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California State University, Long Beach
Department of Criminal Justice
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Getting Into Law School

The Formula

Law school admissions is very much a numbers game.  Although it varies from law school to law school, most law schools use a formula to make admissions decisions.  The typical formula looks like this:

  • 70-75% - Law School Admissions Test (LSAT) Score
  • 20-25% - Cumulative Undergraduate G.P.A.
  • 0-10% - Other Factors:  Personal Statement Application Essay; Letters of Recommendation; Relevant Work Experience; Extraordinary Co-Curricular Achievement

LSAT

As the formula above should make clear, the single biggest factor in law school admissions is an applicant's score on the LSAT.  Although the test does not test any particular knowledge base, it does test the analytical and logical thinking ability.  For more information on the LSAT, click here.

Grades

There is not much you can do about poor grades. So, the best strategy is to work hard for years to keep your GPA as high as possible.

  • Retaking courses helps your CSULB GPA, but they will be averaged by the LSDAS (the Law School Data Assembly Service -- an organization that forwards your LSAT score, your letters of recommendation, and a standardized transcript to all of the law schools to which you apply).  This means that if you earned a "D," retook the class and earned a "B," your grade will be reported to the law schools by the LSDAS as "C." 

  • If your grades are on the borderline of where you want them to be in the fall of your senior year, you might want to wait until your fall grades are posted to your transcript before you send your transcript to the LSDAS.  Of course, this assumes your GPA will increase at the end of the fall semester of your senior year.  If, on the other hand, your GPA is already high enough for the law schools to which you are applying, or, alternative, if your GPA may decrease in the fall semester of your senior year, then you should send your transcript out to the LSDAS before your fall grades are posted to your transcript.

The Interplay Between Grades and LSATs

Most students wish they had a higher GPA or higher LSAT scores.  But keep in mind there should be a high correlation between your grades and your score on the LSAT.  If there is a great disparity between the two, law schools are likely to draw one of the following inferences about you:

  • A high LSAT and low grades translate into “smart but lazy” – something law schools have little interest in.

  • Low LSAT scores and high grades translate into “grade inflation” or an easy curriculum – also something law schools frown upon.

So, take rigorous classes that will intellectually prepare you for the LSAT; study hard in all your classes so you earn high grades; and, finally, put 110% into making sure your LSAT scores are high enough to match your GPA.

Letters of Recommendation

Most schools want two letters of recommendation; some ask for only one or as many as three letters. 

  • Ask professors for recommendations before leaving for summer after junior year, or early (i.e., in the first month) in the fall semester of your senior year.  The longer you wait, the less time your recommender will have to work on a quality, individualized letter.

  • You should have three letters prepared by FACULTY who know you well and from whom you have earned high grades.
     
    • Letters from family friends who are lawyers, judges, politicians, etc. are generally useless, as those people usually cannot write letters that speak about your research, writing, and reasoning skills -- the things law schools are most interested about learning from your references.  Moreover, most law schools frown on such letters, inferring that you think who you know, rather than what you know, should influence their decision.  It is insulting to the law schools, so do not do it!

    • Students often labor under the erroneous belief that titles like "dean," "assistant dean," "vice-president," etc. will mean more to the people on law school admissions committees than letters from professors.  The opposite is actually true.  Unless an administrator has first-hand personal knowledge about your academic abilities -- specifically your research, writing, and reasoning skills -- the letters will carry little weight.

    • Letters from supervisors in internships or jobs you have had are fine, so long as the person writing the letter can comment specifically about the difficulty of the tasks assigned to you, your solid work ethic, and most importantly (and again!) your research, writing, and reasoning skills.  If they cannot do so, then you are wasting one of your letters.

    • Letters from full-time faculty are generally better than those from adjunct faculty;  letters from tenured faculty are generally more beneficial than those from junior faculty; and, if you can get a letter from a faculty member who has earned a law degree, those letters tend to be the ones that carry the most weight, as the people on admissions committees are their colleagues:  other lawyers.

    • Letters should be from faculty who know you and the quality of your work well.  Someone from whom you took an introductory or general education course several years ago is not likely to be able to address your growth over the course of college.  So, be sure to take several classes from full-time faculty in your major, minor, or other area of interest so those people can write meaningful, rather than generic letters of recommendation on your behalf.

Other Factors

Sadly, the only other factor that carries significant weight in law school admissions decisions is your personal statement application essay.  Other factors, like your extracurricular achievements, your employment, etc., are relatively unimportant (unless you have done nothing, in which case law schools can probably rightfully assume you are either boring, lazy, or unsociable).  So, be involved in student groups.  Volunteer in the community.  Do part-time work or an internship, especially if it is significantly related to law.  But, understanding these factors will mean little, be sure to spend significant time on your personal statement application essay, as it is the one "other factors" that can really make a significant difference in admissions decisions. Press here for information about the personal statement application essay.

Timing: When to Apply

The earlier you apply, the better your chances for admission will be.  Many schools begin the initial review process in early November. If you have a reasonably impressive background, they may admit you right away since you have a better chance of standing out when they have fewer applications to examine. Even if they do not admit you right away, your application is still bound to be reviewed again, and perhaps by multiple people.  In contrast, waiting until after Thanksgiving will mean you will likely be evaluated with tougher standards due to increased competition.  So, APPLY EARLY!