3 Ways Extracurricular Activities Help Your Law School Application
“I graduated summa cum laude. My LSAT was a 160. I have a reference from a judge. And did I mention that my mom graduated from here 25 years ago? What more do they need?”
Quite a bit, actually. According to Linda Abraham, President of Accepted.com, grade points and test scores allow adcoms to measure candidates against each other. But what often separates candidates are those intangibles reflected in how students spend their time outside the classroom. And those activities often exhibit students’ ability to create, care and commit.
Extracurriculars reveal students’ unique passions and talents. For example, students who earn varsity letters exhibit an ability to compete, work within a unit, and build on their natural talents: Three keys to excelling in law school. Similarly, activities like volunteering and community service indicate that students are concerned about the well-being of others. What’s more, students who dedicate years to a craft or calling show that they have the endurance to make it through a demanding law school program.
Bottom line: Adcoms want concrete examples of leadership and passion. And it’s often how people spend their personal time that indicates who they really are – and what they’ll ultimately become.
Should Law School Go Four Years?
Oh boy, there goes the neighborhood!
Earlier this year, President Obama raised a stink by suggesting law school should be reduced to two years. In an era of rising tuitions and declining enrollments, Obama’s remark unleashed a firestorm in academia. You would’ve thought Obama had threatened free faculty parking! Alas, education operates by osmosis. And the idea got shut down faster than the Obamacare website.
Of course, some devil’s advocate is always looking to snag a headline. So meet Edward A. Zelinsky, a tax law professor at the Cardozo School of Law at Yeshiva University in New York. On his Oxford University Press blog, Zelinsky proposed that law school be expanded to four years.
Mind you, law students are already giving up three years and accruing six figure debt. They put their love lives, interests, and health on ice, as they spend 80 or more hours a week digesting volumes of theory and cases. And they make this investment knowing only half of them will land jobs a year after graduation. And now an ivory tower guru comes along with a proposal to add another $50,000 in debt and take away a year’s worth of income (even if it comes from Starbucks)?
Who could object to that?
While light on specifics – and strangely silent on cutting faculty pay – Zelinsky makes some salient points about the accelerated pace of law and society. So let’s give this devil his due.
Zelinsky succinctly sums up his argument in the final paragraph of his essay:
“The world is more complicated than it used to be. For better or worse, the law’s complexity has grown apace. Well-trained lawyers in the 21st century will need to know more law than did their predecessors. A mandatory, universal fourth year of law school is the right response to the shortcomings of legal education in a complex world.”
Zelinsky’s argument for a four-year law curriculum rests on three points:
1) Accumulation of Law: According to Zelinsky, “the amount of law has expanded enormously over the last two decades.” He adds that there are fields of law, such as health care law, that didn’t exist a generation ago. What’s more, subspecialities, such as partnership and international taxes, “have grown in complexity and importance.” As a result, students have more to learn. To illustrate his point, he cited medical education:
“Imagine a critic of medical education who looked at the explosion of medical science in recent decades and called for less medical school. That is precisely what the advocates of a two year JD program are doing.”
Mind you, the law – even tax law – is rarely a life-or-death proposition like medicine. But I digress…
2) Growth of LL.M. Programs: With LL.M. programs growing in popularity, Zelinsky believes law schools “are de facto creeping towards four years of legal education.” With more law to cover, he finds it “more sensible” to codify this trend and require a fourth year.
In short, Zelinsky would take away student choice and make a specialty compulsory. Somewhere, Immanuel Kant and Mao Zedong are holding hands and singing kumbaya.
3) Clinical Education: Stay with me here. Instead of a two year curriculum that expands clinical education, Zelinsky recommends a four year program that does the same. And he believes this fourth year “would impart even greater urgency to the task of controlling the expense of law school.”
Translation: Zelinsky believes he can tack on another year without increasing tuition or decreasing services. And he plans to do this by curbing the “growth of administrative outlays” (as if support staff hasn’t been razed in many institutions already).
Maybe Zelinsky believes the ‘hidden hand’ will force market discipline on a private school like Yeshiva. Or, maybe he attributes rising costs to the usual boogeyman: Waste and abuse. For all we know, Cardozo has some deep-pocked alumni whales that the development office has somehow forgotten to tap. Either way, I’d love to read Zelinsky’s business plan for making this happen. In the middle ages, physicians would drain patients’ blood hoping to save them. It had the opposite effect. Zelinsky’s four year plan would do the same to law schools.
To his credit, Zelinsky doesn’t oppose increasing course loads for professors. And he identifies an unexpected silver lining in a fourth year of law school: “A reduction in the supply of law school graduates.” In fact, Zelinsky posits that a fourth year “would also abate the job-related pressures students currently feel after the second year of law school by giving students another bit of the employment related apple after the third year.”
Unfortunately, that pressure would be offset by the stress of being another $50,000 in debt. If the law books continue expanding, you can expect Zelinsky to call for a fifth year of law school by 2030.
Source: Oxford University Press Blog