Building a Solid Foundation for Your Future Law School Application

We have worked with many clients who are looking for professional assistance understanding how they can build a solid foundation for a successful future law school application.  I always applaud these folks for thinking ahead because far too often people come to us at Stratus having already made some decisions that may negatively impact their chances at admission.

It’s never too early to start building a strong foundation for a future law school application.  If you are more than a year away from applying to law school, there are a number of things you can do to position yourself to be a competitive applicant when the time comes.  Not everything you do during this time should be solely in preparation for a potential law school application (lots of things may change between now and then), but there are some key decisions that will have a particularly significant impact on your chances at law school.  The best thing you can do during this time is to keep as many doors open as you can.

Think About Your College and Major 

When working with students who are in the earlier stages of their undergraduate career, we often encounter the scenario where the student is not able to maintain the high GPA required for law school and wants some guidance as to whether transferring schools or changing majors would make sense if applying to law school is something they intend to do.

Of course, there is more that goes into choosing your undergraduate institution and major than setting yourself up for law school, but it is generally always a good thing to maximize your future options, particularly if law school is one of them.  As obvious as it sounds, try to go to a good school where you are confident you will be happy and will succeed.  Your undergraduate GPA (along with your LSAT score) is one of the biggest factors in law school admissions.  Going to a lower-ranked school or choosing a less rigorous major may increase your chances of maintaining a high GPA, however, there are many other factors to consider.  Admissions committees absolutely factor in the quality of an applicant’s undergraduate institution and the difficulty of their coursework.  Furthermore, if you ultimately decide not to go to law school, going to a better school with a solid reputation will generally be the better bet (strong alumni networks, better chances for employment or other graduate programs etc.).  Harvard will always be viewed differently than a local unknown school.  Also, pursuing a challenging major, like engineering, math or computer science may be the most advantageous path for you if you decide that law school is not the right fit.  Having said that, going to Harvard and majoring in physics won’t save you, at least for law school admissions purposes, if you have a 2.0 GPA.

If you have a strong reason for choosing a particular school or major, however esoteric or challenging, then you should by all means pursue it.  Just keep in mind the things that admission officers will take into consideration.

Maximize Your GPA

This should be your primary focus if you are in college (as well as high school) and is the single most important thing you can do NOW to optimize your chances law admission success.  Undergraduate GPA and LSAT collectively account for 25% of the US News law school rankings, so law schools understandably treat GPA as high priority.  You do not want to put yourself in the position of having to get a 180 on the LSAT to have a shot at a top law school due to your lackluster GPA.  If your GPA is 3.7+, you will have more flexibility with the LSAT.  So what can you do to maximize your GPA?  In addition to picking the right school and major for you, you need to hit the books early on.  You do not have to put your social life completely on hold for four years.  Enjoy getting to know your classmates, building relationships and creating lifelong memories, but it is extremely important that you maintain a strong cumulative GPA.  This balance is something that you will need to maintain for a long time if you want to be a lawyer.  Once you start work as a lawyer, you will need to be able to perform at a high level for long hours while trying to juggle and build relationships, so you might as well get used to it now.

Get Involved Inside and Outside of Your School

Another common question we get when strategizing with clients looking to build a solid foundation for law school, is what they can do, beyond improving their GPA, to maximize their chances at admission success.  Professional and personal experiences are another very important factor for your future law school application.  Your resume is a key consideration for admissions committees and you should not assume it’s acceptable that your resume is bare just because you are a full-time student.  The applicants who succeed in the law school admissions process will have robust resumes which reflect activities both inside and outside their college.  Whether it be an academic, sports, political, religious or community service group, get involved at your school and try to take on a leadership role.  In addition, seek out real work experiences.  Companies and government agencies are eager for interns to help out.  This will not only look great on your resume, but it will also give you valuable insight into the working world, which may allow you to avoid mistakes early in your legal career.

Also, do not shy away from an activity that may be outside the box.  Would living abroad for the summer working for an NGO or finally launching that business idea be the right fit for you?  Do it!  In addition to your resume, you will need to prepare a personal statement for your future law school application.  Having something deeper to speak about, something that really impacts your life, is important.

Reputation is Important – Build and Protect It

In the legal world, reputation is huge.  Lawyers hold a position of great trust and qualities such as good judgment and character are tested before you are able to enter the profession.  When newly-gradated law students apply for the bar, they must pass the character and fitness inquiry in addition to the exam.  Similarly, law school admissions officers are focused on whether a prospective student possesses these qualities.  Anything you can do to build your positive reputation will help in your legal career as well as your chances of admission to law school.

On the flip side, anything you do that reflects bad judgment or diminishes your trustworthiness can have significant consequences for your admission chances.  Not only will admissions committees take into consideration things in your public record (if you have had run-ins with the law or disciplinary issues at your college), but they are also looking at applicants’ social media profiles. According to a recent study of 117 law schools (including 28 of the top 50 ranked by U.S. News & World Report), approximately 56% of law school admissions officers say they have looked at applicants’ social media accounts, which has nearly doubled since 2011, and approximately 91% say looking at an applicant’s social media accounts is “fair game.”  The study also found that admissions officers who visit social media pages say the odds of finding something that negatively impacts the applicant’s chances at admission is a staggering 66%.

Start Understanding How to Think Like a Lawyer

The LSAT is intended to test how well you will likely succeed in law school – in other words, it tests how well you can think like a lawyer.  While it may be a bit too early to start really pushing hard on LSAT prep, it is not too early to understand the test and begin training your mind to think critically and in a way that will cause you to be successful at the LSAT.

Think About Taking Some Time Off Before Law School

Admissions Committees have been putting greater emphasis on people taking time between college and law school to gain valuable real world experience.  This is standard practice for business school and I think it is a step in the right direction, but it may not be the best choice for everyone.  The current environment is challenging for law service providers as they try to show clients why they should retain their services and greater emphasis is being placed on lawyers not only knowing the law but also having a deeper understanding of the client’s business and the goals they are hoping to achieve.  Lawyers who can bring a diverse professional background to their firm is an asset.  If you are able to use this time between college and law school to improve your application profile, it makes sense to go this route, but if you just want a year off from school to hangout, this won’t be viewed the same by admissions officers.

Start Planning Now!

At Stratus, we offer our JD Early Edge program, which is focused on future law school hopefuls looking to set a solid foundation for their eventual application.  Some people do not have mentors available to them with the backgrounds that our counselors have.  We have all successfully navigated the law admissions process as well as transitioned to successful legal practices.  We have worked with numerous people stay, or get back on the right track.  If you, or your son or daughter, could use our experience and insight to plan for their future law school application, please contact us today for a free consultation!  We look forward to hearing from you.

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Author: Timothy Knox
Tim is a graduate of the University of Virginia School of Law and Suffolk University. Majoring in Economics, Tim worked at a think tank and a premier investment firm during college. During law school, he was Articles Review Editor of the Virginia Tax Review. Since law school, Tim has worked as a corporate attorney at some of the most elite law firms in the world, including Kirkland & Ellis and Olshan Frome Wolosky, where he specialized in mergers and acquisitions, capital markets and shareholder activist campaigns. Tim has an extensive background in mentoring and has worked with applicants with diverse backgrounds accomplish their goal of being admitted to law school.
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