Law School Application Preparation

As you may know, the legal field is complex but filled with opportunities. In addition to popular fields such as prosecution and defense for criminal matters and litigating civil procedures, lawyers fill important roles in the private, public, and nonprofit sectors. In this way, not all lawyers go to court and not all lawyers practice law—for instance, some teach law, while others advise corporations. Career vectors are truly limitless. With that in mind, law school admissions committees attempt to reflect the diversity of the field with the diversity of its admissions offers. Not all accepted applicants will have similar background and educational experiences.

Admissions committees receive thousands of applications each year—and there are too many applications for too few available seats. Under these conditions, law schools value the LSAT score and undergraduate GPA slightly more than they do a well-written personal statement. However, many admissions committees do not set a ceiling or floor LSAT score threshold and therefore are willing to look at a file holistically.

Aside from having a good LSAT score and GPA, you must determine how you will differentiate yourself from your peers with similar scores and GPAs. Keep in mind that some of your competitors are going to read similar advice on how to differentiate themselves and try the same things, so what will truly set you apart is a sense of demonstrable passion. It’s not enough to want to go to law school; you have to prove it. You might be interested in criminal law, but have you witnessed cases being argued in court? Have you volunteered for a case you believed in? Have you championed a cause on student government? Did you learn anything along the way? These are just several of hundreds of possible questions you could ask yourself—so, if you cannot answer these questions, then pose others related to your future goals.

Where you apply is important. Consider not only the likelihood of being accepted to the schools where you apply, but also factors such as out-of-state tuition, if applicable. You may consider going to an out-of-state-school and prepare for that state’s bar exam if you intend to practice law in that state.

How you apply is equally important. You should apply early—and be prepared to do so—when more seats are available, so that already selective schools do not consider your file with increasingly stringent application standards.

The application and admissions process isn’t terribly difficult to navigate—as long as you’re prepared and do not wait until the last moment to apply. It is complex and involves multiple steps, but like organizing your coursework and life priorities, it’s really about managing logistics. If you’ve come this far in your education, you know enough about time management and goal setting to successfully complete the application requirements.

Application Timeline

Each law school sets its own application deadline and admissions cycle. Similarly, the LSAC sets its own registration and testing schedule. In order for you to avoid delay and cramming—and perhaps mitigate de facto rejection from not following a school’s distinctive requirements—you are strongly encouraged to fully comply with both sets of deadlines and requirements. During your junior year, please consult the website for each law school to which you wish to apply as well as the LSAC website—and plan your activities and objectives backwards from deadlines and application acceptance dates.

Generally, it is best that you take the LSAT between your junior and senior year, typically in the spring or summer. Be sure to make an appointment with an academic or faculty advisor the semester prior to registering for the LSAT; we would like to evaluate your academic preparation so that we might make recommendations for the next semester—before you take the test.

In the winter semester of your junior year, request letters of recommendation from your professors, advisors, and mentors. You won’t need them right away, but having them readily available for the application process later in the year will help tremendously. Additionally, it alleviates the pressure from your recommenders to write under a quick turnaround time, which allows for them to write better letters.

Another option to consider is applying early. Early decision programs afford you the opportunity to get into your top choice before the end of the fall semester of your senior year. Since the cycle is faster, application deadlines are pushed forward and should be noted. With these programs, which certain schools offer, if you get accepted to your first choice, you must either attend that school or not attend any school. However, if you do not get accepted into the one you wish, you still will have time to apply to other law schools. Applying under such constraints isn’t the right decision for everyone, but you might consider an early decision application beneficial because (a) you know you want to go there and have a reasonable chance of getting accepted, and, (b) it saves you application fees and hassles up front. It should be noted that being denied admission through the early decision program does not necessarily mean you won’t get in during that particular school’s regular cycle; please consult individual school websites for additional information.

Here are the pre-law application considerations broken down by class standing and month:

Sophomore Year
When possible, but before deadlines

Register for LSAC account and LSAT test date if planning on taking the LSAT in February of your junior year. Otherwise, wait until junior year to register for June or September/October test date. Begin studying for LSAT test. Purchase preparation materials and download sample tests.

Junior Year

When possible, but before deadlines

Register for LSAC account. Register for LSAT June or September/October test date at least three months ahead of schedule.

