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Interview with Dean Jeanette Leach of Admissions to Santa Clara University's School of Law
Published November 2006, last updated July 2009
Dean Leach, thank you for taking the time to offer your thoughts and insights on the admissions process to Santa Clara’s Law School. This interview will allow applicants to better understand the admissions process and possibly have the opportunity to study law at one of the world’s leading law schools in intellectual property law.
TLS: Could you please explain the priority given to each part of a student’s application, such as GPA, LSAT score, personal statement and letter of recommendation?
DL: The GPA and LSAT are very important, although I do want to say that Santa Clara admissions go beyond numbers. There are no automatic admits or rejects based on numbers. Even if you have a low GPA or LSAT, everything in your file gets read.
After the GPA and LSAT, the personal statement is the most important, and multiple people will read all of them, so applicants should make sure that it is high quality. If an applicant does have low scores, the personal statement is their opportunity to explain why, or give us a look into their experiences.
TLS: Which number is more important, the GPA or the LSAT?
DL: GPA. The GPA is a testament of what you are capable of, it is the history of your academic work, which spans 4 years. If you have a weakness in your GPA it is better for it to start weak, and then have an upward trend in your grades.
The LSAT just shows us that you are naturally a good test taker. If you have an LSAT of 169 and a GPA of 2.5, this shows that you are a good test taker, but that you are not solid academically, and so you may not get in. We also look at your undergraduate school and the courses that you took.
TLS: How do you consider graduate work?
DL: We look at the graduate work grades, but these are not factored into the undergraduate GPA. Even though the graduate grades are not factored into the GPA, we still do consider them.
TLS: How does having real world experience affect your application?
DL: Real world experience does not hurt. For people who have been out of school for a little while, we do take into account that grades are more inflated today than they used to be.
We also take into account the quality of the undergraduate institution and the difficulty of the undergraduate major that was completed. So, if you have a low GPA in the hard sciences, we may still consider you more than someone who has straight A’s in basketball.
TLS: If a student has a poor history of test taking do they have any other options for informing you?
DL: If an applicant has poor tests, as well as a history of poor test-taking, they can submit an addendum to their application explaining this.
TLS: And if an applicant has multiple LSAT scores?
DL: Santa Clara always takes your highest LSAT score. I personally used to administer the LSAT, so I know that there is so much pressure on students to perform. I would see people leave and just not come back to finish the test because they were under so much stress.
TLS: Excellent. Is there any way a student can increase his or her chances of acceptance from the waitlist?
DL: We do not rank our waitlist from the beginning. If we need to go to it, we can rank it in various ways, such as ordering it by LSAT scores or GPA, and then we can decide to re-review the file.
TLS: Who decides who makes it in off the waitlist?
DL: The committee chair makes all final decisions. However an applicant can email me if they have questions.
TLS: Do you have any advice to offer someone on the waitlist?
DL: Be patient. We try to give applicants updates. We also send you a document that if you are placed on the waitlist, you can send it back to us with the latest date you want to stay on the waitlist. So you have the option of telling us if after a certain date you want to be taken off of the waitlist.
If there is significant new information, such as if you took the February LSAT and did much better, or have a new quarter or semester of exceptionally improved grades, let us know. That may improve your standing on the waitlist.
If you have this type of exceptional improvement, you can actually appeal even after you’ve been rejected. However, the changes in your record need to be significant.
TLS: What size is the waitlist?
DL: If varies from year to year.
TLS: Does it help for an applicant on the waitlist to let you know that Santa Clara is still their first-choice school?
DL: It doesn’t hurt to contact us, and it can be helpful to show interest. But don’t be pesky.
TLS: What’s the best way to contact you?
DL: Email is the easiest method of contact; however, I don’t mind talking on the phone as well.
TLS: Does Santa Clara accept a significant number of transfer students? What type of academic success is required of transfer students to succeed at Santa Clara?
DL: The number of transfer students we accept varies from year to year. This year we had over 100 transfer applicants. Those who are successful are in the top 10-15% of their first-year law class. It helps them if they have taken similar courses in their first year as what Santa Clara offers. There is no specific number of transfer admissions we take each year.
TLS: What do you look for in a transfer application?
