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Law School Admissions: Your Questions Answered

The following questions were answered by Drusilla Bakert, Associate Dean for Admissions at University of Kentucky College of  Law and a graduate of Harvard Law School. 

Q.  How Can I Prepare Successfully for the LSAT? Q.  When should I take the LSAT?

A.  The LSAT is given four times annually: June/July, late September/early October, December and February. The earliest you should take the LSAT is the summer before your senior year of college. Of the four test dates for any given admissions year, you should take the LSAT on the earliest date that you can be completely prepared. That way, if you need to cancel your score, change the test date or retake the test, you have given yourself the leeway to do so. If you are presently a junior in college, be thinking ahead and plan your schedule so that you will have time to prepare either in the spring for the summer LSAT, in the summer for the fall LSAT or in the fall for the December LSAT. Because February scores are received when most schools have already made the bulk of their admissions decisions, you should not wait until February to take the LSAT for fall admission unless that is the only date for which you can be fully prepared.

Q.  How should I prepare for the LSAT?

A.  Prepare for the LSAT by taking practice questions over and over again until you are familiar with the types of questions asked in each LSAT section. Start by reading the sample questions in the LSAT booklet for the three LSAT question types (logical reasoning, analytical reasoning and reading comprehension) and the explanations for the correct answers. Then take the complete sample LSAT in the booklet without timing yourself. Grading the sample test will give you an idea of which sections will give you the most difficulty on the actual test. Then take sample questions over and over again, comparing your answers with the correct ones until you have a sense of the logic behind the test and how to approach each question type. Follow that up by taking individual test sections under timed conditions. Use more than one test preparation book from more than one source so that you can essentially “cross-train” for the LSAT with advice and test preparation tips from different sources. I recommend that you get to a point where you can complete a section, in the comfort of your own home, in 32 minutes or less (you will have 35 minutes per section on the test). This will give you some additional time to use when taking the LSAT to get over your nerves, to work on a question that really throws you, etc. In the weeks right before the test, take several complete LSATs under timed conditions to build endurance. The LSAT is like an Olympics for your brain – only careful, strenuous preparation over a long period of time will train your brain for the rigors of the LSAT.Q.  What test preparation materials should I use?
A.  There are a lot of LSAT preparation materials available. The LSAT is not offered in computer format, so you do not need to buy preparation in a CD-ROM format unless you prefer that. If you do use computerized prep materials, be sure to do some practice tests on paper to adjust to having only small margins for notes, diagrams for the analytical reasoning section, etc. A prep course can be helpful if you historically have not done well on standardized tests, you get very nervous about taking such tests, or you know that you will not take the time to study without paying for a prep course. However, if you do not have the funds to pay for a prep course you can use the test preparation books, old LSATs you can order from LSAC and other written materials to prepare on your own – simply mark aside a few hours each week for test preparation until the month before the test, when you should increase your preparation time to 1-2 hours each day (more in the week or two before the test). Whatever outside preparation materials you use, be sure to order some of the actual old LSATs, which are only available from Law Services, particularly the 10-pack of old tests and 3 or 4 of the most recent tests given: they may be the most similar to the LSAT you will take. The Triple Prep Plus (3 old tests, with answers and explanations from the people who write the test) is also particularly helpful. Order information is included in the LSAT/LSDAS registration & information booklet or at the Law Services website, http://www.LSAC.org
Q.  What should I do if I’m not happy with my LSAT score?
A.  Everyone walks out of the LSAT thinking that they did not perform up to their potential. However, if you are certain that you did not do well (you did not have time to reason through your answers at the end of most of the sections, much of the test is a blur, you were feeling ill that day, etc.), think very seriously about canceling your score, which you can do at the test center, or for up to 5 working days after you take the test. Law schools will only see the date you sat for the test and a line where your score would have been, and will not hold this against you. This way you avoid having a low score that may be averaged with your other LSAT score(s).
