As many of you know, I went straight through from college to law school without taking any time off. And many of you know that I count this as one of my many mistakes. The people I know who took time off between college and law school came back to law school with an appreciation of school and a focus on what skills they needed to succeed in the real world.

People like me who went straight through tended to start out with a “College II” mentality, got book-raped first semester, and muddled through law school kind of wondering why everything was so boring. In my anecdotal experience, these people disproportionately ended up in Biglaw, because people who get on only one train tend to end up at the same destination.

Given that experience, I think this new pilot program from Harvard Law School could be a very good idea. Harvard Law will now admit Harvard undergraduates after their junior year of college, provided they agree to an automatic, two-year, post-graduation deferment. That’s two years after college where you can work, earn money, and experience the real world outside the ivory tower, all the while knowing that you have Harvard Law to fall back on.

At least, that’s the positive view of the program. Our tipsters point out the cynical side….

The Boston Globe outlines the new Harvard pilot:

Jessica Soban, assistant dean and chief admissions officer for the law school, said today that the program, which is one of the first of its kind, will launch as a pilot. She said it could evolve to include juniors at other universities.

Soban said the students will be admitted at the end of their junior year, and their acceptances will automatically be deferred until two years after graduation. She said the motivation is for students to gain experience before they pursue additional education.

“We want them to form those connections and networks before they even get into law school,” she said.

Not that HLS students have to be super-concerned about the weak job market, but it certainly doesn’t hurt future employment viability to spend a couple of years building work experience and contacts before starting law school.

As for application logistics, the Harvard Crimson explains that this isn’t a Wolverine Scholars program — you still have to take the LSAT:

The program’s first applicants will face an admissions process very similar to that of normal Law School hopefuls. The application will be released in the fall around the same time as the standard JD application in September. College juniors interested in the program must submit a personal statement, scores for the LSAT, and letters of recommendation.

Unlike students who apply through the normal process, however, participants in this new program will be allowed to submit scores from the February LSAT exam and will also receive in-person interviews at the Harvard Law School campus as opposed to speaking with admissions officers via the videoconferencing software Skype. In addition, applicants will be required to submit their transcript through the end of their junior year.

Why is HLS doing this? A tipster reminds us that the next time Harvard does something altruistic will be the first time:

Harvard does not seem to be opening this program from a position of strength. This is pretty clearly a grab for applicants to Yale (where, based on my experience from this past year, Harvard loses the vast majority of cross-admits) and Stanford (where Harvard at most gets half of the cross-admits).

It’s a pretty clever move on Harvard’s part. Why wait until you’re a couple years out of college, or even until your senior year, when you can have Harvard Law School locked down after only your junior year of college? Plus, you can then apply for jobs in your senior year with Harvard Law School on your résumé, without having to worry about your grades.

I’m interested to see whether Yale and Stanford decide to match Harvard’s program. Opening up an early application program does seem like it’s unfair to students from low-income backgrounds, who can greatly benefit from comparing financial aid offers from other institutions — especially from lower-ranked schools that offer full tuition scholarships. But now that Harvard has opened the floodgates, Yale and Stanford might be forced to offer a similar program in fear of losing out on top applicants.

I don’t know how many students who are at Harvard undergrad and can get into Harvard Law would turn down the law school to take a full ride at, say, Vanderbilt. I’m not saying that they shouldn’t, I’m saying that it takes a rare person to take a back-step like that just because of their debt load. So I’m not too worried that HLS will be bullying anybody out of a more financially sound decision. If anything, encouraging people to work for two years while they know expensive law school is coming might actually help some people defray the costs of law school.

But the HYS competition strikes me as at least partial motivation for this program. Most people who get into Yale go to Yale. But you can’t get into Yale if you don’t apply, and why would you apply when you got into HLS the year before and you can spend your senior year of college figuring out what real job you are going to get?

And of course the HLS program is also appealing to people who don’t know if they want to go to law school at all. For many people, law school is a fallback option anyway. How comforting would it be to have your fallback set up before you even try to spread your wings and do something else? Go spend your two years working for a start-up or developing an app or working for McKinsey. If you like it and it works out, great. If you flop, whatever, you’ve missed out on your chance to go to Yale, but you’re still going to HLS and things will be okay.

If this works out for HLS, I think Stanford and Yale will follow suit. And if they do, the rest of the top schools will. And if the top schools do, the bottom schools will. And eventually we’ll get to the point where people are emailing me asking if they should accept Thomas Jefferson’s offer to go to law school after working for two years or if they should “bother” taking the LSAT again and trying again senior year. And I’ll scream and pound my fat fingers on my terrified keys and bemoan the stupidity of everybody.

But let’s remember that this starts out as a good idea for Harvard undergrads, and probably other undergrads who can get into Harvard or Yale or Stanford. Let’s be adults and at least acknowledge that sometimes an idea can expand the options for one group of people, while the very same idea might limit the options of another group of people.

Law School To Launch New Deferred Admission Program for College Juniors [Harvard Crimson]
Harvard Law School to accept college juniors [Boston Globe]


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