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Applying to Law School

Students are encouraged to apply electronically through www.lsac.org.

It is important that students get accustomed with the criteria that law school use to evaluate applicants. Law schools do not set minima in the GPA and LSAT scores, although they do provide statistics that can help students evaluate where they stand. Below are some guidelines.

LSAT over 90%
GPA over 3.7
National law schools:
Ex: Yale
LSAT over 80%
GPA over 3.5
Strong regional law schools:
Ex: U. of Washington
LSAT over 70%
GPA over 3.25
Reasonably competitive local law schools:
Ex: U. of Montana
LSAT below 70%
GPA below 3.25
Less competitive law schools:
Ex: Lewis and Clark

Notes:
– A minority student from Montana might get in with slightly lower LSAT/GPA numbers. This is especially important for top schools (candidates with high scores).
– Being an in-state student increases your chances to get into the University of Montana : roughly, they admit 1 out of 3 in-state candidates and one of 4 out-of-state candidates.
You can find more detailed information below about:

  • Grade Point Average
  • Law School Admission Test
  • Letters of recommendation
  • Personal statement
  • Curriculum Vitae
  • Choosing a Law School
  • Recommended Application Timeline

Grade Point Average

As the table above shows, getting into law school requires a high GPA. It is crucial that Pre–Law students pay special attention to their GPA right from the beginning of their studies.
Do not take so many classes that you cannot manage to do well. Pay attention to drop dates, and make sure to drop classes in which you are not sure to do well. Note that a grade of “pass” might be converted to a “C” for calculating the GPA.
If you apply during your senior year, your last semester grades will not be taken into account. If your performance consistently increased during your college years, you may want to wait until the end of the Fall semester to submit your transcripts to the law schools you are applying to.
Applicants can improve their GPA by retaking classes that they did poorly in and substituting a better grade. The university charges a fee to substitute the new grade. Applicants should be aware that the old grade remains on their transcript although it is not used to calculate their GPA.
If one’s GPA is too low, one may consider taking a few years off in order to broaden her experience and increase her chances of getting into the law school of her choice. Letters of recommendation explaining that the GPA does not reflect her true abilities may also help.

The Law School Admission Test

The LSAT evaluates the applicants’ abilities in the following domains:

  • Reading comprehension
  • Critical reasoning
  • Logical reasoning
  • Writing

The test consists in:

  • four scored 35 minute multiple choice sections
  • one 35 minute unscored multiple choice section (with experimental questions)
  • one 30 minute writing test
  • Candidates do not know which section is experimental.
  • The scores range from 120 to 180 points.
  • Several sessions are offered throughout each year: February, June, October and December.

It is better to take the LSAT in February or June the year before you are intending to apply to law school. In particular, applicants should avoid taking the exam in December of the year of application. The reason for this is that the application process is extremely time consuming, and so is the preparation for the LSAT. Moreover, the results of the December session arrive late, which may make it difficult for applicants to meet the applications deadlines. So, if you are intending to go to law school right after college, you should plan on taking the LSAT in June at the end of your Junior year.
It is important that applicants take the LSAT only when they are ready. This is because most law schools will average the scores of the applicants who have taken the exam multiple times. Because the LSAT does not evaluate knowledge of a particular subject, but general abilities, the best way to prepare for the LSAT is to train on old exams, in order to get familiar with the test format, and to develop abilities to answer the questions not only correctly but also efficiently. Consistent focus and speed are crucial. These simply take a good amount of training under time constraints. You should consider taking a lighter course load for the semester during which you are intending to study for the LSAT.
Old tests are available at www.lsac.org. LSAT test preparation books that include sample tests are also a good resource and are available at major bookstores.
If you generally do poorly on standardized tests, you may get a low LSAT score. If your SAT scores were also low, but your GPA ended up being high, then you can make a good argument that standardized tests reflect only poorly your abilities to succeed.
There exist some courses offering LSAT preparation. They are not necessary to succeed. They can be useful for applicants lacking the personal discipline to study by themselves. For such applicants, such courses give the structure they need for preparing for the exam. The Pre–Law Advising Committee does not recommend any specific institutions for these courses.
It is possible to get a Fee Waiver for the LSAT and related expenses for those who are really in need. Allow plenty of time if you are intending to apply for a Fee Waiver. You can apply online at www.lsac.org.

Letters of recommendation

Applicants will need three letters of recommendation for applying to law school. These letters are a crucial component of the application. At least one of these letters should be written by a Faculty member at the U of M. Make sure that the requested letter writer will take the task seriously.
A letter of recommendation is all the more convincing when it is specific in its content (comparison with peers, ranking, precise appraisal of writing and analytical skills of the applicant, including strengths and weaknesses). For this reason, it is very important that students get to know the Faculty well.
Pre-law students should try to build strong connections with a few Professors. It is also important to ask for letter when the faculty member still remembers the applicant well. Finally, faculty members should be given at least one month’s notice before the letters are due.
You cannot expect your recommender to be asked for a letter on Monday when the deadline is on Friday. This only shows poor respect and poor organization too. If you have been out of school for several years, letters from employers, coworkers or anyone who is able to judge your abilities and character will be fit. That said, some schools require a letter from a faculty member. If you plan on waiting a few years after college before applying to law school, you should ask for letters of recommendation from professors during your senior year. The LSAC letter of recommendation service (http://lsac.org/Applying/letters-of-recommendation.asp) can keep your letters of recommendation up to 5 years. You may also store your letters through interfolio (http://www.interfolio.com/)

