Miami University's Pre-Law Advising Guide

This content was prepared by NAPLA for those considering the legal profession, for undergraduates preparing for legal study, and for candidates applying to law school. The Guide is designed to help at each stage by providing accurate and up-to-date information.

NAPLA has granted permission to the Sue J. Henry Center for Pre-Law Education (the "Henry Pre-Law Center") to use and tailor the Guide to Miami pre-law students.

The NAPLA Pre-Law Guide is based on Cornell University's Legal Careers Guide, which was used by permission of Cornell Career Services. NAPLA would like to acknowledge the following schools for their contributions to the Guide: Binghamton University, Boston College, Boston University, Bucknell University, Columbia University, Duke University, Northeastern University, Princeton University, and Texas A & M University. The Law School Admission Council provided information on study abroad transcripts, and the Financial Aid section is based on the "Financial Aid Toolkit" developed by the Pre-Law Advisors National Council (PLANC).

©2008 NAPLA Inc. Permission to use this content is granted to nonprofit educational institutions. All other rights reserved.

This version of the Guide was last updated August 2017.

Exploring Your Interest in Law

A J.D., Juris Doctor, can lead to a wide range of law-related careers and can open doors to careers in government, business, higher education, communications, and numerous other fields. Law school graduates are administrators, teachers, librarians, and business managers as well as advocates, judges, and politicians.

The law can be a rewarding profession. At its best, legal practice challenges the intellect, demanding the exercise of reason and judgment. The ethics of the profession require attorneys to promote justice, fairness, and morality; thus, legal employment can bring particular satisfaction to those who seek to work, within the law, to seek social injustice.

There are significant differences in career choices lawyers make, from public interest law and government law to private practice in a firm. The range in starting salaries alone can exceed $100,000. And, the need to pay back law school loans can affect the career choices of a new graduate.

Before beginning the application process, consider carefully if a law degree is right for you. It is not necessary to know what kind of law you want to practice or even if you want to practice law to decide to attend law school. There are a number of ways you can explore the field of law:

  • Talk with a pre-law advisor or a pre-law faculty advisor in your department about your interest in pursuing legal studies.

    Sue J. Henry Center for Pre-Law Education
    Maria P. Vitullo, Esq., Director
    Elizabeth W. Zimmerman, Esq., Advisor
    159 Upham Hall
    529-0877

    To make an appointment, please call 529-0877 or email prelaw@MiamiOH.edu.

    Faculty Pre-Law Advisors

    Business
    Contact Maria Vitullo (vitullmp@MiamiOH.edu) or Elizabeth Zimmerman (zimmerew@MiamiOH.edu).

    Classics
    Dr. Zara Torlone
    torlonzm@MiamiOH.edu
    (513) 529-1488

    Comparative Religion
    Dr. Nathan French
    frenchns@MiamiOH.edu
    (513) 529-4305

    Engineering
    Dr. Brian Kirkmeyer
    kirkmebp@MiamiOH.edu
    (513) 529-0700

    English
    Brian F. Roley, J.D.
    brianroley@MiamiOH.edu
    (513) 529-5263

    History
    Dr. Amanda Kay McVety
    mcvetyak@MiamiOH.edu
    (513) 529-5125

    Philosophy
    Dr. Keith G. Fennen
    fennenkg@MiamiOH.edu
    (513) 529-4739

    Political Science
    Dr. Brian Marshall
    marshabw@MiamiOH.edu
    (513) 529-0161

    Dr. Abigail Matthews
    matthewa@MiamiOH.edu
    (513) 529-9009

    Psychology
    Dr. Christopher Wolfe
    wolfecr@MiamiOH.edu
    (513) 529-5670

    Sociology or Social Justice
    Dr. Kristen Budd
    buddkm@MiamiOH.edu
    (513) 529-2628

    Hamilton Campus
    Dr. John Forren
    forrenjp@MiamiOH.edu
    (513) 785-3276

    Dr. Daniel Hall
    hallde@MiamiOH.edu
    (513) 785-3170
  • Conduct research on legal careers using resources at your pre-law advising office or college career office.
  • Investigate online resources, including the American Bar Association, and The National Association for Law Placement.
  • Intern with a law firm or law-related organization to gain exposure to the field and to experience the work environment.
  • Conduct information interviews to learn about the legal profession. Talk with lawyers who are family members, family friends, or alumni of your college to learn:
    • what lawyers do in a typical work day
    • personal attributes needed to be successful in a legal career
    • satisfactions and dissatisfactions of the field
    • impact of a legal career on personal lives
  • Enroll in PLW 101: Exploring Careers in Law, a one credit course that explores the various areas of legal practice and helps students considering a career in the legal profession develop an appreciation for the diversity of the legal field.
  • Enroll in PLW 201: Exploring Careers in Law II, a one credit course that exposes prelaw students to the toolbox of skills necessary for success in the field of law, including issue spotting, advocacy, persuasive writing, client interaction, conflict resolution, mediation/ADR, negotiation, and ethics.

Realities of a Legal Career

An important step in making a decision is to distinguish between commonly held expectations and the reality of legal practice. Hours can be very long and often include weekends. Legal work can require spending considerable time in tedious, painstaking research. Depending on the type of law practiced and the location, entry into law firms can be difficult and salaries may not meet expectations. The market for new lawyers is competitive for those seeking positions in cities and firms that are in high demand.

Employment statistics for the Class of 2016 law graduates reveal the following1:

  • The median starting salary was $65,000 (down from $85,000 in 2009).
  • Salaries of $180,000 or more accounted for only 28% of law firm salaries reported.
  • Approximately 52.9% of the class obtained jobs in private practice law firms.
  • 14.8% of graduates were employed in positions for which bar passage is not required.

