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How do I actually apply to law school?

Your application to law school is comprised of a number of different elements.  This section will walk you through each item that you will need.

What is the basic process for applying?

When applying to law school, you need to submit your LSAT score, your official transcript, the Common Information Form, a personal statement (sometimes several on different questions, depending on the school), and letters of recommendation.  In addition some applicants may include addendums to explain particular circumstances in their application.  For ABA schools, all of this should be done through LSDAS.

When should I submit my application?

Most law schools give deadlines for their applications in March or April.  However, they operate on a rolling admissions basis.  Once they start receiving applications in November, they start to consider them and fill the available spots.  Ideally, you should get your application in by early January, which is when the law schools really start to fill the spots.

How do I fill out the Common Information Form?

The Common Information Form is a very useful, time-saving tool.  Instead of entering basic information that every law school asks for over and over again for each school, you can provide that information once and it is sent to all of the schools to which you apply.  This is really at the core of the LSDAS.  A detailed video showing the process of filling out the Common Information Form is available here (note that the tutorial requires Adobe Flash Player 9).

How do I write a personal statement?

This is always a difficult question to answer, since a personal statement is by definition personal.  It is, however, a tremendously important part of your application.  For many schools, your combined LSAT and GPA are roughly 80% of the decision.  The personal statement is around 19%.  And then there is everything else.  A good personal statement can tip you into the accept pile.  A bad one can push you into the reject pile.  The personal statement is the one part of the application over which you have the greatest control.  Each personal statement is different, but the following is advice to help you craft a statement that is best for you.

There is no particular subject for a personal statement (unless the law school to which you are applying asks a specific question- if so, be sure to answer that rather than give a generic personal statement).  It is really just an opportunity for the admissions committee to get to know you a bit better.  You should use it as an opportunity to highlight your strengths.  What is it about you that would make you a good law student and a good lawyer?  Why should you get the spot for which so many others are competing?  It is not necessarily an invitation to say why you want to go to law school.  It is an opportunity to show more about yourself than can come through in the raw numbers.  You could talk about a particular hurdle that you have overcome.  You can focus on something that you are passionate about.  You can talk about particular experiences in your life that have shaped you.  Any of these (and many more) are acceptable approaches.  The most important thing is that your personal statement must have your “voice.”  It should be an authentic representation of who you are (put into a flattering light, of course).  If you write a personal statement about how you want to end world hunger by being a lawyer, that isn’t likely to carry much weight or be of much value.  If, however, you have dedicated your life to dealing with issues of world hunger and can discuss the things that you have done to advance that cause, then that would make a compelling personal statement.

Not everyone has worked to end world hunger, of course.  Even if you think that your life is boring, you need to find a way to demonstrate what qualities you would bring to law school.  Even a simple story about a nickname from a loving parent can be effective.  The point is to try to tie the personal statement in to your strengths and who you are.

Does that sound vague?  It is.  It has to be.  Everyone is different, with different life experiences.  There is some more concrete advice, however.  First, if you are having trouble getting started, brainstorm three or four possible topics and just start writing on each of them.  At that point, you should get a sense of which approach holds the most promise and you can go from there.

Second, your personal statement should not simply be a series of unrelated bullet points about you.  Tie everything together and make it a cohesive whole.  Sometimes this involves providing a narrative arc, sometimes it is as simple as keeping a common theme throughout.  Avoid the temptation to jam as much information as possible into the personal statement.  It usually isn’t the ideal place to explain your LSAT score or to briefly mention some internship that you did when it is unrelated to the overall theme of your personal statement.  Focus on your strengths and save the rest for addendums where appropriate.

The final concrete recommendation is to write multiple drafts and have multiple people read it.  This is not something that can be cobbled together at 3am the night before you submit it.  If you give it little effort, the law schools will give your application little consideration.  After all, what kind of lawyer would you make if you can’t even be bothered to work on something as important as your personal statement?  It is not uncommon to go through five or six drafts.  Make sure that you catch all typos and grammatical errors.  Those are easy signals that you have not put the care and effort into your personal statement that you should have.  And you will need feedback on your personal statement.  You are not an objective judge of your work.  Have a friend or family member read it.  Have a faculty member or pre-law advisor read it.  Take that feedback seriously and put together the best personal statement that you can.

Who should I ask for letters of recommendation?

When it comes to letters of recommendation, admissions officers place the most weight on letters from faculty.  They have seen you perform in the class and know your academic potential.  As a consequence, at least two of your letters should come from faculty.  In fact, it is perfectly fine to have all of your letters from faculty.  The best letters will come from professors who know you well and in whose classes you have done well.  Be sure to ask them well in advance so that they have time to write your letter and get it sent in.

Besides faculty, who else should you get letters from?  Supervisors at work are often good letter writers.  This is especially true for those who have been out of school for some time.  Supervisors are able to comment on your abilities and your level of responsibility.

Who should you not get letters from?  Family members and family friends are not good choices for letters of recommendation.  Admissions officers tend to disregard them entirely, even if they are lawyers or judges.  Law schools are looking for someone who is neutral that can give a fair evaluation of you.  Family and friends don’t meet that description.

When should I include an addendum?

In addition to your personal statement, you have the option of including addenda to your application to explain any particular elements of your application.  The most common situations where you would include an addendum are when you are explaining a low GPA or a low LSAT score.

If you started out with a low GPA and then improved towards the end of your academic career, you should explain the reasons in an addendum.  Admissions officers are going to look at your whole record and wonder what happened.  Explain it.  If you had a particularly rough semester or year that brought your GPA down, explain it.  Don’t leave it up to the admissions officers to make a guess.

If your LSAT score is low, you can try to explain that.  This is generally more difficult to do.  There are only a couple of reasons that are typically given consideration by admissions committees.  If you have historically not done well on standardized exams such as the SAT or ACT, but you have a high GPA, you can point out that you have over-performed based on your test score.  You want to convince them that this will happen in law school as well.  The second reason relates to the test conditions on the day that you took the exam.  If you were sick or some other factor influenced your ability to perform well on the test, you can mention that.  Keep in mind, however, that you have an opportunity to either cancel your test before it is graded or to take it again on another date.  If you have not done either of those things, the law schools are going to be more hesitant to give weight to your claim.  Explaining that you did not prepare adequately is not recommended.

Another situation where you might include an addendum is if you have been arrested or convicted of any crime in the past.  You must disclose that and you should absolutely explain the circumstances in an addendum.

If you have any questions about whether you should include an addendum or what you should say in an addendum, contact the pre-law advisor for guidance.

Are they serious about disclosing any past arrests, even if I wasn’t charged or if the records are sealed?

Yes.  They are very serious about it.  You must disclose everything, even if it is sealed because you were a juvenile.  When you finish law school and take the bar exam, the bar association conducts a full background check.  If they turn up something that you did not disclose in your application, you will not be admitted to the bar.  Disclose, disclose, disclose.  If you have any questions, contact the California Bar Association and get their opinion.

Why do some schools ask different questions? Can I just submit the same personal statement?

While most law schools ask for a fairly generic personal statement, some schools ask different questions in their applications.  UCLA, for example, has the longest application of any law school in the country.  Be sure that you submit materials that respond to the specific questions asked by the law school.  You can upload as many versions of your statements as necessary and indicate which files should go to which schools.

Can I submit my application to schools before I get my LSAT score?

No, you cannot submit it until the application is complete.  That includes the LSAT scores.  If you are taking the December or February LSAT, be aware that you will not be able to submit your application until roughly three weeks after the test date.