DL: Primarily we look at how they did in their first year of law school. That is the most important factor. We still ask for their LSAT score and their undergraduate GPA, and while these are not major factors, we do still take them into account. Also, if you had a poor LSAT, doing well in your first year of law school overshadows a weak LSAT score.
TLS: Where do you anticipate Santa Clara Law School’s admissions going in the future?
DL: One constant trend is that our volume of applications depends somewhat on the job market. When the job market is not great, we have more applications.
I’ve also seen an increase in technology majors. There are more people applying with degrees in computer science as well as the hard sciences. There are also more applicants who already have a Masters or Ph.D. These applicants are often more likely to explore options provided by getting a J.D. and not actually practice law. Their goal is often to work in academia, or to explore working for a company such as an international company.
TLS: What undergraduate institutions do you find most often feed into Santa Clara Law?
DL: The University of California schools are really our large feeder schools, as well as Santa Clara itself. I think the breakdown is Berkeley, Santa Clara, UCLA, and UC San Diego all have the greatest number of applicants.
TLS: The daytime admissions are a little bit harder to get into than the part time, is that correct?
DL: There are more seats available in the full-time program as opposed to the part-time program. Overall, the entering statistics for both programs are quite similar with the differences being relatively small.
TLS: I notice that students are a bit older in the part time program, which makes sense.
TLS: Any general advice you would offer applicants when applying, or any thoughts on the application process?
DL: Be thorough. Send your whole packet in at one time. We see this a lot where they call us frantically saying that they sent in their personal statement, but it wasn’t with their application because it wasn’t finished yet. Wait until you are finished with your personal statement, and then submit the entire set of materials.
Also, apply to more than one law school. Even though Santa Clara may be your dream school, apply to other law schools. I think that you should go for your dream school, you should apply to a couple of schools that are in the middle for you, and it is ok to apply to a couple of schools where your criteria are above their profile. But I get so disheartened when I hear people say that they only applied to Santa Clara. You have to assess your goals and if it’s to go to law school, apply to more than one.
TLS: Would you say that applying early is a plus?
DL: I think it doesn’t hurt. Sometimes it can make the agony of waiting a bit longer, particularly if you are waiting to hear back from multiple schools.
TLS: If you had to, would you recommend sending in your file first, and then immediately after you have your LSAT scores sending those in later?
DL: The applicant doesn’t have to send their LSAT score to us. What happens is that once we receive the application, it goes into our system, and your LSAT and LSDAS report are automatically electronically ordered from law services. So once they score your test, as long as they have your transcripts, they send us your score, including letters of recommendation, so we get a full packet from law services. So you don’t have to worry about ordering your LSAT.
TLS: If they send in the application before the LSAT score is completed, what happens?
DL: The applications go into a queue. Because the application will not be reviewed until we can get the LSDAS report from law services and once we get that, then the application is prepared for the committee.
TLS: But if it’s incomplete when it comes in does it immediately go into the queue?
DL: It goes into the queue as soon as we receive it. We start entering in October, so we will start setting up files in mid-October. Our process is a little bit laborious because we may send as many as 100-200 applications to a committee member, and they have no time commitment as to when those files are due, although we remind them regularly. They read these files and vote on them, and then bring them back into our office, and then we send them about to another. It’s very time consuming, but the good part is that the applicant should know that their application is being thoroughly reviewed.
TLS: Do you have a preference for electronic applications?
DL: It doesn’t make much of a difference to us because right now we still print out the electronic application to set up the file. I know that there is one school that is paperless, I can’t remember which school it is, and they just brag all the time about not having the paper that the other schools have to deal with. That would be great, but at this point in time we continue with our current process.
TLS: Regarding personal statements, what writing tips would you give to applicants?
DL: I have been on panels who read personal statements at other law schools, so I have a bit of experience with this. First and foremost, don’t try to be cute. Committees are not amused by your personal statement being a brief or a case on legal paper. Make the personal statement get to a point and treat it like an interview. If there are any questions that an admissions officer can’t answer from the rest of your application, put it in your personal statement.
Do not make it too long. Santa Clara receives 3500-4000 applications, all of which will be reviewed, so don’t bore the admissions committee. Over 3 pages double-spaced is going too far. Also, this is not the time or the place to be modest. If you are good at something, get it in your personal statement. If there was a pivotal experience to your decision to attend law school, include that in your statement.
