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A narrow path to law school

With a downpour of fluorescent lighting beaming from above, 400 would-be law students dressed in their Thursday best scampered across the bright, kaleidoscope patterned carpet in the Golden Gate Ballroom of the Marriott Marquis for the Law School Admissions Council’s San Francisco Law School Forum.

Uniformed officials ushered aspirants from the buzzing law school recruitment floor to lectures in tertiary conference rooms. Two women, who introduced themselves only as Leihem and Anita, try to understand navigating the process of applying for law school.

“I’m just trying to collect information of the right steps to take,”  Leihem said. “We got a lot of information. We are prepping for the process of applying to law school.”

Law School Admissions Test (LSAT) testing decreased by 40.71 percent between the years of 2008 and 2015. However, statistics from the Law School Admissions Council (LSAC) website shows that more students like Leihem and Anita are looking to get their feet wet with the admissions process.

During the last few cycles of quarterly testing dates, there has been a spike in applicants to take the exam. Many sources attribute this to the rise in political turbulence since the Nov. 2016 election, often cited as the “Trump bump.”

On Nov. 17, Chicago Tribune reported, “in June, the number of test-takers was up 19.8 percent year-over-year, to 27,606 people. And the number of people who took the test in September rose 10.7 percent from a year ago, to 37,146 people. As of Oct. 30, registrations for the December 2 exam were up 21.4 percent.”

The LSAC provides resources for Juris Doctorate and Master of Laws applicants ranging from law school information and data, fee waivers, administration and preparation for LSAT testing and forums like the one held in San Francisco that allow for students to interface with law school recruiters and gather information on the application process.

While some came on a whim to satisfy curiosity, other students attended to narrow the pathway to their goals. A returning student in her 40s stopped to collect her thoughts, wipe her brow and organize the stack of leaflets she had amassed within the first hour of the forum opening.

“I have 10 law schools in mind,” the returning student said. “So far the process has given me a headache but I believe I have learned a lot so far today. Like the fact that in my personal statement I should include my diversity statement.”

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Wendy Margolis, director of communications, publishing, and creative services at LSAC, said that in San Francisco alone 400 potential law students and 145 laws schools attended the forum to get insight into the process. Of the population 67.3 percent were women and 71.4 percent identified as ethnic minorities.

Yusuf Abdul-Kareem, assistant director for diversity initiatives at LSAC, led a diversity panel at the forum to help hopefuls better understand how diversity plays a role in applying for law school.

“Sometimes a diversity statement is an optional statement so the information about the diversity you bring to the table may be something you explain in your personal statement,” Abdul-Kareem said. “The viewpoints of students that can educate the class will lead to a more interesting classroom experience. Write with authenticity but make sure it flows and that it is clean.”

Margolis says students shouldn’t stop at coming to forums and checking the LSAC website for resources. They should take systematic steps to make themselves ready for law school like getting out of debt as an undergrad and asking as many questions as possible.

“We have a lot of information on the website,” Margolis said. “Also take a look at law schools, talk to anyone you know that may be in law. We advise checking with a pre-law advisor at your undergraduate college, they will have a lot of resources.”

Dr. Andrew Flores, assistant professor of government and pre-law advisor at Mills, helps students navigate the law school admissions process on-campus by helping students understand the law school process, guiding students toward law-related events and internships and connecting students toward resources needed to prepare for LSAT exams.

“Once a decision is made that law school is the next step, then it is not too early to begin thinking about preparing for the LSAT – take courses that might help build deductive and analytical logic skills,” Flores said. “Law school admissions will pay attention to both qualitative and quantitative metrics: that is, did you take challenging courses in your undergraduate education? And, how well did you perform in your coursework? If there is extra time to contribute to the campus or broader community, then those extra-curricular activities may also reflect well.”

While applying for any graduate or professional program after law school can be outside of the scope experience of undergraduate students can acquire these skills with study and guidance.

Ben Theis, professional test developer for LSAT, says the tests are standard measures of skills in reading and reasoning that are acquired within the realms of educational career, not an IQ test or examination of innate abilities.

“LSAT is not the end all be all of the law school admissions process,” Theis said. “It is just providing one piece of the puzzle. But LSAT is a hard test. You should prepare. These are skills you can get, practice and improve upon.”

Most law schools ask applicants to provide LSAT scores, a personal statement or admissions essay, diversity statement, curriculum vitae and letters of recommendation. While neither the LSAC forum nor pre-law advisors offer quick and dirty advice on applying for law school, Flores does offer one bit of advice to students.

“Do not be afraid to share your personal statement with your faculty advisers and other mentors,” Flores said. “Feedback can help a lot in situating how you present yourself to admissions committees.”

On-campus students can find more information through Career Connections and the Alumni Association.