Character and fitness disclosures

The character and fitness questions have begun. This time of year is when I start getting many questions from students about the character and fitness questions on law school applications. You know the ones–they ask whether you’ve ever been charged with a crime, or whether you’ve been accused of academic dishonesty, or whether you’ve ever been on academic probation. Some schools will even ask about your traffic or parking tickets–hey, lawyers are nothing if not thorough. Please, please, take a moment to review this post about these questions.

Why do they care? Consider this from a law school’s perspective. The pressure is on law schools not only to admit a class of quality students, but to help their graduates find jobs at the end. They want to admit students who will be admitted to the bar. A history of criminal charges, multiple issues involving substance abuse, academic dishonesty, or a tendency towards violence suggest impaired or poor judgment at best and potential problems passing the character and fitness investigation to be admitted to any state’s bar. Law students are certainly making a huge investment in their future by attending law school–but the law school itself is also highly invested in making sure its students and graduates succeed. Each party’s future depends on graduates’ success.

How should you answer these questions? Before even looking at the questions on the application, you should know that your law school application will be reviewed when you later apply to any state’s Board of Admission to the Bar. If the Board of Admission to the Bar finds discrepancies or omissions, you will have to answer to the character and fitness committee and to their satisfaction–or they will not allow you to sit for their state’s bar exam. You should also know that the Board of Admissions to the Bar defines an “omission” as a lie.

Read the application’s questions carefully. 90% of the questions I receive are clearly answered in the law school’s question or instructions. Carefully review the question. Most of the time, the issue is not that the question is unclear; it’s that the applicant just doesn’t want to answer it. However, if you are still uncertain, then…

Ask for clarification. If you have questions or you don’t understand whether the question encompasses your situation, call the admissions office of the school. Ask them for clarification–they are the ones who wrote the question, so they should be able to explain what they are looking for. Believe me when I say that they have seen it all. Your situation will not shock them.

This may sound surprising, but I do not believe that students should be seeking legal advice with regard to these questions. First of all, you’ll note that many law school applications will clearly state that it is the applicant’s responsibility to provide full answers, even if advised against doing so by a lawyer or other party. The Board of Admissions to the Bar will say the same thing–it is YOUR responsibility to fully answer the questions. Secondly (in my opinion), if the situation is serious enough that you sought legal counsel, then it’s serious enough that a law school should know about it, as should the Board of Admissions to the Bar.

When in doubt, disclose. Law schools have seen it all, from underage drinking tickets to public urination (which is more common than you’d think, apparently), to felonies. Your situation is not as shocking to them as you think. Disclosing now will prevent problems passing the bar in the future…so when in doubt, just do it. Or would you rather discover at the end of law school that your history prevents you from sitting for the bar in your preferred state?

And…it doesn’t stop with your bar admission! Law is a highly regulated field. As lawyers we have access to extremely sensitive confidential information and we serve as fiduciaries for our clients. Practicing law is a privilege, not a right, and it is appropriate that the judgment and integrity of lawyers (as well as lawyers-to-be) are considered.

 

 

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Grammar Police: Top Errors in Personal Statements

Grammar can be tricky.  Just the other day, a friend and I consulted Grammar Girl after debating whether it is correct to say “myriad choices” or “myriad of choices.” (It turns out that either has become acceptable, although traditionalists still say that “myriad choices” would be more formally correct.)

Grammar matters a lot. The abilities to speak and write well are at the core of being an effective advocate, regardless of the area of law in which an attorney practices. Clients–as well as judges–judge how smart lawyers are by how well they speak and write.  Would you want to pay a lawyer $200+ an hour to produce sloppy letters and briefs full of typos and grammatical errors? Of course not. Clients pay lawyers for their excellent speaking and writing skills, as well as their attention to detail. Sloppy speaking and writing skills = no repeat clients.

In the context of a personal statement, law schools will be judging your ability to convey your message not only through the substance of your essay (which is important), but by the quality of your writing. We are seeing a lot of personal statements this time of year, which reminds me just how common grammar mistakes are in them. I’ve noticed that there are certain errors I consistently see. If I am seeing them, you know that deans and directors of admission at law schools are noticing them too. What are some grammar dangers to avoid?

  • Spell check is not enough. Say it with me. Spell check IS NOT enough. Spell check does not catch some of my favorite mistakes, like writing “statue” when you mean “statute” or “the” when “them” is what you meant. (One little letter makes a world of difference.) It won’t catch that you have written “perspective student” when you mean “prospective student.”  Spell check definitely won’t notice that you incorrectly left one reference to Stanford when the rest of your essay is about Northwestern. Tip: Use “Find and Replace” for that.
  • Possessive apostrophes. Hands down, the single biggest mistake I consistently see in students’ writing is incorrect usage of apostrophes, especially when indicating possession. Usually this involves adding apostrophes where they do not belong (like in “its mistakes”, which does not use an apostrophe for possessive) as well as missing an apostrophe where one does belong (in “students’ work”, for example).
  • Me, myself, and I. Are you the subject of the sentence? If so, “me” and “myself” don’t fit. You wouldn’t say “me walks into the room” or “myself prefers yellow.” Therefore, you also should not say “my friend and me walk into the room” or “my mom and myself prefer yellow.” (You should use “I” in both of those examples.) An especially egregious mistake is the dreaded incorrect plural possessive: “My brother and I’s apartment.” Yikes! Correct options would be to say “my apartment”, “our apartment”, or even “the apartment my brother and I share.”

