Law School Admissions Process

Each year, there are at least three times more law school applicants than spaces available in first year law classes. Law schools rely heavily on objective criteria that have shown to predict success in law school. The most important of these factors are your undergraduate GPA and your LSAT score.

The law school admissions process can be a tricky and time consuming endeavor. But, with a little planning, and a lot of work, you will join the ranks of 1L law students. The law school admissions process takes some time and planning. Be sure to download the Law School Coach Free Guide to Law School Admissions which will take you step-by-step through this process.

If you are planning on going straight into law school from college, the law school admissions process begins in your junior year. Getting an early start will give you a competitive advantage, and the luxury of not being rushed for time. If you are still in undergraduate, it would also be a good idea to take advantage of any pre-law advising your college offers. If you are already out of college, and now want to go to law school, budget a year for the law school admissions process.

You may also want to consider taking some time off before applying to law school. This would make it possible to submit a full senior year’s transcript with any honors you may have received. It would also give you a break from school and an opportunity to explore other career options. If you do this, however, it is important that you line up a job so that you will enhance your application rather than spending your time explaining the gap. The average age of law school students is 26.

Prepare for and Take the LSAT

The law school admissions process begins with you taking the LSAT. This test is going to be one of the most important factors in determining where (and if) you go to law school. Information on this test is beyond the scope of this article aside from you understanding how important it is in the law school admissions process. To read more about the LSAT go to Law School Coach Preparing for the LSAT.

Register with the LSAC

The next step in the law school admissions process is to register with Law School Admissions Council. All ABA-approved law schools require you to use the LSAC Credential Assembly Service (CAS). LSAC is the same group that administers the LSAT. Your registration should be complete at least 6 weeks before you apply to law school.

The CAS serves two major functions: It consolidates your academic documents in a single report to be sent to law schools, and it adjusts all students’ grades to a universal scale so that law schools can evaluate their applicants on an equal basis. The law school gets this report directly from LSAC, it is a required part of the law school admissions process.

Your file will include your undergraduate transcripts, your LSAT score, and your letters of recommendation. Not all law schools require the letters of recommendation to come from the CAS, but virtually all will accept them through the LSAC.

When you register for this service, expect to pay a $124 fee. The fee will cover the creation of your law school report, processing your letters of recommendation, and electronic application processing for law schools. If there an extreme need, LSAC will sometimes waive this fee.

Determine Which Law Schools to Apply To

The next step in the law school admissions process is to determine how many, and which schools to apply to. Many people recommend applying to 6 or more law schools. The thought is to apply to 2 “reach” schools, 2 schools on your par, and 2 “fall-back” schools. The average applicant applies to between 7 and 15 schools. Never apply to a school that you would not attend as at least a last resort.

The Law School Coach recommendation is to tailor the choice of how many schools to apply to by your LSAT/GPA combination. If you have a stellar LSAT/GPA combination, apply to each of the top 10 schools (if you would actually attend if accepted), and to your top choice from the region that you want to practice in after graduation. If you have a solid GPA/LSAT combination, apply to the top 3 choices from the region that you want to work in after graduation. If your LSAT/GPA is respectable but not stellar, consider adding more schools. If your combination is not impressive, carefully consider your chances at the Tier 4 schools in your region, and weigh your chances at admission to those schools versus doing some remediation work (more college time to raise your GPA and retaking the LSAT).

Law school is a professional school. To become a professional you need to start networking with the community in which you hope to practice law. The best way to do that (and to get job opportunities in the community) is to attend law school in that location. For more information on this process, read Law School Coach Choosing a Law School.

Law School Personal Statement

A very important part of your law school application is your personal statement.  This portion of your law school application will require the most thought and time.  There are whole books written about this topic, so we have prepared an entire article for you:  Law School Coach Law School Admissions Essays.

Law School Applications Require Letters of Recommendation

Applicants will need at least two letters of recommendation to complete the law school admissions process. It is preferable to have two letters from professors that are familiar with your academic work. Some schools will accept non-academic letters of recommendation, but this is usually for students who have been out of school for a while and they don’t carry as much weight.

The best letter of recommendation will come from an individual that knows you well. Keep this in mind when selecting the people who you will ask to write your letters. Be sure to have spent enough time with each recommender so that they fully understand your interest in going to law school. Offer to let the recommender “interview” you over lunch (you pay), or in the office if they prefer. Bad recommendations can KILL an application. The more specific, personal, and glowing the recommendation, the better.  Letters from judges, politicians, and family friends tend not to be helpful except in those instances where the letters are based on a working or supervisory relationship.  Your letter of recommendation is not the place to show off the impressive people you know.

