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Moshi Moshi…

It’s mid-December and I’ve not yet started to make my calls to you.  That will change very soon (as in today or tomorrow) and you may be the one to see the 650 call come through or you may be the one to read that congratulatory email in your in-box.  I’ve got a stack of files in front of me and I’m feeling a tad playful and mischievous  thinking about who will be that first person I call.  Should I do it in alpha order?  Should I do it by date the files were completed?  Should I just toss the files up in the air and pick the one that lands face up?  Should I get out my map of the country, close my eyes and pick a state?  [Remember spinning the globe when you were young – with no idea of what was yet to come – to decide where you’d live when you grew up?]  Should I do it by time zone?  I really shouldn’t call someone from California when it’s 7:15 am, right, especially if that someone is still in school?

If you’ve not read my blog from last year about my Don’t Do This list, spend a few minutes and take a glance at it.  All five points are still relevant.  I did not hear “I’m in the middle of lunch. Can I call you back?” last season and thank goodness for that.  I was fully prepared to first scream into the phone and then very politely say “I’m sorry.  I think I’ve reached you in error.  Sorry to have been a bother.”  I do want to add one question to that original list and I really hope no one will ask this of me this year.  “I know you send out t-shirts, so could I get one in an extra small?”  If that question pops up, I guarantee that particular admit will end up with the largest t-shirt in our stash.  I suppose it’s not really an outlandish question and nowhere as obnoxious as the out to lunch comment, but still.

Now, I hope you won’t be nervous or anxious when I reach you quite simply because there is no reason for you to be nervous or anxious.  It’s just me calling.  It’s okay if you can’t think of anything especially coherent to say at the moment.  I understand.  It’s okay if you start screaming and can’t seem to stop.  I understand.  Someone who did just that last year is here now in the 1L class and we laugh about it with each other.  It’s okay if you think about something witty you could have said three minutes after we end the conversation.  I understand.  I’m here if you want to give me a call back.  It’s just me and you’ve got my number.  It’s not okay to tell me you’ve already heard from other schools.  I won’t understand.  Just kidding.  Remember one thing…if the call (or email) comes, it is well deserved and I should really be the one screaming into the phone hoping you’ll choose Stanford.

Talk to you soon…

(Curious about the meaning of Moshi Moshi?)

Full Steam Ahead and the Importance of Threads…

My fall travels are O-V-E-R and I don’t need to get on a plane again until mid-February.  No more checking weather.com to learn how to pack that suitcase.  No more trying to decide whether to layer or just take that winter coat.  No more perusing Google maps to figure out how to get from my hotel to wherever it is that I need to be.  This is especially difficult as I have no sense of direction – all I needed to know growing up in Hawaii was whether someplace was mauka or makai.  No more putting my life in the hands of NYC cab drivers.  No more wishing and wishing for that upgrade to first class.  Has anyone else noticed that since the United and Continental merger these upgrades are harder to come by?  No more cursing those passengers who can’t figure out when they should board.  No, Seating Area 3 does not board immediately after first class.  No more trying to trying to unlock my hotel room door only to find that it’s not my room.  Right, that was last night’s room number.  But, why should you care about all of this?  Well, this means I now can devote my full attention to your application.  No more reading an application here and an application there.  The reading season is now fully underway and it’s full steam ahead.