If you have done poorly on the LSAT or your GPA is low, do not make the explanation of that your entire personal statement. Put that in an addendum. However, if it fits well into your personal statement, you should put it in.
Also, make sure that you spell check, and have no typos or grammatical errors. There is no reason to have the wrong school name in your personal statement. I don’t want to hear about how you want to go to Loyola instead of Santa Clara University. Also, don’t use tiny fonts; the committee does not want to need a magnifying glass to read your statement.
Be careful about generic statements. The personal statement will help the committee make an informed decision, and it needs to be “personal.”
TLS: What do you love and hate to see in a personal statement?
DL: I love it when an applicant comes to the point, and when I am done reading I feel like I know the person. I realize that it is not easy to write about yourself. You should go through several drafts and get honest critiques from friends, family and professors about what needs to be cut from your statement.
The worst thing to see in an application is when a student spends the entire time talking about an attorney they know. I end up knowing more about the attorney than I know about the applicant. The whole personal statement should be about the author, and it should be personal.
All of the files are read by the committee members and those are all faculty. Every file is read by at least 2 faculty members. It takes more than one vote to decide if someone gets in or not. If the readers disagree, then they will talk about the applicant and decide.
The committees decide on who gets in or not, but if I met someone during recruiting or at a law school counseling session who really stands out, I will occasionally tell the committee chair.
Letters of Recommendation
TLS: What about letters of recommendation?
DL: Letters of recommendation are not required, but they usually help. A letter from academia is preferred. Some letters of recommendation are not actually recommendations, and can have a negative impact on your application. So the applicant should ensure that they request their letter from someone who actually had a positive experience with them.
I have received some poor letters of recommendation where the author did not know the applicant well, but instead knew the applicant only tangentially, such as being a family friend. If you send in a letter, make sure that it’s from someone who actually knows you.
TLS: Would you prefer a letter from a professor?
DL: A letter from a professor is ideal. If you are coming from a large university, you can also get the letter from a teacher’s assistant, if that person knows you better. We want the letter to be a testament to your academic abilities, and show that you participate in class, and are dedicated to projects.
TLS: What if you’ve been out of school and working for some time?
DL: If you have been out of school for a number of years, having a letter from an employer is ok. It should attest to your abilities and your work ethic.
TLS: What advice would you offer students with respect to letters of recommendation?
DL: I would suggest that you give your professor your resume before he writes you the letter, so that he has some talking points about you. If an applicant’s Teaching Assistant knows you better than your professor, then by all means ask the Teaching Assistant for the letter.
What we are looking for are letters written by people who know you fairly well. We will be more impressed by a letter from someone who knows you really well than a letter from a famous person who does not really know you at all. For example, if you worked for the Governor, but he does not know you, a letter from him will not take you very far. However, if the Governor’s assistant knows you quite well, then get a letter from him.
The next worst thing from getting a letter from someone who does not know you at all is getting a letter from someone who says that you have a lot of potential, but that you haven’t realized it yet. We want students to know who they are asking for letters of recommendation. When we get a poor recommendation, it reflects badly not only the student’s record; it also calls into question the student’s judgment in asking this person for a letter.
Student Life and Activities
Top-Law-Schools (TLS): Santa Clara University is very diverse, which is very impressive and adds a lot of synergy. Could you comment on the benefits of diversity that you’ve seen personally, and also what Santa Clara admissions is doing to keep a high level of diversity?
Dean Leach (DL): We work really hard. We have gone out in past years to historically black universities and colleges, and have done recruiting events. I think that Santa Clara is getting a reputation for our diverse student body and it is not only for the reputation that they’re coming, but that they’re comfortable here. I think that is a testament to the whole law school, including the other students, the administration, and the faculty.
Additionally, this is a great atmosphere for all students with the majority of the faculty having an open door policy. The professors are not at all standoffish, and you will often see professors having a group of students in their office. But I think that they often time go that extra step to have the students of color know that they’re available, and a lot of the professors even allow students to call them at home.
