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The Top Five Mistakes that Applicants Make

The following are the most common mistakes made by the students I have advised over the years. They're listed in no particular order, but all of them are bad. Please do not contribute to this list—avoid these pitfalls.

  1. Applying without preparation.

    Every year I see students at the start of the fall semester of their senior year who have just realized that they are graduating in May. Not having a plan for after graduation, they come by and tell me that they want to go to law school. If they reach me early enough in September, they can still take the LSAT and apply. But nine times out of ten, they are not ready for the LSAT and do not have the time to devote to doing an adequate job with their applications. Applying to law school takes planning, stamina, and money. Doing it at the last minute—(and yes, starting from scratch a year in advance IS the last minute in the admissions process)—is not going to make you a very competitive applicant.
  2. Taking the LSAT on a whim.

    I can't say it often enough: you should not take the LSAT until you are absolutely ready, and you should plan to take it only once. Do not go into the test with the mindset that you can simply do it over if you don't like your score. Ask yourself: how much did you really study for the test? A month's preparation is not good enough. Studying during your work breaks the summer before you take it is not good enough. Taking the 4- or 8- week Kaplan course is not good enough. The best way to judge the time needed to study for the exam is to take a real LSAT under simulated conditions, and then grade your work. Are you happy with your score? Do you earn that score consistently on the practice exams? Do you have every reason to think that you will earn that score again on the real test? Will your score be competitive at the law schools you want to attend? Remember, there are over 100,000 folks a year applying to law school with you. The ones who take it the most seriously are likely to be the most successful applicants.
  3. Focusing on law school, not law practice.

    My students are great Internet researchers. They can tell me detailed facts about lots of law schools, and they commonly develop elaborate application strategies. Most of them, however, cannot tell me anything about the practice of law, which is why one goes to law school in the first place. There is no substitute for real world experience in a law firm, a prosecutor's or public defender's office, a governmental agency law office, a non-profit legal organization, or any legal organization for that matter. Focusing on law school is a common mistake. Law school is only 3 years long, and it prepares you for your upcoming 40-year career. Which one should you really think about, and devote your planning and strategizing to? It's not law school.
  4. Applying late.

    Applications should be in and complete at the latest by January 1st. In the current environment, I would highly recommend getting them in by December 1st. Every year I have students come to me in January or February and say, "I'm applying to XYZ law school because it has a March 1st application deadline." NOT!  While March 1st or April 1st technically might be the last dates to apply, in reality admissions decisions are made starting in November, and all of the free financial aid is usually gone by early February. Do you really want to be the last application the law school receives in a pile of thousands of applications? Usually, you are better off waiting until next year to apply than applying so late in the admissions cycle.

    Most students apply late because they do not have their act together. However, I've had some students—very good students—apply to certain schools late because they are getting rejected by the schools they applied to initially. This is a sad and avoidable situation. When applying to law school, you should apply broadly to maximize your chances of admission and financial aid. You apply in the fall; the decision where to attend is NOT made in the fall, but in the spring. It is perfectly okay to apply to schools that you are not really enamored with, using them as "safety" or "fallback" schools. I have advised some students who say, "if I don't get accepted by the schools I want, I won't go." The problem is, they tend to change their minds as graduation approaches and as rejection letters pile up. Lower-ranked schools start to look much more attractive than the alternative of not going to law school at all, and then these students race around to apply at the last minute to schools they should have applied to months earlier. Try to avoid this stress—apply to a good long list of schools, including several realistic ones—at the outset.
  5. Writing a boring personal statement.

    Yeah, it's hard to write about yourself. But you have to if you want to go to law school, and you have to be convincing. A boring personal statement will not help your cause, and in fact probably will hurt it because your file will not stand out from the others in the big pile of applications.

    Some of my students conclude that, if they cannot write a good personal statement, or if the process proves difficult, they are not law school material. Wrong! Almost everyone finds if difficult to write a compelling and interesting personal statement. That's no reflection on your intellect or your ability to be a lawyer someday. You need to put your insecurities aside for this project and give the law school a glimpse of who you are—as if you are in an interview, albeit on paper. Writing it may be like pulling teeth, but that's exactly the point. If it were easy to do, everyone would do it, and everyone would apply to law school. The successful applicants are the survivors, the ones who overcome their doubts and fears and jump the many hurdles in the law school admissions process. The personal statement, like the LSAT, is one of those hurdles. Jump over it with strength and confidence and flair.


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