Last updated: July 8, 2013
By Judge Richard Poland
At the 21st SAPLA Conference hosted by Duke University School of Law I organized and moderated the panel entitled “Debunking Law School Myths.” The panelists were the well-respected and experienced Deans of Admission Michelle Rahman of the University of Richmond, Michael Patrick of the University of Florida, and John Benfield of the University of South Carolina. We discovered that there are many myths, most of which have an equal and opposite counter-myth. The following is a list of those myths which we now declare to be officially debunked:
Myth # 1: A Law School Admissions Committee will only look at your GPA for the last 60 academic hours. In fact, the student’s entire collegiate academic record is fully examined and considered. Doing better academically as a junior and senior may give you material for your personal statement because you matured and became focused, but your cumulative and uniform GPA is what the committee will consider.
Myth # 2: If I attend University X as an undergraduate, then I will have a more competitive chance to gain admission into University X Law School. Many students also believe that their chances are diminished if they attend University X as an undergraduate. The truth is that it does not matter. Most law schools do not have the seating capacity to accept every applicant from its own institution, even if the Admission Committee wanted to do that. Each applicant is considered on his or her own merits.
Myth # 3: If you take the LSAT more than once, every law school will average your score. In fact, many law schools will look more closely at your second score. If it is significantly higher and if there’s a reasonable explanation, the second score can carry more weight. Again, you should address the reason for this higher score in your personal statement. Nevertheless, most law schools will average your LSAT score because LSAC and ABA data reflects the averaged score.
Myth # 4: A “WP” on your transcript will always create a negative impression. While a pattern of WPs scattered throughout your transcript might indicate that you are course shopping for an easy A, there may be a reasonable explanation. Four or five WPs during one semester may indicate sickness or a serious emergency. One or two WPS may merely indicate that the course content was not what you had expected. The applicant’s personal statement should state an explanation.
Myth # 5: It is best not to disclose a DUI or a misdemeanor on your application. Answering all questions truthfully is the course of action the student should always pursue. Lying will create a bigger problem than the truth. When given advice to lie on a law school application, you should consider seeking advice elsewhere. A pre-law advisor is always a good place to begin.
Myth # 6: There is a magic undergraduate major that will put me at the head of the admission’s line. While some majors may have a reputation of requiring critical thinking and thoughtful writing, how can an Admissions Committee possibly determine whether one particular major at your institution is more rigorous than another major? Or whether a particular major at your institution is more rigorous than that same major at other institutions? Take courses that encourage you to think and write, knowing that there is no magic major.
Myth # 7: Rolling admissions means apply early and my lesser credentials will gain me admission. If you are a presumptive admittee, you will most likely be admitted whenever you apply. If you are not, you will not. If the law school to which you are applying has an early admission policy, then you should apply early. Remember that applying early is always preferred over applying late. Having your applications mailed by Thanksgiving is a good rule of thumb.
Myth # 8: Strong letters of recommendation from important people will trump my low grades and poor LSAT score. While positive letters of recommendation are a plus, it is ultimately your academic record and your specialness that will gain a seat for you in next year’s class.
Myth # 9: Only geniuses should apply. Having practiced law for 20 years and presided as a probate judge for 18, I am living proof that this is, indeed, a mere myth. A solid work ethic and superior people skills are just as important for a successful career in law.