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A Celebration and a Parade…

Our graduation ceremony was held this past Saturday and it was quite the day for a celebration.  The ceremony was held on the lawn in front of the law school and the temperature was at least 90 degrees.  Imagine being in a black robe for almost two hours in the sweltering heat.  We Palo Altoans are not accustomed to such heat.  One parent from Texas laughed at my displeasure with the weather and said this was nothing compared to what was to be found back home.  It’s all about perspective, I know.  But, back to the important stuff.  The graduates were resplendent in their robes and other finery.  As I sat and listened to the speeches and watched the soon-to-be graduates gather their diplomas and well-wishes from the dean I thought about all the work that went into that moment in time for each of them.  At one point, they were just like you – thinking about law school, stressing out about the LSAT, wondering what subject to tackle in the personal statement, thinking about the best person to ask for a recommendation and the list goes on.  They applied. They were admitted.  They enrolled.  They spent three years learning, working, and fine-tuning their craft.  And, now we’ve pushed them out of the nest and they are on to other challenges.  Ah, what a feeling to watch each of them walk across the stage and accept the accolades from family, friends, faculty and staff – all well-deserved.  It is a moment of celebration, for certain.  For me, though, there is also an accompanying sense of poignancy.  Here are graduates I first came to know on paper.  Turning the pages of their applications brought them to life for me until I finally got the chance to put those pages together with the “real” person behind all those words and to form personal connections.  They’re moving on and another class will walk through our doors come August.  Time marches on.

And, now, for the amusing part.  I love watching the Parade of Shoes.  Okay, so I’ve taken the liberty of naming this parade myself even though it’s not my parade or even a real parade.  But, remember this is my blog and I get to name parades here.  I think you’ll like this.  Everyone is in a black gown.  It doesn’t matter what smart outfit you have on underneath the gown as you walk across the stage because the gown hides everything.  Of course, you still want to dress fabulously because of the photo ops after the ceremony.  But what do you do if you want to make a fashion statement?  Ladies, you know the obvious answer.  Shoes! My apologies to the guys – your shoes were fine but it’s a difficult task for a guy to stand out in the crowd because of his shoe choice.  Sorry, guys, that’s just the way it is.  I saw the most amazing shoes go across that stage – all kinds of colors, all kinds of shapes, all kinds of straps, all kinds of heel heights (though mostly incredibly high).  Pointed toes, rounded toes, open toes.  Slingbacks, wedges, pumps, mules.  It was, simply, a parade of shoes.  Of course, I paid appropriate attention to the inspiring speeches, the celebratory mood and the walks across the stage, but the parade was definitely a highlight.  Can this year’s parade be topped?  Check back next year – same time, same place.  Perhaps by then the Parade of Shoes will gain a larger following and will become quite the photo op itself.

I feel I need to end on a serious note so let me leave you with some wise words.  In his speech to the class as the winner of the Award for Excellence in Teaching, Professor Dan Ho states “The degree you are about to receive is a trust.  We trust you to exercise good judgment. To wield discretion with compassion. To employ law in advance of justice. To question the question marks.”  Dean Kramer states “Law is a powerful tool.  It can be used for good or for ill, or it can be used indifferently.  It can be used instrumentally, as nothing more than a means to an end, or it can be used with a sense of respect and appreciation for its internal art and architecture and history.  What we hope is that we have helped you see the differences between these uses and have helped you to use law thoughtfully – with appreciation for what you are doing and with a sense of balance and responsibility.”  Let these words linger with you as you contemplate your application to Stanford.  And ask yourself a question.  Are you ready to shape the future?

Heading east…

Just a quick note.  For those of you in the DC area, I will be at the LSAC DC Forum on Saturday, June 19.  The event is being held at the Marriott Wardman Park from 10:00 am to 5:00 pm.

Stop by the Stanford table and bring only your most interesting questions.  Do not ask me if you can commute to SLS – we’re located in Stanford, CA and not Stamford, CT.  Do not ask me if a 180 LSAT guarantees you admission.  I will have to throw something at you if you ask either of these questions.  I’ll try to remember to jot down the best question and the worst question I encounter during the event and will post the results here.

See you on Saturday.

Got Questions?

In our spare time (Hah!), a handful of us at a variety of law schools scattered throughout the wide expanse of the country decided we wanted to tackle a series of questions posed to us by a certain publication in a different format than what was asked for.  Sure, we could each answer the list of questions posed to us.  But where’s the fun in that?  The idea hit us that en masse we could probably do something just as informative, but much more efficient time-wise and with a very likely increase in entertainment value since we could obviously be a tad more informal in our blogs as opposed to an official response.  So, dear reader, this one’s for you.