January

Continue studying for the LSAT.

February

LSAT offered.

March

Notify your professors that you will soon ask for letters of recommendation. Continue studying for the LSAT, if not taken in February.

April

Continue studying for the LSAT.

May

Continue studying for the LSAT.

June

LSAT offered. Continue studying for the LSAT, if not taken in June or if retaking in September/October.

July

Begin writing personal statements. If you are pleased with your score from February or June, register for the LSAC’s Credential Assembly Service (CAS). Request that your transcripts be sent to the CAS. Continue studying for the LSAT if you plan on taking it in September/October.

Senior
September

LSAT offered late September or early October. Apply to the schools you wish to attend.

October

LSAT offered early October or late September. Apply to the schools you wish to attend.

December

LSAT offered. At the end of the month, request a new transcript be sent to the LSAC’s CAS after fall grades have been posted.

May

Spring graduation.

August

Begin law school.

Application Costs

The following chart shows a likely fee assessment (as of August 2010) for the various steps you would undertake in the application process (registering for and taking the LSAT, registering for the Credential Assembly Service in order to apply for law school, then use the service to apply to all in-state law schools): 

Item Cost

LSAT Registration Fee

$136

Credential Assembly Service Registration Fee

$124

UM-Flint Transcript Fee, Spring, Normal Service
UM-Flint Transcript Fee, Winter, Rush Service

$4
$8

UM-Ann Arbor Application Fee
+ LSAC Credential Service Fee

$75
$12

Cooley Application Fee
+ LSAC Credential Service Fee

$0
$12

MSU Application Fee
+ LSAC Credential Service Fee

$60
$12

Wayne State Application Fee
+ LSAC Credential Service Fee

$50
$12

University of Detroit Mercy Application Fee
+ LSAC Credential Service Fee

$50
$12
Total $567

Rest assured, these costs are not incurred all at once. You can register for the LSAT almost a year prior to your intended test date, and you don’t have to register for the Credential Service until you’re pleased with your LSAT score. 

If you find that registering for the LSAT, let alone applying to schools, is cost prohibitive for your budget, consider applying for fee waivers. The LSAC offers fee waivers to those who qualify. The good news is that if you do qualify, certain schools will automatically waive their application fees as well. For more information on how to apply for a fee waiver, please consult this LSAC website

LSAC, LSAT, and CAS

LAW SCHOOL ADMISSION COUNCIL 
The Law School Admission Council (LSAC) is the nonprofit corporation that provides centralized and uniform testing and credentialing services for law schools in the United States, Canada, and Australia. To these ends, the LSAC offers two services: the Law School Admission Test (LSAT) and the Credential Assembly Service (CAS). 

Your involvement with the LSAC will be extensive. You will begin by registering for a free account with them. Registration will allow for you to further register for the LSAT and CAS.

LAW SCHOOL ADMISSION TEST 
The Law School Admission Test (LSAT) is a standardized test administered to all who wish to become law school applicants. The purpose of having an independent and uniform standardized test is to ensure a consistent testing system for law schools to measure applicants from divergent experiences but with convergent interests. This serves to equalize applicants, in part and in contrast to the GPA, since, for example, a B at one school is an A at another. Test results will arrive to your LSAC account three weeks after taking the test. 

The LSAT is offered four times a year: February, June, either late September or early October, and December. Spots fill fast, so you are urged to first register for a free LSAC account as soon as you have decided to take the test. After that has been completed, registering for the LSAT is comprised of selecting a date and a location. Later, you will be asked to print a registration ticket for admission to the test center. 

As a student, you are encouraged to take the LSAT before September, because (a) you will wish to concentrate on the actual application process at that point, (b) you will want the schools to have the score available to them when you apply so there will not be a delay in processing your application, particularly if any schools make rolling decisions, and, (c) you should know your LSAT score prior to the application process. Knowing your score will help you mitigate possible rejection, as you will be able to use the LSAC’s predictive models to determine your likelihood of acceptance to certain law schools. However, please do not let these predictions prohibit you from trying for a school about which you are enthusiastic. Predictive models are only tools and do not account for the many exceptions law schools make. 

