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Applying to Law School

When and how do I apply to law school?

While first- and second-year students should be aware of the mechanics of applying to law school, they should not overly concern themselves. Near the end of their junior year, students will receive a detailed checklist to guide them along the way.

Preferably, the LSAT should be taken by October of a student's senior year. To wait until December to take the test initially can be a serious handicap since this later date delays acquisition of the information most vital in deciding where to apply. Students who will be abroad during the fall of their senior year should take the test in June. If a retake of the LSAT is necessary, then a second testing in December is preferred to the February test date. Since the February test score would not be reported to the law schools until March, it might well arrive too late to be of any real support to an application for admission.

The pre-law advisor will meet with juniors late in the spring and again with the same group, as seniors, early in the fall to explain application procedures. In September, seniors should write for law school application forms and bulletins and should strive to have all applications completed before mid-December, if not earlier.

Prior to the senior year, students should have begun familiarizing themselves with law schools and available financial aid through visits to campuses, a perusal of law school catalogs and other materials on file with the pre-law adviser and a detailed study of materials which can be obtained on request from any law school. The Association of American Law Schools and the Law School Admission Council publish jointly each fall the convenient Official Guide to U.S. Law Schools.

Students are further encouraged to stop by the pre-law advisor's office (619 College Avenue) to discuss their particular situations.

What about letters of recommendation?

Most law schools require that a student obtain at least two letters of recommendation, preferably from at least one professor who can comment on the student's academic performance and aptitude for the study of law. At Franklin & Marshall, a composite letter of recommendation is also prepared by the Pre-Law Advisor, who summarizes the recommendations from professors and provides her own assessment of the student's potential for success in law school and the legal profession. Seniors who do not plan to enter law school in the fall after graduation in the spring, but who may decide to apply to law school at a later date, should meet with the Pre-Law Advisor and obtain recommendations before graduation.

The Pre-Law Advisor will not write a letter of recommendation for a student if he or she is so clearly beneath prevailing standards of law school admissions that the value and credibility of the College's recommendation would tend to be impaired. Similarly, the Pre-Law Advisor will make note of those cases where a pre-law student has compiled an impressive grade point average through the continual selection of the less rigorous introductory courses.

Do extra-curricular activities count?

Law School admission committees want to know about the extracurricular activities and pursuits of law school applicants. Of special interest are the various positions of responsibility open to students in the governance of the College, participation in the arts and competitive athletics, and work experience on or off campus. Do not expect a law school, however, to accept a record of campus politics in place of demonstrated academic performance.

Many law schools like to see some evidence that an applicant's interest in becoming a lawyer is serious and is founded on something other than TV portrayals of lawyers. So you may want to try some volunteer work for legal services, some private law office work, other law-related work, or some extended reading of biographies of judges and attorneys. Volunteer work in some form of community service is also desirable.

In making application to law school, you may well be called on to explain in a personal statement why you want to go to law school. Many students wisely include in their statement some kind of acknowledgment of both the opportunity and the obligation to pursue social good. Interest in pursuing social good is obviously more believable if you have activities in your record to cite as examples.

What about blemishes on my record?

Law schools are careful to screen out in advance persons who will obviously fail to meet the minimum standards for admission to the bar. There are now, as always, numerous ways in which students can blemish their records, and make their application to a bar problematic. For example, convictions for violations of all but the most petty of laws can become major obstacles for one seeking to enter the legal profession. Additionally, students must maintain high standards of academic honesty, as a blemish in this area could make law school admissions very problematic. Good credit ratings should be maintained as well. Paying the telephone bill late is not likely to keep a student out of law school, but it may well make obtaining a loan for law school very difficult. Students should use good judgment in putting personal information on Facebook, Twitter, and other social media platforms.

Is an acceptance hard to get?

Trends in law school acceptances depend on several variables. These include

  • the overall total number of college students
  • the percentage of college seniors applying to law school
  • the number of non-traditional aged persons applying to law school
  • the number of law schools and the sizes of their entering classes.

High application levels means that seniors at Franklin & Marshall and other colleges and universities now have a much more difficult time in gaining admission to a particular law school than those in years past. Because of the large number of applicants who, by definition, fall into the middle range of the LSAT score and cumulative grade point average, acceptance by any particular school remains uncertain, even if the applicant meets the school's published "minimum standards." Since, naturally, there are more applicants than space available in first-year classes, most law schools remain very selective.

Hidden within admission figures over the past two decades is another important fact: the quality (as measured by LSAT score, grade-point average, and rank in class) of law school applicants has significantly improved. This means that an "average" college senior in 1960 simply had an easier time gaining admission to law school than an "average" college senior today.

Changes in admission statistics over the past two or three decades have, not surprisingly, had an impact on the legal profession itself. Total law school enrollment has jumped from 44,000 in 1960 to where it stands today. Women accounted for just 10% of law students in 1960. Today, about 50% of law students are women. In 1960, there were a total of 285,000 attorneys in the United States. As of 2011, the number of licensed lawyers in the U.S. is 1,245,205 according to the American Bar Association. There has also been a shift in the kind of employment lawyers have. In 1948, 90% of American attorneys were in private practice, with two-thirds of this group being solo practitioners. By 2005, the percentage in private practice had dropped to 75%, with only 49% of the group remaining as solo practitioners.

Suppose I want to delay law school?

Whether to save money, to travel, to rest, or to combine some of each, some students will choose, to "sit out" a year or two following graduation from college before entering law school. In such cases, students should not expect a law school to "hold" places for them, but instead should apply in the fall of the year for admission the following September.

Students who make application to law school with little or no intention of enrolling at the specified date are doing themselves no good and are likely denying someone else an acceptance. Seniors delaying application should remember that they will apply with eight semesters of course work on their transcripts. This may help or hurt your reported GPA. A pre-law senior who does not intend to apply to law school for admission the following year should communicate his or her interest in law school to the pre-law adviser. The student may then solicit evaluations for the letter of recommendation, and the file can then be maintained until application to law school is made.

Employment Data for Attorneys in the U.S.
  • 75 percent of American lawyers are in private practice; of these 62 percent work as solo practitioners or in offices of 5 or fewer lawyers, 18 percent work in offices of between 6 and 50 lawyers, and 20 percent work in firms of more than 50 lawyers.
  • 7.5 percent of the profession work for government agencies.
  • 8.5 percent work for private industries and associations as salaried lawyers or as managers.
  • 1 percent work for legal aid or as public defenders.
  • 1 percent work in legal education.
  • 2.5 percent work in the judiciary.
  • 4.4 percent are retired or inactive.