I’ve thought of this exercise as being like speed dating.  Just for the record, this is a guess on my part because I’ve not been a participant in any speed dating experience – I found my husband the old fashioned way.  [When I told him about this comment in the blog, he asked what the “the old fashioned way” meant.]  But, back to speed dating…We each took a turn at being the lead person on a question and then sent that response and the original question on to the next person on the list and so on and so on until each of us had answered a series of nine questions.  Now, keep in mind that this was going on as we were all still reading files, hosting Admit Weekends and putting together waitlists.  Deadlines were imposed and I, on occasion, took full advantage of the fact that something due at the end of the business day occurred three hours later in Palo Alto than it did in New York.  I imagine the question “When will this be over?” went through our minds more than once.  Now that we’re done with it, I have to admit it was a good experience and I hope the end result is something you will find of value as you think about applying to law school.  You’ll see only a portion of the questions here on the Stanford site.  By visiting the Columbia blog, the Michigan blog and the Yale blog you will have the entire exercise at your fingertips.

Schools participating in this speed dating extravaganza are Stanford, Chicago, Columbia, Michigan, NYU and Yale.  You may notice that I’ve listed everyone in alphabetical order except for Stanford.  I list SLS first because, well, just because this is my blog.  Now, let me introduce you to my fellow speed daters in alpha order by school – Ann Perry, Nkonye Iwerebon, Sarah Zearfoss, Ken Kleinrock and Asha Rangappa.  I think they’re pretty darn good speed daters, but I can’t be absolutely certain because, you know, I’ve never actually speed dated.

Enjoy the readings and let me know what you think.

Which component carries the most weight: LSAT, GPA, work experience, or recommendations?  Which carries the least weight?

Stanford:  You’ll love the vagueness of my simple answer.  It depends.  Let me explain.  As an applicant you need to take stock of where you are at the start of the process.  What is your profile as you come to the application process?  A senior applying directly from college?  An investment banker applying after a fair amount of time in the workforce?   A Ph.D. in English who wants to make a career transition?  Determine your profile (and I’m not talking numerical profile here).  Then, approach the application as though it were a puzzle.  You have certain puzzle pieces and as an admissions officer I have to see how these pieces fit together.  If you’re a senior coming directly from college, your puzzle pieces are your academic record, (notice I did not say your GPA as I am more concerned with how you created your academic record), your LSAT score, your letters of recommendation and your personal statement.  If you are returning to school after some time spent in the workplace, then you have an additional puzzle piece – work experience.  Coming straight from college, you have fewer puzzle pieces so are able to move the pieces around and try to make them “fit” if some pieces are weak is somewhat constrained.  If your LSAT is your weak piece, then every other aspect in your file must be strong in order for us to say that the LSAT should lessen in importance.  If your LSAT is strong but your personal statement is poorly written and there is no evidence that you’ve taken any courses where serious writing was required, your file may not get very far.  What if your academic record is stellar, but you’ve done nothing outside of the classroom?  A puzzle piece is missing here so you might find yourself being held and compared to a larger group.  If you’re an electrical engineering major I may be more concerned about your writing as evidenced in your personal statement than if you were an English major.  I’d also pay closer attention to your letters of recommendation to see if your recommender comments on your writing skills.  If your grades aren’t strong and you are a senior, then I would hope that we’d see academic letters written on your behalf that would allay concerns we might have about how you would handle the work in law school.  What happens if you are the candidate who has been out of college for a number of years and now wants to take that experience and expand on it by going to law school?  Imagine that you’ve spent the last six years as a labor union organizer.  Imagine further that your undergraduate record is not one to jump up and down about.  Do you just get a cursory review?  Of course not. The question I’d ask myself is whether those six years of real-life experience are enough to compensate for an academic record that is not stellar.  In this specific example, the academic record recedes in importance and the work experience takes on greater importance.   Remember, then, that the puzzle pieces have to fit and how this is accomplished is based on your particular profile. 

 NYU:  Dean Deal’s thoughtful analysis is excellent.   The bottom line?   There is no magic formula that highly selective law schools use to reach our decisions. If there was, our work would be much easier.  Decision making is hard work – a process that requires us to consider a variety of factors and to view each applicant individually.   

Columbia:  I agree with much of Dean Deal’s thoughtful response and Dean Kleinrock’s “bottom line.”  The truth is that there is no easy answer, which is why the evaluation of files is necessarily holistic. 

Michigan:  I love Dean Deal’s example of the union organizer with a less-than-stellar academic record, because I vividly remember a candidate exactly like that six years ago; I thought she was fantastic, but asked our faculty committee chair to take a look too, to get his read on whether I wasn’t attaching enough significance to the college grades.  He sort of rolled his eyes at me and said, “She’s amazing!  I’m not going to nitpick her college record at this point in her career.”  Done.  She’s long since graduated and gone on to be an alum of whom we’re very proud.