Now that I’m reading in earnest, let me tell you a little bit about my reading process and my reading habits.  I get numerous distractions in the office over the course of the day and I sometimes find I cannot make the desired dent in my electronic reading stack so I actually do a lot of my reading at home. The hubby is watching football (insert any other sport here) or some History channel show (yuck – still don’t understand why he’s not a Criminal Minds fan) and the only child is off at college.  All this equals no distractions.  If I’m in the zone and have had a marathon reading day, I probably am not going to do the same thing again the next day.  If you ran a marathon today, you’ll probably not run a second marathon tomorrow – you might instead take the day off from running or do a light workout.  Ditto with file reading for me.  Reading takes concentration and focus and it needs 100% attention.  Some files are easy to read and the decision comes easily – there is depth to the application and everything ties in together.  Things are connected and I am able to get a really good sense of who you are – how you think, what you think.  Others, however, I labor over because I’m not able to easily put together the puzzle pieces and have to really dig to get to know you.  It just depends on the file.  Sometimes I can’t quite put my finger on it, but my Spidey sense starts tingling and those files take longer as well.  Sometimes I come across a personal statement that is enthralling and that makes me push the file into the admit group.  Sometimes I come across a personal statement that is appalling and that makes me push the file into the deny group.  Sometimes everything falls into place and I jump up and down and start clapping – not literally, of course, but I will smile and you know which group this file ends up in.  My critique of applications could be visualized, I suppose, along the lines of the San Francisco Chronicle’s Little Man icon for movie reviews .  And, yes, sadly, there are times when an empty chair is appropriate.

Let me ask the same question I asked in the first paragraph of this posting.  Why should you care about all of this? Three reasons.  First, I want to highlight the importance of having that thread in your application that unifies things.  Remember this – it is your responsibility to make sure that thread exists.  It is your task to weave that thread in and to make sure it is there for me to discover.  I will find it, but only if you have put it there to begin with.  Second, excellent writing skills are so important and this comes through most significantly through the personal statement.  Your task is not just to tell me a story, but to tell me a story in a well-written and compelling fashion.  You may have one heck of a story, but if it’s not written well you can imagine which Little Man icon most accurately portrays my reaction.  Finally, and perhaps most importantly for you as you wait out the decision process, I hope you will see that it’s not a simple and cursory review that takes place.  You’ve put a lot of time into your application and I want you to know that I put a lot of time into reading what you have to say.

A Brief Reading Assignment…And Lucy Reigns…

A Brief Reading Assignment…And Lucy Reigns…

As you embark on the application process this year, there is one very important document you should read now, then read again when you begin to see admission offers appear in your mailbox (or in-box).  This 4-page Law School Admission Council document is titled The Statement of Good Admission and Financial Aid Practices and is a statement that all law school admission officers are expected to adhere to and abide by. Take the time to read through the document.  Print up a copy and keep it handy.  I’ve done the same – there is a copy always within reach on my desk.

The statement outlines the principles that guide our work as admission officers.  It keeps us honest and focused on fair practices concerning you rather than our own need to outfox or outwit other schools and climb the rankings ladder.  Admissions is a business – I get that – but let’s put the games aside and really help you make the best decision you can based on your own sense of “fit” and not by having law schools twist your arm and force a decision before you are ready to make it.  Hold us to the tenets expressed in the statement.  I hate the next statement I’m going to make because I shouldn’t have to say it, but I’m going to say it anyway.  Keep us honest.

When I hear from an applicant about a situation they’re facing, I silently say “Tsk, tsk, tsk…” and brace myself for the ensuing conversation and say “There is a statement you need to familiarize yourself with.”  When you read the statement, you will discover that a school cannot ask you to make a decision prior to April 1.  You will discover that you may accept any new offer even though you’ve accepted a scholarship elsewhere and paid a deposit.  You will discover that a school at which you’ve placed a deposit or confirmed your enrollment cannot require you to remove your name from another school’s waitlist.  Really?  Yes, so you need to take an active role if you find yourself in a situation that just doesn’t feel right.  Reading the statement is a very good way to start.  Now you know, but how do you go about “reminding” an admissions dean or director of this pesky issue?  I am keenly aware that this act of reminding is an awkward and uncomfortable situation.  I understand and I feel your pain, but you need to find your voice and be heard.  Take the bull by the horn, bite the bullet, etc., okay?

In reading over this post, I’m beginning to feel that it’s kind of a heavy topic.  Right?  So, let’s see if I can turn this around and end on a happy note.  Click here – Lucy is always good for a smile and she’s headed in the right direction, don’t you think?