In 2006 the American Bar Association changed its rules requring law schools to use the average LSAT score in most cases. Beginning for fall 2007, if you have multiple LSAT scores, the UK Law Admissions Committee will consider only your highest score if that score appears to be a better predictor of your performance in law school than your average score. .
If you keep your score and it is lower than expected, evaluate whether you have time to retake the LSAT and what you can do to improve your preparation. If you did not finish a section, or did particularly poorly in one area, then refining your study techniques could result in enough of an improvement to make it worthwhile to retake the LSAT. If you used only commercial test materials and did not use any actual old LSATs, then you may want to purchase those from Law Services and prepare again – many students who use other prep materials do better on those sample tests than on actual LSAT questions. While many candidates who retake do not improve their LSAT score significantly, some candidates improve by ten points or better.
Finally, check out the admissions grid for the school or schools in which you are most interested, that indicates possibility of admission using LSATs and GPAs. To check out UK Law’s grid, click here. You may find that you are still in the range of candidates your preferred schools typically admit, even with a lower score than expected. If you are not, then you may need to retake the LSAT to be competitive for those schools, or rethink the schools to which you plan to apply.
Q.  How is the LSAT score used in the Admissions Process?
A.  The LSAT is the only standardized measure that law schools have to predict law school performance. Every student’s undergraduate record is different, even when students have the same major and attend the same undergraduate school. In fact, studies have shown that the LSAT is the best single predictor of first-year law school performance, while the best overall predictor of law school performance is a combination of the LSAT and undergraduate GPA. This is why so many schools use an index combining these two factors in the admissions process. While the LSAT is an important part of the admissions process for every law school, schools use the LSAT as only one factor to consider, along with undergraduate performance, writing skills, community involvement, leadership skills, obstacles overcome prior to law school, career achievements prior to law school, etc. In 2006 the American Bar Association changed its rules requring law schools to use the average LSAT score in most cases. Beginning for fall 2007, if you have multiple LSAT scores, the UK Law Admissions Committee will consider only your highest score if that score appears to be a better predictor of your performance in law school than your average score. .
Q.  How do law schools use the LSAT writing sample?
A.  Law schools vary in how carefully they review the LSAT writing sample, depending on their admissions process and the number of applications received. Some schools will compare the writing style in the sample to the personal statement to ensure that the same person wrote both. Many schools review the statement for an idea of how well you write under pressure – the same conditions under which you will be writing law school exams. To do well, think before you write (perhaps do a quick outline), use your clearest print (so that faculty reading your writing sample won’t worry that you’ll write messy exam answers), use short, declarative sentences to describe your reasons for picking one option over the other (it really doesn’t matter which) and make your answer two-sided by addressing not only why you picked one option but why you did not pick the other. Your LSAT writing sample will be reviewed most carefully by those law schools where your academic credentials place you in the possible, but not certain, admit category.
Q.  What is the LSDAS Report, and Why is it Important? What is the LSDAS report?
A.  Starting for Fall 2007 and at no charge to the candidate, the LSDAS Service will evaluate the credentials of any applicant who attended undergraduate school outside the U.S. or Canada for UK Law and other schools that have requested that service.
The LSDAS , or Law School Data Assembly Service, sends law schools a report with your LSAT score(s) and undergraduate transcript(s), and copies of transcripts for any graduate work or work at another law school if provided. The LSDAS report also includes a breakdown of your undergraduate record by semester and information about how your LSAT score(s) and undergraduate record(s) compare with other students from your degree-granting undergraduate school.
Q.  When should I register for LSDAS?
A.  You should register for LSDAS in the year that you will be applying to law schools. The service will last for five years (with payment of update fees), so if you decide to wait a year or two to apply you will still be in the LSDAS system. If you know that you will be applying to law school within the year that you take the LSAT, it is easiest to register for both at the same time. Most law schools, including UK Law, require that you register for LSDAS.

