Unlike applying to college, which is a pretty straightforward process (at least in retrospect), applying to law school can feel a little labyrinthine. Transcripts, Law School Reports, letters of recommendation, the Credential Assembly service, addenda…after a while, it can all start getting jumbled up.
Right around this time of year, I start getting so many “I’m confused. Help!” emails that I find myself there was a quick and easy guide to the process.
To do my part to help, here is my Guide to the Basics About Applying to Law School. It is not exhaustive by any means, but it’ll give you a good place to start–and may answer quite a few of the questions you have about the process in the meantime.
In general, the law school application process loosely follows (or should follow) this order:
- Junior year – You decide you want to apply to law school.
- June after Junior year or October of Senior year – Take the LSAT. If possible, take the June LSAT. This allows you to get the LSAT out of the way before the summer, and devote the summer to preparing your applications.
- June LSAT – study during your Junior spring semester.
- October LSAT – study during the summer between Junior and Senior year.
- October through January of their Senior year – submit applications to law schools.
- If possible, do not study for the LSAT and put together your applications at the same time. Both can be quite time-consuming, and each is best done on its own. However, if you cannot devote individual time to each, sit down and determine schedules to ensure that they can get both done effectively.
- If possible, spend the summer working on all the elements of your application (see “Elements of an application” below).
- Submit your applications as soon as possible after applications become available (typically September/October). This is because most law schools work on rolling admissions, meaning they consider applications as they “roll in.” Applying early could potentially give you a slight advantage over later applicants–and any advantage, however minute, is a good advantage.
- March through May (and potentially through the summer) – receive decision letters from law schools.
- If you are admitted to at least one school, then your work is done. Now you just have to wait for the responses from the rest of the schools you applied to, make your school selection, send in your seat deposit, and wait for September to come so you can start school. If you need to defer your start date, read this.
- Follow the protocol noted by the school in the waitlist letter they sent you if you are waitlisted. If the school doesn’t list any specific protocol, send a letter of continued interest to the school, and keep in touch with the school regarding any significant changes to their file (new grades, awards, jobs, contact information). Read this for a more in-depth analysis of what you should (and shouldn’t) do if you’re waitlisted.
- If you are (unfortunately) rejected, you may be able to appeal the decision, although most schools don’t have this option. If you would like to appeal the decision, you need to contact the school and find out the appropriate protocol for doing so.
- September/October – start law school..
The Application Process
In a very basic way, the process of applying to law school is similar to that of applying to college: All the different parts of an application are gathered, compiled, and sent in to the different institutions. However, there are a few significant changes that must be noted:
1. Law schools don’t consider applications until they are “complete.”
“Complete” means that the school received every aspect of the application. This is different from the college application process, where schools often consider applicants even as different parts of the application trickle in.
2. Students do not typically “snail-mail” anything in to school.
Instead, almost all schools require or recommend that students apply through the Law School Admission Council’s Credential Assembly Service (CAS). Essentially, LSAC’s CAS acts as an information clearinghouse: Students submit or upload all their information to LSAC, which then compiles into files and sends it directly to each law school to which a student is applying. LSAC will not send applications to schools until all required aspects of the application have been submitted and processed.
3. LSAC handles almost every aspect of the application, from compiling the information to processing the application fees for schools.
The only thing they do NOT handle is actually requesting the different parts of each application; each of those must be submitted either by the student or submitted by a third party at the student’s request (see “Elements of an application” below).
Elements of an Application
Almost all law school applications will have the following components: The application itself, a personal statement (essay), letters of recommendation, transcript(s), LSAT score(s), a Law School Report, a résumé, and additional optional essay(s). Make sure you know what you’re responsible for, and what other people need to do for you.
You can find this on LSAC’s website and complete it there as well. It asks all the typical application questions: biographical, academic, extracurricular, and conduct information. You can complete this online directly into the LSAC website, and save.
This is an essay required by almost all schools which is written by the student and then uploaded by the student onto the LSAC website. While it can talk about why the student wants to go to law school, it doesn’t necessarily have to do so. Sometimes, schools have specific topics they’d like the student to address; in that case, we recommend the student stick to those topics.
The student requests these from either professors or employers. These recommenders, after writing the letters, send them directly to LSAC, along with a cover sheet available on the LSAC website. LSAC then processes and adds them to the student’s file. It can take up to 2 weeks to process these letters.
The student requests these from all undergraduate institutions s/he has attended. The institution the submits them directly to LSAC, along with a cover sheet available on the LSAC website. LSAC ten processes and adds them to the student’s file. It can take up to two weeks to process transcripts.
The student does not have to submit these scores to LSAC. LSAC, as the administration of the test, already has these scores on file, and automatically links them up to the student’s record.
6. Law School Report
This report compiled by LSAC includes the student’s LSAT scores, LSAT writing samples, academic summary (essentially all of the student’s undergraduate grades), copies of all transcripts (undergraduate, graduate, professional), copies of all recommendation letters. LSAC automatically puts this together and sends it to schools you apply to.
The student puts this together and uploads it to the LSAC website.
These are written by the student based on the requirements of each school or your own specific circumstances and are then uploaded to the LSAC website by the student.
And there you have it. Those are the basics of the process. Of course, there’s a lot more intricacy to it once you actually start putting things together, but getting the basics down will ensure that you spend more time on the finer details, and less time just trying to navigate your way around what can be a very confusing process. And, if you have any questions, know that there are always people available you can ask (pre-law advisors, professors, law school admissions staffers, admissions consultants). No one will think less of you for asking the basic questions–in fact, we wish more people would!