Applying to Law School: A Basic Guide

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Applying to Law School: A Basic Guide

Postby stereo » Mon Feb 21, 2011 6:44 pm

After going through the law school application process, I felt that I should write down the most basic information all in one post. I would like to update and expand this article over time. I hope this article helps those who are a bit overwhelmed with the application process. For each person, the process will be different and some aspects may be more or less important to you.

My Background:
I am a 26 year old engineer who has been out of school and working for about two years. I have no law professionals in my family nor had I thought about law school in undergrad so I knew absolutely nothing. I had a rough undergraduate career so my LSAC GPA ended up being <2.5. Because of this, I decided to study my butt off for the LSAT and spent many hours on application essays. I was aiming for the best school I could get into that was in a major city with a nicer climate than Ohio.

The Law School Application Process:

Warning! This process can be very time consuming and will last more than a year. You may find yourself having to pass on social events. Some of your friends might even cause you grief because you don't hang out anymore. You have been warned!

Application Process Timeline:

Looking back on the whole process, I see some things that I did well and others that I could have improved on. Basically, if I could do it over again, this is how I would do it.

In my opinion, your chances of getting into law school are decided by:

50% - LSAT
30% - GPA (as butchered by LSAC)
10% - Softs
5% - Personal Statement
5% - Recommendations

The softs may count for more or less depending on what they are (e.g. you won a nobel prize at 15). Under represented minority status can give a significant boost as well.

Applying to law school is one giant game. Unless you are interested in intellectual property (as I was) or public interest, you are probably trying to get a big law job. If you don't know why you should be looking to get a big law job, you should go to Google and search for attorney bi-modal salary distribution.

For this reason, law school is extremely competitive. The quality (rank) of your undergraduate institution (although imperfect, U.S. News & World Report is still the main ranking source) along with your law school GPA determines your likelihood of landing a big law job. The higher ranked your school, the less important your grades are. Based on this, common sense would tell you to go to the best school you could get into and then work your butt off there. Choosing a law school is a very personal process, however, and it will be up to you to decide where to go.

There are other intricacies to the process which I'll explain later.

U.S. News separates law schools into tiers in its ranking system. The top 100 schools are ranked with the first 50 being Tier 1 (T1) and the second half T2. The rest of the schools are not ranked against each other but they are separated into Tier 3 (101-150) and Tier 4 (151-200) and unranked (201+). Since law schools change ranking over time, it is helpful to search back a few years to get a better idea of a school's placing. For example, Georgia State was ranked 60 and 65 in 2011 and 2010, respectively, but in 06-08 was ranked 85, 97, 82. I wrote these up on a sheet which I will try to scan and submit.

(The year before law school)
-Order your LSAT books.
-Register at
-Begin thinking about who would write a good recommendation for you. You need 2 for many schools.

I chose to self-study at home rather than take a course because I feel like I didn't need to pay someone to tell me to study. If you do, that's fine but there won't be anyone to force you to study in law school so take that into consideration when deciding to go to law school. I won't elaborate on the LSAT format as the introduction in the books does the job well enough. I used the following books/aids:

Simugator DVD - This DVD helps you time your practice tests. It is literally a video shot from the perspective of a LSAT taker. It is great because you really feel the pressure when someone else is timing you. I don't know how I would have studied without this. The video quality is a bit lacking but that doesn't impact the utility.
Rating 4/5

Powerscore Logic Games Bible/Powerscore Logical Reasoning Bible - The Powerscore books are LSAT gold. These were by far the best books I used. Just buy them.
Rating 5/5

The Next 10 Actual, Official LSAT Preptests - You'll want to take as many practice tests as you can. This book from has 10 old exams with answers. It is the cheapest way to buy old tests.
Rating 5/5

The Official LSAT Superprep - Another book from the folks at lsac. This book has 3 old LSATs with detailed explanations for every answer. Very helpful.
Rating 5/5

Novs's Master the LSAT - This is an all-in-one book that covers all three sections of the LSAT and includes 3 practice tests. It is a great book to begin with to get familiarized with each of the sections of the exam. As such, it does not go into as much detail as the Powerscore books.
Rating 4/5

The Princeton Review Cracking the LSAT - Another all-in-one book, however, I did not like this is much as the Nova guide. Specifically, I found the methods portrayed for the logic games to be awkward.
Rating 3/5

ACE the LSAT Logic Games - This book has a ton of Logic games. You'll need to through many logic games problems to develop your favorite methods and the amount of games in this book helps you do that. Some of the logic games tended to be overly difficult and print is on thin pages but overall it is a helpful book.
Rating 3/5

Kaplan LSAT Logic Games Workbook - This is another logic games book that includes two practice logic games sections at the end. This book was not as good as the Powerscore book but it was still helpful.
Rating 3/5

Kaplan LSAT Advanced 2009-2010 - This book, as its name implies, is for advanced students. This book covers all three sections of the LSAT and includes only the hardest questions. This book is very helpful if you are scoring in the 160s or above because it doesn't waste your time with easy questions. Unfortunately, this book was loaded with errors. Sometimes the answers were wrong, and on at least one occasion the explanation did not match the problem before it. It is for this reason I give the book a 2/5.
Rating 2/5

