Applying to law school can be a time-consuming and sometimes frustrating process. Thus, it is important that you plan your approach with care so as to maximize the prospect that you matriculate at the most suitable school. General information concerning the Law School Admissions Test, LSAT, and the Law School Data Assembly Service (LSDAS) is contained in the LSAT/LSDAS Registration and Information Book. It can be obtained from the pre-law adviser or from Law School Admission Services (hereafter cited as LSAS), Box 2000, Newtown, PA 18940-0998 (ph: 215-968-1300). Information on law schools themselves is available from the ABA/LSAC Official Guide to ABA Approved Law Schools, published by LSAC. Books are available at Bertrand Library or at the CDC.
Ideally you should plan to complete your applications to law school by the beginning of December of the senior year. Tasks that need to be done by this time include obtaining applications, taking the LSAT, registering with the Law School Data Assembly Service (LSDAS), distributing letter of recommendation forms, drafting a "personal statement" and completing the applications. Many students find that it takes longer to do all of these "little" jobs than they anticipated. Indeed, most students liken the application process to taking a fifth course. You may feel tempted to punt until October or November of the senior year. Avoid delay if at all possible! Indeed, the more work done prior to the senior year the better
Spring of Junior Year:
Prepare and register for the LSAT
Take June LSAT, if possible
Begin researching and defining pool of law schools
Begin drafting personal statement
Prepare and Register for Oct LSAT, if taking
September of Senior Year:
Register with LSDAS, send transcripts to LSDAS
Obtain application materials from law schools
Subscribe to LSAC on the Web
Identify and approach academic referees
Make sure LSDAS report is accurate
Meet with the pre-law adviser at the CDC
Distribute recommendation forms to referees
Arrange to have Dean's letter sent to requesting schools
Take Oct LSAT, if not taken in June or if retaking
Attend BU's Grad Fair
Revise personal statement
Revise and finalize pool of schools
Work on applications
Complete personal statement
Register for Dec. LSAT, if retaking
Review and submit applications
Confirm recommendations were sent
Check with schools to make sure file complete
Submit financial aid forms
Meet with pre-law adviser to assess options
Take action on acceptances, wait-lists, and financial aid
Send final transcript to the school you will be attending
Choosing Law Schools
An applicant should identify programs in which he or she might be interested considerably before beginning to fill out application forms. Typically, an undergraduate starts to research the universe of law schools in the summer between the junior and senior years. Factors to consider when defining a pool of schools are academic community, facilities, academic program or curriculum, job placement, cost, geographic location, and the applicant's competitiveness. The goal should be the best possible fit between an applicant's academic capabilities, curricular interests, cultural and social values, on the one hand, and the law school, on the other.
The Academic Community. School size, the ethnic and gender composition of faculty and students, the number of full and part time faculty, faculty-student ratios, and attrition rates are all factors to consider when applying. GPA and LSAT data, which can be used as indicators of student quality, are reported for the 75th and 25th percentiles. In addition to identifying various student activities or special interest organizations, it is suggested that you note--at least in passing--the criteria for law review(s) membership and other honor societies. You should also examine the academic and experiential backgrounds of the faculty typically found in school catalogs.
Facilities. When considering which schools to include in your pool, facilities and resources should not be ignored. Is the school's library large enough to both accommodate holdings and allow students to comfortably conduct research? Are the library's hours tailored to student demand? How accessible are electronic databases such as Lexis and Westlaw? Are classrooms wired and comfortable? Does the institution provide residence halls?
The Academic Program. The first year of legal education is generally uniform across all United States law schools, though class and section size will vary. By the second year, however, a student is allowed to select electives and institutions do have varying curricular strengths. Bear in mind that joint degree programs require applying to and being accepted by each program separately. Another factor to consider is the extent to which clinical opportunities are available and how students are chosen to participate. (If you are interested in a particular clinic, it may be wise to confirm that funding for the clinic is not dependent on "soft" money.) The NAPLA/SAPLA Book of Law School Lists, housed in the CDC pre-law library, contains a current and complete compilation of dual degree, clinical and specialty programs at all ABA approved schools. Be warned, however, that there are no ABA guidelines which define a "specialty." The term may imply no more than two or three courses in an academic area. Be sure to check a school's course listings and faculty descriptions to assess the the commitment to a "specialty." One word of caution with regard to academic programming: do not assume your interests will remain constant throughout law school. Many students do change their minds with regard to academic concentration once in law school. Furthermore, firms often argue that a lawyer becomes a specialist by practicing law. Hence, they expect to bear the burden of "training" the law school graduate.
