It’s Time To Get Your Ducks In A Row

by Todd Rothman

Well, it is that time of year again – the start of the law school application season – and so I thought my blog post from last year around this time would serve as a helpful reminder of what you need (and do not need) to be thinking about and doing at this stage of the process.  Although undoubtedly stressful, please also remember that this is also a very exciting time and we look forward to working with you to make applying to law school as smooth and enjoyable as possible in the year ahead.

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Getting Your (Law School Application) Ducks In A Row

by Todd Rothman



Students often ask me the same thing in various iterations about the law school admissions process during this time of year.  Sometimes it comes in the form of a reluctant acknowledgment, sometimes in the form of a series of rapid-fire questions, and sometimes in the form of a panicked confession.  But in the end, it usually sounds something like this – “I have no idea what I should be doing right now.”  So, since most 2011-2012 law school applications will be officially released to LSAC in the next week or two, here is an attempt to address that very dilemma… as well as what you need *not* be doing right now (which is often equally important).

The To-Do-Now List:


1.       Open a Credential Assembly Service (CAS) Account with LSAC.  The CAS account is an essential part of the law school application process, as LSAC helps you to organize (or “assemble”) all of your application materials (or “credentials”) for the law schools to which you will be applying.  The bad news is that it comes with a $124 registration cost that, in our electronic age, cannot be avoided, as this is now a mandatory part of applying to law school in the United States and Canada.  The good news is that the CAS does an excellent job in coordinating and simplifying the application process for applicants *and* your registration is actually valid for five years.  More information about the CAS can be found on the LSAC website:

2.       Think About and Draft Your Personal Statement.  Although the official law school applications with their instructions and prompts have not yet been released, most law schools will ultimately provide such open-ended questions in the personal statement section that applicants rarely find the prompts to be particularly helpful in drafting their personal statement.  I always encourage applicants to visit the Career Services Pre-Law Website for some basic guidelines before the drafting begins (  The most important advice I can offer, though, is that your personal statement is an opportunity to showcase your strengths, personality traits, passions, and interests in a way that “shows” rather than “tells” the reader about yourself.  This is a chance to relate some personally meaningful anecdotes in your experiences so far that will help you convey those strengths, personality traits, passions, and interests in an interesting and engaging way.  Think of it as a substitute for an admissions interview – if you had fifteen minutes with an Admissions Committee, what about yourself (besides what is already included on your application) would you want them to know?

3.       Update/Reformat Your Resume.  Law schools either require or strongly recommend that you submit a full resume along with your application, and this is another terrific opportunity to enumerate and articulately describe all of your major activities and accomplishments.  Unlike a resume that you might prepare for the job search, a law school resume has some important distinctions – (a) it can be more than one page, (b) it should devote as much attention and detail to your campus/extracurricular activities as your professional/internship activities, and (c) it should not have an “objective,” nor do you need to highlight your typing speed (even if it is 100 words per minute) nor your computer/technical skills like your “Working Familiarity With PowerPoint.”  Consider the audience here.  You can also refer to the sample law school resume on our Pre-Law Website as a guide:

4.       Contact Potential Letter of Recommendation Writers.  Most law schools require two letters of recommendation and most, if not all, law schools prefer that these letters be academic in nature.  After all, this is an academic program to which you are applying.  Professional and/or extracurricular letters of recommendation might also be helpful and appropriate in light of your experiences, provided your involvement was indeed substantive in nature.  With that in mind, you should identify at least three possible letter of recommendation writers (you never know if someone is on sabbatical/out of the country/doesn’t remember you as well as you think they do) and begin to contact them to see if they can write you a strong letter of recommendation.  I strongly recommend giving your recommenders at least a month for turn-around time, so if you haven’t already begun that process, you should certainly do so now.

5.       Send Your Official Transcripts to LSAC.  You will need to request official transcripts from all of the undergraduate and graduate institutions you attended, including any institution at which you took a college-level course.  And the sooner you start that process, the better.  Yes, that means that your advanced high school course in Accounting that was affiliated with your local community college or university.  Yes, that means the summer college course in Sculpture that you just took for fun during your summer in New York.  Any academic situation that generated a college-level transcript for you, even if those credits never transferred to Penn, must have an official transcript sent to LSAC.  More information about transcripts for law school can be found on the LSAC website:

