What All Law Schools Look For

How have applicants’ personal statements changed over the years?
You can see how the experiences of typical 21-year-olds are shaped by what’s happening in society. I still remember the applicants who came of age following 9/11, or applicants who wrote about the LA riots and how they impacted their communities. Hurricane Katrina is another example: Many applicants talked about the disparity in services and police protection between different communities. Clearly, applicants have addressed the various recessions we’ve had over the last few years, even going back to the crashes on Wall Street in the late 80s and the 90s.
The other thing is that applicants today are much more at ease with sharing very intimate components of their lives, whether it’s drugs, depression, other mental health issues, or even child abuse. People might not have been so willing to talk about that stuff in very personal ways 15 years ago. If people continue to be more open about their life challenges and journeys, who knows what personal statements will look like going forward?
How important is work experience?
We take people right out of college who haven’t had any work experience. Still, what we’re finding is that people who have some work experience might have better employment opportunities during their summers in law school or after graduation.
I think it’s a challenge, though. It’s tougher for today’s applicants to get the hands-on legal industry experience pre-2008 applicants might’ve had. I see more undergraduates spending their summers doing retail as opposed to working at firms, because those are jobs they can find. So, you can’t say that we absolutely demand or require someone to have work experience, but I think we find that it’s great. You have to look for people who’ve gained experience in all kinds of different ways.
How do you think UCI will change its admission process in the next few years?
I don’t necessarily see us making any changes, but I would love it if we could do more interviews—maybe not for every applicant, but most definitely for people who request it, and perhaps even for people we’d like to bring in. I do that now on a case-by-case basis if a candidate lives nearby or if I’m traveling to a city where there’s an applicant I’d just like to get some additional information on. That’s very useful. There might be more opportunities to interview candidates as our alumni base grows.
If you decide to interview someone, what does that usually mean?
It could be our attempt to gather more information or gain clarity on a particular issue around someone’s application. It could be something that an applicant requests to provide us with more clarity. There are lots of caveats around it. I’d like to believe that interviews would only enhance candidates’ applications, and that at worst, they’d be neutral.
Should you apply to law school if you don’t want to become a practicing lawyer?
That’s a very personal question. You have to do a little self-reflection. Law school is hard work, it has a cost attached to it, and it’s also time-consuming. Still, you create an enormous network when you go to law school. You also improve your ability to identify issues very quickly, write well, and conduct research. I have to believe that no matter where our economy goes in the future, that skillset will be of value regardless of the industry you’re in. The question is, if you’re only going for the skillset, are there other ways you could gain it? That’s where I would do the self-reflection.
I think there’s absolutely still value in the profession, and there are still underserved communities who need legal services, both among the wealthy and among those who suffer in poverty. I think we’ll still continue to see talented individuals applying to the nation’s law schools.
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