Applying to Law School

 

What does a law school application involve?

Most law school applications include:

  • The application itself (obtained from each individual law school)
  • your LSAT score and all undergraduate transcripts, which will be sent to law schools by Law School Credential Assembly Service(CAS),
  • your letters of recommendation and/or evaluations from professors and, if you have any, employers or internship supervisors
  • your personal statement

What is the Law School Credential Assembly Service (CAS)?

Nearly all ABA-approved and several non-ABA approved law schools require applicants to register for the LSAC Credential Assembly Service (CAS) . This service organizes and analyzes information from transcripts from each undergraduate school you have attended.

Once CAS receives your transcripts, they are analyzed and evaluated and your GPA is re-computed with rules that are intended to make transcripts and GPA calculations consistent across academic institutions (to take into account differences resulting from quarter/trimester/semester systems, different weighting scales are calibrated with the 4.0, etc.). All academic coursework is evaluated and included in the CAS GPA, with the exception of physical education, ROTC, performance art and performance music grades. Although JMU does not include study abroad or transfer course grades in your grade point average, the CAS does. In addition, the LSAC CAS will re-calcuate all JMU repeat-forgive grades to include the original grade in your GPA.

CAS also sends copies of your transcript(s), your LSAT scores, and a copy of your writing sample from the LSAT to each school to which you apply, as well as copies of letters of recommendation if they were submitted online to LSAC.

You should register for CAS the summer in the year before you plan to begin law school. For students intending to go to law school immediately after their undergraduate studies, this would mean in the summer between junior and senior years.

When should I apply?

In general, the earlier you apply, the better. Many law schools operate on a rolling admissions basis.  So, the earlier you send in your applications, the more seats there are available for incoming students.  For this reason, if you plan to attend law school the fall after you graduate, it is best to take the LSAT that is offered in the June before your senior year. Taking the June test means you will know your score by early July and you can begin to decide where you should apply. Your goal is to submit your applications by late October or early November at the latest.

Make sure to check application deadlines, as there is a great deal of variation in deadlines across schools. You must submit a COMPLETE application, including transcripts and letters of recommendation, by the deadline.  

Work on the law school application cannot be completed in a single weekend.  Preparing a strong application is a time-consuming process. Students planning on entering law school in the fall following their senior year commit themselves during the fall semester of their senior year to completing applications.

What do I need to know about the LSAC Evaluation Service?

Once you create a LSAC account, you will be asked whether professors will be submitting an evaluation or recommendation or both in support of your application. In the past, the only way an individual could write in support of a law school applicant is by submitting a letter in hard copy (Letter of Recommendation –LOR) with a cover sheet (form) and sending it directly to the Law School Admissions service. This centralized service would, in turn, send out the recommendation, with other supporting materials, to the various law schools to which the student applied. 

LSAC’s evaluation service was new for the 2010-2011 admissions cycle and provides an additional way for a professor to write in support of an applicant. This service is available online and asks the evaluator to assess particular qualities in the applicant, on a scale of top 50 percent to top 1-2 percent, intellectual ability, honesty and integrity, ability to respect other points of view, etc., with the option of including up to 3,000 characters of text (roughly two pages). The goal of this online service is to give law school admissions professionals a way to compare applicants more objectively and, in 2011-2012, some schools may require this new evaluation service. 

Some of your professors may feel comfortable answering the types of questions the Evaluation Service asks and some of your professors may prefer to write the traditional letter of recommendation. If the law school does not require an evaluation, you would have the option of having a professor do both, assuming that that they comfortable with this type of assessment, or, you can have the professor just do the traditional letter of recommendation and print out the request form from your LSAC account.  

What do I need to know about letters of recommendation?

You should plan to get at least two academic references from professors and the third letter should be from either a professor or another source (employer, advisor, clergy, etc.). This other source should not be a family member or friend. You should ask your potential recommenders is they would you be comfortable writing you a strong letter of recommendation. Hopefully they will answer honestly--if they say no, do not be offended. The content of the letter is much more important than the status of the letter-writer to the law school admissions committee. Be sure to give your recommender a copy of your transcript, a resume and your personal statement, along with the cover sheet from the LSDAS Letter of Recommendation service.

Academic letters carry the most weight since they assess your performance in an academic setting and discuss your potential for doing well in law school based on previous academic work. At least one letter should be from a professor, lecturer, or teaching assistant in your academic major if possible. A letter from an employer can be helpful, especially if you work following graduation.

The LSAC letter of recommendation service is offered as a convenience to LSDAS subscribers, recommendation letter writers and the LSDAS-participating law schools. Your LSDAS fee includes up to three letters of recommendation to be received and processed by LSAC. The service is designed for general letters; some schools accepting letters through LSDAS may prefer that letters be sent directly to them, particularly letters attesting to a candidate's specific qualifications to study at their school. Please consult law school application materials regarding letter instructions and review the LSAC web site for more information..