Personal statement and Essays

Personal statements and essays serve as a replacement for a face-to-face interview. This means that they should reflect the applicant’s personality and values. They provide the opportunity to provide an idea of the kind of person the applicant is. As such, they may be the second most important component of your application.
Your personal statement should not repeat information that the selection committee can find somewhere else (on your transcripts or resume). Your personal statement should illuminate and give meaning to the less “personal” pieces of your application file. It is your chance to provide a convincing narrative of your experiences, your previous achievements, and your vision of your future.
When writing your personal statement or essay, applicants should ask themselves: what should selection committee members know about me that would make them consider my application? What makes my application different from the 50 others that they have been reviewing all day? In short: what makes me an interesting person?
It is crucial to write several drafts for your personal statement, and to get feedback from your Pre–Law advisor before submission. You should plan on spending about a month to get your personal statement finalized.
Finally, check the grammar, spelling and punctuation of your statements and essays extremely carefully. Lawyers need to pay attention to details: it starts with proof reading. A good way to do this is to read them out loud.

Curriculum Vitae

A good resume is one that is read quickly. It is not necessary to keep it within one page, but you should keep in mind that the members of the selection committee may never look at the second page of your resume if there is one. Put the most important information on top of each section. Leave no room for guesses: members of the selection committee should not have to think in order to get your credentials right. Keep the format simple and straightforward. Too much formatting makes things more difficult to read.
Your Pre–Law advisor can help you with your resume.

As for your statements and essays:
Again, check the grammar, spelling and punctuation of your statements and essays extremely carefully.

Choosing a Law School

The applicants’ GPA and LSAT score set thresholds. An indispensible source of admission statistics for all approved law schools is the ABA/LSAC official guide to law schools: http://officialguide.lsac.org/.
Applicants might also find the Boston College Law School Locator (http://www.bc.edu/offices/careers/gradschool/law-/lawlocator.html) useful.
You can find raw data for Raw Data Law School Rankings on the Internet Legal Research Group webpage: http://www.ilrg.com/rankings/law/
Other considerations include where they want to practice law, what kind of law they want to practice, and their financial situation.

One consideration is where applicants want to practice law. If they want to live and practice in Seattle, it would make sense to go to a northwest law school, especially a law school in Washington state. Applicants should keep in mind that they need to take the bar exam in the state in which they want to practice. This does not mean that they cannot go to law school in Illinois, and practice in Colorado, but in this case, they will need to take a class over the summer after law school, in order to learn about the specificities of Colorado Law and take the bar exam in Colorado.
What kind of law the student wants to practice can be a important factor in choosing where to apply. For example, some students may consider law schools featuring a program in natural resource or American Indian law. Others may be interested in dual programs and joint degrees (Juris Doctor + Master of Business Administration, Master in Environmental studies, Indian Law Certificate). Students should look at the law schools’ websites for special programs.
The next consideration should be cost. Going to law school is very expensive. Tuitions vary, and applying to law schools in various categories may also make sense if cost is a factor. That said, tuition is not the only expense law students face. In addition to tuition, students must pay for food, lodging, books etc. Working during law school is not always an option, especially during the first year. Most students rely on loans to cover these expenses. It is not unusual for students to come out of law school more than $100,000 in debt.

Accordingly, pre-law students should be careful to build a good financial credit record.
Also, they should try to keep their debt as low as possible. Otherwise, they may have to live as a student for a long time after they finish school. Some law schools offer scholarships and grants depending on merit, financial need or both. More information is available on the law schools’ individual websites. Clearly, what kind of financial support law schools offer may be a crucial criterion when choosing where to apply.
Also, at state-supported law schools, state residents typically pay much lower tuition. Since the rules vary, students will need to consult with the particular university to determine what it takes to qualify as a state resident.

The following page provides more information about financial aid: http://www.nd.edu/~prelaw/finaid.html

There are many other factors that students should consider when choosing which law school they want to attend. Of course, bar pass and recruitment rates are important. In addition, one may suggest considering the quality of the Faculty and education (class sizes, joint programs, special events and speakers), of the facilities (housing, library, study spaces, student meeting areas, disabled student access etc.), of the location (recreation opportunities, cultural environment), and of the community (students organizations, relationships with alumni).
Potential applicants are encouraged to explore law schools' individual websites, and should consider applying to at least 6 law schools: 2 in which they are almost sure they will be accepted, 2 which are within reach and which they would be happy to attend, 2 which are borderline but which they would love to attend.
Also, it is a good idea to try to contact current students, recent alumni as well as to consider visiting law schools before you make your final decision

Recommended Application Timeline

Don’t wait until right before the application deadline to submit the application materials! There are a number of excellent reasons to get your application in early. If part of your application goes astray (e.g.: by getting lost in the mail or misplaced), you will want to have enough time to remedy the problem. Also, law school admission committees usually start selecting candidates as soon as they receive applications. This means that the number of places available decreases as the deadline approaches.
Finally, the earlier you know which law schools have offered you admission, the earlier you can make your own decision as to how to proceed. After you have submitted your application materials, it is a good idea to verify with the law school that your application is complete.

Students can find suggestions for the best timeline for applying to law school on the following links:
Five Steps to Law School (Chicago) : http://chicagogps.uchicago.edu/law/five_steps.shtml
Checklist (Notre Dame) http://www.nd.edu/~prelaw/checklist.html

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