I am no expert, but I received some insightful advice and learned some important lessons along the way. Here are a few tips for getting a head start on your law school applications:
Start to narrow down your list of schools you’re applying to. Arguably the most important thing when narrowing down your list of schools is balancing being open minded about where you might apply with also making sure not to waste your time and money applying anywhere you wouldn’t consider going. One of my mentors told me I didn’t have enough safety schools (the two I labelled my “safety” schools were definitely pushing it) but I made a calculated decision to do it that way. First, I thought about what I would do if my safety was the only school I got into. Would I really want to go there, or would I just decide to take another year, retake the LSAT, and re-apply? I also considered that I was applying earlier in the cycle, in October. I decided that if I had not been accepted to any schools by the time the February deadlines rolled around and I wanted to fire off a few more applications, I would at that time. That way I wasn’t wasting my time and money in October applying to schools that I wouldn’t need to have applied to and didn’t really want to attend anyway. On the other hand, I added a one particular school last minute kind of on a whim, and ended up highly considering it as an option once accepted.
Get to know the schools you are interested in. Of course, it’s always important to do your research on each school. Read about their clinical programs, journal offerings, and talk to as many as people as you can. What is this school known for? Who are the most notable professors in the areas you are interested in? What are some of the weaknesses of the school? One way I recommend getting to know schools better is to follow them on social media and read some of the articles they post. Many schools will post articles in which any faculty is quoted as well as post about notable accomplishments. Having a better understanding of who the faculty are and what they are contributing to society helps when it comes time to answer the age-old “why this school?” question, and will help you get a better sense of if it is somewhere you see yourself. As an added bonus, reading articles meant for the non-legal mind that concern legal matters is informative and interesting!
Start brainstorming and writing your statements. I spent a lot of my free time over the summer trying to write my personal statement. I ended up not settling on a topic until September, at which point it was very much stressing me out. I think the best advice about a personal statement I received was that the most important thing is to make sure the reader learns something substantive about who you are as a person and what your journey to this point looked like. Also, decide if writing a diversity statement is right for you. Do your research and understand what are appropriate topics for a diversity statement. It is important to remember that the point of a diversity statement is not simply to talk about difference, but to connect that back to your potential as a student and lawyer. What about this part of you will enable you contribute in a unique way to the law school community?
Make a timeline for your application process. There are a lot of moving parts that can take varying amounts of time. LSAC states they can take up to a month to process your transcript. Whoever is writing your recommendations probably has their own standard amount of time they ask for to write a letter, whether that be two weeks or two months. Don’t be me, who took so long to ask my recommenders that one of them came to me and asked when I was planning on asking them! Decide when you want to have your applications in by and try to work backwards from there in your planning to make sure you are doing everything with enough time. Most people advise applying before Thanksgiving, and the sooner the better, but not at the expense of your application being the best it can be.
When applications go live, make some tables with the requirements for each school. Unfortunately, schools have different requirements and preferences for almost everything. One school will insist upon a one-page resume and another school will tell you to make it as long as you want. Some schools will say up to three pages and prefer it to be shorter, some schools will say up to four pages and expect you to write four pages. One school will ask for a 300 word diversity statement and another school will ask for a two-page diversity statement. These are not things you can mess up on your application. Read the directions very clearly and do outside research on the different schools. I sent my two-page personal statement to a school that stated up to four pages, only to later find out from others that they actually expect four pages. Don’t be me. Make sure you know exactly what kind, if any, supplements different schools require. If you were on the fence about applying somewhere and then realize you would have to write three supplemental essays to really have a chance at being accepted, it might not be worth it. There’s no hand-holding in this process, it’s all on you to be organized and on top of everything.
Consider connecting with resources from your undergraduate institution. Even if you have already graduated and entered the working world, your school’s career services will likely still be able to help you. This part I was quite bad at to be quite honest. I didn’t reach out to career services until after I’d already applied. It ended up working out fine for me, but if I had to do it again, I would’ve made more of an effort to connect with these resources earlier. I often felt like I was going it alone while trying to put together my applications, and it doesn’t have to feel that way. Chances are many people are applying to law school, and they may have helpful advice about your particular circumstance and/or about specific schools you are interested in!