Q.  How do law schools receive my LSDAS report?
A.  When a law school receives your application, the school will then order your LSDAS report from Law Services. This means that, for example, if you have applied to five law schools but only paid LSDAS fees for four law school reports, then the first four schools that request your report will receive it and the fifth will not. The moral is, be sure to pay for as many law schools as you plan to apply to, and if you apply to additional schools you will need to pay additional LSDAS fees. Your report is sent out to the schools after you have a reportable LSAT score and your undergraduate transcripts have been received.

Q.  How can my LSDAS GPA differ from my college GPA?
A.  In order to be a consistent measure of performance from candidate to candidate, the LSDAS report includes all grades taken at all schools toward your undergraduate degree. This means that if you attended more than one college or university (or took summer school classes at another school or in a summer abroad program) those grades will be included in calculating your GPA, and not just the grades from your degree-granting institution. If you have opted for a retake option on a particular class (foe example, you flunked chemistry and then decided not to go to med school!) both the original grade and the retake grade will be included in your LSDAS GPA. And if your undergraduate GPA is not on a 4.0 scale, it will be converted to that scale for the LSDAS report.

Q.  Should I follow up on the status of my LSDAS report?
A.  Yes. You can check the status of your LSAC file online at http://www.LSAT.org (external website), “Online Services.” If you have requested transcripts from your undergraduate schools and they have not all been received by Law Services, then follow up to make sure the transcripts were sent. Law schools will not be able to act on your application for admission without an LSDAS report, so it is important to make sure your file is complete.

Q.  How do law schools evaluate my undergraduate performance?
A.  Law schools look very carefully at your undergraduate performance to determine how well prepared you are for law school, and to try to predict how well you will perform as a law student. Schools will consider the difficulty of your courses and major, the number of upper-level courses you took as an undergraduate, whether your GPA was at the same level throughout, improving or declining, whether two semesters in the wrong major pulled down your overall GPA, etc. etc. Law schools also note if a candidate had a large number of withdraws on a transcript, indicating that he or she may have been “shopping” for easier course work. A lower GPA in a more demanding major can be a better measure of your ability than a high GPA in a program that does not require the analytical ability or the reading and writing skills demanded in law school.

Q.  What if I am in a particularly hard program or major, and my grades reflect that?
A.  Some programs are more difficult on their face – molecular biology, for example–and require no explanation for a lower GPA. But if your degree is from a program known to be difficult at your particular college, but perhaps not in the world at large, be sure to include a letter of recommendation from a faculty member who can explain why your undergraduate work should be given particular weight, even if your grades are not as high as that law school generally admits.

Q.  What if I had one bad semester that really pulled down my GPA?
A.  Most law schools will see the breakdown by semester when they review the LSDAS report. But if you have particular reason for the bad semester (a personal problem, family illness, etc.) you should include a statement explaining what happened to your grades as an addendum to your application. Do not try to explain the problem in your personal statement, which should be reserved for positive information about you and what you can offer that law school (See FAQ on Personal Statements).

Q.  What if I attended a lot of undergraduate schools to obtain my degree?
A.  If you have attended more than two undergraduate schools (exclusive of summer abroad programs) and there is a reason for that (spouse in the military, etc.) then include an explanation as an addendum to your application. Faculty members reviewing your application may look askance at your transcript if you have moved from school to school and not included an explanation for that.

Q.  How do law schools evaluate post-graduate work?
A.  Law schools vary in the way that they evaluate studies after undergraduate school. Some will overlook a less-than-stellar undergraduate career if the candidate has done well more recently in graduate-level courses, even if not taken for a degree. Others will not give much weight to graduate courses unless a degree is obtained. At UK Law graduate work will be considered in the admissions process, but is not given the same weight as the undergraduate degree work.

Q.  What if I have already attended another law school?
A.  This needs to be fully disclosed in the admissions process and your reasons for leaving explained in full. You will probably be asked to provide law school transcripts and a letter from that school confirming your status there and reasons for leaving.

