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Tips for Helping You Decide Your Best Law School Choices

Tips for Helping You Decide Your Best Law School Choices

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By James J. Barney, J.D.
Associate Professor of Legal Studies, School of Security and Global Studies, American Public University

Note: The opinions and comments stated in the following article, and views expressed by any contributor to Online Learning Tips, do not represent the views of American Public University, American Public University System, its management or employees. This blog article, written by a licensed lawyer, is intended solely for educational purposes, not to provide any legal advice or to solicit clients in any U.S. or foreign jurisdiction. This article should not be used as a substitute for competent legal advice from a licensed professional attorney in your state or locality.

Start a legal studies degree at American Public University.

Every fall, thousands of students from the United States and all over the world engage in the annual law school admissions process. This includes sitting for the Law School Admission Test (LSAT), writing a personal statement, securing several letters of recommendation and constructing a resume. After these items are sent to various law schools, students then wait in anticipation for the acceptance and rejection letters or emails to arrive.

Previously, I addressed various aspects of the law school admission process. This article focuses on the need for potential law school applicants to make well-informed decisions before applying to law school. During this fact-finding and decision-making process, law school admissions representatives can provide potential students with a wealth of valuable information to make prudent and well-informed decisions.

Law school applications and LSAT takers have increased each year for the past four years, according to Law.com. Some commentators have linked the rise in law school applications to President Trump’s election in 2016 (the Trump Bump). Other commentators, including the National Jurist, have noted that this increase may indicate that potential law students view the economy as robust. Regardless of the reason, the decision to go to law school can be a life-altering one.

Law School Is a Time-Consuming Investment

Law school represents not only a significant financial investment, but is also time-consuming, a possible strain on relationships, and a challenge like few other academic programs. Thus, before embarking on the law school admissions process, every prospective applicant must decide whether law school is the right decision given his or her unique situation and goals.

Both the law school admissions process — as well as the nature of legal education itself — are undergoing rapid change. Given the breadth of that change, admissions representatives are one of the most valuable but among the most untapped resources in the application process. Applicants should not be afraid to question them before sending off law school applications.

These law school representatives play an instrumental role beyond making admissions decisions. For example, they can answer potential law school students’ most commonly asked questions about the admissions process. Also, law school admissions representatives can:

  • Offer detailed information about the various programs at the school
  • Organize and arrange tours of the school
  • Introduce potential law students to professors

Additionally, some law schools allow potential students to sit in on actual law school lectures. Other schools like New York Law School offer weekend or week-long “boot camps” to provide potential law school applicants with a taste of the law school experience.

Recently, I had the opportunity to question Keleigh P. Chumney, Associate Director of Admissions at Capital University Law School in Columbus, Ohio. During our email exchange, I asked her about several recent trends in the law school admissions process, including the increased use of the Graduate Record Exam (GRE). We discussed some unique issues that American Public University System students, many of whom are non-traditional and retired military, could face during the application process and as law school students.

The GRE versus the LSAT

In recent years, several law schools have decided to allow students to submit GRE scores in place of, or in addition to, their LSAT scores. However, Chumney stated that the trend to consider the GRE as a substitute for the LSAT is far from universal. Indeed, many law schools have no plans to accept GRE scores. Therefore, it is essential for applicants to research whether the law schools they want to apply to will consider the GRE.

Given the lack of a universal standard regarding the use of the GRE, many applicants unfortunately will have no way to avoid the LSAT and its feared logical games section. The logical games section tests the ability of potential law students to see patterns and relationships among sets of variables. This section is widely viewed as the most difficult of the LSAT.

However, for those looking for some help preparing for the LSAT, the Kahn Academy has partnered with the Law School Admission Council (LSAC), the makers of the LSAT, to offer a free LSAT prep course that explores methods students can use to improve their scores on that exam.

Law Schools Welcome Military and Non-Traditional Students

Many APUS students are working adults, and a large percentage of them are either active service or retired military personnel. APUS students often ask about the real or perceived challenges that these non-traditional students face during the law school application process. Others seek information about tuition options that are available for non-traditional law students. Everyone’s circumstances are different. However, a person’s prior military service or non-traditional student status is not a barrier to attending law school.

