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Successfully Getting in to a Law School

published March 04, 2013

By Author - LawCrossing
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( 2 votes, average: 4.5 out of 5)
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As I was applying to law schools, I began to imagine myself as a future Wall Street lawyer, a real wheeler and dealer. Once that self-image took hold, I went with it in a big way, and applied not only to law schools, but to business schools as well. Ultimately, I enrolled in the joint JD/MBA program between Columbia Law School and the Columbia Graduate School of Business. As it turned out, that joint program affected my view, not only of my future, but also of my present, of what I was experiencing as a student.

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Successfully Getting in to a Law School

My courses at the business school taught me how to use computers and statistics. With those tools, and my interest in administration, it seemed natural to get involved in law school student government and to look into the way in which the law school was run.

I started with my own situation. Here I was, in a law school that got 6,000 applications each year, but actually enrolled only 300 of those students. I wondered what had made me and my classmates so worthy in the eyes of the admissions people. Were we really so special? And were we going to be able to live up to their faith in us?

The GPA and the LSAT

I had assumed that the law school admissions people must have tons of data printouts and statistical reports, not to mention studies from all kinds of behavioral experts. I was sure they had lots of tricky ways to analyze the things we put on our applications from perspectives that we would never have imagined. After all, I knew that if Columbia Law School wanted to keep on producing top-quality attorneys, it would have to start by selecting the very best applicants.

I took this assumption, along with my business-school numbers-and-computers attitude, to the dean of admissions at the law school. I was very surprised to learn how simple the Columbia approach really was. There were no advanced computer programs and statistical analyses. Instead, the admissions people relied very heavily upon our scores on the LSAT and our GPA's, glancing briefly at other things from our applications.

I hadn't wanted to believe that, even though everyone had told me that this was how it worked. But there it was. And Columbia probably wasn't alone in that. For example, Harvard has been accused of rejecting several thousand applicants each year on the basis of those numbers alone, without even glancing at anything else in their applications.31!

If you don't think about it too much, it seems sensible to concentrate heavily on LSAT and GPA numbers. You want your law students to be people who get good grades, because law school requires a lot of studying. And you want those who can show their smarts on a test like the LSAT.

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But ponder, if you will, the applicant's grades. I knew lots of people in college who specialized in finding the easiest courses and the highest-grading professors. I can't tell you how many times I heard someone say that they were not going to take a particular course because of the risk that they'd get a B in it and would thereby damage their GPA's and their chances of getting into law school.

I've been told that law school admissions committees are skilled at figuring out which students have always taken the easiest classes and professors. But I doubt it. If the college senior's transcript reflects an average of five courses per semester for three years, and if each line on the transcript contains three relevant data items, then a law school that receives 6,000 applications would have to review a total of more than a half-million data items if they were really going to examine the details on all those transcripts.

It might help the admissions people if they had the time to enter all that data into a computer and analyze it. But they don't. It would also help if all applicants came from the same college, because then the law schools could begin to figure out which professors were tough graders. As it is, there's no knowing whether an A in literature at College No. 1 is comparable to an A in literature at College No. 2.

So when someone tells me that the admissions people have a good feel for what your transcript means, I have to say that I don't think so. I think they look at the GPA, and that, in most cases that are about all they get from your transcript.
There's a lot that you can't tell from the cumulative GPA, and even from the transcript's course-by-course details. For example, during my college years, I once skipped a final exam in protest, because I thought the professor had done such a bad job. In another course, I chose a thesis topic that interested me, even though I knew it irritated the professor. I awoke late another morning, and arrived at a final exam 45 minutes after it had started, because I had stayed up very late the night before, reading a lot of stuff that I knew probably wouldn't be on the exam but that interested me anyway. On some exams, I avenged truly stupid questions by scribbling discourses on unrelated subjects.

My professors penalized me for most of those escapades. I guess I'll never know for sure, but I often console myself with the thought that the grades I got for misbehaving in these courses were the only thing that kept me out of Harvard Law School, and then I feel better.

My transcript says nothing about all those experiences. It also ignores those that went the other way. I still remember the professor who apologized to me for the inferior quality of the other students in his course. I was amazed, and pleased, that he would say that. I didn't ask him for that opinion, and I didn't necessarily even share it. He gave me an A. That was the best he could do, short of giving me a medal, which wouldn't have appeared on the transcript either.

We all hear the standard comment that, "Well, the GPA is just a rough measure, but it is often a helpful one. * I think we should shorten that comment thus: "Yes, the GPA is just a rough measure."

And then there's the LSAT, that other primary determinant of your law school future. According to the people who created it, the LSAT is designed to give some measure of your aptitude for the work that you'll have to do in the first year of law school. This notion leads to an odd result.

It works like this. You take the LSAT and do extremely well. This gets you into an excellent law school. The LSAT is usually a pretty good predictor; sure enough, you do well in that school. People tend to like the things they do well, and, as the saying goes, if you love to study law, you'll hate to practice it. So you graduate from law school, go to work, and discover that you were really much happier back in school.

So you return to law school as a law professor, where you join other people who went through a similar process. As professors, you and your peers decide on the curriculum. The people who write the LSAT take a look at what you and your buddies are requiring of first-year law students, and they design the LSAT accordingly.

The LSAT does not ask whether you have what it takes to be a good lawyer. It just wants to know whether you'll quickly pick up the attitudes and methods that you'll need to succeed in law school. If law school is closely linked with real-life practicing, then the LSAT will be a good guide as to who should become a lawyer. And if law school is off in its own world, then the LSAT might have nothing at all to do with finding the best future lawyers.

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published March 04, 2013

By Author - LawCrossing
( 2 votes, average: 4.5 out of 5)
What do you think about this article? Rate it using the stars above and let us know what you think in the comments below.