We could take the easy way out and start off with a few good tried-and-true lawyer jokes, but we decided to spare you our witticisms and get down to business. In law school, nothing is clear and simple, so we might as well give you your last glimmer of clarity with this SYW.

So before your begin memorizing poignant soliloquies from The Practice, read on and figure out what it takes to get yourself into one of the 182 accredited institutions built to turn innocent folks like yourself into fine, young ambulance-chasers. We mean lawyers. And we couldn't resist.


Ally McBeal wears designer outfits, drinks lots of coffee, hooks up with hotties in a posh office, and sings along with a dancing baby. You're convinced: This is the life for you!

Well, maybe. But first you have to get through law school. Law school will teach you many things: to think logically, to write precisely, to speak persuasively, to argue effectively, and it will almost definitely guarantee that you become more marketable. Best of all, when you argue with people, all you'll have to say is, "Excuse me, but I'm obviously correct. I'm in law school. Clown."

Though law school can offer you all of these things, there is one thought that must be at the front of your mind when deciding whether to apply: LAW SCHOOL IS A MEANS, NOT AN END. In other words, law school is not supposed to be fun. It absolutely sucks. Even if you end up loving your career as a lawyer, the actual process of going through law school is usually miserable. So with that sunshine-y news in mind, here are a few other not-so-glamorous things to consider when deciding whether law school is in your future:

  • For three years, you will ignore your laundry and do the smell test on your socks. Why's that? Although some law schools offer part-time/night programs for the masochists who want to work and study law at the same time, most JD (Juris Doctorate) programs are full-time and last for three years.

  • Law school is extremely competitive and stressful. If you don't believe us, read Scott Turow's One L: The Turbulent True Story of a First Year at Harvard Law School. You'll see beyond the glossy brochures (and lawyers' glory-days stories) you have an extremely difficult academic experience in store. Hours run long, tensions run high, and first term grades may run low. You'll read and read and read case after case after case. And then your professors will call on you, asking you to sort out case ambiguities on the spot. We're sure you'd rather be watching reruns of The Golden Girls. We would.

  • There's one more thing you'll need to factor into your decision: MONEY. Yes, law school is expensive. Make that very expensive, in fact, with some schools' annual costs topping $30K. The good news is that many schools grant generous scholarship money, especially to those applicants with outstanding credentials and/or demonstrated need. Also, students may borrow money from the government, the school, or private institutions. While some schools are tricky about allowing students to claim independent status to earn need-based aid, federal regulations cover, by allowing for the distribution of bunches of Stafford loans. Hooray for the government!

You're still reading? Okay, so maybe law school is for you; you're okay with the challenges that await you because you're pretty darn psyched about the stock of benefits that law school can bring you, including summer salaries up to $2400/week at some firms, before you even have a degree. And if you join a large firm at the entry level, you'll be making more than most people in America during your very first year. Money hungry already, eh? We think you'll make a fine lawyer.


OK, so you've committed to going to law school. The first step to take is that you have to take an exam before any law school will admit you. The Law School Admission Test (LSAT) is not exactly a cakewalk; it makes you read long, boring passages and it makes you solve ridiculous word problems that you thought you'd never see after the seventh grade. But the good news is that every law school applicant has to take the LSAT so that law schools have a general way to measure how well you'll do in law school. But those wily testmakers they don't even test you on law! Instead, they give you brainteasers aimed at assessing your logic skills and how well you think in different situations. Nothing like the "vocabulary test-ish" SAT, eh?

The LSAT is important enough that we've written an entire separate SYW teaching you how to ace it (read it here). Here are some points about the LSAT to keep in mind:

  • It's a 3 hour test consisting of four sections: 2 Logical Reasoning sections (Arguments), 1 Analytical Reasoning section (Games), 1 Reading Comprehension section.

  • You'll also get one experimental section that will be either Arguments, Games or Reading Comp. You won't get scored on that section, but you also won't know which is the real one and which is experimental. So we suggest that you push the "This may be the experimental section" thought out of your mind during the test.

  • At the very end of the test, you will also have a writing section. You will be presented with a controversial situation and asked to write an argument to support one side. The good news is that this section is NOT scored, so don't stress over it. However, the writing section will accompany your scores to every school to which you apply, so you can't write "All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy" 1000 times either.