While a corporate lawyer in a private firm may earn $135,000 the first year, he/she may also work twelve hours a day, six or seven days a week. Most of those interested in public interest law can expect a starting salary around $47,000.

The legal market and job prospects for law school graduates have seen substantial change in recent years. As a result, it is more important than ever that students fully explore whether law is the right career path for them and educate themselves on the legal job market and the costs associated with a legal education.

1NALP The National Association for Law Placement. For additional information on the legal profession, visit the website for The National Association for Law Placement (NALP), which provides various reports and data on legal employment.

Preparing for Law School

Admissions committees look at a variety of factors and trends in your academic record in an attempt to predict how you will perform in law school. There is no "pre-law major" and unlike medical school, there are no specific educational requirements for entrance into law school.

Develop Research, Analysis, and Writing Skills

Law schools are interested in your ability to do rigorous analytical research, to write well, to present, and to persuade. Take courses that will develop these skills. The American Bar Association offers an overview of the skills and values important to preparing for a legal education and a career in law:

  • Problem Solving
  • Critical Reading
  • Writing and Editing
  • Oral Communication and Listening
  • Research
  • Organization and Management
  • Public Service and Promotion of Justice
  • Relationship-building and Collaboration
  • Background Knowledge
  • Exposure to the Law

Law-related classes may allow you to get a feel for law as a general subject, but they neither cover the material in the same depth nor embody the intensity and rigor of law school. Therefore, they are not especially accurate indicators of your ability to succeed in the study of law or whether you will enjoy it.

Select a Major

Choose a major that interests you. Admissions offices are not particularly interested in your major, but they are interested in how well you did in the discipline(s) you chose to pursue, and how much you challenged yourself in your studies.

While specific coursework may be helpful in corporate law, environmental law or intellectual property, a JD is a generalist's degree, and applicants come from widely diverse academic backgrounds.

Compile an Impressive Record

A solid GPA—particularly within your major—is expected, but a willingness to go beyond requirements demonstrates an intellectual curiosity that would be advantageous in the study of law. Academic excellence reflects discipline and abilities, though the variety and depth of your coursework will also be seriously considered by admissions committees as evidence of your interests and motivation.

In general, lecture courses provide a good foundation for further instruction, while seminars allow you to present, discuss, critique, and defend more specific ideas. Smaller classes give you the opportunity to interact with faculty. Get to know faculty whom you might later ask for recommendations; make yourself stand out as an individual by attending office hours, asking questions in class, and conducting research with faculty.

Pursue Activities

Law schools will be interested in your extracurricular activities, leadership experience, summer jobs, internships, and public service since they seek well-rounded candidates for admission. Select activities that interest you; they do not have to be directly related to law. Over time, get involved in more depth in fewer activities. Take initiative and show leadership.

Researching Law Schools

With approximately 200 accredited law schools in the United States, how do you decide where to apply and ultimately where to attend? Begin by assembling a list of law schools based on the criteria that are important to you, then revise your choices according to your chances of admission.
Selecting schools carefully will help reduce the time and expense of applying to an excessive number of schools.

Criteria for Selection

Consider the following factors and determine which are important to you:

National/Regional Schools: Does the school attract applicants from across the country and abroad, or are most students from the region in which the school is located? Do most students want to work throughout the country or in the school's region following graduation?

Location: Is the school in an urban area or in a suburban/rural setting? Is it part of a university or independent? Are there other graduate schools nearby? Is the school in a place you would want to be for three years and where you would be willing to work following graduation, depending on employment opportunities?

Faculty/Classes: What are the academic and experiential backgrounds of faculty? How accessible are they? What is the faculty-student ratio, the number of full-time vs. adjunct faculty, and the number of female and minority faculty? How many students are in each course? Are classes taught in the Socratic method or lecture?

Facilities and Resources: Is the school affiliated with a university? Do students have access to courses from a range of academic disciplines to supplement their legal curriculum? Is the library large enough to accommodate holdings and permit students to conduct research and study? How helpful is the library staff? How accessible are electronic databases such as Lexis and Westlaw? In general, do the facilities provide a comfortable learning environment?

Student Body: What is the size of the entering class? What does the admissions profile tell you about the quality of the student body? Where did students study as undergraduates and what are their geographic backgrounds? Is there diversity in interests and personal/cultural backgrounds? What is the overall atmosphere–are students friendly or overly competitive? Is there much interaction with fellow students outside the classroom?

Special Programs: What courses are available in specialized areas? What joint degree programs of interest to you are available? What are the opportunities for practical experience, including clinics, internships, etc.? Can you "write" on to law reviews in addition to be selected based on class rank? What specialized institutes, journals, or organizations exist in your areas of interest? Does the school demonstrate a commitment to women and minorities through special programs?

Career Services: What advising and resources are available to help you find a job? Is career counseling available? How many employers recruit at the law school and who are they? What percentage of the class is employed at graduation? In what types of positions and geographic areas are they employed? What is the percentage of graduates holding judicial clerkships? What assistance is given to students not interested in working in law firms? What is the bar passage rate for recent graduates? How involved are alumni in career activities?

Student Life: Is housing provided for first-year students? If not, does the school offer assistance in locating off-campus housing? Is the school located in a safe area? What is the cost of living? What types of cultural opportunities are there? Does the school provide recreational facilities? What is the general ambiance?

Costs: What are tuition, housing, and transportation costs? Is financial aid exclusively need-based, or are merit scholarships available? Does the school offer a loan forgiveness program for public interest lawyers? What is the average debt burden for graduates from this school?

There are ways to minimize your cost of attending law school and to keep down the debt you incur. Apply to schools where you will be in the top part of the applicant pool; schools may give you a merit scholarship to attract you. Also, public schools are usually less expensive, and even if you are not a resident of a state in which a school is located, you can sometimes pay in-state tuition after your first year after establishing residency.