Job Placement. While it may be premature to worry about finding employment, you should not be reluctant to look for information concerning job placement. Questions to explore include not simply "How many grads are employed?" but also, for example, the work setting (private practice or firm, business, public service, that is, government, public interest, or clerkship) and locations where graduates practice. Each school collects its own data and a summary of this information is reported in the Official Guide. Many law school home pages provide information about career services; be sure to check.
Costs. Legal education is expensive; most students incur debt and many incur a sufficiently substantial debt that it affects subsequent choice of practice. Be sure to compare not only tuition, but also student fees, housing and transportation expenses. (Tuition and related costs are contained in the descriptive information provided by each school in the Guide.) Most schools do give some "merit" awards. Read the fine print carefully. Some grants are guaranteed for a set period of time; others are renewable dependent on academic performance. Typically you apply for a renewal each year; a change in circumstances thus may affect your financial aid status. Some institutions operate loan repayment "forgiveness" programs keyed to the type of law you eventually practice. (You will have to look in each school's catalog to learn about their financial aid packages.) Read the fine print very carefully. Some schools forego the interest, but not the principal; others may have time (or dollar) limitations. Some programs are open to all students, while others serve only the most meritorious. Be sure to investigate the tuition expenses of all state-related institutions in your state. If money is a serious constraint, be sure to review the section on fee waivers in the LSAS registration and information booklet. Fee waiver applications can be obtained from the pre-law adviser.
Geographic Location. You also should consider the impact of an institution's geographic location on your personal satisfaction. Do you prefer a warm or cold climate? Would you rather reside in an urban or rural locale? You will spend three years in law school and personal comfort can affect your academic success. Do not forget that the location of the school you attend typically helps define where you practice law. Placement officers are most proficient in placing graduates in the region where their institution is located. Bottom line, recruiters tend to visit in largest numbers at schools geographically proximate to their firm or business. Hence, if you wish to practice in the Mid-Atlantic, for example, you should seriously consider Mid-Atlantic, certainly East Coast, law schools.
Applicant Competitiveness. Most law schools use an admissions "index," calculated on the basis of a value assigned to the LSAT and undergraduate GPA, to provide a preliminary assessment of applicants. Although the "numbers" are not necessarily determinative of your competitiveness, you must--repeat, must--not ignore their significance for the prospects of admission to--and successful matriculation in--law school. This caveat is especially true for those applying to law school as undergraduate seniors; age alone means that there has been less time for "significant" life experiences to offset less than compelling "numbers." While there has been a period of decline in applications, your potential for successful study still will be heavily based on your undergraduate record and LSAT score(s). Your goal should be to maximize the prospects of acceptance at schools that will meet your professional interests. Your competitiveness should be used as a tool to finalize your pool, reducing the number of institutions to seven or eight. Many pre-law advisers recommend two "reach" schools, three or four schools where you have at least a fifty-percent probability of acceptance, and two "safety" schools. The Guide contains useful information about your competitiveness at most schools. A good online data source is at: (http://www.bc.edu/bc_org/svp/carct/matrix.html). Here you will find a matrix that classifies admission competitiveness in terms of recent GPA and LSAT scores. The LSAC's CD-ROM or on-line version of the Official Guide also provides estimates of the likelihood of admission based on your LSAT scores and GPA. To do this, go to the LSAC's website (www.lsac.org), on the first screen hit the green box "Official Guide", then "data search". Insert your LSAT score and GPA, scroll to the bottom of the page and hit "estimated likelihood"..
LSAT & LSDAS
LSAT. The LSAT is the mandatory standardized test developed by the Council to predict potential success at law school. Scores on the test have become one of the major determinants of admission to law school. The test is offered four times a year in June, September or October, December, and February. The LSAT contains three question types: logical reasoning, analytical reasoning, and reading comprehension. Scores range from a low of 120 to 180 points. It is recommend that you take the LSAT no later than the fall test date prior to the year of admission. Sitting for the test in the summer between the junior and senior years provides more information with which to define an initial pool of schools. However, completion by October will assure that your file can be assembled in a timely fashion while allowing for a repeat if necessary. Generally speaking, it takes from four to six weeks to process the results of a LSAT administration. Test dates and fee schedules are in the LSAT/LSDAS Registration and Information Book.
