Should Your Law School Apps Talk About Your Career Goals?

direction-signs-1285311-mPotential law students often ask if it’s required that they know what type of law they want to practice before applying.

Please welcome today’s guest, John Rood of Next Step Test Preparation to share some thoughts on the topic.

Should you tell admissions committees what you want to do with your life?

With nearly all law school applications, the school doesn’t demand to know what field of law interests you. Many applicants, however, are curious whether discussing their interest in a particular aspect of the law is a net positive for their application.

The answer is, of course: it depends.

Pros: Why You Might Want to Discuss a Certain Field

The biggest reason to name a particular field is if the school has a particular specialty in that topic. Do your research here; admissions committees will be confused if you really dive into your love for environmental law if the school doesn’t have a specialty there. Likewise, you’ll look a bit naïve if you go into detail about the great contracts program (which every law school has).

But, if the law school really does have a wonderful program in IP and that’s your interest, it makes a powerful case for your excitement about that given school. (Admissions committees for reasons of rankings as well as their own sanity have a strong incentive to admit students they feel will actually matriculate).

Additionally, your interest in a given field of law can make a great personal statement anecdote which explains your interest in law in general. Most people don’t get into law because they are excited about editing corporate contracts; showing some passion for a specific aspect of the profession can make a good case.

Cons: Be Careful Claiming a Particular Interest

One of the aspects of applications that admissions committees tend not to enjoy are all the applications from students who express a naiveté for what real lawyers actually do.

Before you declare your love of high-impact criminal defense, you should know that the sexier you seem to think the law is, the less realistic your personal statement might seem.

Here are some traps to avoid:

  • “I’ve loved the law ever since I watched The Practice/Erin Brockovitch/Law and Order, which has given me my endearing love of high-profile criminal defense trials ripped from the headlines.” Yes, law schools actually get applications like this. Applicants who seem to believe that the practice of law always or usually exciting and dramatic are unlikely to last long.
  • “I want to be a lawyer because I want to help disadvantaged people get justice.” This sort of platitude hits personal statements all the time. Of course, the sentiment here is great. However, the reality, well-known by admissions advisors, is that the majority of their class will go into transactional law or litigation for mid-to-large corporate firms. If you really do have a great track record before law school which points to a strong focus on public interest, by all means discuss this. But if you have no track record of volunteering or working for a given cause, it will seem strange that the law school application is the moment you choose to unleash that passion.

The takeaway is that if you call out a specific field of the law, you have to make a compelling case for why YOU want to practice it and why YOUR BACKGROUND points in that direction.

Additionally, keep in mind that many, many applicants won’t have a great idea of what field they will want to enter as an attorney. It’s certainly not a glaring absence if you don’t go into detail in the application.

You’re not tied down!

One final point — you’re under no obligation to anyone to actually pursue the field of law you show interest in initially. I certainly don’t recommend outright lying, but keep in mind that once you have been admitted no one is going to check up on whether you go corporate or public interest.

You’re going to be exposed to sub-specialties and careers you might not have considered before law school, and you would be a fool to turn those down only because of your interests as a college student.

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Thanks, John! Very helpful.

Next Step Test Preparation provides one-on-one LSAT tutoring programs nationwide. You can learn more about them in our earlier interview with Next Step.

And check out all of our LSAT coverage at: LSAT 101.

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