First Steps in the Law School Application Process

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Today’s tips come from Eileen Conner, who helps law students create excellent law school admissions essays in her work as founder of Pen and Chisel.

If you’re planning to apply for law school in fall 2015, now is the perfect time to lay the foundations for a great application. At this early stage, it’s especially useful to explore your options and begin narrowing down your priorities. In addition to studying for the LSAT — definitely the top priority for those of you taking the June test — what can you do now to start preparing?

Clarify your goals
Before you take your first steps along the path to law school, it’s important to ensure you’re working toward something you truly want. If you have a definite picture of what you’d like to do with your career in law, that’s great! But if your ambition is a bit fuzzy, now is the ideal time to clarify your personal goals for the future.

This means it’s time to consider your priorities. Take a few hours to examine your legal ambitions and define them for yourself. What exactly do you want out of your future career? What kind of effect do you want to have? Are there any particular problems you’d like to tackle with law, or any particular groups you’d like to help? Do you find yourself drawn to a particular field or specialization?

Along with your law career goals, consider your personal preferences in terms of work situation and style. Think about what kind of work environment and tasks make you happiest and most productive. Build a clear mental picture of what your ideal situation might be. Knowing what you want career-wise is the first step to recognizing it when you find it!

Of course, ideal job concept may change as you go forward, and that’s fine. You can always explore different alternatives. But right now, it’s important to do your best in setting a clear target, so you have the highest chance of building a successful and personally satisfying law career.

Law career research
Next, it’s time to begin researching different legal careers. Start by talking to people in the field. These connections can be very valuable resources when it comes to deciding on the best law career option for you.

Reach out to any lawyers or law students you may know, use your network to get in touch with new contacts, or talk to your alumni association. Go to networking events and make new ties with people in the legal field. In casual conversations or short 15-minute coffee meetings, discuss your career goals and ask them about their experiences on the job. A simple chat can be very enlightening when it comes to discovering the nitty-gritty of legal practice.

To get an even more realistic handle on what it’s like to work as a lawyer, you can explore volunteering, shadowing, or taking a position in a law office. If you aren’t sure which branch of law you’d like to go into, this can be an excellent way to try a few different options on for size. You’ll be able to get hands-on experience with the kind of work that goes on in a law office, and to decide whether that kind of work would be a good choice for you. And, as a bonus, you’ll have a new resume item!

As you get more direct experience, you may discover any number of things you like — or dislike — about particular types of legal work. This will help you narrow down what you really want to do with law, and give you a more practical idea of what you might like to work on post-graduation.

And if you realize that your previously formed career goals are actually not what you want to do with your life — it’s best to discover that now, far before you make a significant financial investment in your legal education.

Law school research
Now that you have a clearer picture of your career goals, you can start thinking about what you want out of a law school program — and which schools are most likely to give you what you need for future success. It’s time to get down to business and begin researching law schools.

Law school guidebooks are a great first step in your research. Take a few hours to go through a guide or two, noting the different schools that you might like to attend, as well as any long shots or distant possibilities. If you have a specific field of law in mind, look to see which programs have excellent resources in that field. Make a long list of any school you think might be a good prospect.

Then it’s time to start narrowing it down. How? More research. Go through each school’s online resources and discover the details of their different programs. Do some schools have better resources than others? Are there particular professors you’d like to study with? How about clinics or other specialized programs? And, of course, it’s always a very good idea to examine each school’s job placement rates and the different types of law the student body has gone into. As you discover more and more about each school, you’ll find that certain programs stand out to you — and that others may not be a good fit after all.

For more in-depth research, contact the admissions office at the law schools of your choice. It’s a good idea to come prepared with a specific list of questions or conversational topic, so you use your own time and that of the admissions officer well. This will help you look professional and make a good impression. You can also ask to be paired with a student liaison who can give you the real inside scoop on attending that program — but keep in mind that these students will shortly have their hands full with finals! Finally, if you live close to any of your target schools, you may even want to make an early campus visit. Getting up close and personal with the school itself is a great way to see whether it’s the program for you.

These first steps can help you clarify your legal career goals and put you on the right path to a successful law school application — and a satisfying future career to come.

Eileen Conner is the founder of Pen and Chisel LLC, where she helps law school applicants craft convincing personal statements, diversity statements, and other application essays. Her on-demand online courses teach students to write and edit top-notch personal statements. For individualized help, she also offers personalized consulting. A graduate of the prestigious University of Michigan MFA program in creative writing, Eileen was formerly the Senior Editor for Law at Revision Editing. Find her at http://penandchisel.com or on Twitter at @penandchisel.

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