Reputation

A number of factors contribute to a school’s reputation, including faculty, facilities, career services, and the reputation of the parent university. Though a number of law-school rankings are available, most factors evaluated are not quantifiable, and therefore you should not perceive the rankings as accurate or definitive.

Selectivity at law schools, however, is one factor that can be quantified; you can gauge a school's relative selectivity by comparing the number of applicants accepted to the overall number of applications. Two resources that will help you determine your competitiveness for schools are the Official Guide to ABA-Approved Law Schools and the Boston College Online Law School Locator (available from their Research Law Schools page).

Schools can be divided roughly into three groups:

  • Schools with national reputations tend to appear in various "top ten" lists. They draw students from a national pool and offer geographic mobility to graduates.
  • Schools with good regional reputations are attended primarily by students from the region, who may want to remain in the area following graduation, but who may also seek positions throughout the country.
  • Local schools draw students primarily from the immediate area who want to practice there following graduation.

Non-Traditional Alternatives

Evening divisions and part-time programs make it possible for students to work and study law simultaneously, earning a J.D. in four years. A few schools on the quarter system allow students to enter mid-year. Summer courses can accelerate the degree program from three to two-and-a-half calendar years.

Publications and Online Resources

There are a number of resources designed to help you research and evaluate law schools. Resources you will want to use include the following:

  • Official Guide to ABA-Approved Law Schools
    • Standard 509 Information Reports provides information on the American Bar Association-approved law schools, including faculty, library resources, enrollment, bar passage, job placement, 25th/75th percentile LSAT scores and GPAs.
    • Employment Summary Reports provide employment data by law school for various graduating classes.
  • LSAC's Official Guide to ABA-Approved Law Schools allows students to predict the likelihood of admission to law schools based upon prior admissions data using their GPA and LSAT score.
  • NAPLA/SAPLA Book of Law School Lists (available on Boston University's Pre-Professional Advising page) provides information about joint degrees, areas of academic emphasis within the schools, schools that grant one-year deferrals, bar passage rates at a number of schools, schools that award non-need-based scholarships, etc.
  • Educating Tomorrow's Lawyers, a consortium of several law schools, has launched a user-friendly, interactive website that compiles data from several sources to research employment data of recent law school graduates.
  • Law School Transparency uses job outcome data to sort law schools.

After you complete your research and compile a list of schools, meet with a pre-law advisor to discuss schools of interest to you and to get a reality check on your competitiveness for them.

Understanding Admissions Criteria

Objective Criteria

Law schools consider the objective criteria, the GPA and LSAT score, the factors that most accurately predict how applicants will perform in their first year:

Law School Admission Test (LSAT): Applicants take the LSAT, a half-day standardized test, during one of four test administrations offered annually by the Law School Admission Council. Beginning in 2018, the LSAT will be offered 6 times per year. Scores, which range from 120 to 180, are used by most law schools as a common measurement of potential for success in law school. As of 2017, some law schools also accept the GRE (Harvard, Northwestern, Georgetown, and Arizona.)

Undergraduate Grade Point Average (GPA): Applicants submit undergraduate transcripts to the Credential Assembly Service (CAS), which converts grades to a cumulative grade point average using a set of consistent values. The GPA offers admissions committees another numerical basis for comparing applicants.

Applicant Index: Many law schools ask the CAS to combine applicants' LSAT scores and GPAs with weighted constants to produce a single number which can be used to assess and compare potential for doing well.

Subjective Criteria

Subjective criteria are the factors law schools consider in addition to GPAs and LSAT scores:

Personal Statement: Applicants submit a personal statement as part of the application process for almost all law schools. Admissions committees look for a concise, detailed, well-written statement revealing the applicant's individuality. They want to learn from the statement who the applicant is and what makes him/her qualified to study at their law schools.

Letters of Recommendation: Most law schools require applicants to submit letters of recommendation from professors or employers to gain a different perspective on the applicant's academic strength and personal qualities. Admissions officers find most helpful specific examples of applicants' motivation and intellectual curiosity, an assessment of communication skills, and a comparison with peers.

Evaluations: An evaluation is a questionnaire completed online by the evaluator to rate applicants on noncognitive attributes and skills related to success in law school and the legal profession. The evaluation uses a rating scale that represents degrees of a particular characteristic. Evaluators can also include free-form text comments. An applicant should not solicit both a letter and an evaluation from the same person.

Experience: This factor includes undergraduate curricular and extracurricular activities, internships, part-time and full-time work experience. Include a resume in your application materials that demonstrates your skills and abilities relevant to the study of law and how you will contribute to the diversity and strength of the class.

Most law schools have recruitment programs to increase participation in the legal profession by underrepresented groups. State schools may reserve seats for state residents. Review websites of schools to learn about their selection criteria, and you may want to contact schools about your specific concerns.

Applying to Law School

After reaching the decision to pursue a law degree, you will want to submit a strong and complete application to increase your chances for admission. The first step in the application process will be to meet with your pre-law advisor, who can help you create a strategy for maximizing your chances for success.

Sue J. Henry Center for Pre-Law Education

Maria P. Vitullo, Esq., Director
Elizabeth W. Zimmerman, Esq., Advisor

159 Upham Hall
529-0877

To make an appointment, please call 529-0877 or email prelaw@MiamiOH.edu.

In addition, the Henry Pre-Law Center offers a one-credit fall semester course for seniors who are applying to law school, PLW 401: Preparing for a Career in Law. Seniors will learn to navigate the admissions process and receive information important to preparing competitive law school applications.

