was another daunting task. I’ve lived in the NorthWest mountains, Souther France bliss, and the sunny, almost-always-like-summer desert. Where would I want to live next? While I think ultimately the schools themselves should be the main focus, I think it’s important to keep physical area in mind too. By now in life you’ve probably figured out some types of places you hate and would do almost anything to avoid living in. If a school you’re considering is in one of these areas, really take a moment to consider if you would hate the area so much that you would end up hating law school.
When narrowing down a list, my undergrad school recommended having 8-11 Law Schools on my final list. Honestly, I knew I couldn’t financially afford that. I found several blogs and talked to several friends who are currently in Law School. One of my friends did apply to a lot of Law Schools, but another applied to 5. I found one really helpful blog that said 3 should be your minimum: 1 should be a school you 100% know you’ll get in to, 1 should be a middle-ground school (probably your #1 pick) and 1 should be your reach school that you don’t know that you’d be qualified to get in to. Everyone, including my school, recommended a reach school because you never know. You could get in. Personally, I originally narrowed the list down to 5, but ended up dropping it down to 4.
While the various blogs and Pinterest posts prepared me for what to look for when evaluating schools I never got a good sense of how long this would actually take. There are some people out there who already know exactly which schools they want to apply to and have it all figured out. I was definitely NOT one of them. (I didn’t finalize my list until February 2017!) There are a lot of schools to look at and thinking about where I wanted to live, it all took a LONG time to finalize. I saw most timelines giving about a month to two months for this process. This whole process took so much longer than that. As I mentioned, I started around July and I didn’t finalize my law school list until February after two rounds of LSATs and considerable application prep was already underway. Honestly, if you know you want to go to Law School by your Junior year of college, start then, don’t wait until your last year/semester. If you are only just realizing that you want to go to Law School and you’re about to start your last year, really buckle down and get to it. Part of why it took me so long was because I would do my research sporadically.
Next thing to do was to register for the LSAT. I was originally going to register for the August LSAT, but decided to wait until the December one so that I would have more time to study. In a perfect world that would have worked out. Instead, I had a very heavy course load and I was dealing with some massive life curve-balls. It ended up being very, very difficult to study for the LSAT. In fact, it wasn’t until the last month before the LSAT that I started having time to study for the test and even then it was only a few days a week. The last two weeks I finally just decided to truly spend my life in the library. I got up early (between 06:00 and 07:00), went to the library, studied for the LSAT, did homework, then studied some more until around 18:00. Then, I went home, ate some food and studied more until about 23:00. Rinse, lather, repeat. If I would have employed this method much sooner, I honestly would have done a lot better. When I realized that I was not nearly as prepared as I wanted to be, I registered for the February LSAT as well. It cost a lot of money, but it was the best thing to do for me. (It’s important to note how much money preparing to even get into law school it takes. The test is almost $200, you have to pay for CAS which is close to $200 as well, test preparatory material is between $20-$50 a book, preparatory classes can be $100+, if you choose to take a class, applications run from $50-75+, plus for each application LSAC charges you a $30 fee for their services. It’s a bit overwhelming.) For the February LSAT I was even less prepared, unfortunately. I was dealing with a family tragedy and I was not in the right head-space. Even though I hardly studied I did still manage to get a better score. Taking the LSAT more than once, even though it’s expensive, is a GOOD thing. Even if you do well the first time, I recommend still taking it at least one more time. A better score is a better score. Even if you don’t study as much, knowing what to expect on the test gives you an advantage. That being said, it’s important to remember that life happens, our plans don’t always work out. All we can do is make the best of what we are given.
After you’re all registered for the LSAT/taken the test and you’ve narrowed down your schools it’s time to start applications. I didn’t start any applications until after I took the LSATs. I used my scores to sort of influence my final list of schools. After graduating college in December, I had very, very little money and couldn’t afford to apply to a lot of schools I’d have no chance of making it in to. My reach school is still a reach, but not a large reach. It’s not like I’m trying to get in to Harvard. Unlike Elle woods, I did not get a 179 (175 in the musical)…not even close.
The timelines I had found for applications all said to get your transcripts and letters of recommendation a month before the earliest application is due. So, I waited until February because my earliest application was due March 1. DON’T DO THIS. For transcripts you need a transcript from every college you attended, whether you graduated or not. You don’t generally need a transcript from a school you studied abroad at, but it sounds like a few schools here and there do ask for that as well. It took a month just to get one of my transcripts. I attended 2 different universities because I transferred so I, obviously, needed a transcript from both schools. My second school (the one I graduated from) took almost TWO MONTHS to get the transcript to LSAC. Then, there is the issue of getting letters of recommendation. It took a month to get a response back from my professors…a month for just a response, not the letter. Because of this I had to drop one of my schools from my list. Thankfully, it was the last school on my list (i.e. it was number 5 on my list of 5), but it’s still a little disappointing that I had to drop a school. Of course, though, I am incredibly grateful my professors were willing to write these letters of recommendation. I’d recommend, AT THE LATEST, waiting 2-3 months before your earliest application is due. For transcripts, I’d recommend giving 2 months before your earliest application is due, just to be safe.
Now comes the fun (?) part: personal statement, resumé/CV, essays, etc. Because you’re trying to get in to a professional school, they make you work for it. There is a fair amount of writing involved with Law School applications. Just remember that these take time to complete. Some schools allow you to submit a resumé OR a CV. When this is an option I opt for a CV because I don’t have a lot of “work” experience but I have a TON of research experience. The CV allows me to showcase my extensive research, whereas the resumé only lets me highlight a little bit of my research. As far as personal statements I recommend having a general 2 page one that can be edited to fit each school. The schools have similar requirements, but some want you to address certain questions so I think it’s a little bit of a time saver to have a general one that can be edited. Some schools have optional essays you can write. One of the schools I’m applying to has one that asks me to basically describe in 250 words why I want to go to that school. Those extra essays add to whether or not they accept you. Because I’m putting so much time, money and dedication into applying (because I obviously really WANT to go to Law School, it’s not something I’m doing on a whim), I am all for anything that boasts me and helps my chances.
Right now, I’ve got one application fully submitted, I’m working on finishing another and the rest aren’t due for a few months. I hope this helps some of you hopeful, future law students!