6.       Research and Formulate Your List of Law Schools.  As with any admissions process, your list should be a comprehensive, realistic compilation of schools that represent a range of schools in terms of selectivity.  This is similar to when you applied to college, as there should be a critical mass of law schools that represent “safety schools,” “in-range/target schools,” and (everyone’s favorite) “reach schools.”  Unless you are very strongly tied to one narrow region of the country (for example, if you only want to attend law school in the Pacific Northwest), I recommend applying to between 10-15 schools, provided that the schools represent the aforementioned range of schools in terms of selectivity.  So if your list of 10-15 schools is a photocopy of the Top 15 Law Schools in US News & World Report’s most recent issue, we have a problem.  The choice of where to apply to law school is a highly subjective one, so a good deal of research is highly recommended; a good place to start is the LSAC website (  Ultimately, your list should represent a synthesis of Where Do I Want To Go (in thinking about geography, reputation, class size, employment prospects, particular areas of interest) and Where Do I Stand A Good Shot Of Getting In (where you should be comparing your quantitative information… undergraduate GPA and LSAT… with the published 25th/75th percentile and median information for the schools on your list).

Since many applicants find some (or all) of this to be overwhelming and confusing, that leads us to the last item of this To-Do List…

7.       Get To Know Your (Friendly and Knowledgeable) Pre-Law Advisors.  And our names are Todd Rothman (that’s me) and my colleague, Anne Reedstrom.  We are available through 30-minute individual advising appointments (in-person or by telephone), email advising, our weekly Pre-Law Walk-In Hours (Thursdays from 2:00-4:00pm in the Career Services Office), our various seminars and programs throughout the semester, and through our Pre-Law Listserv (here is how you sign up:   We are here to help you with any and all of your questions about this process, so feel free to call our office (215-898-1789) to make an appointment with one of us or send one of us an email with your questions.  More information about our services can be found on our website:


The No-Need-To-Do-Now List:

1.       Visit Every Law School on Your List.  Unlike applying to college, law schools do not weigh whether or not you made an actual campus visit to their school as a “plus factor” in their admissions process.  In fact, while I’m sure that they would happily have you on campus to check things out, it will not factor at all into their decision-making process.  I strongly recommend visiting some of the law schools to which you are admitted later in the process (think Admitted Student Programs in the Spring) as you finalize your decisions, but there is no need for a “law school tour” in the summer or fall.  I promise.

2.       Decide Where You’re Going to Law School.  Otherwise known as not putting the cart before the horse.  This is a long, hurry-up-and-wait process and, although you may have a first choice or a favorite “dream school” at this point, all you need to focus on in the next few months is applying to a range of appealing schools and putting your best foot forward as an applicant.  What happens over the course of the admissions cycle will – for better or for worse – help to inform you about your options and, as your decisions start rolling in usually beginning in December, you can begin to think through the actual options in front of you.

3.       Panic.  Applying to law school – much like law school itself – requires endurance, stamina, patience, and the ability to handle stress in the face of challenges.  Though it might feel overwhelming at times, please know that being accepted to law school is an entirely attainable prospect, provided that you stay on top of deadlines, set realistic goals, and keep things in perspective.  So, do your research and start working your way through your own personal To-Do List with diligence, attention to detail, and enthusiasm about what lies out in front of you.  And if you don’t have a To-Do List yet, feel free to use this one for now.

The USNWR Rankings Are Out Tomorrow – The Top 14 List

Except it’s not what you think.  🙂

So, it is indeed that time of year again – when pre-law students, law school applicants, current law students, and law school admissions officers and administrators anxiously await the new U.S. News & World Report law school rankings.  As many of you know, there are rarely any seismic shifts in the results as evidenced by the ever-unchanging, more-certain-than-death-and-taxes Top 14 (“T-14” for those who speak the Law School Admissions dialect) list of fourteen schools always landing in the top, year after year.  While subtle movements occur within the Top 14 and elsewhere throughout the rankings list every year – after all, you have to give the readers (and online posters) something to worry/debate/obsess about – I am amazed at how thoroughly predictable the rankings are, by and large.  Well, at least I used to be.  So in honor of the 2012 rankings being published tomorrow – for more precise timing, the USNWR staff has graciously provided a clock, ticking down the days, hours, minutes, (and yes) seconds until their online publication – here is Top 14 List of what you should keep in mind when the clock strikes zero.


1. In response to a great deal of outside pressures, compelling appeals, and legitimate questions about reliability from myriad constituencies, the 2012 USNWR rankings have apparently been modified in how employment rates are calculated.  The details about the specific changes remain nebulous prior to publication, but the issues of transparency and accuracy and the desire to collectively “eliminate some of the gaming that seems to be taking place” all seem to have gained traction.  USNWR even wrote a letter to all law school deans, insisting on more honest reporting:

2. In addition to these improvements in the computations, it seems like USNWR will also make more robust and more detailed career data available than they ever have before to paint a broader, but also more nuanced picture of the current state of the legal market for prospective students.  Stay tuned!