Next you should open an online account with the Law School Admission Council (LSAC) at LSAC.org. LSAC was founded to coordinate and facilitate the process of applying to law school.

Be aware that applying to law school is not inexpensive. Basic costs include:

  • Credential Assembly Service (CAS) registration fee (currently $185)
  • LSAT registration fee (currently $180)
  • Law School Reports (currently $35 per school)
  • Application fees (per school)

You might need to add other costs such as LSAT preparation, travel to visit law schools, etc.

LSAC offers fee waivers for those with a demonstrated inability to pay for essential parts of the application. The waivers cover two LSATs per testing year (June through February); the CAS registration, including a total of four CAS Law School Reports; and, a copy of The Official LSAT SuperPrep.

Nearly all law schools admit applicants on a rolling basis, known as rolling admissions. This means that the earlier you apply the better your chances of admission. Conversely, the later you apply, the more competitive admissions will become. This does not mean that highly qualified and competitive applicants cannot gain admission later in the admission cycle, but ideally you should submit your applications by mid-November the year prior to law school enrollment to fully take advantage of rolling admissions.

Law School Admission Test (LSAT)

When and How to Register for the Exam

The Law School Admission Test (LSAT) is required for admission to most American Bar Association-approved law schools. As of 2017, some schools will also accept the GRE for law school admissions (Harvard, Georgetown, Northwestern, Arizona). The test is currently administered four times per year by the Law School Admission Council (LSAC). However, beginning in June 2018 the LSAT will be given six times per year. Detailed test information—dates, sites, registration forms, fees, and deadlines—and registration is available online at LSAC.org.

Be aware that test sites can fill quickly, especially in or around major cities. It is advisable, then, to register several months in advance of a test date so that you can take the test in a convenient location. The registration deadline for the LSAT is typically at least six weeks before the test date.

The optimal time to take the exam is June of the year you plan to apply to law school, but taking the test in late September/early October will still allow you to see your LSAT score before applying in November. However, there are several benefits to taking the exam in June of the year you apply:

  • You will receive your score in July, allowing you plenty of time to research law schools in light of your LSAT score before applying in November.
  • If the June exam does not go as planned, you can re-take the exam in September/October, if necessary.
  • You will ideally have uninterrupted time to focus on LSAT preparation from May, when exams are finished, until the exam in June. Waiting until September/October means you will have to take and prepare for the LSAT while you are taking classes and preparing your law school applications.

NOTE: If you plan to study abroad, you should consider doing so either sophomore year or fall semester junior year to allow you to focus on LSAT preparation spring semester.

Scores from the December LSAT administration will reach law schools in time to complete application deadlines at all schools. However, the December exam will likely be around finals (not ideal), and you may miss some benefit of rolling admissions by waiting until December to take the exam and submit applications. If you do take the December test, you should plan to submit your applications around the time of the test. You may, however, decide to wait to see your score before submitting your applications.

How the LSAT is Scored

The LSAT is designed to provide law school admissions committees with a common measure of applicants' aptitude for legal study. The test consists of five multiple choice sections, each 35 minutes in length:

  1. one reading comprehension section
  2. one analytical reasoning section
  3. two logical reasoning sections
  4. one experimental test question section (not scored)

A 35-minute writing sample at the end of the test is also not scored; copies of the writing sample are sent to schools where you apply.

Your score is computed on a scale of 120 to 180, based on the number of questions you answer correctly; there is no deduction or penalty for incorrect answers, so it is advantageous to guess if you do not have time to answer a question.

How to Prepare for the LSAT

Begin your preparation with LSAC materials available on Amazon.com and then assess your progress. You can purchase books of old LSAT exams for $24 each. If you feel you would benefit from a more structured program of study, you may want to consider taking a commercial test preparation course. In addition, LSAC has partnered with Khan Academy to provide free online practice material for the LSAT beginning mid-2018.

Commercial courses are expensive and the quality of instruction can be uneven, so it is important to learn who will be teaching the course and what materials will be used. Talk with others who have taken the LSAT to learn from their experience, especially concerning the effectiveness of courses you may be considering. Such courses can be helpful in motivating you to study and in building your confidence.

Juniors may also register for Miami's LSAT preparation course. This course, taught by a former commercial LSAT course instructor, will be offered at a fraction of a commercial course cost through Miami’s Lifelong Learning Center.

If you are registered for a test but feel you are not fully prepared or in a frame of mind to perform well, it may be better not to take the test. Plan to be well-prepared and to take the test only once, but if you do not believe your score is representative of your abilities, for example, you were scoring considerably higher on practice tests, you may want to consider retaking the test.

Law schools are required to report the higher/highest of multiple scores of students in their entering class to the American Bar Association. Those scores are then reported to organizations such as the Law School Admission Council for use in their online and print information.

Schools vary, however, in how they consider multiple LSAT scores in making admissions decisions. Though many schools use the higher/highest score in reaching decisions, a few schools use the average of multiple scores.

Most schools welcome an addendum explaining the point difference in scores, including any extenuating circumstances and a history of performance on standardized tests. LSAC will report the results of all LSATs you have taken within 5 years; however, you may find some schools willing to consider only scores received within a three- or four-year period.

Credential Assembly Service (CAS)

To centralize and standardize objective application information—GPAs and LSAT scores—ABA-approved law schools require applicants to subscribe to the Credential Assembly Service (CAS). You can subscribe to CAS at LSAC.org. The service organizes and analyzes applicant information in a way that allows law schools to compare academic records from undergraduate schools that use different grading systems.