Q.  When should I update my LSDAS report, and how?
A.  LSAC sends the updates of your LSDAS report automatically whenever you retake the LSAT within the 12 months of your subscription, when they receive letters of recommendation for you if you are using the letter of recommendation service, or when you have your undergraduate school send in an updated transcript. If you register for LSDAS and have transcript sent before fall semester grades are recorded for your senior year, some law schools may request that you send in an updated transcript before reviewing your file. Others will leave that decision to you, so if your fall grades bring up your GPA, be sure to send in an updated transcript, and if not, well, then don’t.

Q.  What undergraduate GPA do I need to be competitive at UK Law?
A.  The median GPA for the entering class at UK Law has ranged from 3.44 – 3.64 over the past few years, with the 25th percentile GPA ranging from 3.24 – 3.37 and the 75th percentile GPA ranging from 3.68 – 3.85. Candidates with a GPA of 3.50 or better have the best chance of admission to UK Law, but because every GPA is different (every GPA reflects different colleges and majors, different course selections, different grade patterns, etc.) UK Law has accepted candidates with GPA’s all over the range. For more information, see the UK Law grid.

Q.  What Do I Need to Know About Law School Application Forms? Why are all law school applications different?
A.  Every law school has a unique mission and therefore a unique admissions process. The questions on each school’s application are important to that school and its admissions committee and should be answered whenever possible. If you are applying to a number of different schools and are finding the process of completing applications burdensome, consider using LSAC’s we-based application service that enables you to complete all the basic biographical information only once and have it inserted automatically in the application forms for all of your selected schools.

Q.  What are Character and Fitness questions and how should they be answered?
A.  Law schools are interested in each candidate’s “character and fitness” to practice law because new law graduates must pass the character and fitness requirements of a particular state’s Board of Bar Examiners before being permitted to sit for the bar examination. For that reason, law school applications ask about prior disciplinary proceedings in college, prior arrests or convictions, and other questions that bear on the candidate’s moral character, reputation for truthfulness, etc. When answering these questions, be as complete and accurate as you can, and take responsibility for any prior mistakes (don’t blame your friends for a DUI arrest or your professor for an academic disciplinary problem, for example). Keep in mind that when you are a third-year student, your law school will be providing your application to the bar authorities for the state where you have chosen to sit for the bar, and the bar will investigate any discrepancies between the character and fitness answers on your law school application and your bar application. Few acts you have committed will be serious enough to keep you out of law school, but a lack of candor on the application can be a very serious matter indeed when it is time to sit for the bar. And keep in mind your duty to update your application, both after it is submitted and during your time as a law student. Also, any attorney who tells you not to report something because it was expunged or for other reasons is giving you bad advice. In this process your candor in answering is more important than the answer in almost all cases.

Q.  Why do I have to sign my law school application?
A.  By signing your application, you are verifying that all the information given is true and correct. Because a lawyer’s word is expected to be his/her bond, this is another reason to give complete information in your answers to the character and fitness questions. Again, a copy of your signed application will be provided to the bar authorities at the appropriate time.

Q.  How Can I Write an Effective Personal Statement? Why do law schools require a personal statement?
A.  Because writing skills are key to your success as a law student and a lawyer, law schools want the opportunity to evaluate your skills at writing a piece of work that is expected to be well-edited and well-thought-out. Law schools also want to learn more about the personal qualities, values, goals, and aspirations of candidates to their schools, in order to enroll as interesting and diverse a class as possible. Few law schools have the staff to conduct personal interviews for all interested candidates, and so must use the personal statement to get some feel for the individual behind the application. Rather than dreading the personal statement as the most challenging part of the admissions process (which it is), try to think of it as your opportunity to present your best qualities to the admissions committee.

Q.  How long should my personal statement be?
A.  Your personal statement should be two, or at most three, typed pages. A statement that is too short does not give the Admissions Committee ample evidence of your writing skills and looks as though you are not serious about your application to that school. A personal statement that is too long is evidence that you do not know how to edit your work, and tries the patience of the Admissions Committee.