Here is my number one grammar tip: READ IT OUT LOUD.  That’s right, read your essay out loud and listen. Does it sound right to you? Most of us know when something sounds “off”..even if we can’t articulate exactly why it is wrong. Circle the areas of the paper that sound odd to you, and give them some extra grammar attention.

Where can you turn for some grammar guidance?

Grammar Girl is a good online resource: http://grammar.quickanddirtytips.com/

Our Writer’s Workshop wrote a helpful grammar guide:
http://www.cws.illinois.edu/workshop/writers/

For a compilation of several helpful grammar sites, visit
http://writing-program.uchicago.edu/resources/grammar.htm

I also really like Grammarly.com’s Facebook page, which posts fun examples of grammar gone awry. (That’s right, grammar can be fun.)

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“What should I be doing now?” For fall applicants

The most common refrain we hear this time of year is from applicants asking “what should I be doing now?” We’re glad you asked!

1. If you are taking the October LSAT then right now is all-LSAT-and-nothing-but-the-LSAT-time! We’re  less than three weeks from the LSAT, which means that you will want to really focus on your LSAT prep above all else. At this point, we suggest that you set aside those personal statements and essays to focus exclusively on LSAT prep. The only exception is…

2. Get your letters of recommendation NOW, whether you are taking the October LSAT or not. If you are applying this fall and you still don’t have your letters of recommendation locked up, do this immediately! Right now! Don’t even finish reading this paragraph. Just go talk to your recommenders this very second. Expect it to take at least 4-8 weeks for the recommender to write the letter, send it in, and for the LSAC to process it.

3. Explore the admissions websites and blogs of schools that interest you. Many law schools host VERY helpful blogs and even tweet updates about their admissions process. (For example, the Dean of Admissions at Yale Law School recently wrote some blog entries about what she likes/doesn’t like in personal statements here http://blogs.law.yale.edu/blogs/admissions/archive/tags/P.S.+Boot+Camp/default.aspx .) It is important to understand that while there are qualities that every law school likes to see, each law school is also a bit unique in what it values. Some schools may value work experience, others are more community service oriented, and still others may prefer to see international experience. These admissions websites, blogs, and Twitter accounts can give a LOT of insight into what the school–and the admissions dean–is interested in hearing, as well as what’s “been there, done that” for them.

4. If you are finished with the LSAT (yay!), then it’s time to work on your personal statement and your supplemental essays. Log into your CAS account and open the applications of the schools that interest you. (It’s okay, the schools won’t see your application until you click “submit”, so you can open the application as many times as you want.) Look at the prompts each school gives for personal statements and look at the supplemental essays they want you to submit. Make a list of all the supplemental essays you will need.

Brainstorm about your personal statement. What do you have to offer a law school? What are your career aspirations? What meaningful experiences have you had? If you’re having trouble getting started, attend one of our Personal Statement Workshops; you can view them all and register at http://illinois.edu/calendar/list/2508

5. When you have written a draft, set up a personal statement review appointment. The challenge for applicants is that you haven’t done this before, and you don’t know what the rest of the applicant pool’s essays look like. As Pre-Law Advisors, we’ve read hundreds (maybe thousands?) of essays, and we can tell you exactly how this essay compares to the pool. We can also help troubleshoot, brainstorm ideas, offer suggestions for better structure and flow of the essay, and comment on the tone of the essay. (Note that we do not edit the essay or provide proofreading services. Mechanics and grammar are at the discretion of the student.)

To set up a personal statement appointment, call 333-9669. Then, email your personal statement to the advisor two business days before the appointment so that we can review it and give it some thought prior to appointment time. You can also email your resume for review at the same time.

6. Order your transcripts. Remember that you must provide a transcript from each undergraduate institution you attended, even if you just took a summer class at a community college. It can take some time to coordinate with all of the Registrars at other colleges; do yourself a favor and start now. You can find more information about that process here http://www.lsac.org/jd/apply/cas-requesting-transcripts.asp

We are hosting a workshop on Applying to Law School on Monday, September 24 at 4:00 in 161 Noyes to discuss specific details about the application process, working with the LSAC, and strategizing about your application plan. Check it out at http://illinois.edu/calendar/list/2508. See you there!

 

 

 

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