The Ivey Guide to Law School Admissions - This book has advice on the application process itself and it is written by a former dean of admissions. Although it is not necessary to have this book at this stage in the game, you should buy it anyway while you're at it. This book covers personal statements, recommendation letters, interviews, resumes, addenda, and more. This book is invaluable as it will help you avoid the pitfalls of the application process by getting a glimpse into the mind of an admissions officer.
Rating 5/5

If you're wondering whether or not you need so many logic games books, I will give you two reasons. First, you'll need to practice as many games as possible in order to be prepared for the test. Second, I found that I like the techniques used in some books but not in others. In the end, I used my favorite techniques from each book along with some of my own on the LSAT. Having a technique which you are comfortable with will save you time which is in short supply on the logic games section.

-Contact your recommendors and ask if they will write you letters of recommendation
-Begin studying for the LSAT
-Send an email to your lsac-appointed adviser and set up a meeting

As far as recommendations go, the Ivey guide has a good chapter on this. One of my recommendation letters came from my boss so I printed out some examples and tips to help guide him. Here's the links to the examples I used:

When you registered with lsac, you will be assigned an advisor. Send a hello email to your advisor and set up a time to meet. Your advisor can help you through this process, especially with critiquing essays as they have read thousands themselves.

The LSAT is a much heavier subject. Nothing will have a larger impact on your future at this point than the LSAT. By now, your GPA is largely determined (or completely determined if, like me, you have already graduated) and that combined with your LSAT will determine your likelihood of admission to law schools.

I probably spent 200-300 hours studying for the LSAT. I was going for the best score I possibly could to make up for my mediocre undergrad GPA. I recommend the following method for studying:

Before looking at any books, go online and print out the free test available from lsac. Take this exam using your Simugator DVD to get your "cold" score. Now it's time for some fun. Go online to the following websites and punch in your practice score and GPA or estimated GPA: (do a school search and on the map screen, use the UGPA/LSAT Search box in the upper left hand corner)

These should give you a good idea of what schools you have a chance of getting into. You could also use the following website:

From here you should decide what score you would like to achieve and put together a plan for studying. I went for the best score I could get (most of you probably will too) and so this guide will be written for that. To give you an idea of the effectiveness of studying for the LSAT, my cold score was 151, my practice tests averaged in the high 160s with my best being 170, and my final LSAT score was 163. You should expect your score to be up to five points lower than your practice tests. Factor this in when deciding how much to study.

I recommend taking either the June or the October LSAT so that if you don't get the score you were expecting you have a chance to take it again in December. Schools used to average LSAT scores but nowadays they place the most weight on the high score so by all means if you don't get the score you want take it again. Depending on your LSAT score, schools may waive their application fee for you. I received application fee waivers for more than 20 schools. The fee waivers tended to be from schools that thought you had a chance of admission, rather than just T3/T4 schools trying to pull up their rankings. I had fee waivers from T1 to T4 schools. At up to $80 per application, this is good reason to take the LSAT as soon as possible.

Once you decide which test you're going to take, make a time line of each week leading up to it. Start with the all-in-one books and read them cover to cover first. Then begin reading the more specific books, saving the LSAT Advanced book for last. Disperse your practice tests throughout the study as you see fit. I spent the first two months reading the books and working the problems untimed. I found that timing myself early on only led to frustration and didn't allow me to focus on solving the problem. As you work through the problems, you will naturally get faster. For the last two weeks, I alternated between practice logic games and full practice LSATs. Don't bother studying the day before the LSAT, just relax and try to keep your mind off of it. Go out to dinner or hang out with your friends. Whatever you need to do to keep your mind off the test. Don't let your friends talk you into going out. Even if it is a Friday night. Regardless, be prepared to not sleep well the night before.

These tips are in the LSAT books but they are so important I want to reiterate them here:
- Visit the test center before your exam. Find parking, walk into the building, and envision yourself taking the test. Trust me, it's worth it.
- Dress in layers and as comfortable as possible.
- Take a snack with you. It's a long test.
- Be careful what you eat the day before. The last thing you want to do is run out on the LSAT because you thought hot wings and beer sonded tasty.
- Don't experiment with caffeine. Be routine.

- Begin writing your personal statement

Time to break out the Ivey guide. is another great resource for information. I found the personal statement examples to be particularly helpful.

I made the mistake of underestimating how long it would take to get recommendations and write my personal statement. Because of that, I was late sending out my applications. It is much harder to write a personal statement than you think. I recommend spending several weeks on it. Write a first draft, send it to your advisor assigned to you by lsac, and be prepared to make several revisions. Most law schools require a 2 to 3 page personal statement. Some schools will allow for longer while other schools have a limit of two pages or some even have limits such as 500 words. My advice is to write a personal statement that just fits into two pages. Trimming my personal statement down the 500 words was nearly impossible because of the way I wrote my statement which led me to decide no to apply to a couple of schools.