For example, APUS alumni currently attend dozens of law schools across the country, including at the more than 20 ABA-accredited schools where APUS alumni matriculated last year alone.

Chumney said in the past two years, five APUS students have applied to Capital University Law School. Two of them are currently enrolled, one of whom is in the military.

Capital University has “a variety of students each year that transition out of the military who go into both full-time and part-time” programs, she said, including “an on-site VA liaison and a military student organization that allows upperclassman to connect [with] and provide support to current and incoming students.”

Students are attracted to the school because of its location in the state capital of Ohio, its experiential learning opportunities and its dedication to student success, Chumney added. She “would advise non-traditional students to sit through a class, meet current students and instructors to see what is most comfortable.”

Resume and Extracurricular Activities Are Good Assets

Some students ask how to highlight their prior legal experience or interest in the law on their law school application. Others who have little or no legal background want to show law school admissions representatives that they have a sincere interest in the law.

Every law school applicant should take time to construct a unique resume as part of their application. This resume should highlight the applicant’s legal experience and any law school-related extracurricular activities. Additionally, law school applicants should have someone review their resume. Some resume services providers charge a fee to critique student resumes. APUS students and alumni will find a host of free services, including resume review and career counseling, through APUS Career Services.

For students looking to enhance their resumes, APU and AMU provide a wide range of extracurricular activities including many student groups, professional organizations and clubs through the school’s Student and Alumni Affairs Office.

Additionally, APUS students can participate in several annual activities as members of the APUS mock trial or Model UN team. Participation and especially taking leadership roles in extracurricular activities demonstrate traits that admissions representatives are looking for in law school applicants.

For example, working full- or part-time while attending school, supporting a family, and enjoying a social life that includes participation in hobbies or sports demonstrates the ability to effectively juggle many tasks.

Law Schools and 509 Disclosures

The American Bar Association requires law schools to disclose a host of information. Referred to as 509 Disclosures, they provide applicants with a vast amount of information to make well-informed decisions including:

  • Cost of attendance
  • Passage rates for the bar exam
  • Post-graduation employment rates
  • Admissions profiles of each law school

According to Associate Director of Admissions Chumney, 509 Disclosures are accessible on each school’s website. For an example of a 509 Disclosure, take a look at Harvard Law School’s 509 disclosure. Given the nature of the information on the 509 Disclosures, it is prudent for prospective students to closely review them for each law school they are interested in attending.

Using Online Courses to Acquire Legal Knowledge

Many APUS students express a desire to continue their education via online courses. Although there are several fully online J.D. programs. the ABA, the recognized accreditor for law schools in the United States, has not approved any fully online J.D. program.

With that said, National Jurist recently announced that the ABA has approved several changes that would allow students to take a small percentage of their J.D. credits online or via hybrid courses. In fact, several law schools, including the University of New Hampshire’s Franklin Pierce School of Law, are cautiously experimenting with hybrid education.

As Chumney noted, the use of online and hybrid courses at law schools, like the use of GRE in the admissions process, is not universal. Thus, applicants interested in taking online or hybrid courses should be sure to check whether their potential school offers such courses.

It cannot be stated too often: Applicants should decide which law schools to apply to only after doing ample and careful research. You may find that admissions representatives, while frequently overlooked, provide applicants with a wealth of often untapped information.

About the Author

James Barney is an Associate Professor of Legal Studies in the School of Security and Global Studies. In addition to possessing a J.D., James has several master’s degrees, including in American foreign policy. He is currently completing his Ph.D. in history. James serves as one of the faculty advisors of the Phi Alpha Delta law fraternity as well as the Model United Nations Club and acts as the pre-law advisor at American Public University. Currently, he is working on a year-long research project that focuses on Justice Kavanaugh’s impact on the Supreme Court.

Start a legal studies degree at American Public University.

Over the past several years, he has served in various roles at debating and moot trial competitions in New York and Washington, D.C. In 2019, James will co-coach the APUS mock trial team at Phi Alpha Delta’s annual mock trial competition in Arlington, Virginia, and will also serve as one of the faculty advisors for the school’s Model UN delegation to the National Model United Nations-Washington D.C. conference. He is currently working on a project to launch a study abroad trip to London in 2020.

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