Sunday, March 15, 2009

reading admission files

Images It's that time of the year, the final push in law school admissions offices across the United States to read through applications and decide who will be entering law school in the fall.  At the small law school where I work, members of a faculty committee read every single application file, some 700 of them.

After a few years on this committee, I have a few observations to make:

Most letters of recommendation are glowing.  But some are not.  Why would you ask the college professor in whose course you only got a B and to whom you never spoke outside of class to write a letter of recommendation for you?  For reasons unkown, a few applicants do.

A few applicants, usually other individuals, do not follow the instructions.  They send the same personal statement to every law school, without taking the time to see if there are unique instructions for a particular school.  For example, my law school asks a series of four questions that we would like every applicant to answer.  Those questions were developed with care over time, to make sure we get the information we need for our decision-making.  If you can't even follow an instruction that says "please answer these four questions," how are you going to be a lawyer?

When students do answer the questions, I assume they take their time and proofread their replies.  I have no way of knowing if someone has helped them with the editing and proofreading.  And they know that.  I assume that most individuals applying to law school know somebody to whom they can turn and say, "hey, can you give this a read and make sure I have no typos in it?"  But apparently, my assumptions are false.

Then there's the LSAT writing sample.  It still has to be handwritten.  I really do try to read those.  I'm a legal writing professor after all, and the quality of that timed writing from the exam tells me a lot about the skills of a person whose writing I may be grading in my course in September.  Some kind applicants skip every other line, to make reading their chicken scratch easier.  Some applicants write beautifully (in terms of content and mechanics, that is) in the LSAT writing sample.  Some write too pedantically or too casually, but that will be easy enough to fix when they get to their first legal writing class.  Some misuse a semi-colon, but again that's easy to fix.  But when the subjects and verbs suddenly don't agree, or a series of sentences lacks verbs altogether, then I can't help thinking whether I want to deal with that level of problems in my course next year, and I may vote on the application accordingly.

By far the most revealing writing on a law school application appears in those few files where an applicant has to add a paragraph explaining a previous run-in with the law or a period of academic probation in previous schooling.  There applicants are writing about a stressful situation, and somehow any polish in the rest of the writing in the application tends to go by the wayside.  More -- and more serious  -- writing errors occur there than in any other part of a law school application.


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I suspect that the writing gets worse in the paragraphs explaining past infractions because applicants likely don't want to show those paragraphs to others (and ask for editing help), as the applicants likely do with their personal statements.

Posted by: Lisa Eichhorn | Mar 16, 2009 9:00:02 AM

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