Take your time, and makes several revisions. You may even want to write your personal statement and then the next week completely write it again. You will be surprised at how well your thoughts come out the second, third, or even fourth try.

-Write supplemental paragraphs to individual law schools (optional)
-Write addenda

If you will be writing addenda regarding a low LSAT score or GPA or whatever, now is the time to do this.

On every law school application, there are questions regarding character and fitness. The answer to these questions has little bearing on your admission to law school, however it is important that you disclose everything and be truthful as this will come up when you go to apply to take the bar exam. The questions vary from school to school and state bar character and fitness requirements vary from state to state but mostly they have the following:

Have you ever been disciplined by University or placed on probation?
Have your undergraduate studies been interrupted?
Have you ever been discharged from the armed forces less than honorably?
Have you ever been arrested, accused, or convicted of a misdemeanor or felony?
- This question is usually followed by a qualifier that excludes minor traffic violations such as speeding and parking tickets, however, some schools even require you to list speeding tickets and even parking tickets.
- Drug and alcohol violations have to be disclosed.

When you go to apply to take the bar exam, your answers to these questions will be reviewed and any omissions or falsifications may cause you difficulty or even prevent you from becoming a lawyer. You do not want to go through law school, rack up a bunch of student loans, and then not be able to get a job. Do yourself a favor and be honest here.

Some schools request it in your personal statement you include information on why you want to become a lawyer and/or why you want to go to that school. In general, I feel like it makes sense to explain why you want to go to each school although it's not completely necessary for admission. The admissions staff does read your personal statement and will probably look more favorable on you if you take the time to explain why you want to go to their school. They can tell when you really want to go to school by your writing. I figured that it couldn't hurt so I did this for most schools. This takes a lot of time, however.

By this time, you should have all of your letters of recommendation sent in to lsac. It takes about a week to process your letter from the day it's sent.

-Send out applications

Remember how I said the law school application process was one big game? If you're not hitting the LSAT numbers you want, you may still be able to go to your school choice although it may take more time and cost more money. One option is transferring. Since the purpose of the LSAT and your undergraduate GPA is to predict your success in law school, the value of these numbers disappears after your first year of law school. With the right grades, it is possible to spend one year at a school and then transfer into a better school. There is an excellent write up on this on Here is the link:

Your other option is to apply part-time. Not all law schools have part-time programs but for those that do the admissions criteria are more lenient. Some schools make you choose between the full-time and part-time program in your application while others allow you to rank your preferences, allowing you to apply first to the full-time program and then if you cannot gain admission consider you for the part-time program. In the part-time programs, you normally go two years part time in two years full-time. Part-time tuition is not half the cost of full-time tuition so it will cost you more. You can also forget about scholarship money. Many schools will allow you to transfer into the full-time program after successfully completing her first year with a certain class rank such as the top half of your class.

Now it's time to start filling out applications. Even if you haven't taken the LSAT yet, you can still fill out your applications and have them ready to be sent. Target late November or early December to have all of your applications sent, even if you plan on taking the LSAT in December.

Schools will send you a confirmation e-mail along with a link so you can check on your application status. Now all you have to do is sit back, enjoy the holidays, and wait for your acceptance letters!
Last edited by stereo on Thu Mar 17, 2011 9:38 am, edited 1 time in total.

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Re: Applying to Law School: A Basic Guide

Postby CanadianWolf » Mon Feb 21, 2011 6:57 pm

Some of your thoughts I agree with, while I disagree with some others. For example, many of the best personal statements that I have read were done in less than two hours & in only two or three drafts. In contrast, many of the worst personal statements suffer from over-editing. Many applicants treat the LSAT & law school applications as an extracurricular activity that does not dominate their activities for even one semester, yet get admitted to Top-14 law schools. Most law schools require two recommendations, some require or encourage three.

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Joined: Mon Jan 03, 2011 1:40 pm

Re: Applying to Law School: A Basic Guide

Postby darkatillam2 » Mon Feb 21, 2011 8:13 pm

When do you suggest asking your UG college for transcripts, etc?

too old for this sh*
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Re: Applying to Law School: A Basic Guide

Postby too old for this sh* » Tue Feb 22, 2011 11:59 am

darkatillam2 wrote:When do you suggest asking your UG college for transcripts, etc?

Answer to that really depends on whether you are still in school/very recently graduated or if you had been out for many years.

My undergrad work was completed in the mid-90's...I ponied up to get copies of transcripts ahead of time to review them for errors and found one school that did not match up with the unofficial version maintained online. I also have one school with errors from the mid-80's that I had to scrounge for docs related to the error, in part because the school claimed they could not locate some of THEIR files related to the classes- it did not help that they changed their processes long after I was gone and so some of the errors were related to data transfer.

If you have errors in YOUR record, they take time to correct...but a current student is more likely to have everything correct and if an error DID exist, SHOULD be able to resolve it more easily.

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