International Law…Thriving at SLS

I was surprised by one question I was asked during our Admitted Students’ Weekend, which was whether our international law program was as strong as the program at some other schools.  It shows you how slow reputation is to change, because we’ve developed an amazing program in the last decade or so.

It starts with a substantial group of faculty whose expertise is in international law—all leaders in their respective subfields:  Al Sykes in international trade, Jenny Martinez in public international law, Allen Weiner in public international law and national security law, Amalia Kessler in comparative law, John Merryman in comparative law, Tino Cuellar in international criminal and administrative law and in national security law, Josh Cohen in international jurisprudence.  Plus, faculty in a variety of arenas teach international courses in their areas of expertise, such as Paul Goldstein’s courses in International IP Law, and Michael Wara’s in International Environmental Law.  There are, as well, visiting faculty each year from Europe, Latin America, and Asia teaching comparative courses.  In most years, SLS offers more than 25 international law classes – so many that our problem has been not spreading the students out too thinly.

But classes are only one part of SLS’s international program.  There are, for instance, joint degrees in International Policy Studies and in East Asian, Latin American, Eastern European, and African Studies—all capable of being completed in three years.  The school has also recently begun a program in and about China that has several basic courses taught by Mei Gechlik and that will include courses taught by visiting faculty from Peking University, Tsinghua University and possibly even the Central Party School.  Mei and/or the China Law Student organization oversee a variety of other activities, including several annual conferences, travel to China, and a new project in which SLS students will work with Chinese faculty and students translating and generating commentary about the Supreme People’s Court’s new “guiding cases” (the Chinese version of precedent).

Clinics and experiential learning are a key part of our international program, as they are of everything at SLS.  We just hired Jim Cavallaro from Harvard Law School, who will come and enlarge our international human rights clinic, spreading its reach from Africa to include Latin America.  And, remember that students at SLS do not take other classes while taking a clinic, which enables us to send them to work in-country for upwards of 10-11 weeks—something no other law school does or can do.  Similarly, the law school’s development/rule-of-law projects in Afghanistan, Bhutan and East Timor give students an opportunity to work on projects with lawyers and political leaders in these countries.

Stanford being Stanford, research opportunities naturally abound.  Most of the law school’s centers include international projects in their portfolio, and with Cavallaro’s arrival, we will be launching a new center on international human rights that will complement and work with similar centers in the medical school, the business school, the education school, and with the Program on Human Rights at the Freeman-Spogli Institute for International Studies (FSI).  Law students and faculty similarly play key roles in other FSI entities—including the Center for International Security and Cooperation (CISAC), the nation’s oldest and most important center on security, which is co-directed by Tino Cuellar; the Center on Democracy, Development and the Rule of Law (CDDRL), which includes the law school’s Rule of Law Program; the Stanford Center on International Conflict and Negotiation (SCICN), which is directed by Allen Weiner; and various other centers both in FSI and across the University.  The law school then supplements all this with a steady stream of visitors from other countries to teach classes and participate in programs, conferences, and other special events.

On top of all this, we have created a plethora of opportunities for law students to study abroad in countries ranging from Mexico to Germany to Italy to Japan, China, Singapore, and more.  Just as important, or even more so, our Office of Career Services has a staff person dedicated to helping students find work abroad, whether for a summer or permanently.

Just so you know, this quick description just skims the surface of what is happening at the law school—and it scarcely touches the truly limitless opportunities available to law students in the rest of  Stanford University (as Dean Kramer says, at SLS “the University is the law school”).  Do we have the best international program in the country?  We think so.  At the very least, there is more here of high quality than any law student could realistically hope to take advantage of—even under our flexible program.

When It Comes To LRAP, Read The Fine Print…

Loan repayment assistance programs (LRAP) have been around for awhile.  SLS created one of the first programs of its kind – if not the first – back in 1987.  Recently, there’s been a bit of a buzz around this topic as Chicago announced a revamped program.  If you’ve got the time, check out the numerous articles written about it.  Hats off to them for enhancing their program from what they offered previously.  As I read more, what really concerned me was how applicants and admitted students could sift through the sound bites and get the information they need not just about this program, but about all LRAP programs offered at schools of interest.