The LSAT is comprised of five segments, each lasting thirty-five minutes. These segments are: 

  • Reading Comprehension
  • Analytical Reasoning
  • Logical Reasoning
  • Writing Sample (unscored)
  • Sample Questions (unscored)

Applicants are only allowed to take the LSAT three times in a span of two years. If you take it more than once, some law schools will average your scores, not take the highest or lowest. This is why it is important to begin practicing for the test well in advance. If you are considering retaking the LSAT, please review this chart, detailing retake test score results. 

CREDENTIAL ASSEMBLY SERVICE 
Although preparation for law school is arduous, the actual application process relies on reducing the effort involved with multiple applications by using one service to apply for multiple schools. This simplification also helps law schools preprocess applications. Law schools require that you use the LSAC’s Credential Assembly Service (CAS). This service will summarize your undergraduate transcripts, provide copies of them, recalculate your GPA, provide your writing sample to the law school, and relay letters of recommendation. 

After you have received your LSAT score, are comfortable with it, and still wish to apply to law school, then you should sign up for the CAS. Once you have registered for a CAS account, you will need to print various forms for your recommenders and request copies of your transcripts to be sent to the CAS. At UM-Flint, you can request transcripts to be sent within the SIS system. 

Send all transcripts from any post-secondary institution you have attended to this address: 

Law School Admission Council 
662 Penn Street 
Box 2000-M 
Newtown, PA 18940-0993 

Michigan Considerations

MICHIGAN LAW SCHOOL APPLICATIONS ACCEPTED 
For each law school in Michigan, the following windows for accepting applications are: 

University Location Applications Accepted

The University of Michigan Law School

Ann Arbor

Between September 1 and February 15

Michigan State University College of Law

East Lansing

After October 1 and prior to March 1

The Thomas M. Cooley Law School

Lansing

Before April 1

Wayne State University Law School

Detroit

From October 1 through March 16

University of Detroit Mercy School of Law

Detroit

Before April 15

MICHIGAN LAW SCHOOL TUITION RATES (2010—2011) 
The rates given here are based upon full-time attendance for a school year. Some schools only provided semester costs, and so estimates are based on this figure, doubled. Please note that some schools incorporate fees into tuition and some do not. You are encouraged to review tuition costs on school websites for further details. 

University Resident Tuition Non-Resident Tuition

The University of Michigan Law School

$44,410 / year

$47,410 / year

Michigan State University College of Law

$34,950 / year

 

The Thomas M. Cooley Law School

$30,644 / year

 

Wayne State University Law School

$24,871 / year

$27,187 / year

University of Detroit Mercy School of Law

$33,930 / year

 

Personal Statement

You’re not your LSAT score. You’re not your GPA, either. So much of who you are has nothing to do with what you achieved, but why you did what you did—and this is your chance to talk about it. When law school admission committees—which usually are, among others, comprised of faculty members you will study under—review your application, they want to get to know who you are beyond academic pursuits. This is why most admissions advice places an emphasis on extracurricular activities and volunteer work: It gives you a chance to humanize your application and interests. 

The narrative you write is your only chance to talk directly to admissions officers and faculty. Most of the advice on getting into law schools stresses the importance of good scores and good grades, but the majority of committees review your file holistically. When all become equal factors, a good score does not shield a poorly written personal statement from scrutiny. Your personal statement is just as important as your GPA and LSAT score because, frankly, some committee members might not look at your file holistically. In these instances, once your application made the initial cut, you now belong to a group of applicants with the same score and GPA ranges as you—so the next way to accept or reject applicants is by reviewing personal statements. 

Since law schools receive more applicants than available openings, your personal statement can be viewed from two perspectives: a qualifying frame and a disqualifying frame. Your statement will be scrutinized by committee members in an attempt to determine if you should attend or if you shouldn’t. You can better avoid rejection by telling them why you belong in law school while doing it in a way that doesn’t displease the reader. Overall, it means avoiding gaffes, such as an unformatted letter, or improper styles, inappropriate topics, spelling/grammar errors, et cetera. 

Writing a statement of purpose can be intimidating. Where do you start? How do you start? What do you write about? In general, like all writing endeavors, you should start with notes, then arrange your notes into an outline and form a first draft. Let it sit for a few days—even a week or longer—then come back to it and refine. Next, take it to the [[Marian E. Wright Writing Center]] in French Hall. In addition to helping you resolve grammar issues, the staff there will help you revise your draft and spot style inconsistencies and voice issues. When you have a second draft, take it to an academic advisor and a professor for their review. Leveraging the resources available to you at UM-Flint will help you create a polished personal statement. 

