Law School and the Value of Work Experience

    keyAs most law school applicants know, a student’s LSAT score and GPA are generally the most important factors in most law school admissions decisions. Historically, post-college work experience has not been emphasized, and students often go directly from college into law school. Over the past few years, however, many top law schools have increasingly begun to focus on work experience when making admissions decisions.

    Dean Martha Minow has helped to bring about such a shift at Harvard Law School: Back in 2009, about 40% of Harvard’s incoming law students were coming into the law school directly from their undergraduate studies. When Minow took over as the new dean, however, she directed the admissions department “to give extra weight to applicants with experience since college.” As a result, currently about 75% of Harvard Law students have at least one year of work experience by the time they get to law school. 

    Harvard Law School does not require work experience for admission, but, says the law school's chief admissions officer Jessica Soban, there is an active preference for those applicants who have it. For students admitted directly out of college, Soban encourages deferral for one to two years—an option that is granted in “almost every situation requested.” This is not intended as a year off, however—Soban says that the school’s preference is to see either active employment or graduate study. And Harvard is not the only law school placing an increasing emphasis on work experience. At Georgetown Law, nearly 7 out of 10 current law students took at least one year off after college, and at Northwestern Law, almost every incoming student has at least one year of full time work experience.  

    Does this mean that work experience is likely to become a standard requirement for law school admission?  Not any time soon; most lower-ranked schools are competing with one another for quality applicants, while a school such as Harvard is in an ideal position to consider whatever factors it chooses, selecting a small number from a larger, high-caliber pool of applicants, they can afford to put an emphasis on work experience without much concern that their incoming class LSAT or GPA numbers will have to suffer.

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    Image: The key to success. Where is it?  courtesy of Urs Steiner