Transcripts

Register for CAS, and then send or take transcript request forms, available through CAS, to each college or university from which you have earned academic credit. At Miami, you should:

  1. Make an online request for a transcript on the Registrar's website. Make sure that in the "Special Instructions" box you state: DO NOT SEND WITHOUT LSAC FORM.
  2. Print out the Transcript Request Form and bring it or email it to the Registrar's office. They will merge your transcript with your form and send them to LSAC.
Study Abroad

If you enrolled in a study abroad program sponsored by your home institution, and the courses along with grades and credits using your home institution's grading system are recorded on your official transcript, you do not need to send an additional transcript reflecting the study abroad grades/credits. Those grades will be calculated into both the home institution’s GPA and the overall GPA.

If you enrolled in a study abroad program sponsored by another U.S. or Canadian college or university, in addition to your home institution's transcript, you must have the college or university sponsoring the study abroad program send a transcript directly to CAS. List the U.S. or Canadian institution on your CAS registration under "other institutions attended." If the grades and credits appear on the sponsoring school's transcript, using the school's grading scale, then those grades will be calculated into both the sponsoring school's GPA and the overall GPA, but not into your home institution's GPA, as this is "transfer" work.

If you directly enrolled in one or more foreign institutions, and the total amount of work is the equivalent of one year or less, do not list the foreign institution when you register for the CAS, and do not have a transcript forwarded to LSAC. You may, however, be required to list your attendance at such institutions on your applications to law schools.

Law School Report

Upon receiving your transcripts and LSAT scores, CAS will prepare a report that will include the following:

  • a year-by-year grade and credit summary
  • photocopies of all your transcripts
  • your GPA for each academic year, your degree GPA from your home institution, and your cumulative GPA reflecting work at your home institution and all other institutions you have attended
  • a description of your overall grade distribution
  • the mean LSAT score and GPA of students at your undergraduate school who have subscribed to the CAS and your percentile graduation rank among those students
  • up to 12 LSAT scores from the past five years, including cancellations and absences
  • an average LSAT score, if you have more than one score on file
  • copies of your LSAT writing sample

You will want to review your report for accuracy once it is available in your CAS account. The CAS report may also include an applicant index described in the Admissions Criteria section.

The Application

There are several options for submitting applications to law schools. You can apply to any ABA-approved law school through the CAS electronic application, which streamlines the process by allowing you to enter common information only once; you then complete each school's individual application and submit your applications electronically.

Completing application forms is a fairly straightforward process. Schools will be seeking basic information about you, including your academic background, extracurricular activities, and employment history. Indicating an interest in financial aid will not affect your chances for admission. Questions asking you to list other schools to which you are applying are typically optional and should be answered with caution.

Be truthful and forthright as you complete the applications. Enclose a resume with your application, but be sure to respond to all of the questions on the applications.

Personal Statements

Personal statements requested by most law schools provide the opportunity to go beyond the objective aspects of the application to discuss who you are and what is important to you.

Schools will be seeking information about your background, personal qualities, and leadership skills, and motivation to learn what is unique about you and what distinguishes you from other candidates with similar GPAs and LSAT scores.

Your goal, then, will be to write a concise, detailed statement establishing yourself as an individual. An interesting and personal discussion about yourself, one that reveals your personality and character, will help you come alive to the admissions committee. Some schools have specific personal statement prompts or additional "school specific" questions. Be sure that your personal statement addresses the school’s prompt specifically.

Personal statements are typically two double-spaced pages. If schools don't provide guidelines on length, it's advisable to submit a statement that's approximately two pages in length. A few schools will limit the number of words permitted and you should abide by their guidelines.

Proofread carefully, as any typographical or grammatical errors will detract from the favorable impression the statement might otherwise make. Do not use large words in an attempt to impress readers; instead, use simple language correctly, and rely on well-organized, interesting content to make an impression.

Your statement should be serious, honest, and sincere, and the tone should be confident and positive; any negative information you feel compelled or are required to discuss should be addressed in other parts of the application or in an addendum.

Law schools will be looking for evidence that you can write a coherent statement. Follow general guidelines for writing essays: there should be introductory and concluding paragraphs; each paragraph should begin with a topic sentence; and there should be a clear line of development through the statement. Ideas should be supported with concrete examples.

Henry Pre-Law Center Personal Statement Policy: Henry Pre-Law Center advisors will review personal statements. Students must submit via email or through the Henry Pre-Law Center CANVAS Portal their draft personal statement to the advisor with whom they have an appointment at least three (3) business days prior to the appointment to allow the advisor an opportunity to review the statement prior to the appointment. An advisor will provide general feedback on theme, structure, flow, overall impressions, etc. An advisor will review a student's personal statement twice.

Resumes

Most law schools require that applicants submit a resume. As a general rule, the resume should contain information on an applicant's educational background, employment, campus activities, community service, special interests, etc., from high school graduation forward. Applicants should have their resumes reviewed by the Career Center and a pre-law advisor.

Henry Pre-Law Center Resume Policy: Henry Pre-Law Center advisors will review resumes. Students must submit via email or the Henry Pre-Law Center CANVAS Portal their resume to the advisor with whom they have an appointment at least three (3) business days prior to the appointment to allow the advisor an opportunity to review the resume prior to the appointment. An advisor will provide general feedback on structure and content. An advisor will review a student's resume twice.

Letters of Recommendation

Most law schools request that one or two letters of recommendation be submitted on behalf of applicants. If letters are not required, it is a good idea, nonetheless, to submit them. As a general rule, you should consider soliciting three letters. You don't need to use all the letters you have solicited, but it is better to have more than you need rather than not enough should a letter fail to come through.

Admissions committees will be seeking information not provided elsewhere in the applications. Recommendation letters should include concrete examples of intellectual strength, judgment, motivation, and leadership, along with an appraisal of communication skills and a comparison to peers.

Letters written by members of the academic community carry the most weight, since they can address your performance in an academic setting and discuss your potential for success in law school. Law schools value letters that address a student's writing, class participation, research, analytical skills, and other academic abilities.

