Work Experience on Your Application
LSAT score and GPA generally constitute the most important factors in 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 increased their focus on work experience when making admissions decisions.
Dean Martha Minow brought this type of shift at Harvard Law School. Back in 2009, about 40% of Harvard’s incoming law students attended law school directly from their undergraduate studies. However, when Minow took over as the new dean, she directed the admissions department “to give extra weight to applicants with experience since college.” As a result, about 75% of current 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. This option 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. At Northwestern Law, almost every incoming student has at least one year of full time in a job.
The New Standard?
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. But a high-caliber, competitive school such as Harvard is in an ideal position to consider whatever factors it chooses. They can afford to put an emphasis on work experience without much concern that their incoming class LSAT or GPA numbers will suffer.