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Official Guide to Law Schools

published March 04, 2013

By Author - LawCrossing
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The LSAT, of course, can't measure all of the skills that you'll need in your first year of law school. For example, it won't tell us whether you can sit and read the same old stuff for a long time without getting bored, or how you'll react when you do get bored, or whether you can do good research or defend yourself in front of 150 classmates.

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Official Guide to Law Schools

"That's fine,'' the admissions committee might say.”We don't need to learn those things from the LSAT. We have the entire application of this student here on the table in front of us. It gives us everything we need with which to decide whether the applicant has those abilities."

That, however, is nonsense. The application period runs for about five months. At a top school, 6,000 applications in five months mean 1,200 per month, or 45 per day, six days a week. Each application includes grade transcripts, the applicant's essays, and at least two recommendations from professors or former employers.

Every applicant is different, and so is every school. But if you assume that the transcripts, essays, and recommendations take 10 pages in a typical application, then the dean of admissions at a top school has to review about 450 pages of material every day, six days a week, for five solid months.

The law schools do not advise you that they may take one look and toss your application into the trash. On the contrary, in their Official Guide to Law Schools, they claim to review, not only your GPA and your LSAT, but also your undergraduate course of study - especially its difficulty and depth; the quality of the college you attended; improvement in your grades and grade distribution; your college activities, both curricular and extracurricular; your ethnic background; your moral character and personality; your letters of recommendation; your personal interview and or written essay; significant activities since you graduated from college, such as work experience; your state of residency; your motivation to study and reasons for deciding to study law; and, finally, anything else from your file that might make the admissions committee sit up and take notice.

So, OK, let's take them at their word. If they're going to look at all the materials in every serious application, how well are they going to get to know you?

Let's assume, for starters, that the college seniors who apply to law school are bright, and that they do a good job with their paperwork. Besides, they don't want to waste their application fees of $30 to $50. So, at most, maybe 10 percent of the applications are in such poor shape that the dean of admissions can safely reject them out of hand, without even reading them.

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That leaves 400 pages of text to review every day. So the dean, being a sensible person, hires three assistants. Unless the dean wants to pay them to sit around for seven months out of the year, they'll have to be willing to take a five-month job and then get laid off. So they probably aren't exactly your career-track kinds of people. Also, they won't be formally trained, but that's OK. The dean can train them, and then give them the power to screen out 75 percent of the material. That still leaves the dean with 100 pages of highly individualized, personal writing to read each day.

I have never received 100 pages of letters from close friends on any single day of my life. But I can tell you that if I did, I'd be awfully tired a long time before I got through all of them. And I'd much rather read letters from close friends than the numbingly redundant essays and recommendations in a bunch of law school applications.

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The dean will have other distractions, of course. Besides the bureaucratic hassles of life as a law school administrator, she will have to keep checking up on the assistants, to make sure they don't go haywire, and will also have to look at those applications that the assistants have singled out for special attention. There will always be a few turkeys who insist on a personal interview, and there will be occasional crises.

I think you begin to see that something, somewhere, has got to give.

Let's come at the problem from the other side of the table. Let's say you're applying to law school. The essay you write as part of your application will be your best chance to explain yourself to the admissions committee. Will that tell them enough to permit an informed decision on your application? A few comparisons may be instructive.

First, let me tell you that I recently visited a video dating service. Here's how it works. They videotape you for 10 minutes, while you chat with one of their employees and pretend to be normal. They ask lots of specific questions, and they make you write an essay about yourself. People of the opposite sex can look at these materials and then decide whether they're interested in you.

This is not a simple process. The list price for a year's membership is more than $1,700. It's also much more sophisticated than the process that the dean of admissions uses. For one thing, it's harder to hide phoniness, bad attitudes, or physical problems from this video club's camera. Also, you're being examined by potential lovers, who probably have a lot of experience with the long-term dangers of knowing someone like you. It's unlikely that the dean of admissions reviews your application materials with anxieties and hopes that are anywhere near as intense as those of the people who examine your dating/mating videotape.

Even so, the video dating service gets mixed results. Most people sign up for a three-year membership ($2,300) rather than betting that they'll hit the mark in only one year of dating. Most members apparently go out on lots of dates, which suggest that even though the video and the other materials give them a general impression of you, it's not enough, and they still need to meet you in person to appraise you properly.

That's one example of a technique for selecting the right person from among many applicants. For a more advanced approach, you might think about what happens in a headhunter's office. For example, the elite personnel agencies that try to find just the right lawyer for a major national law firm may be paid 20 percent of that attorney's annual salary for their effort. It can take months, and it can require scores of interviews. The headhunter earns his/her fee.

These examples - the video dating service and the head-hunter - show how far you can go if you care about the quality of the person you're looking for. There's quite a contrast between these examples and the $30 fee you pay for the privilege of having a one-shot, two-minute review by a dean of admissions whose momentary whim will affect your entire career.
The fact is, there are real limits on what the dean can do. If you come in with bad grades or bad LSAT scores, you're sunk. It's not just that you will appear unable to do the work in law school. It's also that there are books that publish the LSAT and GPA numbers of those students who are admitted to the law schools. If a school accepts a lot of low-scorers, it will look like they couldn't get better applicants and the school's reputation will suffer.

Of course, accepting no losers will discourage losers from applying and will therefore cut off a large source of funds. If people knew more about the application process, maybe only the 500 or 1,000 applicants who are likely to be admitted would apply to a school like Columbia. The other 5,000 would apply elsewhere instead, and the school would lose up to a quarter million a year in application fees.

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published March 04, 2013

By Author - LawCrossing
( 3 votes, average: 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.