Q.  What pitfalls do I need to avoid in writing my personal statement?
A.  When writing your personal statement, keep in mind that your audience will be law school admissions staff and/or law faculty, all of whom do a significant amount of reading and writing and have pretty high standards. Mistakes in spelling, grammar and syntax are simply not acceptable. Do not use large words simply to impress the Admissions Committee if you do not have a good understanding of their proper context.
Your personal statement should be written in the first person, but avoid beginning every sentence with “I.” Steer clear of gimmicks–your statement may be read by a 50-year-old law professor who is not amused that you have written in the format of an LSAT test segment, put your statement on video, decorated your statement with computer graphics, etc. If you want to make your statement “stand out from the crowd,” do so with short, declarative sentences, well-structure paragraphs and an interesting topic, not with purple paper or a photograph of your pet.
A pitfall in the opposite direction is to play it so safe that there is no life in your statement. Remember, this is your opportunity to tell the admissions committee something about you that they will not learn elsewhere, and if your personal statement is just a recitation of your resume you have missed that opportunity.
Finally, remember your audience – law school faculty and administrators. Law faculty are not persuaded by “I learned more in my extracurricular activities than I ever learned in class” or “Varsity football was the most valuable part of my undergraduate education.” If admissions committees were made up of coaches that might be the right idea, but as it is…

Q.  How are the best personal statements written?
A.  The best personal statements resembled short, well-crafted college essays. Write about a person who really influenced your life, an incident that caused you to consider law school, an achievement of which you are particularly proud, a trip, community service opportunity, etc. that brought you out of your daily routine and made you think about your goals and values. Limiting your statement to a full description of one particular event or activity will make it more compelling than a laundry list of your every accomplishment (see above about not reciting your resume). And always remember to use perfect spelling, grammar and syntax, short declarative sentences and well-structured paragraphs.
It is always a good idea to have someone else read your statement to make sure that you have not glossed over any mistakes in reading your own work. In fact, I would recommend having someone read your statement who you know is a good writer, a friend who is an English major, a parent who does a lot of formal writing for their job, a professor you know well, etc. If you are still in school, check to see if your college or university has a writing center. The personnel there often have a lot of experience working with candidates preparing personal statements for graduate or professional school.

Q.  What if the law school asks that I write on a particular topic?
A.  If a school requests an essay on a particular topic or in answer to a particular question, be sure to do so. The Admissions Committee will certainly notice if your essay is not on point, and will assume that you are not particularly interested in their law school.

Q.  What if the law school lets me choose my own topic?
A.  If your essay written in response to one school’s particular question is not your best work, or is not what you would prefer to write about, don’t get lazy and use it for other schools, like UK, that let you choose your topic. In fact, it is often easy to tell when a candidate has submitted to your law school an essay that was written in response to another school’s particular question (an essay about conquering adversity by a candidate who has not really faced very much, for example). Instead, pick the topic that you believe will place you in the best light or tell the most about who you really are. And if you are applying to a variety of schools for a variety of reasons, your statement will add more to your file if you think about what to write to each school individually. Yes, it is a lot more work, but if you are applying to schools where you are a borderline candidate, the hard work may make the difference in whether you are admitted.

Q.  If I am applying electronically, should I draft my personal statement on-line?
A.  Schools  have found that too many applicants are composing their personal statements while on-line. The resulting products are usually too informally written, more like e-mails than essays, and many are rife with spelling and grammatical errors. If you are applying on-line, perfect your personal statement first, checking carefully for spelling, grammatical and other errors, and then copy or attach your statement into the on-line application.
The other on-line mistakes that candidates make are: To submit the application before it is complete; to submit the application without the listed attachments (such as your personal statement or resume); or to submit the on-line application but fail to mail in the signature page and/or application fee where required. For your application to be considered, you must be sure to complete every stage of the application process.

