The Law School Application
What is the Law School Admission Council?
The Law School Admission Council (LSAC) is a not-for-profit organization that provides services and programs to help support law schools and applicants throughout the admission process. One of those services is the administration of the Law School Admission Test (LSAT). You will need to set up a free online account through LSAC to register for the LSAT and to submit law school applications.
Another service provided through LSAC is the Credential Assembly Service (CAS). Nearly all ABA-accredited law schools will require you to use CAS as part of the application process. CAS assembles and summarizes your transcripts, letters of recommendation, and LSAT scores into reports that you must request to send to each law school you apply to. You will need to subscribe to CAS through your LSAC account.
LSAC fee waiver information
LSAC offers online fee waivers for law school candidates who are financially under-resourced. There are two fee waiver tiers differentiated by income level. Under this program, fees are waived for: one or two LSAT per testing year, CAS registration, three-six CAS reports, LSAT score preview, and a one-year subscription to The Official LSAT SuperPrep®.
Applicants may complete the fee waiver application at the time they create an LSAC online account, or they can access the online application at any time on the LSAC Online Services main page, where there will be a new Fee Waivers tab.
Traditionally, ABA-accredited law schools have required and only accepted LSAT test scores as part of the admissions process. However, law schools have increasingly begun to accept GRE scores in lieu of LSAT scores. It is important to note that some schools have a policy that if you take the LSAT and have a score recorded, you must submit that score to them even if you have also taken the GRE. Check the requirements for each school you intend to apply to in order to determine which standardized test you will be required to take for admission.
LSAT vs GRE
When given the option to submit scores from either tests, you may wonder which one makes sense for you to take. To determine that, it is important to understand the differences between both:
- LSAT: The LSAT is composed of a four-section multiple choice test that includes reading comprehension, analytical reasoning, and logical reasoning questions. Additionally, there is a written essay component, which can be completed up to 8 days prior to taking the multiple choice test. Since the pandemic, the LSAC has administered the LSAT through online, live-remote proctoring instead of in-person at a test site.
- GRE: The GRE has three sections — verbal reasoning, quantitative reasoning, and analytical writing. Answer formats include multiple choice, select-in-passage, fill-in-the blank, and essay.
No matter which test you take, remember that law schools will see all of your scores so be careful about how many times you take the test and only take it when you’re ready. Many law schools will take your highest score but some may take into consideration all of your test scores.
You will need to order a transcript from Amherst to be sent to the CAS. Submit a request to the Amherst College Registrar’s Office, using the CAS transcript form available in your LSAC account. If you attended any other undergraduate institutions, you will need to request a transcript from that institution, as well.
LSAC’s guidelines for the submission of foreign study transcripts are outlined on the LSAC website.
For Five-College courses, you do not need to request transcripts from Smith, Mount Holyoke, UMASS, or Hampshire. CAS should recognize these as part of our Five-College consortium. Occasionally, CAS will mistakenly focus in on one of these institution’s names and inform you of an “Unacknowledged Transcript” problem. You will need to call CAS and explain to the customer service agent that your course was taken as part of a consortium arrangement, that specific information about this arrangement appears on the back of the Amherst transcript you submitted, and ask them to check their notes about this. Unfortunately, it happens a bit too often, but is always easily corrected.
If you encounter another kind of “Unacknowledged Transcript” problem, contact the Amherst Pre-Law Advisor, who will help you sort it out.
Dean’s Certification Form
A Dean’s Certification is a verification of your dates of attendance and graduation, and whether you have been subject to any academic or disciplinary actions or proceedings while a student at the college. This verification is usually requested by graduate schools (particularly law schools and medical schools), state bar associations, government agencies, or independent agencies when applying for admission or employment.
Many (but not all) schools ask applicants for a Dean’s Certification Form. Typically, the institution or agency to which you are applying will provide you with a Dean’s Certification form that will need to be completed by your undergraduate institution. Students applying to transfer to another undergraduate institution may also be asked to submit a Dean’s Certification.
For information on how to request a Dean’s Certificate visit the Community Standards webpage.
Letters of Recommendation
This is an area about which law school applicants have many questions, and it’s important to be well-informed, since recommendations are a key factor for law school admissions.
HOW MANY LETTERS OF RECOMMENDATION DO I NEED?
This can vary by school. Most schools require two letters of recommendation–from there, some ask or allow you to send more, others have two as a limit. Keep careful track of how many letters each of your schools wants/allows you to send. However, plan on a core of two very strong letters of recommendation.
Check carefully with each law school to which you’re applying–they will often state their preferences as to whether or not they expect your letters to be from academic recommenders.
Graduating seniors and alumni who have only been out of school for a year or so will probably want to have two academic recommendations. Alumni who have had significant work experience since Amherst may choose a professor with whom they’re still in close contact, plus a recommender from the workplace, or two recommenders from work or other post-graduate experience.
After the two core recommenders have been chosen, use any other recommendations allowed by various law schools as you see fit. For current students, this may be someone who supervised an internship or summer job, or someone with whom you worked in a community service capacity.
WHOM SHALL I ASK TO WRITE MY LETTERS OF RECOMMENDATION?