From the time that the students come into the door until the time they leave, we try to make it a welcoming environment. Of course, the largest population of minority student is still Asian Pacific, which as far as the legal profession is concerned they are still considered a minority. But this year, for instance, we had a larger number of African-American and Hispanic students than we did last year. So, we try to get out there and let them know that Santa Clara is a school that is going to welcome you and we are going to do all that we can to see that you’re successful.
TLS: And I like your open door policy. Some professors at Boalt had that, but certainly not all Boalt professors provided this.
DL: I think that’s what’s so wonderful about our faculty. The other day one of our recent alums came by and we were going out to lunch, and we were walking to the parking lot and passed Professor Steinman having his class out on the grounds. And he’s been teaching and holding classes outdoors for at least 30 years, if not more. And his students are gathered around him, and you see that a lot of times even in their offices those students will be in there talking with their professors. The professors may see them individually or in groups as well.
TLS: Excellent. That really sets the tone for the law school.
DL: It does.
TLS: Will you comment on what you feel sets Santa Clara’s Intellectual Property Law program apart from other universities?
DL: I think that our location certainly makes a big difference. I also think that our reputation comes into play. Our IP program is over 25 years old and our reputation has grown. There are so many classes that are offered by our high-tech and intellectual property program. I would say that there is probably not another program that offers as many classes as we do in intellectual property. And the people that we have teaching some of those courses are often time attorneys that are practicing in that particular area, so that’s invaluable. The people that are in charge of the program all have experience in intellectual property, so it’s constantly being enhanced.
The other thing about our intellectual property program is that a number of the students that are in that program are part-time students. And so they’re working, oftentimes full-time, and then they can still have their classes in the evening, and then after the first year they can have the IP classes. So we have a number of engineers, computer scientists, and biotechnology technicians.
And this year we instituted what we call IP fellows, and those are people that are really interested in IP law. We now have a special scholarship for those folks as well as the promise of an internship after they have completed their first year. I believe there are seven this year, this if the first time that we’ll have internships after they’ve completed their first year.
TLS: That’s excellent. Because getting a good job your first summer is important, and this really makes getting a job at a law firm that much easier.
DL: Yes, much, much easier.
TLS: What percentage of students are California residents?
DL: We have probably over 6 countries represented and applications from just about all 50 states, but the majority of the students are from California.
TLS: Could you discuss Santa Clara Law’s Academic Success Program?
DL: That program has been around for a number of years and it was first set up to assist minority students who the administration felt might need an extra hand in understanding their classes and might not have a background as an attorney or know what lawyers do. It isn’t to say that they were admitted under any special realm, but it would assist them in understanding law classes and writing better. Our academic success program is still open to minority students, but now a student that may be having a difficult time after their first semester can be referred by a professor or reading and writing instructor and they have study sessions usually that are taught by students who did exceptionally well in that particular course, and those sessions are usually open to anyone who feels that they might need that assistance.
TLS: Must one be referred or can you seek this assistance?
DL: You can ask, and the director will evaluate your materials, your writing sample, etc. She may say that you don’t need that much assistance and give you other recommendations. Last year and again this year, a professor did a time management session that was open to everyone, which was all about organizing yourself in law school. The feedback from the students who attended said that the information was invaluable because it really helped them in how to focus and when to focus their attention. The professor was very specific as to when they should be looking at certain areas, where they should be when they should be doing their outlining, and when they should start preparing for exams.
Even with our law career services students can learn how to do an interview. If you are not a part of the on-campus interviewing process, how else can you seek a job, so it’s kind of an ongoing process for our students.
TLS: It seems like there is a lot of assistance that the university offers.
DL: Yes, there are a lot of services provided that goes beyond what you would think a law school would do.
TLS: It seems that some private schools may offer more of this type of support than public schools.
DL: Well, I think it’s the type of thing that we offered from the very beginning, we had to try harder because we had Stanford on one side and Boalt on the other. But we’ve always gone the extra mile since I’ve been here. And being here, and trying to be proactive with the students, not just saying that you’re here and good luck and that’s it.
TLS: There are certainly a lot of great universities in this area.
DL: There are 8 ABA law schools in the Bay Area. These include UC Davis, University of the Pacific, Boalt, USF, Golden Gate, Hastings, Santa Clara, and Stanford. So there is a lot of competition. We try harder and we enjoy it.