Q.  Should I use my personal statement to explain a problem with my application?
A.  If the application does not provide any other outlet for you to include explanations, you may want to explain any problems or gaps (a poor first semester, low first LSAT score, gap in your work history, etc. ) at the end of your personal statement. However, most law schools, including UK Law, will give you the opportunity to include addenda as well as a personal statement. Because the personal statement is meant to be a positive essay about you, it is better to include any negative information or explanation for a negative part of your file in a separate addendum.

Q.  What happens if I take my personal statement from the internet, or use an on-line service to write my personal statement, and the College of Law finds out?
A. If it appears to our Admissions Committee that you have not written your own personal statement, then you will not be admitted to UK Law and you may be reported to the Law School Admissions Council so that other law schools can be notified. If we discover after you have been admitted that your personal statement was ghost-written, your offer of admission will be rescinded and you may be reported to LSAC so that other law schools can be notified. If your deception is discovered after you have started law school, you may be cited for an honor code violation and your actions may be reported to the Kentucky Board of Bar Examiners, or the bar in any other state where you may plan to practice. It simply is not worth it to use a ghost-written or plagiarized personal statement. These usually sound “canned” and are not nearly as effective as your own words would have been. UK Law expects all candidates to write their own personal statements, with minimal editing by others.

Q.  How do law schools use the personal statement in the admissions process?
A.  The personal statement is a very important part of your application. Law faculty on the admissions committee have a keen interest in the writing skills of the candidates they admit; after all, they are the ones who will be reading your essay answers in the years to come. And because law schools are interested in enrolling classes that have diverse backgrounds, experiences, goals, etc., your personal statement is your opportunity to describe what unique skills or experience you would bring to the entering class. Your personal statement will be reviewed most carefully at those law schools where your academic credentials place you in the possible, but not certain, admit category. For those schools, your personal statement can be the difference between gaining admission or being denied.

Q.  How Can I Best Use Letters of Recommendation? How many letters of recommendation should I provide?
A.  Most law schools that require letters of recommendation will specify the number of letters they wish to receive, usually two or three. If the school asks for no more than a certain number, do NOT exceed that number for any reason. For those law schools such as UK Law that do not require letters of recommendation, you should still provide two or three to strengthen your application file. Four is probably the maximum number you should ever send. If you are applying to a law school where you know that your academic credentials make your admission unlikely, you will not gain admission simply by submitting a large number of recommendation letters: pick the two or three best recommenders and ask them to write on your behalf.

Q.  Who should write my letters of recommendation?
A.  If you are applying while still in undergraduate school, or just one or two years out of school, you should always include at least one, and if possible, two letters of recommendation from faculty who have had you in class. These letters tell law faculty on the admissions committee what they most want to know: what kind of student can I expect this candidate to be in my classroom? If you have been out of school for some time but employed in a career, you should include instead letters from employers or others who have known you in a professional context. If you are considering law school after a long hiatus from both school and the work force, you may want to consider enrolling for a couple of graduate school courses first. That way you can gain faculty recommenders for your application as well as some insight into whether you need additional preparation before entering the very challenging academic atmosphere of law school.

Q.  Which professors should I ask to write for me?
A.  The best recommenders are faculty who have had you in class, and particularly those for whose class you submitted a major piece of written work. While a professor that you know in another context may be a good supplemental recommendation (someone who has served as your academic advisor or as advisor to a student group in which you are active, for example), law faculty are most interested in your class work and writing skills, so focus on professors who know those well. Your best recommender may not be the professor from whom you received the best grades: a teacher who saw your work improve over two or more semesters, or for whom you repeated a course after a first, low grade may write a great letter for you, and help explain away one of the weaknesses in your file. If you are attending a large university where it is more difficult to get to know the faculty, take more than one class from professors you particularly like or do good work for, so that they will be in a position to write a detailed recommendation for you when the time comes. While it is best to use faculty who are tenured professors, you may use someone in a non-tenured instructor position for one of your letters.

