When Something Goes Wrong

In 2010, 58,000 people were admitted to law school; only 48,000 attended. (Data published by LSAC.) What happened to the other 10,000?

Poor planning.

  • They didn't get into the schools they wanted; perhaps they applied without waiting to see whether they had a high enough LSAT score, or perhaps they short-changed the essay and application process. In a few instances, they relied on "connections" when they shouldn't have.
  • They didn't get the financial aid they needed. They may have applied late, or wrongly assumed that there would be as much money available for law school as there was for undergrad. They may have failed to complete the necessary forms.
  • They didn't get their housing, job, and other family needs met. They may have waited too long to hear from wait lists, which left them with too little time to act.
  • They didn't think through the emotional issues and now must come to terms with their fears or their family's.
After six months or more of studying, reading, applying, and waiting, they have nothing they want. Now they must either rethink their desires or re-apply, fixing whatever they did wrong.

If you want a different school:

Start by seeing whether your GPA and LSAT score were within the range the school seems to be accepting. LSAC publishes this data for you, and we tell you all about it right here. If the school publishes a numerical grid, apply only if the school admitted 25% or more people with your numbers. (If you're a minority, you can try some schools where your chances are as low as 10%, so long as you also include some schools where you have a greater chance.

"But someone gets in with a lower LSAT score."

"Yes, but you didn't; that's why you're re-applying."

Even if you retake the LSAT and get a higher score, your chance of getting in at a school that took 5% with your numbers is no better then it was last year, because your other ("soft") factors are no better than they were.

For instance:

If you applied to the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill (UNC) with a 3.2 and a 157, you'd have a 3% chance of admission. If you then retake the LSAT and get a 167, you'd have a better than 30% chance of admission at UNC, but you'd only have a 4% chance of admission at Duke. You're no more likely to get into Duke with a 167 as you were to get into Carolina with a 157.

Why? Because if your "soft" factors were good enough to get you into Duke now, they'd have gained you a seat at Carolina last year.


  1. your essays are awesomely better -- new topics, great writing, no errors;
  2. your recommendations are way better -- academic when last year you had work or personal recs;
  3. you have a compelling explanation for weak grades or LSAT score that you didn't include last year;

you're going to get into a school with the same percent chance of admission as you did last year.

If your finances need adjusting:

  1. Figure out whether the problem is economic or emotional -- did you really not have enough money or were you afraid to take out loans? If fear stopped you, see "emotional issues" below.
  2. If the problem is economic, is it fixable? Can your partner find a job in your new city, can you save up the money to move? If so, ask for a deferral before you re-apply.
  3. If you can't fix the problem yourself, can someone help by lending you money or cosigning a bank loan? If they can and will, let them.

If your family needs a better plan:

Most issues -- child care, housing for the Doberman, selling the house, finding a caretaker for the parents -- can be dealt with between March and July, even if it's not the best solution. But face it, the best schools have five year wait lists, and sitting out a year won't help.

Other problems may require a longer remedy. The most notorious are health insurance and medical treatment. People headed for law school have suddenly found that if they move out of state their insurance doesn't move with them. If an ongoing medical condition requires that treatment not lapse, this can be an absolute deal-breaker.

Before giving up on law school, examine your resources. Call the school; it may have dealt with a similar problem. Check with insurance carriers, nursing homes, and other large institutions; they may have branches in other cities.

If you've done all this and still can't find an answer, fate may not have planned for you to attend law school just now. Tell yourself that life isn't just a bowl of cherries, you can't mix apples and oranges, if life deals you lemons make lemonade, and settle for a fruit salad. It's not like you have a choice.

Oho, you don't want to settle, eh? Then rethink what's keeping you out of a law school that you are otherwise able to attend. LSAT? Go fix it. Arrest record of some sort? Realize that your penalty didn't end with your probation, and decide what you can do to prove that you've reformed. Husband who won't move? Lysistrata had an answer to that.

If you must address emotional issues:

"Afraid to go," although usually veiled by other comments like "not ready to sell our home," is a perfectly valid issue. Voyages into the unknown were fun to Ferdinand Magellan and Henry Hudson, but they both died while adventuring.

But fear need not be a final decision; it can be counsel to plan more thoroughly. Maybe going off before your spouse has a job isn't a great idea; and maybe your spouse could work at McD's 'till a better job comes along. A trip to the locale of the law school -- a visit of a week or more, if this is your final choice -- can alleviate fears by providing solutions.

Some fears are insurmountable and others can be circumnavigated. You can't go to law school if you're agoraphobic, but you might be able to attend a law school elsewhere if you're afraid of snakes.

If the emotional issue that needs addressing is your refusal to give up a dream of lawyering, consider a different path. There are a number of summer head start programs.

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