GENERAL WRITING ADVICE

  • There’s an admonishment in writing that “something isn’t written, it’s rewritten.” When it comes to your personal statement, you will need to rewrite it, spend several drafts perfecting it, and solicit tons of advice and feedback.
  • If you’re having difficulty writing, don’t write. Put yourself on the spot and conduct a mock interview (by yourself or with others)—listen to what you say about your aspirations and motivations. It might spark you to take your writing in new directions.
  • Consider writing two statements, each from different perspectives, starting points, and styles. You might find the alternative ways of expressing yourself useful to the final draft.
  • Visit the Writing Center for all drafts you write.
  • Consider hiring a professional editor from an online service that has experience with personal statements (like Scribendi.com, et alia) to copyedit and proofread your statement.
  • Do not go over the top—stylistically or divergently—to impress admissions committees.
  • Do not write your personal statement in the form of a short story, or a scene of dialogue, or a Q and A session, et cetera.
  • Avoid quotes in general, but especially at the top of the document.
  • The committee wants to get to know who you are, so focus more on the why then the what.
  • Avoid the word “unique,” since these committees review thousands of applications each year.
  • You do not get extra points for using so-called “big words.” If you do use them, make sure that you use them with finesse, so that their use doesn’t suggest carelessness.

CONTENT ADVICE

  • Market yourself. You want them to like you, after all.
  • Be bold, but be yourself.
  • You should be interesting, but not pompous and lofty.
  • Don’t say you want to save the world—or change it—unless you can back it up with fantastic and substantial experience likely corresponding to your ambitions. Otherwise, it will come off as insincere.
  • Your statement of purpose should be about you as a pre-professional, so you should avoid mentioning anything from high school or childhood.

WRITING FOR YOUR AUDIENCE

  • Consider who is reading your statement of purpose as you draft it.
  • Realize that you do not have a captive audience. The admissions committee can opt to stop reading halfway through—or after the first line—and throw you in the “no pile.” First impressions matter.
  • Focus on the positive. If you have to relay the story of an obstacle you faced in life, do it with the focus on what you learned from it—not the event itself. Any bad grades you wish to explain away should be dealt with in an addendum to your application, not here: focus on the positive here.
  • Realize that they read thousands of these and know when you’re not passionate, just applying.
  • If you can talk about the specific school you’re applying to using specifics—not just that they have a great program—mention it, but make it relevant to your ambitions.
  • Admissions committees know how important law is. You do not need to remind them.
  • Likewise, they know you want to become a lawyer and go to law school, so do not bore them with mentioning such out of context.

OPTIONAL ESSAYS 
Beyond the required personal statement you provide the CAS, many law schools provide questions for optional essays on their application forms. We strongly encourage you to consider that they’re not really optional. If a school has made an internal assessment that the additional information provides some value, then you should respect that valuation and provide answers. In other words, the school wouldn’t request information if it didn’t find it useful and wouldn’t request information if it didn’t expect an answer. 

APPLICATION ADDENDUM 
Many law schools will accept a short statement as an application addendum. These statements—usually no more than a paragraph or two—are used to explain away problems or obstacles that could derail your application. Often, such statements are given to explain a failing semester due to unfortunate and mitigating reasons. If applicable, you should speak with your advisor to discuss how appropriate an addendum would be for your particular circumstance. 

Reference Letters

In addition to your personal statement, LSAT score, and GPA, law school admissions committees have a significant interest in understanding how the community evaluates you. To that end, law schools require the submission of letters of recommendation to the CAS. In order for committees to properly evaluate a recommendation and ensure that such recommendations are candid, students are asked to waive their right to access these letters. This wavier is usually accomplished by checking a box on a form or online. Our advisors echo the prevailing advice to strongly encourage students to waive the right to access letters of recommendation. 

Once you have established a CAS account, you will then list the names of your recommenders in the system. You can indicate whether a letter should be a generic letter, for use in multiple applications, or if it is a targeted letter solely to be used for one application. Next, you will be given a printout for each recommender so that when your recommenders send in their recommendations they will be matched to your account—the CAS will not match letters to your account without a form. Provide your recommender with the form and a self-addressed stamped envelope. 

