Coulda Shoulda Woulda: Applying to Law School

For the month of October, we’ll be bringing you the Coulda Shoulda Woulda series – blog posts by current students on topics they wish they would have known more about, and tips and tricks for the tough parts of law school research.

Lowell_Brooke EIt was just two years ago last week that I visited William & Mary for the first time. I instantly fell in love and applied immediately after, getting my acceptance just a few weeks later. While I know I made the right choice in selecting a school, there a few things I would have done differently while going through the application process. Don’t worry; you can do it! 

Deciding When to Take the LSAT 

This is, of course, can be the most intimidating part of the law school process. Do not fret! Once you tackle the LSAT, you will be ready for the rest of your application. I took the LSAT the June after my junior year of college. When I wanted to retake it, my only choices were the September or December tests my senior year. If you don’t like to feel rushed in how you study, try to plan when you take the LSAT far in advance. Senior year of college is busy and for me, was not an ideal time to retake the LSAT. If I could go back, I would have taken it earlier in my junior year. That being said, do what works best for you and your timeline.  

I gave myself three months to study so I didn’t have to cram before, but everyone operates differently. There are books and online courses that lots of people use – Khan Academy now has a FREE study course through LSAC that anyone can access! Try out different study habits and programs to see what works best for you. 

Deciding Where to Apply 

Honestly,  I wish I had visited more campuses. You can read about a school all you want, but the most telling sign for me was how I was treated by students and faculty when I visited William & Mary. If you are like me, and you didn’t have the time or means to visit everywhere you apply, make sure you reach out to current students to hear about their experience.   

In line with visiting campuses, I recommend applying to schools outside of your comfort zone. I am from a small town in Maine and for 21 years of my life spent very little time outside of New England. I chose to apply to William & Mary to explore a new area and I ended up falling in love with it. If I hadn’t taken a chance on Virginia, a state I had never been to before, I would never have ended up at the right place for me.  

Application Materials 

The most challenging part for me in terms of supplemental application materials was writing my personal statement and deciding who should write my letters of recommendation. When you start to work on your personal statement, stay true to yourself. The best advice I can give is to write about your genuine reason for wanting to go to law school – that is something admission officers cannot get from your resume or transcript. For me, it was a revolutionary Supreme Court case (Obergefell v. Hodges), but for you, it may be that you have always wanted to help a certain group of people or have dreamed of drafting contracts. Tell your story!  

Letters of recommendation can be tricky, especially if you haven’t had many professors more than once. I asked a professor who I had more than once and had done well in his class, but I did not have a natural connection with him. The professors who you click with will know you the best and be able to speak to your character, personality, and work ethic. Don’t try to force relationships just for a letter. If you’ve only had a professor once but you are close with them, try going to their office hours and talking to them about why you want to go to law school. I always had my professors that were writing my letters read my personal statement so they were able to learn more about me. 

Waiting to Hear Back  

So you have figured out where to apply, written a beautiful statement, and secured letters from your two favorite professors: now what? Relax! You have just accomplished a tremendous task. Applying to law school is a stressful process and waiting to hear back even more so. Lean on your support systems and know that you will end up where you are supposed to. And, as always, reach out to current law students who went through the same process. Whether you need advice about William & Mary or the application process in general, Student Admission Ambassadors are here for you! 

Brooke Lowell is a 2L from Rockland, Maine. She attended Simmons College and earned her degree in Political Science in 2017. She is currently a member of the Public Service Fund and serves as the Vice President for Equity Alliance. She also works as a member of the Bill of Rights Journal staff. Last summer, she served as a graduate research assistant for Professor Evan Criddle at William & Mary Law School and will continue to work at the Legal Aid Society of Eastern Virginia as her externship for the year.

Coulda Shoulda Woulda: Law School Research

For the month of October, we’ll be bringing you the Coulda Shoulda Woulda series – blog posts by current students on topics they wish they would have known more about, and tips and tricks for the tough parts of law school research.

Briana Jackson gives tips on law school research

Briana Jackson, 2L

Starting the law school application process can be daunting and extremely overwhelming if you aren’t sure where you want to be. Like many others, I am a first-generation law student in both my immediate and extended family. Without any direction I applied aimlessly to over 15 law schools. Of course, hindsight is 20/20 but I realized I “coulda” gone about it a better way; learn from my experience and follow some of these tips!

First, I would consider location – where might you want to practice after graduating from law school? This may seem premature for most, but I promise it’s not. The geographic area of the law school is important for a variety of reasons, including externship opportunities, alumni reach, and leisure activities. Externships give you the opportunity to get hands-on experience while also getting credit for school! Students at William & Mary Law School work at law firms, local government offices and some travel up to Richmond to work in the state capital. It’s a great way to gain experience in the legal field while staying within driving distance! Additionally, the reliability and success of the alumni is something that should not be understated when researching law schools. Not only can you generally measure the quality of the law school on the success of the alumni, but alums can be powerful networking sources for internships or externships, jobs, and tips for interviews. Alumni are generally concentrated in the same geographical area of the law school, which makes networking much easier. They are an excellent resource for advice and information about their particular practice area or field, and become an essential tool when you are trying to make connections and working through the job application process.

If you are not sure about where you want to live or are not ready to make a commitment, I assure you that you are not alone. If you are unsure about where you want to be post-graduation, the prestige of the law school will allow you to make connections in a variety of locations. The reputation of the law school can play an important role when it’s time to start finding summer internships and securing a job after graduation. Keep in mind that rankings and reputation don’t mean everything, but they can be helpful in transcending markets in various geographical locations. Make sure to utilize many resources so that you aren’t hearing only one side of the story. It can be a good place to begin your law school research, but it shouldn’t be the only factor in your search and decision-making process!

Lastly, don’t take the little things for granted. A gut feeling goes a long way, and often the law school experience will be made up of those around you. It can be hard to judge these factors on any type of research system, but if you have the chance to talk to those who have attended the school, or you have the opportunity to visit the school beforehand, this is an opportunity that should not be wasted. Often times, law schools can look similar on paper – numbers and types of clinics and journals, scholarship offers, alumni base, and services provided. What you won’t know is how you feel about the student body, the faculty, the facilities, until you visit the school and see for yourself. That gut feeling can tell you a lot about whether a particular school is a good fit for you, and vice versa. Don’t discredit it!

These aren’t end-all-be-all tips for law school research, but they are some of the things that I should have considered when I started looking at law schools. Hopefully you will find them to be helpful in your own search! Good luck!

Briana Jackson is a 2L from Leesburg, Virginia. She graduated from Christopher Newport News University in 2016 with a degree in Political Science. At the law school, she is involved with the Black Law Students Association, the Public Service Fund, and the Women’s Law Society; she currently serves on the staff of the Journal of Race, Gender, and Social Justice (formerly the Journal of Women and the Law), and spent last summer working at the Fairfax County District Court office.