  • There are about 101 questions on the LSAT. You receive 1 point for each correct answer, and there is no penalty for guessing.

  • Your score will be transformed onto a scale of 120 - 180. 150 is the average score, and anything over a 170 is VERY good. Like most standardized tests, the LSAT is scaled onto a bell curve.

  • Generally, you should take the LSAT by at least October of the year before which you plan on entering law school, though in some cases you could squeeze in a viable December or February test. The smartest idea is to take it in June, so that you'll have plenty of time to get your score and consider which schools to apply to.

  • You can hold onto your scores for 5 years, if you'd like to mull over this law school decision for a bit longer. After 5 years, your score disappears.

  • It is NOT recommended that you take the LSAT more than once. Of course, if you think you can improve your score dramatically, you should go for it. But if your score goes down, that'll make you look even worse. So be absolutely positive that you'll improve.

  • Upcoming test dates for the LSAT are December 2, 2000 and February 10, 2001. Check out the LSAT schedule for registration deadlines and info. Test registration costs $90, and you can register online too.

Because the law school admissions process is so numbers-driven, many students enroll in preparation courses before taking the LSAT. Both Princeton Review and Kaplan - the two most popular test prep organizations - offer a variety of classes to get you ready for the big test.

We're not going to get into the specifics here about acing the LSAT; for that, we suggest you read "SYW ace the LSAT?" But keep in mind that through the LSAT Board, you can buy a book of the 10 latest LSATs and take them as practice tests. We recommend that you practice every single one of these. The LSAT is one of the most predictable standardized tests out there, so you should practice every chance you get. You can also get one free test by printing out this Adobe file. To see it, you need to download Adobe Reader.


While the country's oldest law school may sit on the top of many "ideal schools lists," the Crimson isn't for everyone. Try this search engine to start checking out different law schools; then compare them side-by-side here.

Your GPA and your LSAT score do not guarantee or cancel definite admissions, but they can provide good starting points for selecting a list of schools. The best thing to do is what you probably did when looking at undergraduate schools - pick some "safeties", some reaches, and some good fits. Insert your numbers into these fields to determine your probable chance of admission for any school on your list.

You should also browse the range of GPAs and LSAT scores for previous admits, as shown in the U.S. News and World Report's annual ranking of top law schools. This list, which is generally considered the decisive list in school rankings, includes such factors as GPAs, LSAT scores, reputation, student/faculty ratio, job placement rate, and bar passage rate.

Keep in mind, though, that these rankings should not make or break any of your decisions. In fact, law school deans across the country recently signed a complaint letter arguing that the big list does not take into consideration the following factors:

  • Breadth and support of alumni network
  • Breadth of curriculum
  • Clinical programs
  • Collaborative research opportunities with faculty
  • Commitment to innovative technology
  • Cost
  • Externship options
  • Faculty accessibility
  • Intensity of writing instruction
  • Interdisciplinary programs
  • International programming
  • Law library strengths and services
  • Loan repayment assistance for low-income lawyers
  • Location
  • Part-time enrollment option
  • Public interest programs
  • Quality of teaching
  • Racial and gender diversity within the faculty and student body
  • Religious affiliation
  • Size of first-year classes
  • Skills instruction
  • Specialized areas of faculty expertise

Looks like they don't consider more than they do consider.

Also, as much as this process is about law schools choosing you, it's also about you selecting the best program to suit your needs and interests. Something to keep in mind as you research is that certain schools with lower rankings may have super-duper strengths in particular programs. Cardozo Law School, for example, is considered a "tier two" school, but it is ranked sixth in Intellectual Property law programs. Temple University in Pennsylvania is not considered to be an absolute top tier school, but it has one of the top programs for trial lawyers. And as much focus as is put on Yale Law School, if you are good enough to get in, you should also realize that Yale is best suited for those who are interested in going into public service (politics, government work, becoming a judge, etc.) as opposed to joining a huge and powerful law firm.

Finally, perks like dual degree programs, externships, and study abroad options are not available at every law school. Know what you want, and research well. Check here to see program-specific rankings.