Certainly when one sees the word “free” linked with the word “education”, all kind of bells and whistles go off and it’s difficult to turn your eyes away from the candy.  Resist the urge to sign on the dotted line for a bit.  I urge you instead to do a thoughtful examination of these programs as you do your research on law schools.  As an applicant or an admitted student, you should create a list of questions to ask of each school you are seriously considering.  Consider it your responsibility to do this.  Ask questions pertaining to academics.  Ask questions pertaining to faculty accessibility.  Ask questions pertaining to the quality of student life.  Ask questions about financial aid.  Ask questions about employment statistics.  Ask questions about things that matter to YOU.  A question that you must include on this list concerns LRAP.  Don’t simply ask if the school has a loan forgiveness or loan repayment program.  A lot of schools have these programs so you’re going to get a lot of affirmative answers and you won’t be any better off than you were before you asked the question.  So, don’t check that question off your list quite yet.  Educate yourself by digging into the details.  Be forewarned, though, as the details should not be left for bedtime reading. Be forewarned, also, that you can easily fall into the trap of comparing apples to oranges.  Be patient and work through the details and discover the principles that drive each school’s program.  Here are some things you should be looking at:

1.       What employment qualifies for coverage?  If there is a requirement that the work must be in the public sector and that is where you believe your commitment lies, then please make sure that the school you are considering has a robust public interest curriculum.  A generous loan repayment or forgiveness program should go hand-in-hand with a very rigorous public interest curriculum.

2.       What are the income eligibility caps? Or, better yet, is there a cap on salary?

3.       How are payments calculated – on a school-based formula or the government’s IBR rate or some other method?  Will the school pay you funds based on a 10-year plan or based on 25-year plan?  Remember, interest is accruing if you’re spreading your payments out over a longer period of time.

4.       What happens if you miss a loan payment or make a late payment?  Are you kicked out of the program?

5.       What loans will be covered under the school’s program?  Will undergraduate loans be covered?  How about bar study loans?  How about private loans (as opposed to federal loans)?  And what about loans you may have for prior degrees or for a joint degree?

6.       How does a school treat part-time employment?

7.       How is spousal income used in calculating available income?  What about your spouse’s debt – will that be taken into consideration when looking at income?

8.       Does the program include a seniority allowance which provides an annual reduction in salary based on the number of years you’ve been participating in the program?

9.       How generous are the leave policies – family leave, periods of unemployment, etc?

10.    What assets are viewed as resources?  What assets are excluded?  Is there a cap on resources that will be taken into consideration?

11.    What is the actual forgiveness policy on the loans that are given to you?  Forgiven after 10 years?  After 5 years?  After 1 year?

12.    How flexible is the program?  This one is really important.  We can all come up with policies and procedures, but I guarantee you that there will be cases where a graduate doesn’t quite fit neatly into a box.  Will the school be able to bend to make the program work for someone like this?

You’ll discover that some programs are very simple and uncomplicated.  That’s the beauty of Chicago’s program to me.  A program with a single cap and an IBR schedule is probably an LRAP administrator’s dream come true.  Imagine no complicated spousal formulas which might or might not take into account the financial health of the married couple as opposed to the earnings of one partner, no seniority allowances, no messy non-federal or non-law school loans to consider for coverage.  Simple is easy and clean, but does simple mean better?  I imagine Chicago created this program with their graduate employment profile in mind just as we are mindful of our graduates’ needs as we annually review our policies.  So we did a little exercise here and looked at our pool and tried to apply Chicago’s new program to our graduates.  Interestingly, but not surprisingly, of our total LRAP population over time, only about 10% of our graduates remained in the program for 10 years AND made 80K or below (and we were helping with undergraduate loan debt and bar loan debt, by the way).  Yes, just 10%.  This range is the requirement to benefit from Chicago’s offer of a free education.  So for those who fit in to that narrow band, it’s a great deal.  Since most of LRAP participants don’t fit in to that band, at least here at SLS, you can see why we’re convinced our program is so strong.  And, hopefully, you can see why you need to do some homework. Now, go back to the list of questions and really start digging deeper.  Read through the LRAP brochures and scan the program terms.  Ignore the hype.  Do your comparisons.   Run the numbers.  Read the fine print and let the strength of the program shine through on its own merits and as it works for your unique situation.