Choose the people you think will write most strongly for you, NOT the people you think the law schools might want to hear from. Some examples follow:
Question: I’ve taken two courses from an LJST professor and did fairly well in them, though he doesn’t know me that well. And I’ve taken four courses from an Art History professor who knows my work extremely well and thinks highly of me. Shouldn’t I ask the LJST prof for a recommendation, because his field would carry more weight with law schools?
Answer: No. Choose the professor who knows your work best. It doesn’t matter to law schools what discipline your professor is from, as long as he/she can give them a sense of your true academic strengths, giving them an idea of what sort of law school student you’ll make.
Question: My mom is friends with a judge from my home state. This person doesn’t know me well, but is happy to write me a law school recommendation on the basis of the family connection. Should I use this instead of a professor’s recommendation?
Answer: No. Law schools are unimpressed by what are essentially “vanity” recommendations from those in the legal field, politicians, or alumni of the schools in question. It is NOT a matter of whom you know; rather, you want a recommender who can speak profoundly about your abilities, your character and what you can contribute to law school and the legal profession. Letters from politicians, lawyer friends or alumni of a particular law school might prove valuable as extra recommenders in an “on hold” or “wait list” situation, but don’t choose them (unless they know your work very, very well) as one of the two core recommenders.
LETTER OF RECOMMENDATION (LOR) SERVICE
LSAC’s Letter of Recommendation (LOR) Service is included in your CAS subscription and allows you to manage your letters of recommendation through your LSAC account. Most ABA-approved law schools will accept the LOR service; however, if the school does not require that you use the service, you can opt not to. A benefit of the service for your recommenders is that they only have to submit one letter to CAS instead of sending copies of your letter to every law school. However, there are some schools that do not allow you to use the LOR service. Make sure to check these requirements carefully for each school to which you are applying.
The Law School Admission Council has created online demonstrations about different aspects of LSAC’s Letter of Recommendation Service. Applicants can view the demos to learn generally about the service, how it works, what a general letter is, what a targeted letter is, and how to direct particular letters to specific law schools.
The Personal Statement is a crucial part of your application. It’s important to remember that, since the vast majority of law schools do not interview applicants, your personal statement will serve as the only way a law school will get to know who you are as a person. Also, to a great degree, law is about writing and communication. Some schools (as with Yale’s 250 word essay) are trying to figure out how incisively and effectively you can express yourself.
Remember that law school admissions officers are reading 10,000-20,000 essays in the space of three months. They want to read something that will “grab them,” though advise against something that is too clever or contrived. They want to see “authenticity,” whether that is expressed through obvious sincerity, originality, wit or controversy. They want to come away from reading an essay with a sense of a person with whom they can identify, or of the applicant’s personality.
HOW LONG SHOULD MY PERSONAL STATEMENT BE?
Check with each school to which you’re applying. Some will specify a word length. Others will specify a page length. The usual length is two pages, double-spaced.
WHAT TOPIC SHOULD I CHOOSE?
This is the hardest question to answer, since the answer is: you have to decide for yourself. A personal statement needs to be a reflection of who you are. You might find some good ideas by reading a book like Essays that Worked for Law Schools, edited by Boykin Curry, or 55 Successful Harvard Law School Application Essays, compiled and analyzed by the staff of The Harvard Crimson (available in the Career Center Resource Library). Categories listed in the Boykin Curry book include:
- Essays about Character
- Essays about why You and the School are Well-Matched
- Essays that Explain an Aberration
- Essays about Important Changes
- Essays about Entering the Legal Profession
- Contemplative Essays
- Essays about Crimes of All Sorts
- Essays about Applicants with Colorful Backgrounds
WHAT TOPICS SHOULD I AVOID?
Most people say that they’ve heard “you shouldn’t write an essay about why you want to go to law school.” That’s not always true–if you present this idea in a captivating way, go ahead and write about why you want to go to law school.
There are, however, topics that are good to stay away from. Admissions officers encourage an applicant to be creative but “not too creative.” They won’t get a sense of who you are from a review of “Legally Blond,” or a script for a crime drama. They admit to being put off by personal statements which begin: “When I was ten, my dad took me to court and I knew from that moment I’d be a lawyer. . . .” or something similar. And admissions folks also often gently state that personal statements about hardship, family deaths or health problems tend not to show an applicant in his/her best light. (If you have a particular hardship which has affected your life or schoolwork, it may be appropriate to write an addendum to your application.)
It is very common for applicants whose lives or academic work have been affected by various circumstances to include an addendum to a law school application. And, though some feel awkward about writing such an addendum, law school admissions officers really do want to know about these circumstances.
An addendum is appropriate, for example, to explain an aberration in your GPA, explain a lower overall GPA than you’d normally have earned, or to inform a law school about day-to-day issues you face in accomplishing academic work, such as health-related issues. An addendum can be appropriate to explain a low LSAT grade for a given test date, but be careful. Law schools would expect you to cancel a test score taken under adverse conditions, and do not look kindly on applicants making unnecessary excuses.
Your addendum should be no longer than one page. It should be concise and to the point, stating your circumstance with dignity. This is an opportunity to show law schools integrity in the face of difficulty.
Some law schools invite you to write an addendum describing a family connection you may have to that school. It’s possible that a given applicant will have more than one addendum to their law school application.
The Pre-Law Advisor is available to counsel you on any questions you may have about an addendum.