A parable on being both an Admissions Dean and Pre-Law Advisor

by Nikki Laubenstein; Senior Consultant, The Spivey Consulting Group

When my daughter was little and she asked what I did for my job, I told her that I let students in to law school. To which she responded, “Oh, so you open the door for them?” I of course thought about it and said that was exactly what I did! As an assistant dean of admissions, I enjoyed that my job involved opening doors to student’s law school dreams and helping them to discover their passion for studying law. This work, however, wasn’t all “open doors," and included difficult discussions with students who were waitlisted, denied, or not able to recieve the level of scholarship needed to enroll.

Law school admissions deans obviously don’t just have the responsibility of admitting the top students in their applicant pool and then planning orientation for those who enroll. There is a delicate balance of timing, meeting enrollment goals, distributing scholarship dollars, and maintaining or improving the school’s various statistics. Shaping a law school’s incoming class each year takes an incredible amount of time and often, the stacks of applications for review can seem endless. Admissions offices get consumed by their own timelines, enrollment requirements, and administrative demands (as well as those of the dean), and may forget what it’s really like being the applicant.

After many years working in law school admissions, I had the fortunate opportunity to change roles and advise undergraduates as an academic counselor and prelaw advisor. It was rewarding and eye-opening to see things from the other side. The caseload of students was very large and I worked with freshman through seniors. I had pre-health and pre-law students, as well as those applying to graduate programs. On a given day I might counsel student-athletes, leaders of mock trial teams, or leaders of various student organizations and Greek Life. Some were at the top of their class and worried about maintaining their 4.0, and others were on academic probation and worried about staying on campus. Others still were worried about an underage drinking violation, an academic dishonesty charge, or extreme parental pressures to stick with a major they disliked. Bottom line is – there was a lot of worry and it was my job to counsel them through it. I needed this reminder of all that undergraduates have going on in their lives. They too have a delicate balance to maintain: academics, social lives, jobs, family responsibilities, and progress towards career goals that can either be exciting or a major source of stress and anxiety. “So, what are you doing after you graduate?” is a question that starts earlier and earlier and is one that can push some students and shut down others.

For those who have determined law school is definitely the next step, the worry over getting in to the best law school for them and securing the funds necessary to pay for three years of professional education can make an applicant refresh their law school status checkers many times each day!

As a law school admissions consultant, we get to know clients from a variety of backgrounds – some currently submerged in their last year as undergraduates and some with significant work experience applying as non-traditional applicants. Much time is spent getting to know a client’s strengths to help them highlight what they might add to the law schools on their list (as well as developing that list). To make them standout from those aforementioned stacks of admissions files. There are hundreds of ways to do this and that sums up our consulting jobs -- which ways work best for which applicants. The consulting relationship also allows for the development of skills that can help students once in law school. Detailing a timeline and prioritizing work on law school application materials, fine-tuning writing skills to keep the attention of a specific audience, and finding ways to stay motivated - all while completing a senior year or working full time and possibly studying for a LSAT retake, has helped many soon-to-be-law students prepare themselves for the rigors of law school itself.

We talk a great deal about perspective – from where do you draw your ideas and opinions? How will you show a law school that you have a diverse and different perspective to add to their 1L class? Gaining the perspective as a law school admissions decision-maker and a prelaw advisor has allowed me to consider the fuller picture of all that applicants have going on in their lives and help them to highlight these outstanding attributes for law schools.