Recommendations and Evaluations for Law School and for Life

by Faye Shealy

Recommendations and evaluations are an important part of William & Mary’s whole file review and are effective because they detail what makes the applicant stand out and because they paint individual pictures of each applicant. William & Mary Law School requires two recommendation letters or evaluations and welcomes more. Don’t underestimate the importance of these letters which may address your intellectual development, aptitude for independent thinking and research, analytical abilities, writing skills, leadership and/or creative qualities. After all, William & Mary Law School is an academic environment and a community that values each member. We read recommendations. Many are powerful components of our decisions. They provide insights that cannot be gleaned from transcripts and test scores alone.

Who to Ask? 

groveProspective law students are expected to make contact with and establish relationships with professors and others. Consider faculty members, administrators, internship/program supervisors, coaches, employers, and mentors. You will rely on them to write recommendation letters or prepare evaluations that will land you a place in the professional school of your choice and also for employment, organization memberships, and in life’s opportunities that are important to you.

You do not want to seek out your university’s most prestigious professor or your state senators unless they know you. Readers will recognize the writer’s passion for your future that is not conveyed in a letter that begins “even though I do not know this candidate, he/she is one of my constituents and I recommend them”. Find those who can comment specifically on who you are as a person and prospective law student and lawyer. We know your grandmother and other relatives love you and support you for admission…but no, the required letters/evaluations should be from non-family members.

How to Ask? 

killingerThere are good and bad ways of approaching those you want to help you gain admission, land the job, obtain that prestigious scholarship, or the nomination for that board position or become a member of the bench. Time your request. Don’t ask at the end of class with twenty others present or interrupt activities or make your approach in the parking lot. Be sure to make “the ask” well in advance of the due date. I suggest at least three weeks as a minimum.

Request an appointment, explaining that you’d like to discuss something important to you. Prepare to make the official ask and related explanation during the meeting. Specifically ask the individual if he or she would be able to write a meaningful and positive recommendation or evaluation for you by a certain date. Pay attention to their response including what they say and their demeanor. If you sense reluctance, pause, or hear words doubting they have information or time to do so, thank them and proceed to others on your list. Don’t spend your valuable time fretting over a “no”…that person may have personal problems or work issues that prevent them from saying “yes” even if they could and would write a glowing letter for you.

How to Help the Recommender Help You? 

robertsYou ask recommenders to do a favor – no one has to write recommendations or prepare evaluations for you and no one has more to gain from terrific letters/evaluations than you. Help your referees by providing all the necessary information with an organized presentation. A folder with all documents hand delivered during the meeting or attached to one follow-up email can be very helpful. Don’t assume what they do/don’t know about you. A cover sheet highlighting salient details, your resume, transcript(s), perhaps a copy of the paper you wrote for their class, admission essay, or written statement of career/professional goals on how this next step is relevant/important to you. Do not be modest. Your participation in competitive admission processes is one of the times that self-promotion is entirely appropriate and expected. Of great importance, include clear directions on how the recommendation/evaluation is to be submitted.

You, more than anyone, can influence the contents and effectiveness of the recommendation letters/evaluations. Make sure your references fully understand your goals and the importance placed in your request. Trust me, writing good recommendation letters takes serious thought and time. The more prepared you are when making the request, the easier their task will be and…the more effective the product should be. Make sure to provide your name as identified on your application (fine if they personalize with your nickname as long as official identification is a match with your application as submitted to the school), your telephone number and e-mail address, in case they need further information.

To Waive or Not to Waive Access? 

Many recommendation/evaluation forms (including those submitted though the LSAC’s CAS process) require you (the individual being recommended) to decide whether to waive or retain your rights to see your recommendation/evaluation. Many assume confidential letters tend to carry more weight with admission committees. Many writers prefer their letters be confidential. Do not infer that as negative. For example, the person writing the letter for you may be receiving the same request from your peers and friends and may fear what is written will be shared and compared. The letter writer or evaluator may have superior comments for you and associated reasons for the product not to be circulated for reasons very positive in your favor. Hopefully, you will identify individuals as your recommenders that you have full confidence in supporting you. That said, if you want access to what is submitted, exercise your option by not signing the waiver. FYI: Many individuals may provide you with a copy of their letter or evaluation, even if it is submitted to the school confidentially.

