Tips for Applying to Law School
by Jonathan V. O’Steen ’02
O’Steen & Harrison, PLC
Think Regionally. Among the first tasks any law school applicant will confront is choosing where to apply. Perhaps the strongest consideration in making this decision is determining where you want to live and work after graduation from law school. If you expect to practice law in Arizona, for example, you would be wise to give considerable weight to the University of Arizona and Arizona State University. Apart from what you learn in the classroom, perhaps the most valuable aspect of the law school experience is meeting those people with whom you will be working throughout your career. These relationships can be invaluable. In addition, law schools typically have strong ties with local law firms and institutions. This can provide an edge in job placement. On the other hand, if you aspire to work in a large Madison Avenue firm, the Arizona schools would not be good choices. You should consider only law schools ranked in the top 10 by US News and World Report. This assumes, of course, that your educational background and LSAT score commend you to these schools.
Reach Out. Notwithstanding the advice above, consider applying to some schools that you consider a longshot. Most law school applicants should submit applications to schools within the target range (considering GPA and LSAT score), schools below the target range (safety schools), and some schools that are a reach. You may find yourself surprised to be admitted to a school that you considered to be a longshot.
Preparing for Law School. Don’t let Hollywood lawyers fool you—lawyering involves more than brilliant cross-examinations and engaging closing arguments. Many lawyers, in fact, rarely see the inside of a courtroom. There is no skill more valuable to an attorney than his or her ability to think and write clearly and persuasively. Consider taking a broad range of writing classes at Oxy, especially those that involve creative writing or significant research.
Get Involved at Oxy. Oxy provides various resources and clubs that may be helpful both in gaining admission to law school and preparing yourself for the rigors of the law school curriculum. Take advantage of law school counseling services provided by the College. Also, joining the college Speech & Debate team will improve your research skills, develop your ability to reason and argue persuasively, and appears impressive to law school admissions committees.
Consider a Dual Degree. Many law schools offer joint degrees, which couple a J.D. with a masters or doctorate in another discipline (example, J.D./M.B.A). These programs generally extend by one year the length of time it takes to complete a J.D. degree (from three years to four). If you plan only to practice law, it may not be worth your time and money to pursue a joint degree. If you may be interested in pursuing other careers after graduation, however, consider one of these joint degree programs and, of course, a law school that offers the one you want.
Go Accredited. Not all law schools are accredited by the American Bar Association. In fact, California alone has more than thirty law schools that are not accredited by the ABA. As a condition of practicing law, most state bar associations require graduation from an accredited school. Those who receive a degree from an unaccredited law school may be prohibited from practicing law in most states. Furthermore, many employers require this credentialing of their hires.
Practice, Practice, Practice. Law schools overwhelmingly focus on two objective factors when evaluating applicants—college grades and LSAT score. LSAT questions are not especially difficult. In fact, if unlimited time were allowed, most test takers likely could achieve something near a perfect score on the exam. Test takers only are given three hours, twenty-five minutes, however, to complete the test. The best advice is to take as many LSAT practice tests as possible. Past exams are available from the LSAC (www.lsac.org), allowing one to take a complete exam under time constraints and self-score the test.
Don’t Pay for an LSAT Review Course Unless You Need the Points. Before you register for an expensive review course, evaluate whether you really need the help. As discussed above, practice tests are readily available for a modest cost. After you take several exams under test conditions, you will get a fairly good idea where you stand. Compare that number with the LSAT range available for your target schools on the LSAC or US News web sites. If you are comfortably within the range for your top choices, you probably do not need to spend money (or waste time) on an expensive prep course. If you do need to enhance your score, however, these classes can be helpful.
Plan Early. The LSAT is offered each year in June, October, December and February. Many law schools, especially those in the top tier, require that you take the LSAT by December of the year preceding your expected matriculation. If you sit for the February exam, you risk automatically disqualifying yourself from admission to some schools.
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