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How and When Do I Apply to Law School

n order to apply to law school, you need to take an exam and have your transcripts and pertinent college records forwarded to each school that you will apply to. This process is basically done for you by the LSAC, the Law School Admissions Council, a non-profit organization headquartered in Newtown, New Jersey. The LSAC’s members consist of all of the law schools in the United States (187) and Canada (15).

The LSAC creates, administers, and scores the Law School Admissions Test, or LSAT. The test is given four times a year: in June, October, December, and February. Test dates are set at least two years in advance; you can look up the dates for upcoming tests at the LSAC web site, www.lsac.org.

The LSAC sends your LSAT test score to all of the law schools to which you have chosen to apply. In addition, the LSAC compiles all of the college information that the schools need to see about you. This service is called the LSDAS, the Law School Data Assembly Service. It’s really more of a service to the law schools than to you, the applicant. The LSDAS process is not optional, as virtually all law schools require you to use it. The law schools like the service because it presents applicant information to them in a uniform manner, from one source.

The way it works is this: You sign up for the LSDAS service and pay the required fee. You can sign up at the same time you register for the LSAT, or later, but at some point you have to do it. Then you send them your transcripts and any other required information. Next, the LSDAS prepares a report on you. It includes their own calculation of your GPA, how your GPA compares to other SCSU graduates, a list of colleges you attended, photocopies of all of your college transcripts, etc. Essentially the LSDAS service puts together the data package for you and sends it to your chosen law schools.

There is also a separate service offered by the LSAC, the Letter of Recommendation Service. The same folks who compile your college data will also collect, photocopy, and distribute your letters of recommendation. This is a very popular service, and easy to use. It is good for general letters, and can now be used for school-specific ones.

All of these services are bundled together and remain good for 5 years. Thus, once you sign up for the LSAT exam, the LSDAS data service, and the Letter of Recommendation Service, your registration in all of them lasts for 5 years. This is particularly nice if you do not plan to go to law school right away—everything sits waiting for you until you tell the LSAC where you want your file to be sent.

The process of applying to law school has become much more streamlined and electronic in the last 5 years. You can expect this trend to continue. All ABA-approved law schools now have their applications on-line; some will allow you to apply for free if you use their on-line application process. You can register for all of the LSAC services on-line, too, and pay the fees with a credit card. Almost 90% of applicants are now using the Letter Service, too. Currently, the service stores up to 4 letters for you.

The LSAC offers one-stop shopping for applications. Once you sign up for the LSDAS service, you will have access to all of the law schools' applications online. You can select the ones you want, fill them out, and send them to the law schools electronically. In fact, some schools today require you to submit your application and supporting materials this way.

The only thing that will NOT be electronic anytime soon is the LSAT exam. This will continue to be a pencil and paper examination scored by computer. Other testing organizations have experimented with on-line testing, with decidedly mixed results. For this reason, the LSAT will continue to be given and taken in person. The test changes periodically; LSAC is now considering whether and how to add a listening component to it. For changes to the test, consult the lsac.org web site or your pre-law advisor.

FAQs:

Do I need to send LSDAS a transcript from every school I attended, including the Community College where I took just one class over the summer?

Yes! Yes! Yes! Any college credit you earned must be reported to the LSDAS. You need to send transcripts from all undergraduate institutions—no exceptions! Failure to inform the LSDAS of all of you institutions is considered academic fraud; in fact, it is the most common type of academic fraud. The LSDAS calculates your GPA based on all of your grades. If you leave out a few grades, your GPA calculation will be incorrect. If you attended college 20 years ago and flunked out, and today are a stellar straight-A student, you still must report all of your grades. The law school will receive your transcripts and will know what happened, or you can choose to explain your old low grades in you personal statement or a separate attached statement. The law schools will understand this situation—it is common. What they will not understand or accept is someone who tries to hide (or forgets to report) certain grades. You must report all institutions you attended and provide the transcripts from each of them.

Why does the LSDAS calculate a GPA for me, and what can I do about it?

Remember, this service is mainly for the law schools. They want one source, and only one source, providing a GPA. Your college GPA is also reported as it appears on your transcripts. But the LSDAS GPA is considered somewhat more accurate because it incorporates all of the grades you received at all of the colleges you attended (including community colleges) into one score, and it uses the same formula for everyone. There is basically nothing you can do to get out of this system or change their calculation of your GPA. You can appeal if you feel the calculation was inaccurate, but appeals are rarely successful. If you think your GPA as reported by the LSDAS is too low, you can include an explanation in your application materials.

Are school-specific letters better?

Yes and no. Letters of recommendation are down on the list of important admissions factors, after the LSAT score, GPA, and personal statement. They are usually used in close calls, or to differentiate folks in the “middle of the pack.” If you have someone who knows you well who can personalize your letter (like an alum from the particular law school), that’s great. Send his or her letter separately to that law school. If you simply want to change the heading on each letter to reflect the name of another school, it is not really necessary to do so, and the general or generic letter will do. These letters aren’t really personalized, after all. A truly personal letter is one tailored to a particular school for a particular reason. Most of your letters will not be of this type, but if you have one, then use it. Remember to waive your right to see your letters of recommendation; waived letters are considered much more credible. For more information, see the section of this CD on letters of recommendation.

What if I think my LSAT score is wrong, or if I need to explain a low score?

You can request that your exam be re-scored by the LSAC. If your score is low, you may need to explain why in a separate statement included with your application. Generally it is better to do this in a separate statement, rather than in your personal statement.

 


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