8 mistakes that applicants to law school make…and how to avoid them

By Hillary Mantis

As we wrap up this application cycle and look forward to the next one, I see mistakes that some applicants often make that possibly could be avoided.

Since law school typically has no pre-law course pre-requisites and has rolling admissions, the application process can be a bit vague for some applicants. When do you take the LSAT? When should you apply? Where should you apply?

So for all of you thinking about applying to law school in the future, think about the following suggestions:

- Allow 6 months to prep for the LSAT: It often takes longer than the length of an LSAT prep course to prepare and get the timing down. Especially if you also have an internship, are studying abroad, have a job, are active in clubs or sports or anything else that requires a time commitment outside of class. So look up the LSAT schedule on www.lsac.org and plan six months in advance.

- Don’t take the LSAT unprepared just to test the waters: Unlike the experience you may have had taking previous standardized tests, all test scores are reported to the law schools. And it can be hard psychologically to bounce back from a bad score. So take it when you are fully prepared and retake if you want to try and edge your score up, from an already good base score.

- Apply well before the law school deadlines: Try to get your applications in to law school by December at the latest. Rolling admissions means that some law schools state April, May or even later as their final deadlines. But there will be few spots available and potentially very little funding for merit scholarships available by then. Apply in November ideally, or December at the latest, to take advantage of the possible benefits of rolling admissions. So take the LSAT and write all of your essays as early as you can-preferably by the summer before you apply to law school.

- Leave at least a month for your recommenders to complete recommendations: I have had several applicants tell me their recommenders took a long time to complete recommendations and their law school application was subsequently held up. Ask them in the spring or summer if you can — by mid-fall they will most likely be swamped with requests from other applicants. Your applications will not be considered complete without them.

- Don’t apply to just one or two schools: Admissions has been very unpredictable in recent years, and you don’t want to be left without any acceptances. I recommend ideally having at least three safety schools, plus several mid-range schools and a few reach schools. Some schools now have free applications or you can request a fee waiver from LSAC or an individual school if you need one.

- Rely on official sources of information: While some blogs are helpful and fun to read, they are often sources of misinformation. When compiling your list of law schools to apply to, rely more on official sources of data, such as the free online LSAC Official Guide to ABA-Approval Law Schools, which has a great GPA/LSAT score indicator chart that can help you assess your chances.

- Don’t count on expecting to transfer into a higher ranked law school: Again, it’s best to try and position yourself to get into your first choice law schools — law schools have relatively small classes and there are often not too many spots for transfer students.

- Wait to apply to law school in the next cycle if you are not ready: sometime seniors panic as graduation approaches and decide to throw in last-minute applications to law school. If you are not sure you want to be a lawyer, are applying late in the application cycle, are not happy with your GPA or LSAT score just wait. Like the majority of law school applicants nationwide, you can take a gap year. You can make money for law school, try out law firm life as a paralegal, travel the world or hunker down and study for the LSAT — either way, you will be doing yourself a favor if you wait and apply during one application cycle when you are fully ready to apply. I have rarely met an applicant who regretted taking a gap year.

And don’t forget to talk to your pre-law advisors. Many of us work with alumni as well as current students.

Hillary Mantis consults with college students, law students and lawyers. She is director of the pre-law advising program at Fordham University and author of career books including “Alternative Careers for Lawyers.” You may reach her at altcareer@aol.com.