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Law School Admission Game | Interview

When law school admission consultant Ann Levine came out with The Law School Admission Game, I interviewed Ann about her book. Our discussion follows.

You have special tips for students applying to law schools that are far away from where they currently live. You suggest that they give specific reasons why they would want to move across the country for law school, such as family members or a fiancé.

I agree that it’s important to convince each school of one’s seriousness about attending if accepted. How can students work these details into their essays while maintaining the essay’s flow?

Sometimes it’s easy to express sincere interest in a school within a personal statement. For example, it can be persuasive when showing an applicant is drawn to a certain area of law (hard to study maritime law in Iowa, for example) or wanting to continue volunteer work with respect to gay rights and what better way to be on the forefront of the political war in California than to be in San Francisco during law school, etc. Reasons for attending a certain school (or being in a certain location) actually fit in nicely with many personal statement topics, but I do understand it can be hard to avoid the seemingly inevitable “Why X Law School” concluding paragraph. Other options would be including this information in an addendum or in a separate letter to the law school. For example, it can be worked in with an addendum explaining inconsistent undergraduate grades. “I learned that I perform better academically when surrounded by a support system. My brother and his wife live in Boston and I would save money during law school by living with them. As a result, I would not have to work during law school as I did during college and my grades would therefore not be hampered by my financial obligations.” The important thing is that the reason be sincere and persuasive, rather than a platitude. Telling a law school “New York is the hub of the financial world and an exciting city” is a waste of space and not going to get you anywhere.

You write that students can increase the number and amount of scholarship offers by telling one law school about a competing school’s scholarship offer. What are some ways to increase financial aid without an initial scholarship in the first place?

First, I want to clarify the difference between “scholarship” and “financial aid.” Financial aid includes loans. If an admitted student does not have any scholarship offers, she could still mention another school would be cheaper to attend because she could live at home or because it’s a public school. There are also private scholarship sources (not restricted to a particular school) for resourceful students.

In your book, you mention that you’re often viewed as the champion of applicants shooting for 4th-tier “regional law schools.” When I interviewed admission consultant Anna Ivey, she suggested these law schools aren’t worth the investment of time and money. How would you respond?

Oh, I have responded to Anna’s opinions on this subject! I have a lot of respect for Anna but this is one point on which we agree to disagree. I stand by my response (originally posted in September 2007 on my blog).

If someone is going to law school for the sole purpose of going to BigLaw, then Anna’s theory carries quite a bit of weight in normal economic circumstances. However, in today’s world, BigLaw is no longer a security blanket with a promise of $160k right out of school. These firms are turning away people they’ve hired and firing associates! It could actually be argued that the economic impact of the current recession will be worse on law students at Top-14 schools because many of them were depending on these high paying jobs and may be unwilling to consider (or might appear overqualified for) jobs that graduates of lower ranked schools might accept.

Putting that aside, I stand by the following: the value of a legal education directly relates to the effort a law student puts in – not just to grades and law review, but to networking and marketing. I interviewed Kevin Houchin, Esq., author of “Fuel the Spark: 5 Guiding Values for Success in Law School and Beyond” on BlogTalkRadio.com. We spent a lot of time talking about the “Other 90%” – those not planning to go to BigLaw – and how they can build careers while still in law school. There are so many examples of people who succeed in life and in law without a “brand name” law school – I would never say to someone that only a certain kind of legal education is worthwhile. The key is to be smart about the debt you’re taking on and having reasonable salary expectations. It’s very possible to build connections and a brand for yourself while still a law student. Finding a job/career might take a little more creativity now that BigLaw jobs are drying up; self-motivated students face no limits on what they might earn after law school.

At 168 pages, your book is shorter than many other law school admission books. For example, I’ve reviewed How to Get Into the Top Law Schools by Richard Montauk, which is over 600 pages. What do you think are some of the advantages that applicants gain from a more concise book?

Brevity is underrated! I love to take a client’s 4 page personal statement and turn it into one that’s 500 words –and it’s usually stronger as a result. I actually say in my book, “Cutting a personal statement to size shouldn’t mean sacrificing content; it should require you to really think about your message and what is essential to include for you to prove that message.” I think the same applies to law school admission guidebooks.

It should be noted that I include no sample personal statements in my book – they are great page fillers, but I don’t believe in giving people personal statement examples. I want each personal statement to be unique, and so many law school admission books include really trite and unimpressive personal statements. Instead, I share an entire chapter of specific “do’s and don’ts” regarding personal statements. I also include four “Case Studies” of applicant profiles and suggestions of how each could use the personal statement as an opportunity to highlight a particular strength or overcome a weakness or concern a law school admission officer might have based on his background. Instead of showing people essays that don’t apply to their lives, such as the “I overcame a brain injury” and “I spent all day talking to Homeless Mary at the shelter” I wanted to show the backgrounds of four potential applicants that almost everyone can relate to and provide several ideas for effective personal statement topics in each case.

For example, here’s the first case study in the book (from page 93):

I am three years out of college and I’ve held a few jobs. I worked as a mortgage broker’s assistant, then as a publishing assistant, then sold classified ads for an online magazine. What do I write my personal statement about?

For those of you a few years out of college who have held 2-3 jobs that weren’t promotions within the same company or industry, then applying to law school can appear insincere. It can look like you’re floundering and still trying to find yourself. When objectively analyzing your resume, consider the impact of this trend and consider ways to overcome it, perhaps by emphasizing a volunteer position or thinking about ways the jobs actually have more in common with each other than meets the eye, or considering how each ob has actually allowed you to come closer to the conclusion that law school is the right next step for you. You might also consider this theme by sharing a story from your personal life about the impact a lawyer had on your family’s situation, even if the impact was negative.

In your review of Mr. Montauk’s book, you actually said much of it would only apply to applicants seeking admission to a Top-10 school. My book is concise but the advice within it is intended to apply to all law school applicants, no matter their aspirations. It’s about how to best present yourself – whoever YOU are – and you don’t present different versions of yourself to different schools based on that school’s ranking. Besides, one person’s reach school might be Columbia, but another person’s reach school might be CUNY – both applicants benefit from the advice in my book.


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