Miriam Ingber (Dean of Admissions at Yale Law School) and Kristi Jobson (Dean of Admissions at Harvard Law School) discuss the admissions process and tips to getting into law school in its newest episode series “Life of a Lawyer, Start to Finish” on the Lawyer 2 Lawyer podcast.
In its newest series “Life of a Lawyer, Start to Finish”, the Lawyer 2 Lawyer podcast explores the experience of becoming and being an attorney. From applying to law schools, navigating the profession, all the way up to retirement, this new series takes a deep dive into all aspects regarding the ‘life of a lawyer’.
Aimed at offering great advice for lawyers at all stages of their career, the series’ initial episode takes a look at the first big hurdle all aspiring lawyers face – “How to Get into Law School?”
Podcast host Craig Williams sat down with guests, Miriam Ingber (Dean of Admissions and Financial Aid at Yale Law School) and Kristi Jobson (Dean of Admissions and Chief Admissions Officer at Harvard Law School) to discuss the admissions process, standing out in the crowd, and preparing for your first year.
THE LAW SCHOOL ADMISSIONS PROCESS
‘You don’t have to be a “unicorn” to get into top-tier law schools like Yale or Harvard’, says Miriam. So many applicants get deterred by the rankings of schools such as Yale or Harvard, that they don’t even apply, and – in effect – self-select out before even throwing their hat in the ring. However, what many students do not realize is that the rankings are only a small part of the actual admissions process.
I think both of our institutions have a lot of really, really amazing students who might not have even considered Yale or Harvard when they were at the early applicant stage. – Kristi Jobson
According to Miriam and Kristi, several factors go into consideration when selecting new law school applicants. Law schools are not just looking at a student’s academic record or their GPA and LSAT scores, because these numbers don’t always tell the full story.
Perhaps one of the biggest factors admissions councils weigh in admitting a new student is: What contributions to the profession might an aspiring law school applicant make in the future?
I always say to applicants that it’s really good to show not tell. The best way to see future contribution is to look at what people have done so far. Were they involved in their college community, their home community? What kind of work have they been doing since they graduated? How did they think about it and talk about it in their application? How do they explain to us what their plans are for a law school and for afterwards? – Miriam Ingber
While LSAT scores and GPAs give an indication of a student’s overall academic acumen, schools want students who they believe will make a difference in the legal field, and will bring a sense of collaboration and contribution to the profession.
You just have to be a really smart, kind, community-contributor. That’s what we’re looking for at the core, really nice people who we think are going to come to our school, contribute here and go off and have interesting, fun careers afterwards. – Miriam Ingber
One’s background also plays a unique part in the selection process. While this criterion may not hold as much weight as others, it is one that admissions committees consider. Law schools want a variety of perspectives represented in a class, and one’s unique background or ‘walk of life’ plays a big part in this.
HOW TO MAKE YOUR LAW SCHOOL APPLICATION STAND OUT
Show Good Judgment in your Application Submission
In addition to the admission process, many law school applicants wonder how they can stand out and get noticed—in a good way—by an admissions committee. But one of the key components of standing out in a good way in your application, is first not standing out in a bad way.
One of the key things we’re looking for is people with good judgment and things that display bad judgment are red flags. says Miriam.
An inordinate number of typos, talking about touchy subjects in an unprofessional manner, and/or going into too much detail about personal issues are often all indicators of bad judgment when it comes to law school applications.
Read Application Instructions Carefully – Then Follow Them
Another seemingly simple, but important, “red flag” item to avoid in the application process is not reading application instructions carefully.
If we are asking for a personal statement that’s two pages double spaced with standard margins and 11-point font, this is what we’re asking for….I read a personal statement earlier today that was one page single-spaced. Now, it sounds like a really small thing. Obviously, it’s the same words. I could get the message, but it showed me that the candidate had either not bothered to read the instructions or had even worse, disregarded them. [That is key for a lawyer]. – Kristi Jobson
And while none of these things are disqualifying, it’s always better to be careful and thoughtful. A typo or two is okay, sometimes people miss an instruction, but they accumulate and they’re not a good look in a law school application.