3. USNWR recently surveyed law firm recruiters and hiring partners at the top US law firms and created an alternate “Top 25” list, which adds a slightly different perspective to the rankings game:  However, caveat emptor – according to USNWR, the survey “was sent last fall to 750 hiring partners and recruiters at law firms who made the 2010 Best Law Firms rankings produced jointly by U.S. News and the publication Best Lawyers.”  And also, “the response rate was 14 percent.”

4. In addition to the overall rankings, don’t forget to review the Law School Specialty rankings as well, particularly if you are interested in attending law school with a specific field/area of interest in mind.  Though based solely on votes by legal educators, these are still interesting lists to consider.  The specialties listed are: Clinical Training, Dispute Resolution, Environmental Law, Healthcare Law, Intellectual Property Law, International Law, Legal Writing, Part-Time Law, Tax Law, and Trial Advocacy.  And guess what schools in the 2010 Specialty Rankings weren’t #1 on any of those lists?  I’ll give you a hint, they rhyme with Yale, Harvard, and Stanford.

5. Did you know that 40% of what determines the rankings each year is what USNWR refers to as “Quality Assessment?”  Quality Assessment is determined by sending a survey to a variety of constituencies: Peer Assessment (representing 25% of the total rankings) is comprised of law school deans, law school faculty, and deans of academic affairs, while Assessment by Lawyers/Judges (representing 15% of the total ranking) is comprised by law firm hiring partners, selected judges, and other legal professionals.  And what does the survey ask?  One thing: Please “rate programs on a scale from marginal (1) to outstanding (5).” After that, “a school’s score is the average of all the respondents who rated it,” with “responses of ‘don’t know’ count[ing] neither for nor against a school.”   That’s it.  That’s 40% of the overall rankings.  Even scarier?  Last year, for Peer Assessment, only 65% of those surveyed responded… while only 21% of those surveyed for the Assessment by Lawyers/Judges responded.

6. Bar passage rate only accounts for 2% of the total rankings.  The main (and only) indicator as to whether or not you will be able to practice law in a given state after graduating from law school accounts for 2% of the law school rankings.  And just to reiterate, the one-question survey asking for Peer Assessment accounts for 25%.  Just saying.

7. Even the USNWR editors themselves declare that “many other factors that cannot be measured also should figure in your decision, including the course offerings and culture of departments that interest you, the advising or mentoring you can expect to receive, and the location and campus life.”  They even explicitly say this: “the rankings can inform your thinking—but they won’t hand you an easy answer. We urge you to use them wisely.”  Something to think about, huh?

8. There are many, many other resources for you to consider when researching law schools, even though none of them might have the ticking-down clock (See #9-12).

9. The Law School Admission Council –

10. The websites (and printed materials) of the individual law schools themselves

11. Our very own Career Services Pre-Law Website –

12. Our very own Career Services pre-law advisors – Anne Reedstom and Yours Truly – available for individual appointments and weekly pre-law walk-in hours

13. Notice that the litany of law school online forums and “boards” is not mentioned here.  With very good reason.  Please try to refrain for spending time on these websites.  They are unregulated, mostly mean-spirited, and often wildly inaccurate and exaggerated.  Again, please refer to #9-12 before you ruin your day.

14. And now with my caveats in tow, here you go and happy (judicious, well-reasoned, and non-obsessive… promise?) clicking (since we’re rapidly approaching the zero hour):

But I’m A Paralegal: Will A Legal Internship Help Get Me Into Law School?

by Todd Rothman

As a pre-law advisor, I probably hear this question from at least one advisee every week.  And at this time of year, with all eyes on what to do over the summer, this concern seems to crop up daily.  The seemingly obvious answer to this question is “Yes, of course it will!  It’s relevant experience!”  However, the more accurate answer is actually “Not necessarily.”  Here’s why.

Since law schools are looking to fill their incoming classes with students who possess diverse interests, expertise, and passions, admissions officers are excited by applicants with experience in a variety of fields and settings.  In the same way that law schools do not have any pre-requisite courses or preferred majors, there is no pre-requisite internship that is valued more highly than others.  Though this may seem counter-intuitive – after all, shouldn’t first-hand exposure to your intended profession be important and well-regarded? – the underlying rationale is rooted in the belief on the part of law schools that it is primarily *their* responsibility to indoctrinate you in the study and practice of law.

If you think about it, other components of the admissions process to law school are actually reflective of that overall belief as well.  Rather than a statement of purpose – in which the applicant is asked to articulate her career goals and describe how her academic background and professional trajectory has specifically qualified her for their intended field – law school applications require an intentionally open-ended personal statement.  This essay is essentially a “Tell me about yourself” exercise and effective law school personal statements can be wholly unrelated to the legal field.  In fact, many of the best personal statements that I’ve read are self-reflective and engaging, but never even come close to mentioning the law whatsoever.