Don’t Believe Everything You Read…

Transparency and accuracy in reporting employment statistics of new lawyers has been much in the news of late.  Just last week, Senator Boxer wrote the ABA to demand that it require law schools to provide accurate post-graduate salary information—prompted, she said, by recent news stories alleging that law schools were publishing misleading information.  Among the stories that may have provoked Senator Boxer’s intervention is a recent Forbes blog post reporting that Forbes pulled data from Payscale.com and discovered that a number of top law schools, including Stanford, had misstated what their graduates in the private sector were earning nine months after graduation.

The blogger does not actually use the word “lie,” but that’s clearly the thrust of his story.  This is unfortunate because the story is not just wrong, but based on misleading analysis.   The blogger says he used information on 8,500 private sector lawyers out of a total of 28,000.  He does not say how the 8,500 were chosen or whether there is any reason to believe it is a representative sample.  He does not say how many graduates from any given law school were in the sample or whether the sample for any given law school is broad enough to be accurate.  He does not even indicate what year or years these lawyers graduated, other than to note that the sample included graduates from the five years leading up to 2009.

These omissions are telling, because he is reporting a median not a mean, and because salaries at private firms rose steadily in those years.  Keep in mind that the blogger is saying that our current data, as reported to NALP (the National Association of Legal Professionals) and U.S. News is inaccurate.  One is simply left to assume that his chart reflects the most current year that data was made available, which of course it doesn’t.

The Forbes’ blogger’s chart says that SLS graduates had a median starting salary of $125,000.  When we look at our internal records, we see that we did indeed report a median starting salary of $125,000—back in 2004 and 2005.  Could it be that the Forbes’ blogger’s data is simply not up-to-date?  That too many of the necessarily small number of SLS lawyers in his sample graduated in these years?  It’s provocative to say that law schools are selling a bill of goods to students.  It’s just not responsible—not when even a little serious research would reveal the truth.

Just to be an open book, here is what Stanford has reported to NALP and U.S. News over the past six years.  Remember, these reports are of median salaries for graduates who take jobs in the private sector.  The real data for SLS is as follows:

Class of 2009: $160,000
Class of 2008: $160,000
Class of 2007: $160,000
Class of 2006: $135,000
Class of 2005: $125,000
Class of 2004: $125,000

The difference between our data and the data in the Forbes story is that ours is comprehensive and reported annually.  We conduct a survey each year in which students self-report their employment and salary information.  We keep track of our students, working individually with each of them to help secure employment.  We fill in the few gaps for our graduates in the private sector with salary information provided by law firm recruiters and the NALP website.  Our data encompasses virtually every Stanford graduate, and we report the data for each given year.  These are the real numbers.

So what lesson do we learn—or relearn—from this incident?  Don’t believe everything you read.

(There’s more to employment statistics than just median private sector starting salary.  I’ll be posting a more detailed chart of our salary breakdown for 2010, so stay tuned.  The chart will show not just private sector salaries, but also clerkship, public interest and government salaries. )

Not so giddy anymore…

Well, the snow gods did not smile on me this weekend.  I still don’t know what it feels like to make snow angels. I still don’t know what it’s like to have a snow day.  I know, I know, I should just drive to the snow and get this snow angel fixation over and done with.  But, it’s not the same.  I don’t even have a snow globe on my desk to shake and make me feel less pouty.  So, I guess I’ll have to be distracted by work instead.