Q.  When should I ask for recommendations?
A.  If you are entering your senior year of undergraduate school and know that you plan to apply to law school, ask faculty to write recommendations for you before the end of the fall semester. That way the faculty member has time during the exam period, over the semester break, etc. to write a careful letter on your behalf. If you wait until the beginning of the spring semester to aks for letters of recommendation, you will be catching professors at their busiest time and the letters may not be as carefully written, or may not be sent until late in the admissions process. Professional contacts should be asked to write letters early in the law school admissions process also, to make sure that they have time to write the best possible letter. If the law school requests or requires that the letters come directly from the recommenders, don’t worry about having the letters arrive before your application, all schools have procedures in place to hold the letters until your application arrives.
If you are entering your senior year of undergraduate school and plan to apply for law school at some time in the future, but not this year, you may still want to ask one or two faculty to write letters on your behalf now. They will probably write better letters for you now than they will in a year or two when your work is not as fresh in their minds. Save these letters and when you are ready to apply, provide them to the professors and request that they send updated versions to law schools or the LSAC letter of recommendation service.

Q.  What is the best way to ask a professor for a letter of recommendation?
A.  First, be sure to ask for the letter no later than the end of the fall semester of your senior year (see the above answer). If you are asking for a letter from a faculty member who currently has you in class, or who knows you very well, you may not need to provide any supporting information. If you are asking a professor who taught you in a prior semester, or who only knows you as one of a large class, be sure to provide some back-up. Make an appointment with the professor and bring along a copy of the paper you wrote for his/her class for which you received a high grade, or a list of his/her classes you have taken and in what semesters. You might also bring along a resume that outlines the other activities in which you have been involved. Your resume can help the professor write a rounded portrait of your achievements as a student. One caution, however, if you provide a resume to someone who finds these letters difficult to write, they may simply recite your resume in letter form, thus not adding as much to your admissions file.

Q.  Should I ask a recommender what they will say about me?
A.  By all means. While you shouldn’t ask for “prior script approval” you do need to know if they feel able to write a positive letter for you. This is particularly important if you are asking someone who you know has seen both your good and bad sides, a professor for whom you have done some good and some sloppy work, a work supervisor with whom you have had your share of run-ins, for example. Simply ask if they feel they can write a positive letter on your behalf. If the answer is a straight-out no, then go elsewhere. If the person hedges and says, “I don’t know if I’ll have time to write a detailed letter,” or “I don’t really remember your work that well” then you should also go elsewhere; they are trying to say no in a nice way.

Q.  What type of letters are not very helpful?
A.  Letters from people who do not know you well. Such letters can in fact be detrimental, if the Admissions Committee is given the impression that you believe a letter from someone well-known, or with ties to that school, will gain you admission when your academic credentials will not. State schools such as UK frequently receive letters from political figures who clearly do not know the candidate except as a voter from their district; these are no substitute for faculty or employer letters of recommendation. Of course, if a law school’s alumnus or a political figure knows you well or has served as your employer and can speak to your strengths and talents, then by all means ask them to write a letter of recommendation on your behalf.

Q.  How should I send in my letters of recommendation?
A. Having a general letter of recommendation sent by LSAC to all the schools where you are applying can save your recommender (and his/her staff) a great deal of time and effort. Also, you can use the LSAC letters of recommendation service to send individual letters targeted to particular law schools. You may want to send targeted letters because of who wrote the letter (an alumnus of that law school with an environmental law program from an environmental lawyer, for example). Some schools, including UK, still accept recommendation letters mailed directly to the law school as well as letters sent by LSAC, but many schools are now requiring that candidates use the LSAC service.

