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
- 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.
- 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.
- Focusing on law school, not law
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.
- 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.
- 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.