Above the Law

You watch Law & Order reruns. You spoke to some lawyers who applied to law school ten years ago. You have a friend who is in law school right now, and he says you have nothing to worry about. You even looked at a sample LSAT test that a colleague of yours was taking. It looks doable enough. Maybe someone even told you to take the test cold to “see how you do.” You figure you’ll have a personal statement to write and some recommendations to line up, no big deal.

You think you know what the law school application process will be like, right? Think again.

Most prospective law school applicants are not fully informed about what will actually be required of them in order to apply to law school. That lack of information causes applicants to misjudge, and often underestimate, how much of their time and effort they will need to produce strong application materials.

So what should you expect from the application process? This week we’re starting a series of tips on how to get yourself mentally prepared for what lies ahead if you hope to submit strong law school applications this fall.

Expect to Start Early, Or Expect to Feel Rushed

Law schools generally start accepting applications around September of the year before you plan to begin law school. Some schools open up their applications a bit later or earlier, but September is a good target to keep in mind. You should try to have all your application components completed and ready to be submitted in early September. That means taking your LSAT no later than the previous June.

If you are still working on materials through the fall and into the winter, “calendar anxiety” may creep in. You’ll hear from friends who have submitted all of their applications by Labor Day, while you are still working on your essays, trying to track down that recommender who went MIA, and hoping to drum up a better LSAT score on a retake. Over Thanksgiving, someone will tell you that she has already been accepted to her top choice. Accepted? But you haven’t even applied yet…

The point is, you’ll have plenty to worry about when you’re dealing with essays, recommenders, the LSAT, and coming up with an appropriate list of schools. Avoiding “calendar anxiety” is one thing you can do ahead of time to alleviate additional stress, and that means starting the process early.

How early is “early”? Here are some guidelines for the calendar year before you plan to start law school:

1. Early April: Start prepping intensively for the LSAT
2. Early June: Take the LSAT
3. Right after the June LSAT: Begin working on your applications (can start earlier if you already have a score you’re happy with)
4. Early September: Submit completed applications

That timeline builds in some cushion. If life gets in the way, as it sometimes does, and you find yourself unable to submit in early September, plan on submitting no later than the end of November. That should only be your back-up plan, though. And do not look at official application deadlines — often in February or April the following spring — and assume that those are your target submission dates. Most law schools practice rolling admissions, which means that you are effectively applying for a spot on the waitlist if you wait until the submission deadlines.

These guidelines assume that you already have an LSAT score that you are happy with by the end of June. If you are still studying for the LSAT at that time, or are considering retaking the test, you should build even more time into the calendar for applications, because a lot of your energy and attention will be taken up by LSAT prep.

Seven more tips to follow! #2 will appear soon.