As the dean of admission for Georgetown University’s Law Center, Andrew Cornblatt sees more J.D. applicants than any other person in the world. After all, Georgetown gets more applications for law school than any other institution: precisely 8,087 last year for just under 600 seats. That’s twice as many applications as Yale University’s Law School received.
Cornblatt, who has headed admissions at Georgetown for some two decades, makes no apologies for the interest in law his school seems to fuel. “We’re not trying to persuade a fourth grader to spend 50 grand to come to law school,” he asserts. “We think we have a terrific education here, we think our students are happy here, and we’re working extra hard to see if we can get a job for every single student. That’s not going to happen for every single one, but that doesn’t mean we’re going to stop trying.”
At heart, after all, Cornblatt views himself as a teacher of sorts who has something he calls the “teacher gene.” Right after finishing college, Cornblatt taught high school for five years. “I loved teaching,” he says. “And I loved working with kids—you know, high school kids. I loved that connection and that ability to sort of transform lives that way.”
Eventually, though, he switched gears. “I knew I didn’t want to teach forever—or actually, that much longer than I was already doing,” he admits. As much as he enjoyed coaching tennis and helping out with school plays during his early twenties, he didn’t see himself going down that path for much longer. His next move? Law school.
His JD indeed gave him a stepping stone to a new career. It just wasn’t what you’d typically expect from a newly minted grad. “When I graduated from law school and had the opportunity to work at a firm, I just decided, ‘You know what, I don’t really want to do that,’” he says frankly. He still wanted to honor that teaching gene. So, when the opportunity to become the assistant director of admissions at Georgetown Law came up, he grabbed it. “I came down, interviewed, was lucky enough to be offered the job, and here I am still,” he says. That was nearly 20 years ago. “Even after all these years later, it still feels like exactly the right fit, and I still look forward to coming to work,” he says.
In a wide-ranging interview with TippingTheScales.com, Cornblatt shares advice for applicants and lawyers-to-be (or JDs-to-be, at the very least), discusses the ebb and flow of the legal market, and shares his reaction to criticism that law schools are producing far too many lawyers.
What does the ideal law school candidate look like to you?
There are many factors that go into this, but I would certainly say the academic horsepower to be able to do the work, do the work well, and contribute to the community academically—basically, your academic record in conjunction with your LSATs. There’s a number component. That’s an important part, and obviously, the better you’ve done on that, the better it is for you. But that’s not the be all and end all. It’s just a starting point to help us see where you would, we think, fit academically in the class.
Then, it gets really interesting when all the other factors come into play. We’re looking for well-rounded people. We’re looking for people who are not too narrowly devoted to a narrow, narrow niche. We’re looking for people who’ve done a whole bunch of things. In that respect, we look at your resume and particularly any work you’ve done, either in the summers if you’re a college senior, or the work you’ve done after you graduated. We’re looking not so much for law-related things—although that’s sort of nice—but we’re looking for positions of responsibility, or roles that have asked a lot of you and where you performed well. The personal statement is also important: how you express yourself, what you have to say, a passion and commitment to something—whatever it may be.
Obviously, if you score high on each of those things, that’s the ideal candidate. But for us, it’s a mix of all those things put together and just a general sense of whether the applicant is someone we want to invite to join our class.
Why is being a well-rounded candidate so important?
We think that to make a class—which is what we’re trying to do, to put together the best possible class—we’d like to have people who’ve experienced some things and have interests not just in one tiny little area. We feel that if you’ve got a room full of people like this, the conversation—for the faculty and for your other classmates—is more robust, more interesting, and more vital. It sort of helps everybody grow more during their three years at Georgetown.
Lately, have you been favoring applicants with more work experience?
For this year’s entering class, almost 70% of our students have taken at least a year off before starting law school. When I started doing this 20 years ago, those numbers would’ve been the reverse. I don’t think we consciously favor that. First of all, I think we’re getting more and more students who’ve taken at least a year or two off. I think most schools are. I think students looking at the price tag of a legal education want to be very, very sure that this is what they want to do. That’s all for the good. I think I speak for everybody: That’s all for the good.
But it’s not like, “You have four years of work experience, you only have two, four is more than two, so we favor you.” It really depends on what you’ve done. We take plenty of college seniors, but we do believe at Georgetown that having more life experience—sort of being out in the world, even if it’s just for a year or two—will make you a better possible student, and probably a better candidate for a law-related job when you get out of here.
Also, because we’re in Washington, we get people who’ve worked here, who want to work here, who’ve taken some time off and then come to see us. So, maybe we’re more likely to have a slightly older student body.