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Do You Want to Go to Law School Next Year?

People are applying to law school in record numbers. Applications to law school were up 10 to 30 percent across the nation in 2001, with an average increase of nearly 20 percent. In 2002, they were even higher: the number of LSAT test takers on the June 2002 examination was up by another 18 percent, and more people took the October 2002 LSAT test than there were available seats in all of the nation’s law schools combined! Some law schools saw a 100% increase in applications in the 2002-03 academic year. Initially, 2004-05 proved to be just as bad, with a record number of people taking the June LSAT exam. However, by the late spring there were some signs that the applicant pool was relaxing: law schools began admitting students off of their wait lists, which had been unheard of in the previous 2-3 years. Still, the demand to attend law school remains very high. Thus, if you are graduating this year and would like to attend law school next year, or if you are already out of school and thinking about attending law school in a year or two, YOU NEED TO CAREFULLY CONSIDER WHETHER TO WAIT.

Why are applications up so much?

The primary reason is that the economy has been relatively stagnant, unemployment is higher, and in the wake of September 11th many industries have been hard hit. The technology sector of the economy is currently weak, and many high tech workers have been laid off. Moreover, job prospects for new college graduates are not as good as they were just a few years ago. To avoid trying to find a job in a tough economy, people flock back to school. They seek to obtain a degree that will help them in their job search while they wait out the bad times. Consequently, applications to law school are sky-high; applications to college and graduate/professional programs in general are up significantly, too. Indicators suggest that this trend may ease somewhat in 2005-06, but you should not count on it.

What should I do?

If you are thinking about law school right now, your timing is unfortunate, because the competition is fierce. Still, there is always a place in law school for someone who performs well on the LSAT exam. A person with a good score may have fewer choices this year, but will still be able to attend law school. What is a “good” LSAT score? It depends primarily on where you want to go. For the University of Minnesota, you generally need a score of 160 or higher to be competitive. For William Mitchell, a score in the mid-150s is in the ballpark. Such a score should make you competitive at Hamline and St. Thomas, too. If you are looking for scholarships to these three schools, a score in the high 150s will make you competitive. Bear in mind, however, that law schools can more easily pick and choose these days, meaning that last year’s median scores are likely to be somewhat higher than in the past.

What if my LSAT is low?

Some schools accept students with LSAT scores below 150, but your options are limited. If you are not happy with your score, you need to think seriously about waiting to apply to law school in this admissions climate.

Why wait?

Truthfully, it’s almost always a good idea to wait awhile between college and law school. Remember, law schools are looking for mature students who know that they want a legal career, and have had relevant experience outside of college. The median age of law school entering classes is around 26 (yes, 26!), and two-thirds of those folks have taken time off. Many applicants have earned advanced degrees or have had other careers. So even in a good year, law schools are not necessarily welcoming to graduating college students.

In a competitive time, graduating seniors are at even more of a disadvantage. Simply waiting to go to law school is the easiest way to make your application stronger. You will gain maturity and experience while you wait out the competitive application years. Law school applications are cyclical, and we are presently in an upward cycle. In a few years (how many is uncertain, as it depends on the economy and other factors), the number of applications will drop, and the competition will ease.

What should I do in the meantime?

The short answer is, almost anything. You do not have to have legal experience or a legal job; it’s nice, but certainly not required. You need to do something productive that you can later discuss on your law school application—even if that “productive” thing is backpacking around Europe. If you need to be in school, you can consider a master’s degree* in some field or, better yet, an ABA-approved paralegal certificate program, which can be completed in as little as four months. If your job has nothing to do with law, you should consider volunteering for a legal organization in your spare time. Any volunteer work that you do will be worthwhile for you personally and for your application when the time comes. Quality is better than quantity—give your time to one or two groups, rather than a host of them. (*Generally, I do not recommend obtaining a master’s degree unless you really want it or have some substantial justification for it. You can use that year or two to work and earn money for law school, and that will likely help you more than having an advanced degree on your resume.)

If you have your heart set on a law school out of state, move there after graduation. Some states make it tough to claim residency for law school, but if you plan to take one to three years off, you would likely qualify in most of them. You’ll need to check with each school to determine when and how you can become a resident.

I just don’t want to take time off, and my parents don’t want me to take time off.

If this is true, you need to have a heart-to-heart talk with yourself and with your folks. Is law school worth waiting for? If it’s your dream career, isn’t it worth the wait? The old saying is “a dream deferred is better than a dream unrealized.” If law school is not worth the wait, then are you really sure you should be thinking about it in the first place? Law school requires a huge commitment of time and money; you should think about this fact very seriously before you make the decision to go.

If your folks do not want to wait, ask them to fund your application process. Give them this handout, and inform them that you do not want to spend your hard-earned money unless you have a reasonable chance of success. If they still push you to apply, then let them write the checks to the schools and pay the related fees. If you succeed in being admitted, hooray! If you don’t, your initial decision to wait will have been vindicated. Either way, you’re not out any money, and you can apply again when YOU think the time is right.

If I wait, can I use SCSU’s pre-law advising services as an alumnus?

Yes! Contact us at least six months before you plan to take the LSAT, or a year before you plan to enroll.

Should I at least take the LSAT this fall, or should I wait?

The answer to this question is always the same: you should take the LSAT when you are absolutely ready. If you are not ready, do not take it. If you have been studying and feel very prepared, go ahead. Your LSAT score is good for 5 years, so you can take the test now even if you do not plan to apply right away.

There is one new LSAT wrinkle for this competitive time. If you are planning to apply to law school this fall, YOU SHOULD TAKE THE OCTOBER LSAT. In the past, our students have been able to take the December LSAT exam and still be competitive. Things are different now. Some admissions committees are advising students to get their completed applications in by the end of NOVEMBER, rather than the standard January 1st deadline. Applications that come in late are going to be at a severe disadvantage again this year. If a school claims to have rolling admissions, and will accept applications until March or April, please understand that it is highly likely that all of the available seats will be taken early, despite the late deadline. Schools begin to read applications right away, and when the spots are gone—well, they’re gone. Also, the first persons to be admitted are also the first persons to receive financial aid offers. If you apply late in the game, the money will be long gone.


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