In this post, law school admissions expert Anna Ivey answers a student’s question about reapplying to law school following an academic dismissal.
Student: “I completed one year of law school in May 2017. However, I was academically dismissed due to poor test results. Currently, I am taking a year off from law school, but I am determined to complete law school and become an attorney. I am strongly considering retaking the LSAT before reapplying.”
I have good news and bad news.
First, the bad.
In an academic-dismissal scenario, the ABA has rules about reapplying to law school, and individual schools have their own rules as well. Many schools (perhaps most — it’s usually an unwritten policy rather than written down somewhere like on their website) won’t accept people who have been academically dismissed. Some won’t even accept your application; others will accept your application and take your application fee and then ding you anyway as a matter of internal policy.
Some will consider your application and give you another shot. Those schools are probably in the minority, at least among legitimate law schools. I’ve seen people successfully reapply to law school after an academic dismissal, but understand that the odds are against you. Typically, the best you can hope for is to be readmitted to the school you got dismissed from.
If you do apply to other law schools after a dismissal, you have to wait two years under ABA rules. The only way around that is to ask your first law school to write a so-called 505 Letter explaining why the requirement should be waived, and that’s not a foregone conclusion.
Here’s ABA Standard 505 rule with more detail:
Standard 505. PREVIOUSLY DISQUALIFIED APPLICANT
A law school may admit or readmit a student who has been disqualified previously for academic reasons upon an affirmative showing that the student possesses the requisite ability and that the prior disqualification does not indicate a lack of capacity to complete the course of study at the admitting school. In the case of admission to a law school other than the disqualifying school, this showing shall be made either by a letter from the disqualifying school or, if two or more years have elapsed since that disqualification, by the nature of interim work, activity, or studies indicating a stronger potential for law study. For every admission or readmission of a previously disqualified individual, a statement of the considerations that led to the decision shall be placed in the admittee’s file.
The two year period begins on the date of the original determination to disqualify the student for academic reasons.
If you decide to apply to law school again, should you bother retaking the LSAT? I would argue no. Law school admissions officers use the LSAT as a predictor of 1L grades, so once you have an actual 1L track record, the LSAT becomes much less interesting to them than the actual 1L track record. Retaking it is likely not the best use of your time. That’s sort of good news, right? No more LSAT.
Instead, focus on persuading the law school that you have fixed the problems that compromised your 1L performance. You’ll want to lay out the concrete steps you’ve taken to fix whatever your academic problems were. If you haven’t taken those steps, you’re not ready yet to reapply. If you have taken those steps, you may or may not still have to sit out the two years, depending on what your first law school concludes about the situation.
And to those of you who are just starting 1L and find yourselves struggling: Get help before you dig yourself into a hole you can’t climb out of. You have resources within your law school that you can tap into before you have to spend any money on outside tutors, like the Dean of Students, in-house academic advisors, and professors’ office hours. You will not shock them. They don’t want to lose students, and will almost certainly want to help you get things sorted out before things reach the dismissal stage. Finding a 2L or 3L mentor to guide you can also help. Don’t be isolated in law school. You’ll need your study groups, friends, professors, and mentors to get through it successfully. That’s good news, too.
A lot of students who are struggling don’t maximize those resources in time, most likely because shame is a powerful inhibitor. Don’t let shame stand in the way. Get back on track as quickly as you can.
Anna Ivey runs Ivey Consulting, an admissions consulting firm, and is author of The Ivey Guide to Law School Admissions. She was formerly the Dean of Admissions at the University of Chicago Law School.