Law School

Breaking Barriers: Cultivating Soft Factors

This series, Breaking Law School Barriers, tackles the big and small issues that come into play when you’re deciding if you’ll even attend law school.  The purpose is to give practical advice for college students, and for current law students and attorneys to give suggestions about their real world experience.

If you’ve researched applying for law school then you know that LSAT score and GPA is king. And if you believe most online forums, then you may think that you shouldn’t bother to apply if you don’t have Elle Woods type stats. I remember when I first started applying, I believed all the hype from the forums and became nervous because I was nowhere near 180, and while my GPA was solid it was not a 4.0. It took awhile for me to ignore all the bros on the forums who were so certain that only scores mattered.

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Now, of course you need to do the best you can on your LSAT and you need to have a good GPA to be a desirable candidate to law schools. But is that really all there is to it?

Thankfully no. Look, if all they wanted was 180s and 4.0s then only people with those scores would be admitted to law school. Yet, plenty of people without those perfect scores are admitted into school every year and that’s because admissions do consider “soft factors.” Soft factors are important because it shows who you are beyond a student–it can show your potential as a professional, which is important because the legal industry is not 9-5. Rather, we use our degree to impact our communities (through pro bono work, work on boards, politics, etc.) and you need to show this potential to your schools.  Admissions wants to know– what type of person are you? what will you contribute to the legal field? Do your individual characteristics make you an interesting and compelling candidate?

One of the best ways to show that you are more than just your scores is to show that you participate in extracurricular activities outside of just focusing on your grades. If you’re thinking of applying to law school one of the things you have to show in your application is that you’re more than just a good student. What are you doing to show the following:

One. Leadership. It’s one thing to be part of a fun club, but strive to participate so that you gain actual leadership skills–especially if you’re going to school straight from undergrad. If law school is your goal, then don’t be scared to get involved on the e-boards. Show admissions that you can be responsible; that you can manage deadlines, finances, people’s expectations; that you excel in leadership roles. You want to show all this because lawyers are leaders–it’s just our nature.

Two. Service. Now, volunteering is a tricky topic. Schools are soooo impressed with someone who took a couple months off to teach orphans in India, but like, if you’re anything like me when I applied–there’s no WAY you could afford to take time off to do such magnanimous work. And if you’re new to the law school application process, then welcome to your first exposure to the fact that law school is full of privilege where they assume lots of people can just live off their family (post for another day). So, maybe you can’t do large, financially-crushing service work, but you can still do something. You should strive to show admissions that you are willing and able donate your time to marginalized groups because a large premise of the legal industry is to serve–many lawyers may not live up to this tenant, but you should.

Three. Results. Yes, you volunteer and have a leadership role, but does your presence actually create change? Show admissions that you didn’t just run a group in name only, rather you help transform it. Maybe you helped create a new event, or increased fundraising amounts, or successfully pushed for a policy change in school. Showing that you can advocate for results is important, because–hello–that’s what lawyers; that’s what we do.

So if you’re still a ways away from starting the application process ask yourself–what are you doing to to show leadership, service, and results? And if you’re starting the process, make sure you strive to show this in your personal statement and resume so that you’re a viable candidate to your potential schools.

One thought on “Breaking Barriers: Cultivating Soft Factors

  1. I appreciate the areas and examples you provided. This information is very helpful to non-traditional law school applicants too. Thank you! 🙂

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