Focus on Fit
Just as there is not a perfect prototype student who will excel at every law school, not all law schools are right for every student. Applicants must choose an institution that will be the right fit, not only in terms of course offerings, skills-training programs, and student services, but also with regard to setting, philosophy, and culture. Likewise, law schools want to admit students who have both the ability to handle a rigorous curriculum and the inclination to contribute to their communities.
To this end, many law schools have established interview programs — either in person, by phone, or via Skype — with admissions officers or alumni. At some schools, interviews are by invitation only; at others, you may request and schedule an interview.
You might even find yourself unwittingly taking part in an interview. There are admissions officers who will spontaneously pick up the phone and call an applicant, without any prior notice, simply to ask a question about an application item (and to see how the applicant handles the unexpected call).
Law schools have developed tools for making in-person assessments that venture beyond the interview. On student-guided tours, applicants should keep in mind that the tour guides work closely with the admissions office staff. Current students often share with admissions officers interesting conversations they have had with applicants. Many law school applicants attend panel discussions or law fairs at which they have the opportunity to talk with law school representatives. There are, in short, numerous opportunities for applicants to interact with individuals affiliated with the law schools to which they are applying.
However an interview or interaction with a member of a law school community may come about, it is critically important that you be ready to make the most of your face time. As a future member of the legal profession, much of your success will depend upon how you communicate, how you treat others, and how you present yourself. You are taking your first step into the legal profession when you enter the law school application process.
Preparing for Formal Interviews
Once scheduled for a formal interview, you must prepare. Think about what you have presented in your application, and master the details of your resume and transcript. Be ready to discuss: (1) your interest in the particular law school; (2) your goals and aspirations; (3) experiences listed on your resume; (4) examples of specific work projects or volunteer activities; (5) experiences that have shaped you into the person you have become; and (6) what you will contribute to the law school community and to the profession.
Some of the questions you may be asked:
- What interests you about my law school? Why do you think my law school would be a good fit for you?
- Have you visited my law school or talked with any current students and/or alumni?
- In what areas of law are you interested? In what practice area do you hope to work upon earning your J.D.? In what geographic region do you hope to begin your legal practice?
- How did you choose your undergraduate institution? What factors were important to you as you decided which college or university to attend?
- What did you enjoy most about your college experience? If you could change something about your undergraduate experience, what would it be?
- Which extracurricular activity, internship, or paid employment position have you enjoyed most, and why?
- What do you like to do when you are not studying or working?
You also should be prepared for a conversation that will be totally off-script. Perhaps your interviewer will notice that you have lived in Boston for the past 10 years, and will ask you if you are a Red Sox fan. Depending upon your answer, the entire conversation might revolve around the World Series. Let the conversation with your interviewer develop and flow organically. It’s OK to ask questions; engage your interviewer, just as you would in any conversation.
Your goal in the interview is not only to impress your interviewer with your intelligence and accomplishments, but also to show her that you are able to carry on a conversation in a mature, relaxed fashion. Your interviewer should come away from her time with you feeing that you are a person who has the temperament and personality to be comfortable and successful in the law school community.
Informal Interactions with Members of the Law School Community
Law schools are tight-knit communities. Admissions officers, current students, staff, faculty, and alumni are loyal and protective. They want to ensure that the student bodies at their institutions continue to be of the highest caliber. Impressions that you make, in any interaction with individuals affiliated with a law school, may well find their way to those who make admissions decisions.
Examples and Tips
- If you call a law school admissions office to ask a question, behave in a professional, respectful manner. If you have just spent 10 minutes working your way through an annoying phone tree before you connected with a live person, remember that the person who answers the phone probably did not decide to set up that cumbersome phone tree; be courteous and patient.
- If you take a student-guided tour, turn off your cell phone. Do not answer email or text messages during the tour; show your tour guide the respect that you would want to be shown if you were leading the tour.
If you are able to meet with the admissions officer during a law school visit, be mindful of that person’s busy schedule. Think about the questions you will ask ahead of time. Be prepared to express your interest in the school and to articulate why you believe that the school is a good fit for you (and vice versa). Do not sit in the office of a dean or director with wandering eyes trying to come up with questions; do not ask the dean or director to tell you about the school or to lead the conversation.
- If you receive a phone message or email from a current student or alum offering to share information, respond to it. Return the call or reply to the message, and take the opportunity to ask good questions and to make a connection with that person.
- If you attend a law school fair or forum, bring copies of your resume and offer it to law school representatives. Some may accept your resume, while others may not. If law school representatives have their business cards available, take them. Send emails after the events thanking them for taking the time to speak with you. When you have questions down the road, these are the people you’ll turn to for guidance.
- Always greet those you meet with a firm handshake. Look people in the eye when you are engaged in conversation.
A good rule of thumb is to treat everyone affiliated in any way with a law school with impeccable manners and with the respect with which you would like to be treated.
Each year, law school admissions committees consider and evaluate thousands of applications. No law school can offer admission to every competitive candidate. Admissions committees strive to admit a diverse group of individuals who contribute more than the ability to handle difficult academic work; they look beyond LSAT scores — those these can be very, very important — and undergraduate grade point averages. They seek out individuals whom they believe will be happy and comfortable in their institutions, and who will thus enjoy the greatest likelihood of success. For this reason, applicants must make the most of every opportunity to interact productively with members of law school communities.