Now, this is not to say that law schools disapprove of law-related internships or paralegal work either.  But here’s the (poorly-kept) secret about the majority of entry-level paralegal positions for undergraduates: they’re almost entirely administrative in nature and a fairly dry and unengaging experience.  The truth is, the most common activity done in legal internships is what is euphemistically referred to as “document production” (read: photocopying and collating).  And law school admissions officers know this all too well.  There are, of course, exceptions to this rule and legal internships at smaller law firms (where the attorneys on staff actually need more help) can often be those exceptions.  Ironically, the largest, most prestigious, and most well-known law firms usually provide the least substantive experiences for interns, simply because the lawyers there are already well-supported by full-time support staff and first- or second-year associates for the more engaging projects.

So, here is the good news for pre-law students!  When you’re thinking about your next internship, the most important consideration should be this: What would I find the most stimulating, challenging, and relevant to my unique interests?  And the even better news is that this is not only from an educational and professional perspective, but also from an admissions perspective.  If the answer is working as a paralegal and seeing how law firms work, then that’s great!  But if your passions, skills, and interests lead you towards apprenticing a curator at an art museum… or teaching English abroad… or contributing to a psychological research study… or working at a biotechnology firm, then that’s great too!

Believe me, no law school admissions officer will ever review a strong application from a bright, engaged student and think, “Well, he’s a great candidate… but if only he was a paralegal.”

Tis The Season (To Be Panicked)… An Observation, Not A Recommendation

by Todd Rothman

As any law school applicant knows (or should know!), the law school admissions process is a rolling admissions process.  Put simply, this means that law schools read, review, and evaluate the applications they receive in the order in which they were completed – not necessarily when they were initially submitted, but completed.  Not mostly completed, but completed.  Not everything-except-my-[Dean’s Letter/second letter of recommendation/December LSAT score], but completed.

The rolling admissions process can either work to an applicant’s advantage, if he/she has been steadfast and systematic in his/her planning and executing, and lead to a stress-free Thanksgiving (family members asking you about your law school/career plans, notwithstanding) and even to some early-than-expected decisions.  Alternately, it can make an already stressful process that much more stressful, complete with the ticking-clock feeling that the likelihood of attending your dream law school is slipping away.  Combine that feeling with the logistical realities of this time of year – final exams and papers for seniors and graduate students, end-of-year professional deadlines and obligations for those in the work force, and a seemingly-endless stream of holiday/family events – and the panic to complete law school applications seems justified, if not appropriate, right?  Wrong.  Here’s why.

For anyone who has ever met with me for a pre-law advising appointment, you will probably recall that I encourage having the end of October (or Halloween) be your target date for completion.  But it’s a target date – a goal to shoot for in an ideal world – not a hard-and-fast deadline after which your law school hopes and dreams will be incontrovertibly squelched.  The truth is, my advice in this context builds in some time for the unexpected and undesirable to happen, as it inevitably can despite the best and earliest of intentions.

While completing your law school applications sometime in September and October is ideal, a November or December completion is certainly not late by any stretch of the imagination.  Let me repeat that for the cheap seats: a November or December completion is certainly not late by any stretch of the imagination. The fact is that it can be rather difficult – especially for October LSAT takers, which is the most popular test date historically – to complete by Halloween, especially since completion involves both components in your control (individual applications, personal statements, resumes, assorted addenda and supplemental essays) and outside of your direct control (letters of recommendation from busy professors and supervisors can often betray even the best-laid plans).  If I cited Thanksgiving as a target date – or even, Winter Break/Holidays as a target date – then the unexpected and undesirable could translate into completion over the Martin Luther King, Jr. holiday or, even worse, Valentine’s Day.  And there’s already enough stress and pressure around Valentine’s Day.

So for those of you who are still working on your law school applications for this cycle, take a deep breath and keep the following in mind:

  • While timing is certainly a factor to take seriously, strong applicants are strong applicants, period.  Admissions Committees will prefer a solid, thoughtful, carefully-proofread application completed on December 15 over an application clearly completed in a state of frazzled panic and duress before Thanksgiving… or even Halloween.
  • Do not neglect your current academic and professional responsibilities.  Especially for college seniors and graduate students in the application process, your Fall semester grades will almost certainly come into play in the admissions process at this point.  You don’t want your laser-beam focus on completing your law school applications to translate into a poor performance on your final exams and term papers.
  • Your pre-law advisors are here to help, so feel free to check in with us – via email, by telephone, or in person – as you work to put the last touches on your applications.

Happy completing (and proof-reading)!