They are especially interested in a professor's assessment of a student, as compared to other students he or she has taught over the years.

At least one letter should be from a professor in your undergraduate major, if possible. As you consider whom to ask, remember that it is better to have an in-depth letter from a teaching assistant or lecturer with whom you worked closely than to have a cursory letter from a renowned professor who barely knows you.

Letters from people outside academia may carry less weight, since they may be unable to address the topic of greatest interest to admissions committees: your academic potential. However, if you have been in the work force a couple of years or more, letters from supervisors can be helpful.

You can submit additional letters even though a school asks for only one or two. Three letters will be acceptable at most schools, and four should be considered the absolute maximum. It is important to follow each school’s rules on the number of recommendations accepted.

Letters of Recommendation Services

The Credential Assembly Service (CAS) offers a recommendation service (LOR). You will log onto you CAS account, enter the names of those who have agreed to write recommendation letters for you, print out the LOR form for that recommender and give it to your recommender. Your recommender will need to send this form, along with the letter, directly to CAS. There is also an option for the recommender to complete his/her recommendation through an online process.

You can check your CAS account to see when the letters arrive. When you start applying to law schools you will select the specific letters you want sent to each school. CAS will forward up to four letters to law schools to which you are applying.

Letters will be maintained for five years from the time you register for CAS or from the time you take the LSAT, whichever comes last.

Waiving Access to Letters

CAS will ask you whether you agree to waive your right of access to the letters. You will want to say "YES" since you may find writers unwilling to write letters if applicants have access to them, and some admissions committee members may discount disclosed letters.

How to Solicit Letters of Recommendation

Make an appointment to meet with letter writers well in advance of when you plan to submit your applications, as you want to give them 4-6 weeks to prepare and submit the letter. Ask them, "Do you feel you know my work well enough to write a positive letter on behalf of my application to law school?" If you sense hesitation, move on. You do not want a letter that is not strong.

Once the recommender has agreed to write the letter, provide him or her with the following:

  1. His/her CAS recommendation form (must be sent with the letter);
  2. A stamped envelope addressed to LSAC;
  3. Information about your background to assist in writing a detailed letter:
    • a cover sheet describing your academic relationship, including courses you have taken, research you have conducted, your experience as a TA, etc.
    • a draft of your personal statement (if available)
    • a resume
    • copies of exams or papers written in his/her class
  4. A deadline when the recommendation is due (select a few weeks prior to when you plan to submit your applications)

You can periodically check your CAS account to see if the letters have been received. Speak with those writers who have not sent letters yet to remind them politely of the approaching deadline. After you have received decisions, send thank-you letters to your recommenders, and let them know where you have been accepted and where you intend to enroll.

Dean's Certifications

A dean's certification (or letter/clearance) is required by some law schools to confirm that applicants have not been involved in academic or disciplinary transgressions as undergraduates. A Dean's Certification only needs to be provided if the law school requests one.

The certification is generally a formality handled by a designated university official such as an academic advising dean, professor, or registrar, in consultation with those offices responsible for judicial administration on campus.

At Miami, requests for Dean's Certifications for students in the College of Arts and Science should be directed to the Associate Dean in the College's General Academic Advising Office located at 146 Upham Hall.

Submitting Your Applications

Use this checklist to ensure you are completing all parts of the application:

  • Prepare for the LSAT
  • Register for the LSAT and CAS
  • Order LSAT prep materials and publications
  • Change your LSAT location or date, if necessary
  • Check test center availability and account information in real time
  • Obtain your LSAT score by e-mail and view online your answer sheet, score conversion table, and test book (for disclosed tests)
  • Check the status of your file online, including your transcript, letters of recommendation, and law school requests for your CAS report
  • Research law schools and application deadlines
  • Apply to law school electronically

Remember that your file is not complete until all parts, including the recommendation letters and CAS report, have been received by law schools.

Here are some additional strategies for applying to law school:

  • Start early.
  • Make realistic choices on schools.
  • Read carefully information provided by schools online or in hard copy.
  • Follow directions.
  • Print copies of your applications to use as drafts.
  • Provide complete and accurate responses.
  • Make copies of your completed applications.
  • Submit fees with your applications.
  • Respect deadlines.

Taking Time Off

Taking some time before entering law school can be advantageous for several reasons:

  • You will be able to devote more time and energy during your senior year to your academics rather than to preparing for the LSAT and time-consuming law school applications.
  • When you apply to law school, your entire academic record will be available to law schools, not just six or seven semesters; if you are like most students, your highest grades will come later in your undergraduate education.
  • Other experience prior to law school could make you a more attractive applicant to law schools and future employers.
  • Working can provide some perspective and clarity as to whether law is the right path for you.
  • This is a great time in your life to pursue other opportunities such as Teach for America or the Peace Corps before going on to law school.

Considering Admissions Decisions

Applicants are informed by e-mail or letter of the school'’ decisions; candidates are either accepted, denied, or wait-listed, which means the applicant is considered a desirable candidate and may be admitted later.

Law schools often place applicants on "hold" or "reserve" prior to reaching a decision and frequently notify candidates of this status. Applications of those on hold or reserve are reconsidered at a later date, usually before the files of those who have been wait-listed.