Q.  How do law schools use letters of recommendation in the admissions process?
A.  Law schools use letters of recommendation to get an outsider’s view of you and your talents, particularly those talents you will be using in the law classroom and those that bring a diverse element to their schools. The better a person knows you and can speak to your particular talents, the more useful their letter will be to the admissions committee. Your letters of recommendation will be read most carefully at those law schools where your academic credentials place you in the possible, but not certain, admit category. For those schools, your letters of recommendation can be the difference between gaining admission or being denied.

Q.  Where Should I Apply? To how many law schools should I apply?
A.  You are the best judge of how many schools you wish to consider. The general wisdom is to apply to at least one safety school (a law school where you are pretty certain of admission and that you would be willing to attend), two or three other schools in which you are interested, and where your academic credentials place you in the “probable” range for admission, and one or two “dream schools” that you would love to attend but where you may be a stretch for admission. However, if there is only one law school in which you are really interested, and your credentials give you a very strong chance of admission, you may want to save time and money and apply only to that school.

Q.  How can I tell if my credentials are in range for a particular law school or not?
A.  Every law school has published information on its LSAT/GPA medians, 25 – 75th percentile LSATs/GPAs and usually a grid indicating the number of candidates admitted or chances of admission with an LSAT and GPA in your range of credentials. A good source for this information is the LSAC/ABA Guide to U.S. Law Schools available from the Law School Admission Council web site or your college pre-law advisor.
Generally, your have a very strong chance of admission if both your LSAT and GPA are at or above a school’s published 75th percentile credentials, a good chance of admission if your LSAT and GPA are both at or above a school’s published medians and a difficult time gaining admission if both your LSAT and GPA are below that school’s 25th percentile credentials. If your credentials are mixed, that is your LSAT or GPA is at or above the school’s published median but the other is below the median, then you have a probable chance of admission that may depend on how that law school views the quality of your undergraduate preparation, writing skills, letters of recommendation, etc. A good reason to take the LSAT as early as you can be prepared is that you will be able to judge your chance of admission at various schools before you decide where to apply.
Even if your LSAT and GPA both are below the 25th percentile credentials of your dream school, you may still want to apply, because many factors are considered in the admissions process in addition to LSAT and GPA. Keep in mind, however, that the further your credentials are from a school’s published medians, the smaller your chances of gaining admission.

Q.  Should I use law school ratings in deciding where to apply?
A.  Ratings have become a popular way of judging value in all of higher education. Keep in mind, however, that the companies publishing ratings do so to make money. A ratings system that is static from year to year does not create news or make money for those who publish ratings. Do not decide where to apply looking only at published ratings and without doing your own research on individual schools. Having said that, it is true that most ratings are based at least in part on hard information about a particular school and that school’s reputation, and so can give you some help when deciding among the options that interest you after doing your own research on law schools.

Q.  Should I apply based upon a law school’s specialty programs?
A.  If you are absolutely certain of the area of law in which you plan to practice, or have a particular background that you plan to combine with your law degree, then it makes sense for you to consider schools that are strong in, or at least offer course work in, your chosen area. Keep in mind, however, that the J. D. is intended as a general degree, and you should take a broad range of courses in law school. Many law schools may offer the courses you need for a particular practice area without specifically designating that area as a specialty. Keep in mind also that many, many candidates change their minds about their practice areas of interest after taking law school courses or after their summer work experiences. Don’t choose a law school in which you would not otherwise be interested solely because they have designated a specialty program in the area where you currently think you would like to practice.

Q.  Is it an advantage to apply early?
A.  Not necessarily. Admissions is essentially a balancing act, in which the Admissions Committee weighs the good points and bad points of each candidate’s application. At the Committee’s early meetings, only those candidates with very strong admissions files (good LSAT and GPA, well-written personal statement, etc.) will be admitted. Those candidates who present particularly weak files will be denied admission at that point. Many candidates whose files are a mix of good news and bad will be placed on hold; that is, their file will be considered again later in the process when they can be compared with other applicants. In short, it is better to present a complete, well-prepared application later in the process than to race to submit a poorly-prepared application that could lead to an early deny.

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