You should select your reference writers on how well they can objectively speak to your scholastic aptitude, personal drive, and character. There is a particular etiquette involved in reference letters, such as asking with grace and following up with thank you cards. It is advisable to familiarize yourself with these so that you do not offend your recommenders; even if it’s not your style, it might be theirs. 

It’s a good idea to give each recommender information he or she would find useful, such as a copy of your proposed personal statement. If your chosen letter writer is a professor, send him or her a refresher e-mail listing of the courses you took with him or her and the grades you earned. 

Get to know your professors! These are the academic peers of your admissions committee. Their objective evaluation and recommendation are pivotal to the admissions process. 

Underrepresented Minorities

Our society has structured law above all else and justice in such a way that everyone is equal. The operative requirement in such a system is that it be dependent upon the multivocality of its citizenry. Accordingly, the legal industry strives to be culturally cognizant and reflective of the culture it serves. The fact is, however, that minorities have been—and still are today—underrepresented in legal professions. Since there is a disproportionate representation of minorities in the legal profession, more minority involvement is necessary for the law to approach a pluralistic representation of American society. 

For these reasons, law schools around the country have adopted minority recruitment initiatives. Legal education, like any educational experience, is greatly impacted by the diversity of experiences and cultures students bring to the classroom. Many law schools recognize this benefit and actively seek candidates best suited to enrich their programs based on the applicant pool. To that end, the LSAC has launched a program you should review: the Minorities Interested in Legal Education (MILE) project. 

Before you apply for law school, it is worthwhile to review specific information for minority applicants and their opportunities, which you can find here. 

After you take the LSAT, the LSAC will distribute your name, address, and LSAT score to law schools with minority recruitment programs. This is beneficial to you because certain interested schools will encourage you to apply to their schools by waiving application fees.

Application Statistics

Both the ABA and the LSAC maintain a database on law school applicant statistics. You are encouraged to review their findings. We have created the following charts based on their available data. 

Law School Matriculants by Ethnicity 2000 - 2009
  2000 2001 2002 2003 2004 2005 2006 2007 2008 2009

American Indian/Alaskan Native

0.80%

0.70%

0.70%

0.70%

0.80%

0.70%

0.70%

0.80%

0.80%

0.70%

Asian/Pacific Islander

7.00%

7.00%

7.50%

8.00%

8.40%

8.20%

8.00%

8.20%

8.30%

8.10%

Black/African American

7.50%

7.30%

6.70%

6.60%

6.80%

6.50%

7.20%

7.10%

7.30%

7.20%

Caucasian/White

72.50%

73.20%

72.60%

 

70.80%

69.90%

71.40%

71.10%

70.30%

69.90%

70.40%

Chicano/Mexican American

0.70%

1.60%

1.50%

1.50%

1.40%

1.40%

1.30%

1.30%

1.40%

1.30%

Hispanic/Latino

3.60%

3.50%

3.30%

3.80%

3.90%

4.30%

4.50%

4.90%

5.10%

5.30%

Puerto Rican

1.40%

1.90%

1.60%

1.70%

1.70%

1.70%

1.60%

1.70%

1.70%

1.60%

Other

3.70%

3.90%

4.10%

4.40%

4.40%

4.60%

4.60%

4.80%

4.70%

4.70%

No Ethnic ID

2.00%

0.90%

1.90%

2.50%

2.70%

1.20%

1.00%

1.00%

0.70%

0.80%

Source: http://www.lsac.org/LSACResources/Data/matrics-by-ethnicity.asp
2000 - 2009 Applications and Acceptance Rate

Source: http://www.lsac.org/LSACResources/data/LSAC-volume-summary.asp 

A note about acceptance rates: the rate above is a national construction based on acceptances of all applicants. Rates will therefore vary individually depending on the institution. For example, the University of Michigan Law School admission rates from 2010—2012 were 20.7%, 21.1%, and 21.9%, respectively (Source: http://www.law.umich.edu/prospectivestudents/Pages/classstatistics.aspx). 

Average Living and Book Expenses for Single Students Living on Campus

Source: http://www.abanet.org/legaled/statistics/stats.html 

Average Amount Borrowed for Law School

Source: http://www.abanet.org/legaled/statistics/stats.html