As you begin the law school application process, you now have increased opportunities to interact with law school professionals. This can be a great way to make a strong impression on the people who will be deciding whether to admit you and award you precious scholarship dollars. It can also mean more opportunities to make those same people doubt whether you’re ready to enter the profession! Here are 5 simple and effective ways to make sure you maximize your chances to make a great impression.
1. Clean up your online image. Many law schools we know will search publicly available Facebook, Twitter, and other online records. Sometimes a law school rep will be interested in an item on your resume and will look for more information online. It is also not uncommon to check up on a candidate before offering a significant scholarship. Make sure your online image is clean–not only of profanity and alcohol, the usual suspects, but also consider whether your image looks professional. Make sure that your online presence doesn’t raise any questions about your judgment.
2. Take care to communicate professionally throughout the entire application process. It seems that applicants know this prior to being admitted. Once admitted, though, those same people sometimes think it is now acceptable to make scholarship demands, call relentlessly, and even insult the school in an effort to get more scholarship dollars. So many law school deans have told me stories of a once-polished applicant acting like a completely different person after being admitted. Make sure that you are taking care to communicate professionally throughout the entire application process. This includes responding in a timely way to any requests from the law school, such as whether you want to be included on their wait list.
3. Dress carefully for visits. Like the old adage “dress for the job you want rather than the job you have”, your look should demonstrate that you know that law school is not like undergrad. (There is a reason it is called “professional school.”) Although law students at some schools dress casually (jeans, t-shirts, button down shirts, sandals, etc.), when you visit, you want to make a good impression. Business casual is a good compromise between not being overdressed (in a full 3 piece suit, say) or under dressed (flip flops and shorts are not the look you’re going for). A button down shirt or sweater and non-jean pants are always appropriate for a law school visit, or a nice blouse and pants or skirt of appropriate length for ladies. For a good guide to appropriate dress in any situation, visit this website.
4. Shake hands, look people in the eye, and practice your telephone skills. It’s disappointing how many people have a limp dog handshake or avoid looking directly at the person with whom they are speaking. Similarly, an overly casual, rambling, or vague voice mail message isn’t going to help convey your professionalism. (Hint: Practice what you want to say and make sure to include the basics: clearly enunciated name, telephone number, why you are calling.) It’s the absence of these small but important behaviors that really gets noticed. It might feel a bit awkward being so formal at first, but these are expected courtesies in a professional (not undergrad) setting.
5. Consider the law school’s perspective. The essence of etiquette is to consider the other person’s side. How might a law school interpret this email/phone call? What might they consider a reasonable time frame for a response? What information can you provide that might make this conversation flow more smoothly? Are you requesting rather than demanding action? Always be as polite and as prepared as possible when interacting with a law school.
Do these things really matter? Yes, yes, yes. We know LOTS of applicants who were admitted on the spot during a law school visit, or who were admitted from a wait list because they made a strong, professional impression. Remember that law schools still have a lot of discretion to decide who they want to admit and who to give their precious scholarship money to, so applicants should maximize every opportunity to interact professionally.