To Follow-Up or Not To Follow-Up? 

As the deadline for your application materials approaches, you need confirmation that your file is complete. William & Mary provides that communication through the on-line status checker and via email. Plan a follow-up with the recommender if the deadline approaches and you do not have confirmation that the recommendation or evaluation has been submitted.

thank youIMPORTANT: Be sure to send a thank you note or email message expressing your sincere appreciation for the support extended to help you progress along your professional school and career goals. This is a thoughtful gesture. This is also smart. You will need another such letter or assistance later from references that help you now. Speaking from over 30 years of experience writing letters and providing references for students, graduates and former employees, I always appreciate hearing the results of the process from the applicant. When I have written letters (now mostly for employment of our students/graduates), I am interested in the outcome and sincerely appreciate the individual sharing the outcome and their related excitement about what’s next in their career and life. I want William & Mary students and graduates to succeed. I want deserving employees to progress. I am delighted to help them and ecstatic in celebrating their successes.

What Next?

Check off this step in the application process. Hopefully, you have reason to proceed with confidence that each recommendation or evaluation submitted for you is exactly what you have earned and another reason to take pride in your hard work and accomplishments.

This is a series written by the admission staff at William & Mary Law School about the admission and application process. The posts in this series will be published in no particular order and are not inclusive. The series is designed  to provide information and advice to our applicants as they apply to law schools!

Today’s the Day!

by Elizabeth Cavallari

Students at the Organization Fair During Admitted Student Weekend

Students at the Organization Fair During Admitted Student Weekend

Today’s the day- it’s May 1 and an important day for the William & Mary Law School Admission Office. Deposits are due today (or at least postmarked) to see who will officially be a member of the Class of 2015!

We had many events for admitted students this spring, from Admitted Student Weekend, receptions for admitted students and alumni on the west coast, and, of course, student-led tours and sitting in on classes when admitted students visited the law school. So if you are an admitted student, remember to put that deposit in the mail to join the William & Mary Law School community!

“What Makes an Application Stand Out?”

by Elizabeth Cavallari

“What makes an application stand out?”  We hear this question a lot from prospective law students, and there are a lot of components to the answer.  At William & Mary there is no magic formula or benchmark that we expect all applicants to reach: we do a full-file review of all elements of your application (GPA, LSAT, work experience and extracurricular activities, letters of recommendation, and personal statement) so we can fully evaluate you as a candidate for admission.  Having said that, there are some traits that really mark potential applicants as people who will become successful law students and lawyers, and the way that these traits show up in applications can really vary!

Oral Communication

The ability to articulate yourself well and persuasively make your case will be important to your success as a student and as a practitioner after graduation.  How can you showcase your oral communication abilities in your application?  A number of activities, including participation in Mock Trial, leadership roles in campus organizations or Greek Life, employment projects, collegiate or recreational sports, and countless others can demonstrate your ability to be a persuasive speaker.  Additionally, oral communication is as much about speaking as it is listening.  Working with clients and co-workers requires listening critically, taking key information from conversations, and utilizing what you have learned.  Think about the experiences that have developed and honed those skills, and make sure that we see evidence of that in your application

Written Communication

It shouldn’t be a surprise that lawyers and law students have to write often and write well, so we expect a high level of writing proficency from our candidates:even though legal writing may seem a bit like a foreign language during your first weeks of law school, you still should have a strong foundation from which to build.  Prospective students still in school should take courses that develop your objective and persuasive writing.  Utilize your school’s writing center and other resources at your disposal.  For those in the work force, embrace opportunities to write in your job (beyond writing another quick email); volunteer for projects that require heavy writing and will stretch and challenge you.


Knowing how to utilize case law, statutes, administrative regulations, and other sources of binding and persuasive authority is instrumental in the legal profession.  What research experience do you have?  Your research background does not necessarily have to include research with a faculty member (particularly if you’re not passionate about the topic or subject).  Did a class spark an interest that led to an independent study or thesis?  Have you been driven to learn more about a topic than you learned in a lecture?  Have you started a new project at work that required you to critically examine previous efforts?  Make sure your application reflects the research you have done and indicates your ability to successfully transition those skills into the arena of legal research.