One note: if you want to apply early in the cycle to take full advantage of rolling admission, then you should take the June test. Indeed, some schools with an early action/early decision option require the summer administration. You might want to visit the LSAT testing room; check with Bucknell's CDC to learn which room is to be used and if lap boards, for example, are provided. If you have a particular physical or learning disability, you may be well advised to explore the possibility of an "accommodated" test; see the instructions in the registration booklet. Most folks find the LSAT a physically, mentally and emotionally draining experience. Avoid drinking lots of liquids prior to the test; there is only one "rest" break during the LSAT. (You might want to take a snack for consumption during the break.) And be sure to take along a reliable watch and enough well sharpened #2 pencils! You must prepare for this test. Because most law schools average multiple test scores, you should work to maximize your performance at the outset. In addition to reviewing the sample questions and test in the LSAT registration packet, you should obtain copies of "disclosed" tests and The Official Triple-Prep Plus, With Explanations from LSAS. (An order form is available in the registration booklet or via the Internet.) I also recommend that you obtain a "workbook" (such as Princeton Review's Cracking the LSAT) from the bookstore. Indeed, one study found that applicants who reviewed the sample questions and practiced using retired LSATs and a workbook earned the highest scores. If you think you "bombed" the test, it's prudent to wait at least 24 hours before exercising the option to cancel your score. Questions to ask yourself in the interim are: "Did I complete all of the questions?" "Was I making "smart" guesses?" "Am I likely to do any better the next time?" Sometimes people do panic or become ill and should cancel their score. Bear in mind, considerable evidence suggests that--in the absence of unusual circumstances--most test repeaters tend to score within a few points of their first score. If you are unsure about what to do, feel free to call the pre-law adviser.
LSDAS. The Law School Data Assembly Service (LSDAS) assembles data relevant to your application and transmits this information to the law schools to which you are applying. The transcript(s), the LSAT score, the cumulative GPA, the mean LSAT of others from your college taking the test, and the mean GPA at your college are all included in the report. Recommendations and the LSAT writing sample are also transmitted to the school. Information from the various institutions that you have attended will be combined so grades that may not have been part of your undergraduate GPA will become part of your GPA in the LSDAS report. In addition, the LSDAS will combine your cumulative GPA with the LSAT score in an index, based on the formula provided by the law school. The index is used as an integral part of the admission decision. At some schools a proportion of students will be considered "presumptive admits" or "presumptive denies" based on the index score. Typically, these candidates' files may not be scrutinized with the same intensity applied to other candidates' materials. You register with LSDAS by sending in the form from the LSAT/LSDAS Registration and Information Book or by telephone (215-968-1300) or on-line at http://www.lsac.org. Once registered you must send transcripts from all colleges or universities attended, including graduate school. Transcript request forms are found in the registration book. Simply request that the registrar at the relevant institutions send the transcript to the LSDAS along with the transcript request form. When registering with the LSDAS, you are asked to estimate the number of schools to which you plan to apply. You do not need to know the names of the schools at this time. You should subscribe to the LSDAS by September of the year in which you plan to apply to law school. LSDAS must have time to receive your transcripts and process your report prior to the date that the application arrives at the law school. However, at least six semesters of undergraduate grades should be available prior to registration.
Completing the Application
For many schools it is the application itself rather than the LSAT exercise that effectively constitutes the "writing sample". Thus, be sure that your application is neatly completed and grammatically correct. Those employing the LSAC's CD-ROM or the LSACD on the WEB can use a computer to complete the form; others will need to find a typewriter. You may submit an application electronically if completed via the LSAC's CDROM or LSACD on the WEB. ( Although you will need to send fees and a certifying statement to each law school via the mail). Others, of course, must use the US mail. Be sure to retain a photocopy of all admissions documents. Similarly, any time you speak with an admissions representative be sure to make a note of the person's name as well as the time and date of the call.
Very important: you should plan to have the application completed long before the school's deadline, especially if the school operates on a rolling admissions basis. As noted in the timetable, you should aim to submit your application by early December even though a school's deadline may be much later. Remember, "glitches" can occur; the sooner they are identified, the sooner they can be rectified. Obviously, material submitted by the deadline would be considered, but it is important it is to submit your application as early as possible. Mid- November is not too soon if you plan to take full advantage of rolling admissions. Remember it is easier for an admissions officer to admit a marginal candidate early rather than after a majority of the class has been selected.