I’m Not Ready Yet: More Information about the Law School Deferral

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Last week I outlined some of the nuts and bolts of the deferral process, before ending my post with a cliffhanger that would make Mary Higgins Clark jealous. Yet the issue still remains; what are the reasons for which law schools will allow you to defer? In order to answer this question, I contacted five schools from the top 100 schools according to US News and World Report (whatever that means) to chitchat about their deferral policy. Sure, the sample group is small, but as I received the same answers from all of the schools, I’m going ahead and sharing them. (Future Lawyer in Me Disclaimer: when in doubt, always contact your own school directly. This post is only intended to provide some guidelines).

First, a deferral is NEVER guaranteed. Even for programs notorious for attracting future law students on hiatus, such as Teach for America, the Peace Corps, prestigious fellowships, etc., you still must follow all deadlines and protocol to receive a deferral. That being said, when obeying all deadlines, deferrals for those programs are usually granted. So, if you are applying for both law school and to save the world, rest assured that it is unlikely you’ll have to choose one at the expense of the other.

Nationally recognized programs aren’t the only valid activities, however. Every office I contacted agreed that as long as you have a good reason, it is likely that you will be able to defer for one year. Examples of “good” reasons included; illnesses (affecting you or your family), unexpected hardship and working to save money for law school. These weren’t the most uplifting conversations I’ve had this week.

However, there was one question that never failed to cause an awkward silence followed by careful admission office finessing. “What if a student just didn’t feel ready for law school?” (And whether or not you actually want to go to law school is an important thing to figure out). The finessing looked something like this: although each request is considered on a case by case basis, law schools are generally interested to see you either doing something during your year off that will make you a better addition to their incoming class or dealing with issues that could not be simultaneously dealt with during your 1L. They also pointed out that such a request doesn’t cross their desks very often, and it’s ideal to wait until you are ready to go to law school before you apply.

The admission offices also pointed out that it is better to ask for a deferral earlier rather than later. As one admission office employee put it, “Look, if you are planning on deferring but not telling us, you are basically taking up a spot that should go to someone else. Now as long as you let us know early enough we can fill it, no problem. On the other hand, if you wait too long, we may not be as sure, and you may miss out on the opportunity.”

So what can we learn from all this? Lesson number one is that you should apply to law school because you want to go to law school. Deferral isn’t guaranteed, so if you know you have a commitment for the next fall, just wait a year to apply. However, if after you apply you decide that the upcoming August isn’t the best time for you to start, then go ahead and try for that deferral as there’s a good chance you could get it. Just ask before the deadline and make sure you have a reason. If you don’t have a reason, get a job. Or volunteer. And have something that you can put in writing to explain where you’ll be.

I have two more items to address quickly. Imagine your initial application didn’t go as well as you envisioned. You refused to make out with that philosophy TA, and so you’re only sporting a 3.2. Since you aren’t an android, you missed LSAT perfection and you end up waitlisted. Then, after months of feverish prayer and nail biting, you get that call. You’re in! In this case, you’re in because a spot opened up, and it’s very unlikely you’ll be able to transfer that spot to the next year. So congratulations on law school, but it looks like writing that tome comparing Cher to Queen Elizabeth is going to have to wait for a while.

Finally, deferring at a law school to apply to other law schools is not a good idea. Often, when you decide to defer you will have to sign a paper committing yourself to that school and agreeing not to apply anywhere else. Sure, it’s just a little paper, but those crazy bar associations are always making such a big deal out of ethics, and you might want to think twice about breaking your word as it may come back to haunt you later. If you really want to try to get in somewhere better, take a year to do some cool things, then reapply.

Despite my efforts, I was not able to get information from my favorite mythological law school—The Yale. This is primarily because I’m weak. After five minutes of giving myself pep talks (“C’mon, you can do this, Yale doesn’t even exist”), and partially dialing the number only to snap my phone shut before hitting send, I did finally call Yale admissions. A very helpful gentleman (clearly a unicorn with magical healing powers) directed me to write an email to the associate dean (tree nymph) to get the information I wanted. Four drafts later, with multiple friends ghost editing, I was still too nervous to go through with it. So, I emailed Princeton Law instead. I’m still waiting for a response.

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