Individual letters also may be sent directly to the law schools (or can be included with the student’s application in a sealed, signed envelope).  When sending letters this way, law schools suggest that faculty include the student’s identification and a cover sheet from the law school application if possible.  Some law schools will review the student’s file even if the letters have not arrived, so faculty should be prompt with sending these letters.

What is the Dean's Certification?

The dean's certification is required by some law schools to confirm that applicants have not been involved in academic or disciplinary transgressions as undergraduates. Forms provided by schools requiring the dean’s certification should be submitted to the JMU Registrar's Office.

Application Costs

Each submitted law school application involves requires a fee varies from school to school; most law schools charging something between $60 and $75. In addition to each school’s application fee, LSAC charges a $12 report fee per school to send an applicant’s LSAT report, official LSDAS transcript and letters of recommendation.

When combined with the price of the LSAT ($132 per administration) and the mandatory LSDAS registration fee ($121), an applicant can easily spend upwards of $500 for just three or four applications. These costs can quickly become a financial burden, often deterring an individual from applying to a school in which they would otherwise be interested. Because of this, law schools and the LSAC each take steps to lessen the cost of the application process. Qualified candidates can receive “fee waivers” that allow an applicant to submit an application for free. This reduces the chances that a qualified and capable candidate will not apply for mere financial reasons; it also encourages some applicants to apply to schools that they might  note otherwise given serious consideration.

There are two different types of waivers: those issued by LSAC and those issued by individual schools.

LSAC Fee Waivers

The LSAC Fee Wavier is a need-based fee waiver awarded only to applicants who can demonstrate a legitimate need for financial aid in the law school application process. Applicants must furnish detailed financial information, including income and holdings (savings, checking, etc.) data. It is generally considered extremely difficult to qualify for such a waiver, especially if an individual has a full-time job; most successful recipients have incomes below the poverty line in addition to minimal holdings. Even full-time college students tend to have a hard time procuring an LSAC fee waiver. On its official website, the LSAC asserts that the “[LSAC Fee Waiver] need criterion is considerably more stringent than for other financial aid processes. Only those with extreme need should apply.”

To those who qualify, the LSAC fee waiver is extremely generous, potentially saving candidates upwards of $1,000, depending on how many law school applications they submit. As of 2009-2010, an LSAC fee waiver automatically grants an individual:

  • Two LSATs per two-year fee waiver period (normally $132 per test)
  • One registration for LSAC’s Credential Assembly Service (LSDAS, normally $121), including a total of four Law School Reports (normally $12 per report), the Letter of Recommendation Service, and access to electronic applications for all ABA-approved law schools.
  • One copy of The Official LSAT SuperPrep

Perhaps most valuable, though, is the fact that most law schools will automatically waive the application fee of an individual who qualifies for an LSAC fee waiver; this cuts the cost of law school applications down dramatically, especially for applicants applying to higher numbers of schools. Some schools – notably Yale, Stanford, and the University of Texas at Austin – do not automatically waive the fee, instead considering each applicant’s request on a case-by-case basis. However, these schools rarely fail to waive the fee of such candidates already qualified for an LSAC waiver. Once approved for an LSAC waiver, individuals are required to submit copies of their tax returns to verify their self-reported financial data. LSAC recommends submitting a waiver request 4-6 weeks before the planned LSAT and/or application, due to processing time.

It should be noted that a candidate’s LSAT score release can be “held” until the LSAC fee waiver application is processed; in some cases, these applicants must wait several additional weeks past the original score release date to receive their scores. In addition to being highly frustrating, this can also delay the application process, so those who apply for an LSAC fee waiver are advised to do so far in advance of their LSAT administration.

See http://www.lsac.org/pdfs/USFeeWaiverInstructions.pdf for more information and instructions for completing a request for an LSAC fee waiver.

School-Issued Fee Waiver

Having received a candidate’s LSAT score through the CRS (Candidate Referral Service), individual law schools can opt to waive a candidate’s fee – on basis of scholastic merit – in an attempt to encourage them to apply. Most applicants report that fee waivers begin to trickle in during the weeks after an LSAT score release. Generally, a school will contact an individual, via electronic or regular mail, to inform them of the fee waiver. Usually, the candidate needs simply to complete and submit the LSAC e-app (unfortunately, such fee waivers rarely can be applied to a paper application) – and they will not be charged the school’s application fee. In some cases, the school may also request an applicant submit a fee waiver form.

Source: http://www.top-law-schools.com/guide-to-fee-waivers.html

Application Flowchart

A diagram of how to generate and process the documents required for application to law school.

The Boston College Flowchart for Applying to Law School

Source: http://www.bc.edu/offices/careers/gradschool/law.html