P.S. Boot Camp: Sir, Step Away From the Law

September 30, 2010

Hello, 203 readers. I'm back in town after being on the road for a few information sessions. If you're interested in having some of your questions answered, check out our recruiting schedule to see whether we will be visiting your college this season (either virtually or in person). We are sending out invitations to attend our recruiting events through LSAC's CRS service (where we identify you by your undergraduate school) or through your prelaw advisor's listserve, so please make sure you are on one or the other if you want to get an email reminder.

Onwards. So this week I'm going to talk about yet another common applicant we get: the Law Zombie. This is a person who really loves THE LAW. He is passionate about THE LAW, loves debating THE LAW, and can spend hours reading about—yes, you guessed it—THE LAW. And he's not afraid to say so in his application.

I usually don't know what to make of the Law Zombie. On the one hand, I can't really say that I'm concerned that this student hasn't thought about why he's going to law school, given his very obvious interest in THE LAW. And there's clearly a certain amount of intelligence, perhaps brilliance, inherent in someone who spends all of his waking hours reading every Supreme Court case in history and listening to oral arguments on NPR. In fact, when I read this kind of application, I get flashbacks to the toothpick scene in Rain Man, and imagine admitting a legal genius who can recite Supreme Court holdings on command and who occasionally startles innocent bystanders by randomly shouting "SCALIA!" very loudly (before devouring their brains).

However, while the Law Zombie might make a great addition to our faculty, there are a few things I find troubling about him as an applicant. First, I'm a little wary about someone who glamorizes THE LAW too much, especially before going to law school. I mean, legal cases are interesting and all, but the real study (and practice) of law isn't just about reading sexy Supreme Court cases and camping out all night to get into an oral argument like it's some kind of rock concert. Some of it is tedious and mundane, and an applicant who is a little too excited about THE LAW strikes me as potentially unprepared for or naive about what law school—and being a lawyer—is really going to be like.

Which brings me to the second point. It's not enough to just love THE LAW. That's like saying you love books—yeah, so what? Law encompasses many different subjects: torts, contracts, constitutional law, property, law and economics, criminal law, etc. It also has different aspects: procedural, substantive, jurisdictional, etc. When someone simply says they are "fascinated," "excited," "passionate," etc. about THE LAW, I have no idea what that means. What, exactly, are you excited about? Why are you fascinated by a particular issue? How is your interest related to anything else that's happened in your life? It's unlikely that you just spontaneously developed a rabid interest in the subject, so you need to dig a little deeper if you're going to translate your passion into something that makes you compelling as an applicant.

WARNING: The suggestion to dig a little deeper into the legal issues or questions that interest you should NOT be taken as an invitation to do legal analysis on a subject. While the concept of tiered scrutiny, for example, might be really interesting and open a lot of intellectual possibilities for you, it's unlikely that without any legal training you will be able to provided a sophisticated scholarly analysis on the subject that will impress the Yale Law professor reading your file. You don't need to write a legal treatise on the questions or issues that interest you. Just identify them, and explain why they matter to you in the context of your background or other significant experiences you've had or courses you've taken.

If you think you might be a Law Zombie, here are a few helpful hints:

1. Tone it down a bit. Seriously. I'm not saying you have to remove the "I <3 THE LAW" bumper sticker from your car or anything, but you can safely assume that in applying to law school, your interest in the general subject matter of the profession is understood.

2. You have the potential to find some kindred spirits among the faculty reading your file. But you need to tread carefully, as indicated above—that is, you should try to get a little more specific, in terms of the questions and issues that pique your curiosity, so that the reader has a sense of how you think. At the same time, you don't want to come off like a know-it-all (and a bad one, at that) by trying to analyze subjects you might not yet fully understand, or about which you haven't read all the relevant literature. No one expects you to be a legal expert before you come to law school, so don't go overboard.

3. Get out more. It's OK to have other interests. Maybe you can watch some reality television. I recommend Project Runway.

I want to say for the record that I don't have anything against Law Zombies per se. But if you are a Law Zombie and I admit you, I fully expect you to learn all the moves to Thriller. Classic.


Elliot said:

1) As always, love the posts.

2) "And there's clearly a certain amount if intelligence, perhaps brilliance, inherent in someone who spends all of his waking hours reading every Supreme Court case in history and listening to oral arguments on NPR." Do you mean a certain amount of intelligence?

3) While I'm not a law school zombie, I was the lead in a high school rendition of Robin Hood which included Thriller as a dance number (this script also required Robin Hood to dress up as Elvis at one point). In retrospect, best experience of my life.

October 4, 2010 1:59 AM

halo said:

I loved your suggestion about project runaway.

October 4, 2010 6:02 AM

asha said:

@Elliot: Thanks for the proofreading!

I find the juxtaposition of Robin Hood and Thriller intriguing. Might be a good topic for the 250-word essay. ;)

October 4, 2010 8:35 AM

Daniel said:

"but the real study (and practice) of law isn't just about reading sexy Supreme Court cases and camping out all night to get into an oral argument like it's some kind of rock concert."

That's right—it's about camping out all night to get a seat for the announcement of blockbuster opinions.