Enhancing Your Application

There are several things you can do to improve your chances of admission if you are on reserve or have been wait-listed:

  • Write a letter to the director of admissions to inform him/her of your strong interest in the school and to provide an update on your activities since you submitted your application.
  • Send an updated transcript to law schools through LSAC (follow same transcript procedure).
  • If the school is your first choice, state that you will attend if accepted.
  • If you are a senior, inform the school of accomplishments since you applied, for example, that you have completed your honors thesis or you were accepted into Phi Beta Kappa.
  • If you are currently working, describe your professional responsibilities and other worthwhile activities in which you are engaged; include an updated resume.
  • Send an additional recommendation from a professor or employer; however, the total number of your recommendation letters should not exceed four, or the maximum allowed by the school, if less than four.
  • Visit the law school to demonstrate your strong interest; contact the admissions office to arrange for a tour and to sit in on a class or two. Some admissions officers will agree to meet with applicants, but generally these discussions are not evaluative.

Making a Decision

Visit the law schools when deciding among schools that have accepted you. Take tours and attend classes, make an effort to meet faculty and staff, and speak with students to get their perspective on factors important to you, such as accessibility of faculty, competitiveness of students, career services, assistance of library personnel, etc.

Follow up with a thank-you letter to the admissions office stating what impressed you about the school.

Talking with students/alumni at schools of interest about their experience can be helpful in reaching your decision. Contact the schools to inquire about speaking with current students and whether they have an alumni network you can access.

Cost and financial aid awards also need to be considered when making a decision. If you will be entering law school with debt accumulated as an undergraduate, financial factors can play an even greater role in your decision.

If you are deciding between a school that is highly regarded and one that interests you but is less prestigious, keep in mind that more highly ranked schools will, in general, provide better opportunities after graduation. Large firms focus their recruiting efforts at these schools, and salaries of graduates tend to be higher.

Schools that accept you will probably ask for a deposit to hold a space for you. Deposits may be due before you hear from all schools. Contact schools that accept you to explain your situation and ask if they would be willing to extend the deposit deadline.

By May 15 each year, law schools may be provided information concerning applicants’ commitments to enroll. Applicants should be aware of policies on multiple deposits set by schools to which they applied.

Once you have reached a final decision on which school you will attend, notify schools that accepted you so that they can offer your place to someone else.

You are encouraged to refer to the Law School Admission Council's Statement of Good Admissions and Financial Aid Practices (available on LSAC's The Law School Admission Process: What to Expect page), which will help you understand the practices governing the admissions and financial aid process.

Reapplying Later

If you are not accepted at a law school you would like to attend, consider retaking the LSAT if you feel that you can improve your score, or revising your list of schools if you decide to reapply. Working for a few years can make a difference in the admissions process and can also provide exposure to another career field that might engage your interest.

Financing Law School

Law school is an important investment in your future. Consider the financial aid process as seriously as you do the law school application process.

Before you apply to law school, spend money wisely and pay your bills on time to ensure a good credit record. Bad credit will affect your ability to borrow money. If possible, pay off credit cards and other consumer debt before law school.

Think about your post-law school goals. Salaries for lawyers vary widely, depending on the type of practice and region. Law school debt will claim a significant portion of your income as a lawyer.

To keep debt to a minimum, consider state-supported law schools, or schools that offer merit-based aid. If you are considering a career in government or public interest law, investigate loan repayment assistance programs (LRAPs) that help law school gradugraduates repay their education debt.

Sources of Funds

Personal Savings/Family Support

If possible, set aside your own funds to help pay for law school. Talk with family members about whether they can help with law school expenses. Some students choose to live at home during law school to avoid paying rent.

Federal Loans

Many students rely primarily on federal loan programs to finance law school. Total federal aid is available to cover (but not exceed) the law school's cost of attendance (COA), which includes tuition and fees, room and board, books and supplies, transportation, and other expenses. Because you are applying for graduate study, you are considered independent of your parents for these loans.

Some law schools participate in the Ford Direct Loan Program, through which the U.S. Department of Education is the lender. At other law schools, you will choose a lender to obtain the federal Stafford or Grad PLUS loans.

The following federal loans are available to law students:

  • Federal Direct Unsubsidized Loan. Up to $20,500 a year is available to students who meet the need criteria. Interest accrues at disbursement and repayment begins six months after graduation or withdrawal.
  • Federal Direct PLUS Loans. Law students with an absence of bad credit may be eligible for these loans. Many law students are choosing Graduate PLUS instead of private loans to cover their remaining financial need beyond the $20,500 available through Direct Unsubsidized loans.
  • Federal Perkins Loans. These low interest loans are available at some law schools. Each student's award is determined by the school, based on information obtained from the FAFSA (see How to Apply for Financial Aid).

Private Loans

Credit is an important factor in securing private loans. Interest rates, fees, and terms of repayment vary significantly.

It is best to work with your law school financial aid office BEFORE making a decision about loans for law school.

Beware of direct marketing from private lenders. It is possible to finance your legal education entirely through Federal Direct Unsubsidized Loans and Direct PLUS loans, which are regulated by the federal government and typically have lower interest rates.

Grants and Scholarships

Grants and scholarships are offered by law schools based upon criteria set by the school, which can include academic merit, financial need, ethnicity, specific talents, residency or other qualifications. Check with each law school early in the application process for more information.

Law schools may offer merit scholarships to highly qualified applicants with an offer of admission. When law schools consider your financial need, they may require family income information even if you are considered independent for tax purposes, or for federal education loans.

Some states provide limited grants for law school; there are no federal grants for law students. Certain national foundations and organizations offer grants and scholarships for law school through a competitive application process.

Earnings

The American Bar Association sets limits on the number of hours a first-year law student can work per week. After first year, many law students obtain summer employment and part-time employment during the school year. This can help reduce the amount of money borrowed.

Frugality

It is often said, "If you live like a lawyer in law school, you will live like a law student once you graduate." Frugality can be your best friend.

How to Apply for Financial Aid

Check your credit. If you will be using Federal Direct PLUS or private loans for law school, order a free copy of your credit report and verify the information. These loans may not be available if your credit history does not meet minimum standards.

