Applying to law school is hard enough for traditional candidates. The process can be especially treacherous for for those who are the first person in their family to finish school. Just ask Kristen Mercado, who is the assistant dean of admission and financial aid at UC-Davis School of Law. As a first-generation student, Mercado says she lacked the family support and guidance on the law school application process. That created a host of issues that she hadn’t anticipated. In a recent post, Mercado discusses six things that made applying to law school harder than it should’ve been for her.
1.) Academic diversity is key
There isn’t a formal requirement for background field study when applying to law school. While a majority of law students majored in social sciences and humanities, Mercado says, law schools need science, technology, engineering and math majors (STEM).
“Having students from an array of majors benefits classroom discussion, and some areas of law, like intellectual property, often require technical and scientific backgrounds,” she says.
Moreover, tech companies and law firms tend to actively seek law students with STEM degrees.
Mark A. Cohen is a contributor at Forbes. He says technology has become an integral and
necessary component of law.
“The ‘practice of law’ — core functions that require differentiated legal expertise — is narrowing, and the delivery of legal services — the business of law — is expanding,” Cohen says. “What does that mean? Fewer lawyers will be engaged in ‘practice’ but many new ‘legal’ jobs that combine legal knowledge and other skillsets – technology, project management, business, etc. — have been and will continue to be created.”
2.) Skills over specific knowledge base
Skills, such as writing, are essential to the law. Mercado says that strong writers with analytical thinking and communication skills make the “ideal law student.” Since law school doesn’t require students to have a prior knowledge base to attend, Mercado stresses that students should focus on building skills like writing.
“Whether you developed those skills through the study of English literature or music composition or the human genome, you can be a strong applicant, law student and lawyer,” she says. “If you know your writing skills need work, take advantage of campus resources like University Writing Program courses.”
3.) Substance is greater than number
Mercado says law schools tend to not focus on the number of activities and internships an applicant has, but more on the substance of experiences.
“Identify your passions and devote your nonclassroom time to those two or three things,” she says. “Long-term investment is more attractive than a lengthy list on one-off activities.”
Moreover, it’s important that applicants explore interests outside the legal sphere. Mercado notes that applicants who challenge themselves are the most attractive to law schools.
4.) Lawyers on TV don’t represent the wide world of opportunities
Like many professions, the law industry tends to be portrayed unrealistically in television and movies.
“Most lawyers do not spend their average day in a courtroom or an expensive law firm conference room,” Mercado says.
It’s important that applicants understand the range of practice settings and legal specialties available within the industry. Mercado recommends that students do their research through informational interviews with practicing lawyers and alumni networks. Many clubs and organizations at universities host special events catered to prospective law students, where students can connect and speak with practicing lawyers, faculty, and current law students, Mercado says.
5.) GPA and LSAT score are the most integral components of your law school application
While activities and essays have value, Mercado stresses the importance of GPA and LSAT score when applying to law school. For applicants who don’t have a strong GPA, a high LSAT score can be crucial to a more competitive application.
“An upward grade trend can offset a mediocre or poor GPA, as can a strong LSAT score,” Mercado says. “Similarly, consistently outstanding academic performance and a strong GPA can offset a less competitive LSAT score.”
Therefore, it’s important that applicants prepare heavily for the LSAT. While there are commercial law school prep courses available, they tend to be more on the pricey side. There are plenty of free online resources and sample tests — such as those offered by the Law School Admission Council — for applicants as well.
6.) Create a timeline for applying
Law school applications can be tedious and time-consuming, so it’s important that applicants manage their time wisely. Mercado recommends that applicants create a timeline for their application process. She says applicants should “plan to devote at least six to eight months, including time to study and take the LSAT, prepare your personal statement and resume, request letters of recommendation, visit schools, and attend law school information sessions and other events.”
Time management is a crucial skill both during the application process and their law career.
“An extended timeline allows you to space out tasks and still leave time for the rest of your life,” Mercado says. “Practicing good time management and a healthy work-play balance in your life now will make it much easier to do as a law student and a lawyer.”