Prelaw at ND
Law Fair 2012
The Application Process
Many factors should be considered in deciding where to apply: geographical region, setting (urban or rural), size, selectivity, status, cost, financial aid possibilities, special programs (combined degree, affirmative action admissions, night law school), clinical programs, and so forth. The Official Guide to U.S. Law Schools is a good place to begin your research. The Guide presents two-page descriptions of the various schools prepared by the schools themselves. It gives a good sense of how the schools see themselves--what they think they do especially well--as well as specifics about their programs and financial aid. Many include a grid of their admissions record from the previous year at the various GPA and LSAT levels, which can give you some idea of how likely you are to be accepted at any particular law school. The most recent copy of the Guide may be found for free online at http://www.lsac.org and is available in hard copy for use in 105 O'Shaughnessy, or it may be ordered from Law Services online or using the publication order form in the Book.
The prelaw advisor also has tables of acceptances of ND students who applied to law school last year. While past performances are no guarantee of future acceptances, you can get a sense of how receptive law schools might be to your application.
Law school admissions personnel are usually happy to provide information to prospective applicants. You should take the opportunity to meet with many representatives in person each fall (usually early October) when they come to the Law Fair at ND. Our proximity to Chicago also makes it possible to attend the Law Forum held there each fall, where you can meet recruiters from most law schools, collect information and ask questions. Dates and locations of the Law Forums are listed online and in the Registration and Information Book.
Once you have established a list of potential law schools, you should write to ask for catalogues and applications. New catalogues are available in late summer or early fall. Our resource library in 104 O'Shaughnessy has many of the most recent catalogues from law schools across the nation. You need only send a postcard to request a catalogue. You can find Request of Information postcards in the back of the Registration and Information Book. There is no fee for the information from the law schools.
Selecting a law school is a critical decision. You should gather as much information as you can before you commit your time, money, and energy. The following is a checklist of items you should investigate before you make a final decision.
Faculty: Legal training, specialties, diversity, accessibility to students
Financial support: loans, scholarships, employment opportunities at law school or law firms for second and third-year students
Housing: dorms, apartment rates, parking, clearing house for roommates
Tutorial: academic support programs
Internships: number, locale, salaries (if any)
Community environment: recreation opportunities; clean, well-lighted places; cafes, records stores, book stores
Student organizations: kind and type
Attrition rates: how many drop out or fail; why?
Placement: locations, salaries; depth; differences between top 10% and other 90%
Library facilities: extent of holdings; computer access; hours of operation; access to other libraries' holdings; available individual and group study space; parking and proximity to rest of campus
Alumni: what do recent alumni have to say?
Student body: satisfaction level; backgrounds; undergraduate schools; diversity
Costs:fees, likely increases; transportation or commuting costs, parking fees
Bookstores: holdings, study guides
Bar Pass Rates: review courses and costs, study facilities and accessibility
Special Programs: guest speakers; moot court and/or other competitions
Career services: number of advisors; programs; resources
Student participation and representation: in admissions; in curriculum selection; in administration of the law school
Philosophy: practitioner oriented; Platonic method
Reputation: how does the school measure it? how do students?
Administration: focus; personnel
Joint programs: joint degrees; flexibility in tailoring a program
Enrollment: student body count; class sizes
Physical facilities: classrooms; student lockers and study spaces; student meeting areas; disabled student access
Make an attempt to contact current students and recent graduates as well as law school representatives to get answers to your questions.
You should select a range of schools for application. It is wise to apply to a few schools that will almost certainly admit you. You should also include a few on the other end of the scale, where you are not likely to be admitted, but would dearly love to attend if accepted. Your middle range should be schools that may or may not accept you, but you would be happy to attend.
You can apply to as many or as few schools as you wish or can afford. Each application requires a fee; fee waivers are available in cases of financial need. You should apply to enough schools to to be sure of being admitted to a school you would like to attend.
If possible, visit law schools before you make your final decision about which one you will attend. Most schools provide tours, arrange for you to sit in on classes, and to talk with professors, students and staff. Since law schools do not conduct formal interviews, visits are a good way to introduce yourself to school representatives at the same time you are gathering direct knowledge about the school.
Preparing the Application
Your application is the school's first impression of you, so take care in preparing it. Neatness counts. Most schools have online applications or you can use the LSACD (see below). Follow directions carefully, and include all requested information as completely as possible. To avoid making corrections on an application, you may want to copy the forms and fill out the copies first. Law Services offers a CD-Rom and a web version that allows you to fill out multiple applications on your computer. All of the ABA approved law schools have their individual applications in the program. It saves time and effort and is well worth the $54 investment. See http://www.lsac.org or the LSAT/SLDAS Registration and Information Book for ordering information.
The Personal Statement
Most schools require a one-or two-page personal statement. This should be viewed as an opportunity to present yourself in a way not reflected in your transcript or resume. It is a substitute in many ways for the personal interview, so let your personality emerge from the page. Do not restate the obvious or rehash material the admissions committee will already have before them. Tell the schools what you can offer them that no one else can. Accentuate experiences, traits, abilities and passions that set you apart. Be specific. Develop a narrative that will be engaging and worth the committee's time to read. Don't be too cute or unconventional. The personal statement is also your chance to explain anything on your record that may appear negative. In all cases, BE SURE YOUR GRAMMAR, PUNCTUATION, AND SPELLING ARE CORRECT.
Sample personal statements are available in 104 O'Shaughnessy. Some commercial publications offer useful samples of personal statements too. Remember, however, you are writing your own personal statement that should reflect your own style. Don't rely on gimmicks or on someone else's style.