Regarding work, let me tell you about the most aggravating pieces of paper on my desk right now.  As you might imagine, we’ve had requests asking to submit late applications.  These requests never come in with specific reasons for the late filing – I think these applicants believe we’ll not notice.  In any case, staff always reaches out asking for the reasons behind the lateness.  And, what do we hear back?  “I just decided I want to go to law school in the last few weeks.”  “My job opportunity fell through and I find myself with time on my hands.” “I’ve been busy with classes.”  “I’ve been down with the flu.”  Really?  These are not good reasons and you need not worry that any of the people behind these requests are competing with you for seats in the class.  I’m waiting for “The dog ate my application.”  I have a feeling it’s gonna come one of these days.

I heard this song on the radio as I drove in this morning.  OK, I’m now done being pouty.  You gotta smile if you can start the day like this – it’s my Tuesday morning gift to you.

I’m giddy…

and I must confess it’s not solely due to reading your applications.  Let me explain why.

On my iPhone I have three locations set up on the weather icon –  Palo Alto,  the small town of Waimea on the Big Island of Hawaii and Eagle Rock, a neighborhood in northeastern Los Angeles.  These three locations carry significance to me beyond the simple “I wonder what the weather is like today” sort of thing.  These are three places that I’ve called home over the course of my lifetime – born and raised in that small town in Hawaii, college in Eagle Rock and now the roots run deep in Palo Alto.  While I check out Palo Alto’s weather for the usual reasons – bring the umbrella, leave the heels in the closet, take the raincoat, etc., the reasons for checking out the other two locations are more elusive. When it’s cold and rainy here or I miss the Hawaii connections, I wistfully look at the Waimea weather – usually warm with light showers – and memories flood back and I smile.  When it’s hot here or when I reflect on younger days, I look at Eagle Rock  – where it’s usually even hotter with no breeze – and memories flood back and I smile.  This morning, when I took my stroll through the three locations, what to my amazement do I see?  Snow predicted in Palo Alto on Saturday…really!  I can’t believe it.  If it does indeed snow, I am taking a break from reading files and calling it a snow day – well, at least the Palo Alto version of a snow day.  Maybe enough snow will fall for me to make snow angels.  I’m giddy just thinking about it.  (Go find a copy of the picture book The Snowy Day by Ezra Jack Keats and remember what it’s like to look at the world with awe.)

Okay, I’ve gotten that out of my system.  I’m going back to reading applications.  As an update, we’re still making our way through file reviews.  The class is not full.  Decisions are going out fairly regularly although not daily.  I’m making some calls later this morning and hopefully will be making some tomorrow as well.  I can see the glimmer – it’s not a true light yet – at the end of the tunnel.

Don’t let this be a lost weekend…

It’s Friday and the long weekend is in sight.  If you’ve still not gotten your application submitted, this is when you need to carve out some time to get it done.  February 1st is rapidly approaching.  You are on notice.  Pleeeeease do not write to me on February 16th and say you thought the deadline was February 15th because that other school back east (rhymes with hale, bale or kale) has that deadline and you assumed SLS would be no different.  Missing an important deadline because of an assumption you made when you should have been a responsible applicant reading through materials carefully does not bode well for you.  But, back to  the original intent for this posting, get your application written and hit that submit button.  To echo Nike’s sentiment…just do it.

Same Time, Last Year…Reflections From a 1L Guest Blogger

Jake Klonoski, a current 1L, writes about waiting to hear – something you all are familiar with.  Read through this posting and know that there is an end in sight.  I especially like his advice about planning an adventure before starting law school.  Well, it’s actually his wife’s advice so kudos to Katie for that.  If you do take this very good advice on seeking out an adventure, keep me posted.  I love these kind of stories  and you may find yourself being a guest blogger here.  Remind me sometime to tell you about The Great Western Trip chronicling a group of 1Ls driving cross-country to get to SLS.  Let’s be clear, though.  This possible guest blog gig  is only an option if you choose SLS. And, now, I turn it over to Jake…

The feeling is wonderful.  You hit send on the LSAC website and all the LSAT studying and worrying over essay application wording, all the consideration about letters of recommendation and resumé polishing is over.  Now all the law school application boards have to do is appreciate how unique and wonderful your application is and surely you’ll be in.