While we try to discern these three skills, this doesn’t mean that we ONLY look at those abilities while reviewing your application.  Make sure to highlight your abilities in oral communication, written communication, and research, but remember that these skills constitute just one piece of the puzzle.  William & Mary Law School would be boring if all of our students were cookie cutter!  We take shaping a diverse and interesting class seriously, and we want to get to know you through your application and see how you can help make it even better!

Should I apply?

by Brian Wall

As I meet with prospective students, one questions comes up again and again.  The precursor to the question is often different, but the question itself is the same: “Should I apply?”  We want anyone who wants to be part of the William & Mary Law School community to apply to join our ranks.  In case there is someone out there who has not been able to personally ask me this question, I want to address some of the circumstances that other prospective students have invoked as they have asked whether or not they should apply.

1) “My GPA/LSAT is lower than your median score.  Should I apply?”  We are grateful for the high caliber of students who make William & Mary Law school such an outstanding institution, but this does mean that getting into William & Mary is challenging.  For the Class of 2014, the median LSAT score was 165 (with a 75th/25th percentile range of 167-161) and the median GPA was 3.73 (with a 75th/25th percentile range of 3.82-3.46).  However, those numbers are not minimum numbers.  Additionally, it is important to know that our application process is not only about the numbers: we consider your entire application, and in many cases applicants with scores below our medians have been accepted based on their strong potential as evidenced by other aspects of the application.  Answer: YES, you should apply!

2) “My major doesn’t have anything to do with law or politics.  Should I apply?”  The stereotype of a pre-law student is usually a political science major with a minor in history.  While we’ve had our fair share of those here at William & Mary, we take students from every academic background.  Current William & Mary students studied economics, engineering, English literature, business, communications, finance, foreign languages, hard sciences, sociology, psychology… you get the point.  No matter what your undergraduate major was, the answer is: YES, you should apply!

3) “I will be graduating this spring and don’t have any work experience.  Should I apply, or should I take time off to work?”  This one is really up to you.  A lot of our students have come straight through college and enter law school immediately after graduating from their undergraduate experience, while others take time off to work, volunteer, travel, or pursue other opportunities.  Your application will not be adversely affected if you come straight through or if you take some time off, so the answer is: once you’re ready, YES, you should apply!  Conversely…

4) “I have been out of school for a long time and am significantly older than most of your students.  Should I apply, or is it unrealistic to think that I can compete with much younger students?”  We have had a number of “non-traditional” students not only be admitted to William & Mary Law, but do significantly well while they have been here.  One of my classmates, for example, was a nurse with thirty years of experience who decided to change course and become a lawyer.  She was very successful in her time here.  Answer: YES, you should apply!

5) “I don’t know exactly what I want to do with my law degree.  Should I apply?”  Hopefully if you are applying to law school you at least know that you want to practice law in some capacity; if you aren’t sure of this yet, you might want to take some time to consider if this is really right for you, as law school is a major time and money investment.  However, if you know you want to be a lawyer but are not sure exactly how, that is a different matter altogether.  While some first-year students come in with a laser-sharp focus on a particular career path, most law students have not yet been exposed to every area of legal work, and that’s entirely normal.  You will have a number of opportunities to meet practitioners in a variety of fields and, though clinics, internships, externships, and courses, will have practical experience in the areas of your choosing.  The answer is: YES, you should apply!

If you are still wondering whether you should apply to William & Mary and your question was not addressed here, please feel free to email or call me.  I would love to speak with you, and chances are good that my answer to you will also be “YES, you should apply!”

Hinz Program Marks 25th Anniversary

by Faye Shealy

By age 25, Mary Siegrist Hinz had distinguished herself in her academic, professional and personal life as a person of high intelligence, outstanding athletic ability, and sincere concern for the welfare of others.  At the time of her tragic death in 1984, Mary had completed her second year at William & Mary Law School and was ranked near the top of her class.  She was training for a marathon and bicycling nearly eighty miles a day.  The Mary Siegrist Hinz Leadership Fellows Program was created to recognize outstanding students who share Mary’s exemplary qualities of:

  • Academic distinction during their undergraduate and/or graduate careers;
  • Characteristics of citizenship which reflect a concern for the welfare of others and involvement in the larger community;
  • Athletic excellence in intercollegiate sports.

