If you've been following along in an orderly fashion, you have an LSAT score, a polished resume, and a handful of essays. You've chosen recommenders and evaluators, followed up with them, and know they've been sent to Law Services. You've obtained fee waivers or saved up at least $500 to pay for applications. Now it's time to begin filling out applications.
For most of you, this is your big chance to screw up.
You'll try to rush through applications. You'll misread. You won't take the time to give the school exactly what it wants. Then when you get rejected, you'll curse the fates and the law school, instead of looking at yourself.
So, knowing that you won't listen, and don't have the skill to read as carefully as you need to, and think I'm a jerk for saying anything, let me tell you what you'll do wrong.
- You'll assume that if the computer fills in a blank for you, it did do correctly.
- Wrong. The computer pre-fills certain information in horribly wrong ways. Phone numbers can lose a digit; schools can be filled in most recent first when the app asks for chronological order; the computer fills in a four-digit year when the app asks for two-digits.
- You'll assume that if there's an item numbered "1," that's the first thing you have to fill in, and the last number is the last thing you need to worry about.
- Wrong. There are often boxes and questions above, below, to the side of, after — anyplace. This is often done deliberately, to see whether you're a careful reader.
- You'll assume that if you don't see a page or word limit for the personal statement, there isn't one.
- Wrong. If you don't see one, keep looking. Try the application instructions that come in a separate pdf file. Try the law school's web site. Try reading again, more slowly. When all else fails, use your judgment. "A brief statement." means a page or two; "feel free to explain" allows four to six pages.
- You'll assume that "You may also include a resume" means you don't have to fill in those silly boxes.
- Wrong. Try looking up the word "also."
- You'll assume you can use the same essay for every school.
- Wrong, wrong, wrong, wrong, wrong.
It takes about five hours to fill out the Common Information Form completely and correctly, and another two for each application. With each new client, I spend a lot of time saying, "Wrong; go do it again." After the first few, you may get the time down to an hour an app — plus essays.
So allow a full evening for the first application, and don't try to complete more than two a night thereafter. Follow all the steps in this section. If nothing else in your file makes you stand out from the crowd, a perfectly completed application just might tip the scales.
Transparency Is a Two-Way Street
I've heard a lot about law schools misleading applicants about jobs, median LSAT scores, and likelihood of admission. But I haven't heard anything at all about applicants who omit, mislead, or outright lie on their applications. Here are the most obvious instances:
- "Minor traffic violation." Every one of my clients this year said, "I think..." I always respond with "Have you checked your DMV record?" A misdemeanor is not a matter of opinion or subjective analysis. It's a legal definition, and you're required to know whether any of your transgressions have met that definition.
- How do you find out? The ticket or DMV record should indicate the level of transgression. You can also search the internet for the section number of the law you violated. If that doesn't work, call the DMV and ask someone.
- "Where else have you applied?" "Do I have to answer that?" YES. List ALL the schools to which you're applying; if your list is too long (which should, in itelf, give you a hint), make sure you show a representative sample, from safeties to dream schools.
- Listing only higher-ranked schools won't make a law school think you're special, and it might make them think you're unrealistic.
- Failing to list other schools when the instructions say "List all the law schools..." is misrepresentation, and can earn you a misconduct charge.
- "Honors and Activities." Don't turn a day's volunteer work into a semester-long activity. Don't make every activity done through an umbrella group (e.g., a sorority or honor society) into a separate event. And don't make helping out at Dad's office a five-star internship.
If you want law schools to play fair, play fair yourself.