But you still want a quick look at what's on top? Fine, fine. These are law schools are in the US News top 15. Again, rankings don't matter, but you'll find a particularly high number of brilliant people at these schools, so subsequently, they're tougher to get admittance to:

  • Yale
  • Stanford
  • Harvard
  • New York University
  • Columbia
  • University of Chicago
  • University of Michigan - Ann Arbor
  • University of California - Berkeley
  • University of Virginia
  • Cornell
  • Duke
  • Northwestern
  • University of Pennsylvania
  • Georgetown
  • University of Texas - Austin


Clicking your heels three times won't get you into a good law program - or any program, for that matter. With that in mind, we're here to help with some of the logistics of applying. You can buy us a beer when you get in.

LSDAS Report
Dean's Letter

LSDAS Report

Guess what? In addition to the general application fee you'll have to pay to each school (usually somewhere around $60), you're also going to need to shell out some cash to register with the Law School Data Assembly Service. The LSDAS will (for a fee) send official score reports (that is, your LSAT score) to any law school you'd like, as well as process transcripts and recommendations for you. Bonus #1: You can access your account anytime, as everything is online. A year-long subscription to the LSDAS will run you $95. Bonus #2: As LSDAS attempts to even out schools' grading systems, your GPA may grow a teensy bit. The bad news is, you don't have a choice; you MUST pay and join the LSDAS. So suck it up and give 'em your credit card number.

Just remember that the LSDAS people, as rockin' as they are, take time to process all of your paperwork. This is a recurring theme, so get everything done early. You should join before you even take the LSAT.


Make sure your applications are neat. Make sure they're typed. And most of all, make sure they're complete. Many schools allow you to download applications from their Web sites for easy access. And LSDAS will sell you a CD-rom (or give you access to a Web account) containing almost every law school's application. With these services, you can type your information directly into the application, so that your printouts are formatted and pretty, just as the schools like them. The CD (or web access) costs $59. You'll still have to pay the general $60-ish application fee to schools, but we'll tell you that this CD is well worth its price. You won't have to write letters to every school asking for applications, and if something happens to your application, you can always print out another copy.


The tricky thing about law school admissions is that most use rolling admissions. This means that they decide whether to accept you or reject you right when they get your application. Thus, if you send in your application early, there are more potential spaces open and you're more likely to get accepted. Think about all the qualified people who wait until the last minute - perhaps they are all brilliant, but there simply aren't enough spaces left for everyone.

Rolling admissions can prove a blessing (to the earlybirds) or a curse (to the slackers). We cannot stress enough the importance of getting your applications signed, sealed and delivered as soon as possible. If you want to get into the best school that you can, do your best to finish your applications and send them in by the end of October. This means that you have to write your essays and ask for recommendations during September.


Every law school will require you to submit transcripts from any undergraduate and graduate coursework you did before law school. Think you're the only one from your school/alma mater applying to law school? Think again, kiddo. Registrars' offices are SWAMPED during application time, so make sure to get in your requests nice and early. Also make sure that your checkbook is prepared to handle any processing or mailing fees your school charges, or investigate fee waiver programs far in advance. And, very importantly, do not forget to include transcripts from summer programs at other schools, study abroad programs, and transfer institutions. Don't guess at what paperwork is needed - just send it all in.

Clear up any "Incompletes" before you send your transcript, and make sure to account for any glaring blemishes (a semester's worth of D's, for example) in your personal statement.


Most schools also ask you to submit some letters (usually two or three) from people who know you well enough to verify your sanity. If you and Bill Clinton are close personal friends or collaborating colleagues, then by all means, ask the President to write you a recommendation letter. The same goes for University administration members, important politicians, or other "famous types." But if you don't have impressive connections, take heart. Most admissions officers are not reading for the signature at the bottom, but rather to check on three things, according to some notes from University of Chicago Law Assistant Dean Richard Badger:

  1. How well does the recommender know the applicant?
  2. Does the recommender feel the applicant will become successful in law school and in the legal profession?
  3. How psyched is the recommender to praise the applicant?