The Hinz Leadership Fellows Program was created by Mary’s family with the assistance of the Norfolk, Virginia law firm Vandeventer Black LLP, and their combined generosity provides a significant financial award to support the legal education of the Hinz Fellows at William & Mary.  Former and current Hinz Fellows gathered with the Leadership Selection Committee this year to mark the 25th year of the award.  We are proud of our Hinz Fellows for keeping Mary’s spirit alive through their work and service at William & Mary Law School, and the search is on for the newest Hinz Fellow to join the Class of 2015! 

Hinz Fellows 2011-14

Interested in Applying to Law School?

by Faye Shealy

William & Mary admission deans will be representing the nation’s oldest – and, we believe, best – law school at various locations throughout the coming year.  In addition to campus visits, one of us will be at each of the Law School Forums sponsored by the Law School Admission Council (LSAC).  These events are wonderful opportunities to speak directly with a school representative and attend workshops on topics such as financing a legal education, the law school application process, and taking the LSAT.

The kick-off for 2011 LSAC Forums is this Saturday, June 18, at the Marriott Wardman Park in Washington D.C.  Brian Wall and I will be at Table #757 behind the William & Mary banner starting at 10:00.  We want to meet you, so please stop by!

The Top 10 Reasons to Consider William & Mary Law

by Jennifer Thurston

Where should you go to law school? It is a question that you might be pondering right now. It is a daunting choice; one with many different factors and considerations. Hopefully you will have the chance to visit all, if not most, of the law schools that you are thinking of attending. We, of course, believe that William & Mary is a fantastic choice for law school and would like to present our list (à la David Letterman) of the top ten reasons to choose William & Mary.

10. Williamsburg. It seems like there are a lot of misconceptions out there about our lovely city. No, it’s not a metropolis, but
it’s not a sleepy, boring town either. It is a vibrant city with
many shopping, dining, and recreation options. Additionally, it has a charm that you would be hard pressed to find elsewhere, an amazing blend of historic and modern with a twist of Southern hospitality. This is not just your fourth grade field trip – this is a wonderful place to live.

9. History. We talk a lot about history at W&M – and with good reason. We are the oldest law school in the United States. Think
about that. We represent the foundation of legal education in America. Whether you are a history buff or not, that is a pretty profound statement. Our students are inspired by the amazing roots of this institution.

8. Faculty. Our professors are not only renowned legal scholars, but they are fantastic teachers. They devote their lives to civil rights, tackle the tricky issues in health care reform, and are frequently asked for their opinions on timely legal issues. They also act (for the students’ amusement) and win dancing

7. Bar Passage. Our July 2010 Virginia bar passage rate (for
first time test takers) was 92.6%, the highest passage rate of the Virginia law schools. The state average was 79.8%. William
& Mary also enjoys high bar passage rates in other states as well, such as California and New York.

6. Competitive teams. Do you like to play…and win? Our
competitive teams work hard and it has paid off this year. The Moot Court team brought home many trophies this year, winning the International Criminal CourtMoot Court Competition at Pace Law School (and advancing to the Hague), the Charleston School of Law, National Moot Court Competition, the Regent 2011 National Constitutional Law Moot Court Competition, and the 21st Annual National First Amendment Moot Court Competition at Vanderbilt University in one month. Yes, in one month. Also, the National Trial Team has had wonderful success this year, securing a first place finish at the National Pretrial Competition hosted by Stetson Law School and earning many other awards in 2010.

5. Legal Skills. It is so important to develop practical skills while in law school. Many law schools have developed similar programs (imitation is the sincerest form of flattery), but we still think ours
is pretty special. It won the first national ABA Gambrell Award for Legal Professionalism in 1992 and was recently featured in a US News and World Report article as part of their “10 College Courses That Will Pay Off at Work.”

4. Citizen Lawyer. We have always believed that lawyers
should be actively engaged in their community. This ideal, first
articulated by Thomas Jefferson and George Wythe, is alive and well at the
school today. Here are just a few examples:

  • Three William & Mary Law students have won
    the Oliver White Hill Law Student Pro Bono Award from the Virginia State Bar,
    more than any other law school.
  • 74 members of the class of 2010 were recognized
    as W&M Community Servants, providing more than 3,400 hours of volunteer
    work (and no, we have no pro bono requirement. Our students do it because they
    want to).
  • The Public Service Fund (PSF) raises money to
    provide stipends to students with unpaid, public sector summer work. One of
    PSF’s biggest fundraisers, the PSF Auction, was held a couple of days ago on
    February 19 and raised $27,000 for this wonderful cause.