TLS: You offer a lot to students, for with many law schools it is sink or swim. Particularly that first year, the assistance you offer is invaluable. It’s great that Santa Clara offers this level of help. What else do you feel sets Santa Clara apart from other law schools.
DL: We’re warm and fuzzy. I also think that we try and teach our students to have compassion and to be competent attorneys and to really care and along with all of that to be ethical. Most professors emphasize the ethical part of practicing law.
TLS: What is the student environment like?
DL: I think it is similar to most other law schools in that it is stressful for the first year, the second year is all about a job or an internship, and the third year is all about ‘when is graduation because I’m bored’. However, I think that there are so many different activities here at the law school that it’s a great learning environment, with so many speakers coming in to our student groups.
Also a lot of activities center on our clinics. For example, our Public Interest and Social Justice Clinic has public interest/social justice Mondays, where speakers come in from all different perspectives to discuss public interest and social justice jobs and issues. We have many different organizations, and in fact one of our law clinics was actually started by law students and a professor who had gone over to East San Jose and started talking to day workers and found out that many of them were being mistreated because they weren’t necessarily legal immigrants, then they would work and not be paid. And from this they created a wonderful clinic that is now known as the Katherine and George Alexander Community Law Center and they’re still doing great things. We have several organizations that students started because they had an interest. There is one that started just last year where the students are interested in health care and the law, the majority of these students come from a background in health care. The school not only endorses new student-run clubs, but will try and do what they can to help boost it.
TLS: So the students can form their own clinic.
DL: If there’s enough of an interest they can do just about anything. And I think that oftentimes the school wants them to think outside of the box and look and see what they can do. There is an organization called FLY. The person who started that organization is not from Santa Clara, but she is based here, and they do excellent work with high school students at risk. A number of our students volunteer with that program and it’s kind of like a street law program.
TLS: So, you come in and teach students about the law?
DL: Yes, they teach students about legal issues.
TLS: Excellent, that’s a great program.
DL: And I would be amiss if I didn’t brag about our program that we have we have just finished our 4th summer of, the PLUS program. It’s for underrepresented groups. There are only 2 PLUS programs at law schools and the other is at UC Davis.
Each year 24 students come in over the summer. They spend 4 weeks on campus. They live in the dorms and we set up special classes with professors that teach law on various subjects such as criminal law or torts. They also do legal research and writing. Additionally, we do outside activities, such as go to district court and visit Judge Ware. We also go to superior court, and we have an attorney’s night where we invite attorneys from the community to come and have dinner and they get to talk to the students, the students get to ask them all kinds of questions, like how much money do you make, and things like that. And it’s a great program. We also introduce them to the LSAT and at the end of the 4 weeks, they have to prepare for oral arguments, and that’s great to see them have to think and be prepared. We have a panel of judges that are usually either attorneys or professors and they treat them like they truly were attorneys, so they get that experience. And for this year’s entering law school class, we actually have 3 former PLUS students that will be entering as students in the law school. Next summer will possibly be our last summer because there are so many schools that want to get the funding, and it’s very competitive, so I’m not sure whether we will have it after next summer.
TLS: Do many first-year law students live in dorms or off campus?
DL: Probably the majority of them live off campus because we have such limited housing and we are fortunate to have even that. But we have 18 townhouses, 2 bedroom townhouses that are off from the Safeway store down the street, so it’s about a two minute walk. And then we have about 18 apartment units that are again about two minutes from the campus. And so that’s not a lot of housing, but we feel so fortunate to even have that because most graduate programs, particularly law schools, don’t have any housing. Out of state students have priority for housing, but the school facilitates the housing search for students.
TLS: Are there any types of personalities that you find are well-suited to law school?
DL: I have seen so many personalities succeed. It definitely takes dedication and stamina to succeed, and you need to have an open mind. The first year is totally scrambled and by the second year you are ready to be a lawyer and sue.
TLS: Are there any background jobs that serve people well in law school?
DL: We have applicants from across the entire spectrum. We’ve had applicants with majors ranging from the computer sciences to theatre. One year we also had a former FBI agent.
TLS: Dean Leach, thank you very much for your time, it is truly appreciated.
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