- Too Many Typos
- Too Much Personal Detail
- Touchy Subjects
- Disregard for Application Instructions
A SUCCESSFUL LAW SCHOOL PERSONAL STATEMENT
What do admissions committees want to hear in a personal statement?
Where have you been? Where are you at? and Where are you going?
In addition to carefully crafting your application, deciding what to say in the law school personal statement can be one of the most challenging parts of the admissions process for some applicants.
An effective personal statement can sometimes mean the difference between a letter that begins with “Congratulations!” and one that starts “We regret to inform you…” So what does an admissions committee want to hear in your personal statement?
For me, what I am really hoping to hear in your personal statement is how you plan to use your law degree and what is motivating you to pursue law in the first place….[and] I think it’s most effectively done in a show not tell manner rather than I want to go to law school because. – Kristi Jobson
A ‘Where you’ve been’; ‘Where you’re at’, and ‘Where you’re going’ line of thinking seems to be the most effective – and impactful – format when it comes to writing your personal statement, according to Miriam and Kristi.
It’s nice to have some movement through the essay. So, rather than focusing on a single…light bulb moment when [you] knew [you] wanted to be a lawyer, which I think is – for most people – not really the way real life works, talk to me a little bit about your past and some things that motivated…your desire to go to law school. What are you doing now and how does that connect to your past? And then…show me how that leads into the future and what you hope to accomplish. – Miriam Ingber
Two key components to also keep in mind when writing your personal statement include:
- Focus on you – Avoid spending your entire personal statement talking about other people. Your personal statement needs to be about you. Not about the people or work that influenced you. And while these things may be great to include, your personal statement is your opportunity to address the law school admissions committee directly and showcase the qualities that set you apart from and what makes you a great fit for the school.
- Tell us something new – Your personal statement is not a recap of other information that is already available to an admissions committee, but rather, a chance to tell the committee something new and unique about yourself. When writing your essay, be sure that there’s something new you’re providing – something that an admissions committee couldn’t find anywhere else.
PREPARING FOR LAW SCHOOL
Simple steps to get ahead your first few months of law school
You’ve gone through the work of applying to law school, nervously awaited a response and recently received your acceptance letter! Now what?
According to Miriam and Kristi, there are a few small, yet highly helpful, things 1Ls can do to make that first semester of law school a little easier.
- Get any and all ‘personal admin’ items out of the way
Any doctor’s visits, dentist appointments and/or eye exams that you’ve been putting off, try and get all of those taken care of in the months before heading to law school.
- Spend quality time with family and friends
- Understand that it’s going to be hard
“I think no matter what you do to prepare, that first semester feels like drinking from a fire hose… it just feels really hard…But I think also just really accepting that it’s going to be hard and really sort of preparing yourself mentally that this is going to be tough and that’s okay…[it’s] tough for everybody.” – Miriam Ingber
- Remember WHY you want to go to law school
While this bit of advice may seem simple, it is essential in your first few months of law school – especially when coursework and academic loads get hard. Before heading to school, both Miriam and Kristi advise to take a Post-It note, piece of paper or a journal and write down WHY you are going to law school; then when you have a moment – like all new law students do – where you’re thinking, “Why am I doing this?” You can go back and be reminded of the thing(s) that drew you to law school in the first place.
A ‘life of a lawyer’ is certainly a process, and getting into law school is just the first step. Tune into more episodes of the new series, “Life of a Lawyer, Start to Finish”, every other week on the Lawyer 2 Lawyer podcast – only on the Legal Talk Network.
Podcast Notes: Miriam and Kristi also hosts the highly acclaimed and highly recommended ‘Navigating Law School Admissions’ podcast where they share candid, accurate and straightforward advice about law school admissions. Get in touch with Miriam and Kristi by emailing email@example.com or visiting