Varsity Tutors brings you insider tips and advice straight from nationally recognized admissions experts. Anne M. Richard provides pre-law and educational consulting at AMRichard Consulting, which she established in 2014. She earned her undergraduate degrees in English and economics and her master’s degree in economics at Boston College before attending Yale Law School, where she earned her law degree. In addition to her experience working in private practice and as a trial attorney with the U.S. Department of Justice, she has served as dean of admissions at three top-tier law schools—The University of Virginia School of Law, The George Washington University Law School, and George Mason University School of Law.
How much time should be set aside to adequately prepare for and complete a law school application?
Anne: Preparing one’s resume, personal statement and any addenda (character and fitness disclosures, diversity statements, “Why School X” essays, and other optional writings) are the most time-consuming portions of law school applications. Based upon my experience, I think applicants should plan to spend 8-15 hours drafting and perfecting these documents. Once these writings are complete, entering information into each law school’s form, and proofing/finalizing each application likely will take one to two hours.
What is the single most important thing applicants should focus on with this application?
Anne: Although all law schools ask many of the same questions, each law school also asks a number of school-specific questions, especially in the character and fitness sections of the applications. Applicants must pay close attention to the school-specific questions and respond to each question accurately and completely.
What are the biggest mistakes one can make on a law school application?
Anne: Carelessness and lack of attention to detail are the biggest mistakes one can make on a law school application.
What do law school admissions officers look for most in an applicant’s essays/personal statements?
Anne: The personal statement is the applicant’s opportunity to help admissions officers get to know him or her as a person—over and above what is reflected in the applicant’s resume and transcripts. The personal statement should be well written, interesting and tell a story; it should not be a narrative version of the applicant’s resume. An admissions officer wants to come away from reading an applicant’s personal statement thinking, “Here is a talented, self-aware, mature, insightful, and interesting person who will add something unique and positive to our law school community and to our profession.”
Is there anything on a student’s application that would automatically disqualify him or her from being considered for the program?
Anne: No. Everything in an application is considered, weighed, and evaluated. There is no one factor that would automatically disqualify an applicant from being considered for admission. That said, if an applicant exhibits extremely poor judgment or has a pattern of serious criminal/disciplinary issues, the applicant likely is facing a pretty steep uphill climb.
What about the law school admissions process differs the most from undergraduate admissions?
Anne: In many ways, the process is very similar. Both law school and undergraduate admissions officers are looking to admit applicants who demonstrate academic ability and who will add something positive to their institutions. In the law school admissions process, professional experience (work experience, internship experience, etc.) as well as academic work at the college and postgraduate levels, are important factors.
What kinds of things (experience, grades, etc.) might a student lack that would lead you to advise him or her not to apply?
Anne: If an individual has not been able to excel in his or her undergraduate studies and has a very weak LSAT score, law school might not be the right choice. Law school is primarily an academic exercise, and one needs to be able to handle a rigorous curriculum. If one has not been able to handle challenging courses at the college level and is not able to master the skills necessary to perform well on the LSAT, the likelihood of being able to succeed in a law school program is slim.
Is there anything you might see on a student’s application that would quickly put him or her ahead in the running?
Anne: A very strong academic record and a strong LSAT score are very good starting points.
What advice do you have regarding LSAT test prep?
Anne: Prepare, practice and get comfortable with the test! No one should go into the LSAT cold just to see what will happen, figuring he or she can always take it again. The goal should be to prepare adequately, take the test once and be done with it. Applicants should explore the different methods of LSAT preparation that are available and determine what will work best for them. Some may have the discipline and drive to prepare on their own; some will do well in a commercial test prep class; while others need the attention and guidance of a private LSAT tutor.
What do law school admissions officers look for in recommendation letters?
Anne: Law school admissions officers look for detailed letters of recommendation from professors, work supervisors, mentors, etc., who have worked closely with the applicant and who have had the opportunity to evaluate the applicant’s work product, writing ability, analytical skills, interaction with others, leadership abilities, organizational skills, work ethic, character, trustworthiness, etc.
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The views expressed in this article do not necessarily represent the views of Varsity Tutors.