Usually you'll need at least one recommendation from a professor, sometimes one who teaches in your major. Don't head straight to the profs who gave you A's; some won't even remember you from their huge lecture classes. Instead, go for the profs or lecturers with whom you've had the best working relationship. (And if no one's name springs to mind, start networking, baby!) Provide recommenders with your transcript, resume, and any important coursework, just so they know how kick-ass you are. Also be sure that they know that you REALLY want to go to law school that way, they won't hold back.

Dean's Letter

A dean's letter is usually required. The dean at your college probably doesn't know you, but that's okay: his or her secretary will probably write this recommendation, if you need it. All it promises is that you never lied, cheat, or stole anything. As with your other recommendations, ask the deans (or their secretaries) for letter well in advance of deadlines; deans are notorious for taking months to provide these letters. Remember that you can send your transcript and your recommendations directly to LSDAS, and they'll send 'em along with your score report to the schools you're applying to. Saves you on things to remember.


Finished feeling like a social security number, a GPA, and an LSAT score? Luckily, admissions folks are curious about the non-number parts of your life. Your essays mark an important departure from the data-driven forms of your application, making them the place where you show your true colors. On that note, we'd like to offer you some surefire tips to writing the best essays to sell yourself (not in that way, you perv!... that doesn't come until after you've gone to law school ).

The personal statement
Other essays
Expanded resume

The personal statement

Ahhhthe personal statement. This is basically the school's way of saying, "Using 12-point font and 1 -inch spacing, tell us a story about yourself in less that two pages." There are no guidelines, no real content requirements; you just have to tell the school about you and why they should accept you. Here are some potential angles:

  • A good way to begin tackling this little gem is to think of some concrete examples that illustrate the point you'd like to make. Want to paint yourself as a civic-minded individual? Write about your experiences tutoring and fundraising for charity campaigns. The same admissions officers who read your personal statement will also see your transcripts and your resume (if you include one; we recommend that you do). So you don't need to reiterate everything you've done; rather, explain some of the really good stuff.

  • You may also, if necessary, use the personal statement as a way to explain a semester of particularly poor academic performance, or an LSAT score that inadequately represents you as a candidate.

  • If you've done anything particularly interesting (worked in an African village for a year, worked as a CIA agent, grew up in foster care, etc.), then play it up in your essay. Those intriguing personal stories really jump out.

  • No matter what, NEVER start out with "I want to go to law school because" It's the most boring way to start an essay. Some poor reasons to go to law school include "Because I love L.A. Law," "Because so many injustices exist in the world, that I feel morally compelled to solve them," and "I want to make millions." These are all trite, boring, and say nothing about you as a person. No matter what you write about, make sure that it speaks about you as an individual.

Check out some great personal statement tips here, and take a look at these sample questions. Whatever you write about, you must be careful to not have any typos or stupid mistakes, and you should give it to a couple friends to read over to make sure it makes sense.

Other essays

Some schools ask you to complete other essays with your application. Show these writing samples the same love and affection you showered on your personal statement, but most importantly, STICK TO THE QUESTION YOU'RE ASKED! We're serious on this one. If you are asked, for example, to describe a mistake you made and what you learned from it, do NOT babble on and on about you're the lesson you learned when you heard your roommate's boyfriend's brother cry about the exam he slept through. Trust us, no one will care. Just write honestly, clearly, and (somewhat) creatively, and you'll do just fine. You may even feel compelled to complete some schools' optional essays (no harm in showing initiative).

Expanded resume

If you participate in 65 extracurricular activities, work 4.9 jobs, or are otherwise involved in a jillion things at once, you may wish to include this information via an expanded resume. Unlike the resume you'd use when you're trying to get a job, the expanded resume is more like a "CV," meaning it can be longer than a page. It should be a forum for fleshing out explanations of projects and activities more in-depth than a bullet point and three words can indicate. Don't repeat any information found on your transcript, and don't rehash details from your personal statement. Instead, use the space to explain any important research you're conducting, specific duties you perform at a job or internship, or even any phenomenally cool interests. This is a particularly good idea for people who are not going straight from undergraduate school into law school; you may have won awards earlier in your life, or had some publications, or had some interesting jobs that you wouldn't put on a standard resume. All of these things give you personality and make you stand out in the admission committee's mind, so throw them in.

And there you have it - our tips for gaining admission into law school. We wish you the best of luck and if you don't get in, please, don't sue us, you bloodsucker.