Here is a 5-point plan that you can start implementing immediately:
1. Register for the LSAT and create a game plan for studying at least 3 months in advance of the test. It’s amazing how many people do the second part of this task, and neglect the first, leaving them either taking the LSAT in an undesirable location, or not able to take it at all. Plan ahead, and sign up soon.
2. Register for the Credential Assembly Service on LSAC.org. Send all transcripts there. Yes, there’s a fee, and yes, it’s in addition to the cost of registering for the LSAT. This is how your transcripts, Academic Summary Report, and letters of recommendation are compiled for each school, and how your transcripts and letters of rec will be sent with each application. (There’s a per-application fee too, just so you know). Review the list of transcripts that LSAC requires and make sure to send all of them, and promptly. There’s a lot of processing time here – after you go to the trouble of requesting transcripts, the schools you attended take time to process them, then LSAC takes time to process them and to compute your LSAC GPA (which may be different than what you think your GPA is because of these differences).
3. Ask for Letters of Recommendation (LORs). Approach people at least 4 weeks before you plan to apply to law schools. The letters should be in and processed at LSAC by the time you submit your applications. Professors generally need more time to write letters; work related references generally find 2-3 weeks a reasonable time frame to turn things around. You really don’t need to ask people for evaluations.
4. Draft explanations about your weaknesses. If you have a character and fitness issue or academic probation or something else negative in your background to explain to law schools in an addendum, attack that first. Getting the “negative” out of the way will clear your energy (sorry I sound more like a yoga instructor than a law school admission advisor here) and leave you less self-apologetic and more open to being insightful about other areas of your background when it’s time to approach your essay topics. In addenda, use facts to make your arguments (just like a lawyer would!). Refrain from overly broad statements like, “I learned a lesson” and “This isn’t a good example of the kind of student I can be”– Prove it instead. Also, stay away from samples you see online. It’s amazing to me how many people send me drafts of addenda with the same first sentence!
5. Take stock of your essay topics. If you are someone who can write a convincing diversity statement about your own life (as opposed to one that would be mostly about your parents or someone else entirely), then write that essay first so that you open up your personal statement ideas to something else entirely. If, after honest effort, you really can’t think of anything else to write in your personal statement, then it’s okay to use your diversity statement as your personal statement. (However, there are probably aspects of your diversity statement that can be split up – instead of talking both about ethnicity/religion/language skills and financial/socio-economic circumstances in the diversity statement, you can use the personal statement to talk about one of them). For the personal statement, try to stay positive – if your essay starts out about bad things that happened to you, use those facts to set up the positive things. If you’ve never had anything bad happen to you it’s actually a good thing, it just makes a personal statement topic a little less obvious. For you, focus on insights you have based on an experience or string of experiences, and show how you approach things and how you make decisions. Everyone can write a stellar personal statement if it shows maturity, focus, good decision making, and an interesting perspective.
Ann Levine, the author of The Law School Admission Game: Play Like an Expert (and also The Law School Decision Game). Ann is a law school admission consultant who started Law School Expert in 2004 and is the author of the Law School Expert blog.