3. Career Services. I think it is fair to say that the legal market is not the same as it was 5-10 years ago. So, it is important to find a law school with a flexible and adapting career services office. The Office of Career Services (OCS) at W&M is a fantastic resource for students. With one-on-one counseling, creative uses of technology (like Skype interviews), and an experienced staff, OCS works hard to find the best opportunities for our students.

2. Community. There is really no way to convey the atmosphere of the Law School. I can’t link to any news stories about it or show it to you in some tangible way. But, it exists and it is a major reason why people choose to come to W&M. Come visit us and see it for yourself.

1. The Experience. In a world of law school rankings and
scholarship awards, many applicants simply choose their law school based on the aforementioned criteria. But, they are doing themselves a disservice. They may end up at a law school that is a terrible fit for them; this will probably affect their academic performance and, in turn, their career prospects after
graduation. However, for those who consider more than rankings and money, for those who consider how well they “fit” into a law school and who are interested in not only earning a JD, but also enjoying themselves along the way, they will choose the right law school for them. For some, William & Mary may not be
the best fit. But, for many of our admitted applicants, W&M could be the perfect place for them to learn, thrive, and succeed.

For more information about William & Mary Law School, check out our website and blog, follow us on Twitter, and “like” us
on Facebook.

Time is Running Out!

by Faye Shealy

February 1 is an important day on the calendar – just one month until the March application deadline for William & Mary Law School!  Some aspiring applicants are preparing for the February LSAT.  Many are busily completing and polishing application materials.  We are gearing up for the intense review and evaluation season that follows.  April 1 is another important calendar date as our goal is to render decisions to applicants ahead of any April fooling.  We look forward to receiving an application from you!

Last Chance to Win a Fee Waiver!

by Jennifer Thurston

Who doesn’t love free stuff? We know that applicants spend a considerable amount of money on law school application fees and we would like to help. Become a follower of the W&M Law Admission Twitter feed between August 13, 2010 and October 3, 2010 and you could win a fee waiver to be used during the 2010-2011 admission cycle!

Here are the rules:

PRIZE: One fee waiver to apply to William & Mary Law School for the 2010-2011 admission cycle (no cash value).

TO ENTER: Become a follower of the William & Mary Law School Admission Twitter feed between August 13, 2010 and October 3, 2010.

CONTEST CLOSES: Sunday, October 3, 2010 at 10pm EST.

DETAILS: The winner will be selected by a random drawing and announced on Monday, October 4, 2010. Fee waiver must be used during the 2010-2011 admission cycle. Winner will be notified via Twitter direct message.

Good luck everyone!

It’s Official!

by Faye Shealy

William & Mary Law School has set another record for the number of applications!  We have received over 6,200 applications, up 25 percent over last year. However, the numbers are just the tip of the iceberg.  The real story is the quality of our applicants.  There are many strong applicants presenting themselves with unique stories, personal experiences and strong records, all indicating a passion and commitment to serve.  This is the strongest pool of applicants that I have seen in all my years of reading and evaluating applications. Decisions are difficult and the challenge is daunting. We are in our final phase of review, evaluation and comparison and we are on schedule to notify our applicants by the end of this month.

We appreciate the interest in legal education at William & Mary and continue to consider applications to enroll here as the sincerest form of flattery. On behalf of William & Mary Law School, we appreciate the compliment!

It’s Back to School Time!

by Faye Shealy

It is August already; can you believe the summer is almost over? We can’t! There is so much activity here at the Law School as we prepare to welcome our incoming students! Many of them are already here in Williamsburg; they’re checking their class schedules, settling into new apartments, meeting roommates, and organizing fun gatherings through their Facebook group. Law Camp starts next week and we can’t wait to have students in the building again (it feels so empty without them). The excitement is starting to build and we’re looking forward to a brand new year with the wonderful class we have created!

Then the admission team will commence the process of building the applicant pool for enrollment in August 2010.  We begin accepting applications in September.  If you are interested in legal education, we hope to read your application this fall!

P.S. Check out the new slideshow that Dean Thurston created!