Filing the Application
File your application in a timely manner. You should plan to have your applications completed and sent well in advance of the application deadlines. We recommend having them in the mail by Thanksgiving if you plan to be admitted for the following September. This will maximize your chances of acceptance, especially to schools with rolling admissions. As admissions committees begin to fill the available positions in a class, your odds of acceptance decrease with each new admittance before your application arrives.
You are responsible for making certain your letters of recommendation are sent in a timely fashion. Some applicants discover, even though they have filed their applications early, their files are delayed in the review process because the required letters of recommendation have not been received. This can seriously diminish their chances of acceptance, especially if they are already borderline.
You may wish to mail your applications "return receipt requested" to alleviate anxiety about timely receipt of your applications and to provide proof of filing. You may want to do the same when you mail in your seat deposit after acceptance.
Be certain to include a "Law School Application Matching Form" from the back of the LSAT/LSDAS Registration and Information Book with each application. Law schools use it to obtain your LSDAS report from Law Services.
Letters of Recommendation
Most law schools require one or two letters of recommendation with your application, and even those that don't will consider them with your application. Choosing your recommenders is consequential in that it does affect your admission chances. Some schools prefer or require faculty recommendations, and do not consider a file until the faculty letters arrive. A strong faculty letter demonstrates an awareness of the student's academic potential, and is not just a citation of a particular grade a student earned in a particular class. The wise applicant will make every effort to get to know their professors. A good mentor-student relationship can enrich your undergraduate education immeasurably and sustain your intellectual life far beyond your college and law school years. A student who pursues special projects and demonstrates true intellectual curiosity and initiative is certainly the kind of student any good law school covets. A great letter of recommendation is simply a happy by-product of a student's hard work.
The importance of faculty letters is not so significant for applicants who have been out of school for several years. Letters from employers, co-workers, or others in a position to evaluate your ability or character are appropriate. If you have maintained contact with one or more of your professors, you may of course provide a letter from him or her. If the school requires a faculty letter, you should try to comply even if you have been out of school for some time. You can include letters that amplify your time out of school. Students who are planning to apply to law school within a year or two after graduation from college may want to have letters from professors placed in their files before they graduate. The prelaw advisor has forms for students to use in such cases.
Try to choose recommenders who can be specific and who can write you the strongest possible letters. You can tactfully ask a recommender if they feel they know you and/or your work well enough to write you a strong letter. If a recommender seems reluctant to write a letter, find someone else. A lukewarm or negative letter will obviously damage your chances of acceptance. If a recommender is willing, be sure they are able to write you a good letter. Someone who is able to compare you with other students who have attended a law school to which you are applying can be particularly persuasive. Dealing with facts relevant to law school is appreciated by the law schools, as is honesty. A letter that recognizes a candidate's weaknesses, but is nonetheless laudatory can be of great help to an admissions committee. You can insure stronger letters by choosing your recommenders with care; then provide them with writing samples, a resume, and your personal statement. All will help them to know you better as a student and as a person.
The rule of thumb in selecting a recommender is to look for the quality of letter rather than the prestige of the author. You may be acquainted with a senator or a judge who is willing to write you a letter even though he/she does not know you well. Such letters are generally a waste of the writer's and the admission committee's time since they tend to be so general as to be meaningless. It is preferable to get a letter from someone unrelated to the legal profession who can tell the committee more about you than they can glean from your application or personal statement.
The LSDAS offers a convenient Letter of Recommendation Service for no extra charge. You will be asked whether you are willing to waive your right to see your letters of recommendation. Some argue that doing so will increase the credibility of the letters you receive. Certainly a glowing letter has more force if an admissions committee knows the applicant has not and probably will not ever see it.
PLAN AHEAD when asking for letters of recommendation. Give your recommenders adequate time to prepare your letters. You should ask your recommenders a few weeks before you give them the forms if they are willing to write you a letter. Then make sure you give them at least three weeks to complete and mail the letters after you have given them the material. Asking a recommender on Monday to "write a letter and send it by Friday" demonstrates a wanton disregard for his or her other duties and responsibilities. Certainly it does not provoke your writer to speak well of your maturity and responsibility, or to applaud your organizational skills. The result may be a less positive letter than you might otherwise have received.
You will get a better response from recommenders if you follow a fairly simple protocol. Make a master list of all the schools to which you are submitting applications, specifying deadline dates (usually the date you plan to mail your completed application) and whether the letters are to be returned directly to the school, to you, or to the prelaw advisor. Include stamped, addressed envelopes for every form or letter. If you plan to pick up the letters personally, be sure you indicate the date and where you plan to retrieve them. Make sure all waiver forms are signed, and that any part of the form you are responsible for filling in is completed before you give them to your recommender. A recommender should never have to look up your social security number or wonder whether you forgot to sign a waiver or intentionally omitted your signature. Their only task should be to write the letter, stuff it into a prepared envelope and mail it by a specified date.
You may ask one recommender to provide letters for all of your applications. Most professors and employers understand that you will apply to multiple schools, and will write one letter to which they will make emendations as necessary. In a computer age, this is an imposition only if you do not give your recommender plenty of advance notice and time.
Several law schools require a letter of recommendation from a dean at your undergraduate institution. If you know your dean, so much the better. For most Domers, however, the dean's letter simply provides your rank and indicates any academic or disciplinary proceedings. It should not serve as a substitute required by the law school for institutional aid.