10 law school application tips that pay big dividends

By Lewis L. Hutchison, Jr.

Anyone who has ever completed the law school application process will tell you that little things mean a lot. As you being to fill out those law school applications, remember that the application you complete now will be active for the next eight or  nine months; an ounce of foresight now can save you a ton of regret later.

There are some things that a first time law school applicant simply will not consider as the law school admissions season opens. To help you as you begin this process, here are ten no-nonsense, little tips that will have BIG results:

1. Talk to your pre-law advisor. Your pre-law advisor has information that you do not have and can show you where to get it. Do not discount this important resource.

2. Attend recruitment events.  School fairs and law forums are an opportunity to visit with a live human rather than a webpage. Besides that, some schools offer fee waivers to those who show up. For others, it’s just a chance to review schools that they had never considered before.

If all of that is not enough of a reason for you to stop by, consider that this is probably the one time you can ask any question, no matter how “dumb” you think it is. Ask the question that you should already know the answer to while you are here and we will not hold it against you. While an email asking a question that you can easily find on the school website in the section marked, “The Answer is Here” is a waste of time, the same question asked at a recruitment fair table says that you are at least open to considering the school.

If you are not sure when a law school will be coming to a location near you, and you are interested in a particular set of schools, visit their website and see if they have posted their upcoming recruitment events. Of course, the LSAC Forums are always big draws as most law schools will have a representative available to speak with.

3. Use your cell phone number as your primary phone number when completing law school applications. If a law school wants to contact you for any reason, you will save yourself and them a lot of hassle. An applicant that is always difficult to catch up with and takes days to return a phone call is the last person you call when you need someone from the waitlist.  Make sure your voicemail greeting is professional, states your name, and does not have any inappropriate language or music, but more on this topic later.

4. If your university has a policy of deleting or changing your school email address after you graduate, consider using a non-university email address for your law school applications. Many notices and pertinent information will be sent via email. By using a permanent “ .com” (rather than .edu) email  you save yourself from the somewhat laborious task of asking all of your law schools to change your email address.

Here are some tips on creating a permanent email account:

A. Opt for a major player (yahoo, gmail, hotmail, etc.);

B.  Choose an email address name that identifies who you are and is APPROPRIATE for you as a budding attorney.  A good example is “first name_middle initial_last name” or “john_m_smith@gmail.com;

C.  Do not be presumptuous and create an email name with any synonym for “law”.  This means avoiding the following words: law, legal, law school, esquire, attorney, lawyer, honorable, judge, Supreme Being -you get the point;

D. Just because you have a favorite hobby, sport, or dating preference, you should not incorporate these preferences in your email name either.  And yes, that last one has happened before.

5. When filling out your applications do not have your mail sent to your parent’s house unless you actually reside there. Every year students will call with “Sorry I missed the seat deposit deadline, but I’m having all of my mail sent to my parent’s house and they didn’t tell me about the seat deposit deadline, they just summarized the letter for me.” (Really? Do they also cut your meat for you at the dinner table?) Students, here is the (un)official position of law schools on this: your parents did not apply to law school – you did. You are responsible for all things concerning law school, not them. It makes me question my decision to admit you when I hear that you are counting on someone else to read the information for you, decide what is important, and then relay that to you.

Here’s the solution: If you will keep the same address until it is time for you to go to law school, use that address. If you know you will have to move upon graduation, or at some point over the summer, consider a post office box. They are relatively inexpensive (less than $50 a year usually) and can save you many headaches later on. You can always forward your mail for a week, a month, or permanently to any other address if need be – for free.

6. Create a professional voice mail greeting. The wrong message on your telephone can turn a phone call telling you that you are admitted into a letter that is days old. If you have a long musical interlude playing, you just put yourself on the “do not call” list. If you have a ring back that plays…well… anything… you get the letter. The point is, I have information you want and I am not going to listen to (insert name of artist who is hot this month) to give it to you. 

By the way, the joke where you pretend to answer the phone, but later on unveil that it is really your voice mail is funny. In fact, every time it happens I laugh. I’m still chuckling as I hang up the phone without letting you know the great news I have for you. I’m still chuckling…

7. Do not expect a reminder for anything regarding law school. Please do not be offended that we do not prod you to get mandatory items done. You are attempting to become a lawyer. Do you really believe that a judge is going to call you and remind you to file that appeal? Do you think the clerk of court is going to email you a reminder to file that motion before tomorrow or you will lose the case? Do you really expect a client, who is paying you, to text you a friendly reminder to be in court tomorrow? Get used to setting your own reminders.

The solution: In most cases, you have a smart phone with a calendar. Start getting your money’s worth – use your calendar function!

8. Read the material we send to you. Read it all. Yes, every single line. Recently, we sent a newsletter via email that discussed everything you need to complete before you can enroll. Not even 24 hours after we sent this statement, a student emailed me to ask, a question that was answered in the email. Read the material we send to you. Read it all. Yes, every single line.

Hidden nugget of knowledge: Law schools do not bold, underline, or italicize the important parts of the letter, email, newsletter, or anything else. Why? Because it is all important. When the judge renders her findings and verdict, do you think she is going to say, “Oh, and here’s the important part…” Just in case I am not clear here, she will not. It is all important.

9. Do not address the law school faculty or staff by first name. If you get a letter from Associate Dean John Doe, and he signs it “John”, that is not an invitation to call him John in your follow up email.  Until you hear him say, “Please call me by my first name,” call him Dean Doe. Save yourself the embarrassing conversation where he or someone else has to correct you on this issue. ‘Nuff said.

10. Do not try to dupe us. The stories abound of the student who tells us of the scholarships she is being offered by three different law schools. Rather than just accept her contention that we are not being as competitive as the other law schools, we checked the other schools’ tuition cost. It turns out that even with no scholarship offer, we were still less expensive than all the others --even with their great scholarship. Yes, we can do math too!

These little things will save you time, make your life much simpler, and keep you out of some embarrassing spots. Best of luck as you embark on this journey!
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Lewis L. Hutchison, Jr., Assistant Dean for Admissions and Financial Aid at University of South Carolina School of Law and Lisa M. Gear, Assistant Dean for Admissions at Southwestern Law School