Prepare a packet of information about yourself for your recommender. Include your resume, a copy of your law school personal statement, a copy of Law School Coach: Recommender's Guide to Law School Recommendation Letters, and any other material that you think would be helpful to know. If you were in a large class, it is sometimes useful to submit copies of previous work that the professor gave you favorable marks on.

Ask that the recommender write a separate letter for each law school that you will apply to. On the Letter of Recommendation form, provided by the CAS, candidates have the choice of whether to waive their rights to see a copy of the letter. The assumption is that a waived letter of recommendation is bound to be more candid. We recommend that you waive your rights to get a copy. Often your recommender will give you a copy anyway.

Give your recommender at least 4 to 6 weeks notice on your request for the letter. If you recommender gives you a lukewarm response, or gives you any indication that she will write a “form” letter, back off and find someone else. Generic recommendations will not help you.

Most Law Schools Use a Rolling Admissions Process

Many law schools operate what is known as a rolling admission process: The school evaluates applications and informs candidates of admission decisions on a continuous basis over several months, beginning in late fall and extending to midsummer. There are more seats available at the beginning of the cycle when law schools aren't sure they'll be able to fill their class, and there are fewer seats available once the law school has already reviewed thousands of applications. Even if a school says they accept applications through June, it's not a good idea to wait before submitting your application. Law schools keep their options open late in the law school admissions cycle so that they have seats for stellar students; the seats don’t usually go to mid-range or reach applicants. To take advantage of this phenomenon, plan to submit your law school application in November.

Each year, law schools create their own admission index, which is a number derived from a mathematical equation that combines the GPA, the LSAT, and a third constant. This admission index is the "magic number" for the law school for that year. If your index score is at or above the point where the law school has pegged its admission index, the school offers you admission. If your index score is below that point, some schools will put you into a "wait-and-see" category; you may or may not get offered admission, depending on the strength of the remaining applicant pool. Applicants whose index scores are below a certain cutoff point find letters of rejection waiting in the mail. To make sure the law school class is filled, a school may set its admission index a bit on the low side at the beginning of an admission cycle. As the admission process continues, the school will tweak its admission index up to fine-tune the number of admits. The thing to realize is that because any given school is likely to have a lower admission index early on, there is an advantage to applying early. Not a big advantage, mind you, but any legitimate advantage you can get is worth taking.

Even if you have not yet taken the LSAT, it might be helpful to submit your application early so that your CAS file can be sent to law schools as soon as your test score is available. The more decisions you receive from law schools early in the process, the better able you will be to make your own decisions, such as whether to apply to more law schools or whether to accept a particular school’s offer. But, never let the quality of your law school application suffer so that you can submit it sooner. It is much more important to submit your best application than it is to get in a few weeks earlier.

Other Law School Admissions Considerations

It should be obvious by now that most admission decisions are based on the LSAT/GPA combination, and little else. So when do things like recommendations, essays, gender, race, and work experience get considered? The answer is that all law schools want a diverse law school class. Minorities and women are groups that have long been underrepresented in the legal community, and being in one of these groups can help you if they are also underrepresented in the applicant pool.
Recommendations, essays, work experiences and the like tend to get used as "tiebreakers". Applicants to the top law schools have very high GPAs and LSAT scores, so other criteria must be used to distinguish one candidate from the next. So, besides the LSAT/GPA combination, what do law schools consider?
  • Undergraduate Course of Studies
  • Graduate Work
  • College Attended
  • Improvement in Grades
  • Extracurricular Activities
  • Personal Statement
  • Work Experience
  • Community Activities
  • State of Residency
  • Obstacles Overcame
  • Past Accomplishments
  • Leadership
Just because the LSAT/GPA combination is the most important admission factor, does not mean that you should ignore or downplay the significance of these other law school admissions factors. If any part of your application is incomplete, a law school will not consider your application no matter how strong your GPA or LSAT. A sloppy application will not create the kind of impression you want, especially if the admission decision comes down to a close call between you and another applicant with roughly equal qualifications. It can be argued that law schools are interested in seeing just how well you are able to follow painstaking instructions and pay close attention to details.