Apply early for financial aid. Check each law school's website to learn financial aid deadlines. Some schools have priority dates for submitting financial aid information; students who apply earlier have a better opportunity to obtain limited grant money.

Complete your FAFSA as soon as possible after January 1. Completion of the FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid) is required for all federal student loan programs. The FAFSA also is used by some law schools to collect information for their own institutional aid. Because the FAFSA requires tax information from the previous year, it cannot be completed before January 1.

Some schools have separate applications for financial aid, while others use the law school application or the FAFSA. Schools also vary in how they distribute their own funds.

If you have special circumstances, provide this information to the law school financial aid office. This can be critical for law students who have been working full-time in the prior year or who have unusual medical or family expenses.

Do NOT wait to complete the FAFSA until after you are admitted to a law school. You can list up to six law schools where you want reports sent, and update this list with additional schools.

If your federal tax return will not be ready until later in the spring, you can estimate prior year income on the FAFSA. Parental income is not considered in determining eligibility for federal loans to graduate-level students; you will be directed to skip Section III- Parental Information in the FAFSA.

Making the Decision

Once you have provided all required information, law schools can offer you a financial aid package. To determine your financial need, schools take the estimated contribution calculated by the federal government on your FAFSA and subtract it from the school’s cost of attendance.

In deciding which law school to attend, it is important to balance your financial considerations with other criteria, such as reputation, location, size, faculty, programs and placement success. Compare the net of your projected costs at each school you are considering, offset by any offers of grants or scholarships from the school, to determine the amount you will need to make up through loans or personal funds.

Applying for Loans

Once you have chosen a law school, expect to receive important additional financial information from the school. Even though you have already completed the FAFSA and law school financial aid forms, you must still apply for the loans.

Your law school financial aid office will help you identify the correct process for securing federal loans, and, private loans if needed. Do your homework to compare fees and repayment terms for all of your loans, using loan calculators available on financial aid websites (see below). Keep good records of all loan transactions.

Borrow only what you need, and not more, to keep your debt low and your monthly repayment amount manageable.

Financial Aid Resources

lsac.org–Financial aid for law school

fafsa.ed.gov–Standardized financial information about Federal loans, and
http://studentaid.ed.gov–more information on federal student aid

AnnualCreditReport.com–Free annual credit report

accesslex.org–Personal finance and other financial aid information

equaljusticeworks.org–Information on public interest law programs and law school loan repayment assistance programs (LRAP)

finaid.org–Student guide to financial aid

fastweb.com–Financial aid search engine

http://www.law.umich.edu/financialaid/debtwizard–University of Michigan's Debt Wizard is a new tool to help students assess and calculate their ability to pay off law school loans.

Legal Career Checklist

Freshman and Sophomore Years

  • Select a major in a field that both interests you and allows you to excel academically.
  • Begin to form relationships with your faculty pre-law advisor, professors, lecturers, and TAs so that they will know your work well enough to serve as recommenders in the future.
  • Expand your education by seeking summer jobs or internships in fields of interest.
  • Consider enrolling in PLW 101: Exploring Careers in Law or PLW 201: Exploring Careers in Law II.

Junior Year

  • Meet with a pre-law advisor to assess your academic, extracurricular, and work experiences and to discuss the application process.
  • Begin preparing for the LSAT; if you are ready, register for the June administration.
  • Consider enrolling in Miami's LSAT Prep Course through Lifelong Learning.
  • Secure a summer job or internship, if possible, in a law-related field.
  • Research law schools and compile a list of tentative schools.

Senior Year (or Year Before Entering Law School)

  • Register for the Credential Assembly Service (CAS). Have transcripts from all undergraduate institutions you have attended sent to the CAS after verifying their accuracy.
  • Consider enrolling in PLW 401: Preparing for a Career in Law.
  • Make sure your CAS report is correct.
  • Ask potential recommendation writers if they would be willing to write letters on your behalf. Provide them with the CAS recommendation forms along with sufficient information to write detailed letters.
  • Make arrangements to have dean's certifications sent to schools that require them.
  • Attend Miami's Law Day Fair in October.
  • Take the LSAT in September/October if you did not take the test in June.
  • Begin drafting and revising your personal statement.
  • Meet with a pre-law advisor, who will help you assess the strength of your application in relation to schools you are considering. Request a critique of your personal statement draft.
  • Complete applications by early to mid-November.
  • Check with schools to make sure your files are complete.
  • Complete the FAFSA and other need analysis forms as well as any institutional financial aid applications as soon after January 1 as possible.
  • Meet with a pre-law advisor in the spring to assess your options as schools respond to you.
  • Take appropriate action on acceptances, wait-list status, and financial aid packages.
  • Before leaving campus, have a final transcript sent to the law school you plan to attend and/or to any schools still considering your application.

Legal Career Resources

The Law School Admission Council (LSAC) provides a comprehensive list of resources to help prospective law students explore legal careers, consider legal education, apply to law school, and finance their law school education.

Law-Related Organizations

  • American Bar Association (ABA) is the national organization of the legal profession. The Council of the Section of Legal Education and Admissions to the Bar of the ABA is identified by the U. S. Department of Education as the "nationally recognized accrediting agency for professional schools of law."
  • Council on Legal Education Opportunity (CLEO) assists economically and educationally disadvantaged applicants in preparing for law school.
  • Law School Admission Council (LSAC) is a nonprofit corporation comprising over 200 law schools in the U.S. and Canada that provides services to the legal education community.
  • The National Association for Law Placement (NALP) is dedicated to facilitating legal career counseling and planning, recruitment and retention, and the professional development of law students and lawyers.
  • HEATH Resource Center is a national clearinghouse for persons with disabilities.

The following organizations can provide advice and help to minority candidates applying to law school: