Application Process

Last updated: July 7, 2013

Apply Early

One of my strongest recommendations is that people apply as early as possible to their selected law school. Some schools with rolling admissions or those that employ cutoffs will render a decision as soon as the file is complete. A few state-supported law schools will only accept out-of-state applicants until their quota is filled. In these cases, people who apply later in the year will not receive the same favorable consideration available earlier.

The longer a student procrastinates in the fall semester, he/she runs an even greater risk that exams and papers will cause applications to be put off until Christmas break. While most application deadlines can still be met, the student who waits until Christmas gains no advantage whatsoever, and his/her chances may be lessened.

Another advantage to early application is that clerical errors can be easily remedied. Occasionally LSDAS will screw up someone's transcript, or a professor neglects to send a recommendation form. It is much easier to straighten out such mistakes earlier in the year than after Christmas when decisions are already being rendered on applicants with complete files.

Do yourself a favor, and apply early. People who take the June LSAT should complete all of the admissions paperwork before the end of October. If you take the LSAT in October, gather the application materials ahead of time so that you can file your applications as soon as you receive your scores. By all means, try to completely finish by January 1.

Applications 

Most law schools now accept only electronic applications. Go to: www.LSAC.org for information about these applications.

Recommendation Letters

Most law schools request recommendation letters, and they can be of value when the student’s numbers make them competitive.

Since you have to submit them, who should write the letters?  Letters from non-academic people are often useless, for such recommendations generally do not address themselves to the applicant's intellectual prowess or aptitude for law school. If the writer of the letter is not a professor, his/her comments will undoubtedly be confined to the applicant’s personality and industry. Such qualities do not interest the admissions officers, who are primarily concerned with academic aptitude and achievement. Probably the only exception would be a letter from an employer of an applicant who has been out of school for a year or more. You should never submit letters from congressmen, politicians, or practicing attorneys. The law schools will totally disregard them, and may think less highly of you. One exception:  if you have actually worked for a lawyer, he might be in a position to judge your motivation or legal acumen.

Recommendations From Professors

Letters from Professors who have actually had you in class are often required but can vary in usefulness. A recommendation with generalities like, "I taught James Jones in medieval history. He wrote a good term paper and actively participated in class discussions. He received a B+. I think he has a very fine mind and will be an outstanding lawyer," will be disregarded. Law schools want specific comments on the applicant's breadth and depth of knowledge, ability to criticize and analyze, writing acumen, problem-solving ability, and scholastic aptitude. Any original research done by the applicant will be helpful information.

Select professors who both know you personally and who have been able to examine a great deal of your work. If you've been in a seminar or taken independent study, your sponsors would be good choices to write recommendations. Pay no attention to the professor's rank or scholarly reputation. The law schools don't care whether your recommender is a full professor or has published twenty books. They're more interested in what the writer says about you than in who writes the letter. Since few recommendations are negative, don't select "a proof who can give me a good recommendation."  Select your teachers who know you best and who can write fairly detailed letters about your scholarly attributes.

Faculty, Employer, or other Recommendations:  Most law schools require an applicant to use the Law Services Letter of Recommendation Service (see LSAT & LSDAS Registration ). We recommend for those currently enrolled at Duke that two faculty and one other meaningful recommendation be submitted. For graduates, at least one from faculty and one or two from employers or others should be submitted. NB:  The Dean’s Form or College Questionnaire is NOT part of this system. (See Basic Information for Senior Pre-Law Students, “A Word to Seniors About Faculty Recommendations”, p. 6)

Employer or other meaningful recommenders should state (a) their connection with you, (b) your performance under their supervision, (c) their assessment of your ability to perform in law school, and (d) their estimate of your success as a lawyer.

The Dean's Recommendation (College Questionnaire) See Pages 33-35.

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