When Do I...?

Imagine you're graduating college, or your kids have started school, and you'd like a job. Do you announce that you're going to work for Microsoft and plan to begin September 1, then run around trying to figure out how to make that fiction become fact? I hope not! I'd like to believe you look at job listings, review your skills, spruce up your wardrobe, practice interviewing, then apply and say your prayers.

Yet most applicants to law school approach the process in exactly the absurd way I describe above. They choose either an LSAT date or a list of law schools and insist they're going to abide by that plan. When they don't get the LSAT score they expected, their entire plan falls apart: they must either start over with a new list of schools or rearrange their entire schedule to allow for retaking the LSAT.

A much better plan is to look at the amount of time available and match it to the work to be done.

The best plan begins at least 18 months before you plan to start law school. This gives you plenty of time to study for the LSAT in June of the year before you want to start school. You'll know your score well in advance, and can plan to take the test again if necessary. You'll have time to research schools thoroughly, meet with admissions officers at planned events, write, rewrite, and polish your essays, choose your recommenders or evaluators, and learn the ever-changing Law Services application software. Here's a practically perfect plan.

The second-best plan begins early in the summer. You work on essays and other documents while studying for the September or October LSAT (the month varies from year to year). If you're diligent, you'll still have plenty of time to complete applications with February 1 deadlines -- as long as you don't need to retake the LSAT in December. If you want a second score, you'll sacrifice social life, sleep, or quality of work. Look here for schedules centered on the October LSAT.

Many applicants either begin later or are forced to start over after getting a poor LSAT score. That's probably why as many people take the December LSAT as take the October test. This timeline works much better for law schools with March and April deadlines, but you can manage some February deadlines if your essays are prepared in advance.

Returning students and applicants with difficulties to manage -- job concerns for a spouse, child care, or an uncertain graduation date -- often wait until all their questions are answered before taking the February LSAT. If you're applying to schools with late deadlines no matter where they are, this plan can work; if you're limited to a few schools in a narrow geographic range, you may find you goal blocked by application deadlines or flooded markets.

  • Many schools don't accept the February LSAT, so you either eliminate that school from your list or wait until next year.
  • Local schools get many applications from local applicants, so you'll have a hard time distinguishing yourself from people like you; in such a circumstance, LSAT score will be the deciding factor unless your essays and recommendations glow.

Despite the difficulties of undertaking the application process late, many people do so. Rather than simply telling them they're wrong and ignoring their problems, I've included a section on how to minimize the effects of last-minute decisions.

And in 2012, with applications at a level rivaling pre-Vietnam War levels (meaning "really, really, low"), I've added a "for emergency use only" plan for applyingfor the current year with a June LSAT score.


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