October 4, 2010 7:58 PM

asha said:

@Daniel: I think you might be a law zombie. Just saying. :)

P.S. Our students often go, as part of their "small group" experience in their first term, to hear a Supreme Court oral argument—and, on occasion, to hear the argument on the case they are studying in class.

October 5, 2010 3:42 PM

the_leif_guy said:

I seriously miss reading your blog when you dont post for a long time. Any chance you can post everyday? :)

Anyway, was the blog post about the word "endeavor" for real? Even if we use it in the perfect context, would it still hurt our application?

October 5, 2010 8:06 PM

asha said:

@the_leif_guy: I'd love to post every day but alas, I have a day job. But thanks!

The "endeavor" comment was tongue-in-cheek. You won't be rejected for using it in your P.S. But I generally find it more effective when used as a noun than a verb, if that helps.

October 6, 2010 3:08 PM

Lewis Farris said:

Would having won a Fulbright Scholarship help my candidacy? I.E would it compensate for a lower LSAT score? I'm just worried my LSAT score will preclude me from admission.

October 6, 2010 11:22 PM

asha said:

@Lewis: First, we have no LSAT cutoff, and if you look at our spectrum of numbers, you'll see that we admit people on the low end of the scale for both the LSAT and GPA. So your LSAT will not, in itself, preclude you from admission.

Accolades like the Fulbright are definitely noted and add to your application. To the extent that your LSAT is the only weakness in your application, it can provide a counterpoint in favor of your academic potential. However, there isn't a one-for-one correlation in these things, and we look at the whole file. How you present yourself in your personal statement and what your references say about you will also play a role.

Overall, when I see a great application, I'm less inclined to put a lot of weight on the LSAT, which is a one-day test, if your academic performance, experience, and references over time all point to you being a great addition to the class.

Hope this helps!

October 7, 2010 3:42 PM

SJ said:

So could I, for instance, discuss my love for Pokemon or Rugrats? Or would something like that be considered childish for a personal statement?

October 8, 2010 3:15 PM

asha said:

@SJ: I'm not sure what your point is (I assume you're being sarcastic?).

If what you're getting at is, "If I can't talk about how much I love the law, what should I talk about?", then go back and read the post.

I didn't say that you can't write about loving the law. I merely said that stating a broad love of the law as a general subject—even bolstered by "evidence" that you like to read Supreme Court cases—is not enough. Showing that you are thoughtful about your love of the law, by having some specificity and insight into the topics that intrigue you, will present a more nuanced picture of who you are as a person and how you think. Connecting your legal knowledge with research you have done for a thesis in another subject area, for example, or with a real-world issue that matters to you is simply a much stronger essay than saying you love something.

If you were being serious, Pokemon or Rugrats would not be acceptable topics for a personal statement.

October 8, 2010 3:34 PM

MY said:

....unless SJ tied his interest in the animation industry with copyright law?? :D

October 11, 2010 5:18 AM

Ashley said:

I enjoyed the thriller. Thank you for the post. As I understood correctly, I would explain some of my academic background and classes taken in order to explain why I am interested in that field. However, 250 letters are too short to retro-spect those, so I just listed my peculiar interest field, and try to say Yale has expertise in that field.

To ask some silly question, do you think I can explain the development of my interest to the question of "Explain how Yale fits in with your plans for teaching after you graduate from law school.(Please indicate your areas of interest and what arrangements, if any, you have made concerning employment.)"

To answer that question, I don't think it is clever to say "My academic interest is A, B, and C law. I don't have any career in teaching, but I just hope in the future."

October 11, 2010 8:53 AM

asha said:

@MY: Very good point.

October 11, 2010 2:42 PM

asha said:

@Ashley: It sounds like you are applying to our LLM program, no? If so, we do not ask for a 250-word essay for the LLM application. You should explore your research agenda in about two pages, which should give you enough space to explore it in more detail.

October 11, 2010 2:43 PM

rucha said:

Hi Asha,

I stumbled upon this blog earlier today and I can't believe I didn't find it before. Just wanted to say that I heartily enjoy your writing, and this post pretty much made me crack up and scare my roommates.

I'd quote my favorite bits but then I'd probably end up copy+pasting this entire post so I guess I'll refrain =P Hoping more and more (if that's possible) that I'll see you at Yale in the fall!!

Oh and...'I <3 THE LAW' bumper sticker? Made my day.

February 14, 2011 1:56 AM

Jordan John said:

Hi Asha,

Not sure which article I was reading, but I couldn't seem to find where to ask you questions; I have one:

Would you mind elaborating on the "mysterious"-ness of first year application acceptance? Is it that the class must be well-rounded, which makes it a bit about chance/luck based on the applicant pool?

Jordan John

October 8, 2011 3:07 PM

Shelly said:

Hi Asha,

I'm enjoying your blog because it's witty, concise, and provides a ton of useful information. However, I always get to the comments section and see that people are correcting your grammar/typos. I wonder if you get annoyed at this (I certainly would).

But anyways, thank you for your wonderful effort in writing these posts. It makes the application process a bit easier to understand. Please keep going ^^

May 15, 2012 3:56 PM