After all, you did everything possible…

For me, the feeling lasted about 2 hours.  Then the worrying began.

It started with the realization that the bullet indenting on two different sections of my resumé had been a bit off.  Was it possible to fax or mail in a corrected copy, I called to ask one school?  Would sending in a correction count for me – or against me?  Did it even matter?

Then it spread to the thought that I should have asked my recommendation writers to address each school specifically in all of their letters.  Not just in the opening, but in the letter content as well.  Maybe I could whip together some wording suggestions for them – at least for my top choices.  That was not unreasonable, right?  They could then send revised letter directly to the school.

By the end of the week, I found myself looking up the February LSAT schedule.  Maybe taking it again wasn’t such a bad idea – what could it hurt?

After all, this was law school, something I had been thinking about for years, and if a bit of extra work could make the difference between a great school and a good school, shouldn’t I push that extra bit?  What if I didn’t go the extra mile and that would have made the difference?

“What if…” – terrible words.  They will drive you insane.  And it is all too easy to find them repeated in law school applicant chat rooms (what dreadful places!), especially as other applicants report decision letters being received.

In the end, it was my wife who pulled me back from the edge – it is such a blessing to marry someone smarter than yourself.  She had gone through law school years before and knew that decisions took months and that my worrying accomplished nothing more that ruining those first months of the year.

And so she offered me three suggestions, three things I could do to use the time well.  I pass them on here, in hopes that they do as much (or more) good for others as they did for me:

1) Settle your debts and kiss folks good-bye.  Though you might go into law school understanding that it will not take over your life, that is the same understanding the Copiapó miners had as they went to work on August 5th before being trapped underground for 69 days.

Law school is intense and having time now to tell people what they mean to you, to warn them you might be out of touch, and to do the rounds with far-flung family and friends is invaluable.  Use the time – you never know how the world will change when they dig you out of 1L year.

2) Commit to yourself.  It is easy to lose perspective as you are swept up in the rushing energy of Stanford law school, the flood of loans, or the rising tide of legal knowledge that spills over you once you are on campus – and SLS is a West Coast school!  Before I even arrived on campus, I had written and rewritten my application essay so many times I could barely remember what had possessed me to apply to law school in the first place.

As a solution, Dalia Lithwick (SLS ’96) suggests that new law students take time to write themselves a letter (while you still can write!), to be opened upon graduation, reminding their future selves what the original (brilliant? naïve? crazy?) idea had been when the law school journey began.  My letter awaits my (optimistic hope of) graduation in 2013.

3) Plan an adventure.  Fond memories of the summer before 1L year can sustain you through a lot of library pain, and a good desktop photo can give you a huge energy boost in November.  More importantly, I am told that brilliant legal arguments are often grounded in exposure to reality.  This type of exposure can be in short supply while in law school, so grab this last chance to learn about something new in the real world.  “Adventure” can encompass travel, volunteering, or working somewhere interesting (ideally, your finances can be enhanced rather than drained).  And your classmates will be grateful if you have something interesting to talk about during Orientation.

But don’t overdo it – I made the mistake of grabbing a chance with the US Navy to fight piracy off the coast of Somalia (great photos for the desktop!) but lost out on the chance to settle my debts/kiss folks good-bye as a result.  Balance is required – a key lesson for a law student to understand.

In the end, law school will happen – for better or worse.  At SLS, it is certainly for the better, but regardless life has a way of working things out.  Again, the most important thing you can come into law school with is an appreciation for life’s balances.  These months doing something other than worrying about applications are a needed opportunity to practice that balance, because the three years ahead will challenge your balancing skills to the max.

As a final note – I did not send in a revised resumé nor did I try to redesign my letters of recommendations.  And I definitely did not take the February LSAT.  And things worked out pretty well.

In the end, there are just more important things to worry about than bullet alignment on your resumé.

As an example for future classmates, at SLS there are mountain lions on campus.  Beware.