Chicago:  My colleagues have done an excellent job of explaining in a couple of ways that there is no magic formula in the application process.  We have a holistic review of all applications.  If it was strictly a formulaic approach, then I would have hired someone many years ago to write me a computer program (since I was a political science major, I have no idea of how to write such a program) what would tell me who to admit and who to deny.  However, that is not the case nor would it be the best way to put together a law school class.  We need to review every part of the application before a decision is made since our mission is to bring an interesting group of students together every year. 

Yale:  Ditto on all the above.  I’ll add that applicants really overestimate the importance of the LSAT.  In my opinion, your LSAT is informed by the rest of your application, not the other way around.  So a great LSAT cannot make up for an otherwise mediocre application, and a low LSAT won’t break an otherwise compelling one.  So stop freaking out about it.   I’d also say that if any single part of your application is weak, you need to BRING IT in the rest of your application.  Remember that every piece of your application provides us with information.  So, to use the LSAT, that is a predictor of your first-year grades in law school.  If you score low, then you have to make a case that your LSAT score is underpredictive in your case.  You do this by 1) having an amazing undergradate record with very challenging courses; 2) having superlative academic references attesting to your academic promise and intellectual potential; and 3) “sealing the deal” with a thoughtful, thorough, and error-free personal statement.  I will say that a poor undergraduate record is very difficult to overcome, even with a lot of experience.  However, I do not define a “poor record” by your cumulative GPA – you might have a low overall GPA, because you had a hard time adjusting at first but have a significant upward grade trend, or because you got low grades in hard science classes while getting straight A’s in writing-intensive, liberal arts courses.  Things like this are taken into account and won’t be held against you.  At the same time, a 4.0 with a very easy course load, or with courses that don’t really demonstrate a potential to succeed in the kind of work you’ll do in law school (like fine arts, or all science/engineering courses) may not help your application.  So, we’re back to that terrible word applicants hate to hear: “holistic.”

What are the strengths and weaknesses of your school?  Who would be happy?  Who wouldn’t be happy?

 Chicago:  This is a tough question to answer because when deciding which law school to attend, students need to really do their own research to find the right fit.  At Chicago, students are happy who are ready to take an active role in their legal education.  The Socratic Method is used so there is a continual exchange between professors and students inside the classroom.  There is also learning that takes place outside of the classroom, during lunchtime lectures and alumni presentations (and of course lunch is usually provided!).  At Chicago we offer a lot of classes in a lot of different legal topics.  Happy students are those who take advantage of the many ways to interact with faculty.  Hard to say what a weakness would be but I guess some people will complain about the weather.  Yes, in Chicago we do get all four seasons.  But I would hope students wouldn’t use this as a reason to forgo a wonderful legal education!

Yale:  Our strengths are our size, our location, and our flexibility.  Our weaknesses are our size, our location, and our flexibility.  It really depends on what a student is looking for.  Students who thrive at Yale are those who like to be in an intimate setting, where they can have small classes and get to know almost all of their classmates and work closely with faculty.  These students are able to enjoy what New Haven has to offer, which is a great social scene including fabulous restaurants and theaters, and where they can contribute directly to the underserved populations through the Immigration Clinic or the Landlord-Tenant Clinic, among others.  Yale also offers a lot of academic freedom, in terms of choosing courses in and out of the Law School, taking clinics, or pursuing independent research, so it’s great for students who want to tailor their legal education to a specific interest or explore a lot of different options.  Of course, there are students who prefer a larger school environment and who like a little more anonymity – Yale may not be the best place for them.  Yale may also not be the right place for people who don’t like an urban setting or prefer very large cities, where they can “disappear” into a different social scene at the end of the day.  Finally, Yale might be overwhelming for students who like a more programmatic approach to areas of the law, rather than one where you choose your own adventure, so to speak.  I agree with Dean Perry that prospective students should take the time to visit and speak with lots of current students to see whether the school would be a good fit for them.

Stanford:  We’re small – with one faculty member for every eight students.  You’ll find a close-knit community where students, faculty and staff know each other very well and one in which we all look out for each other.  There’s something to be said about being on the west coast where, as our dean has said, “tradition and the way things have always been done weigh less heavily” on us.  We’re in the country’s largest, most diverse and most dynamic state and located in the heart of Silicon Valley.  In other words, the entrepreneurial spirit is alive and kicking so when you do your research on SLS it should not surprise you to discover students creating new and innovative programs – designing a curriculum for Afghanistan law schools or working on law and development issues in Bhutan.  You’ll also find a distinct interdisciplinary approach here that you’ll not find anywhere else. Want to create a joint degree unique to your area of interest?  It’s doable and in many cases in the same amount of time that you’ll take to finish the JD and at no extra cost.  Weaknesses?  Some will say our size is our weakness.  We work hard, though, to overcome this perceived weakness by drawing on the strengths of the rest of the University.  When you consider an offer from SLS, you really should also be thinking about how Stanford University fits into the picture because you will most definitely draw on the resources of the greater University as you make your way through three years here. 

Ah, the happiness index.  Here’s the secret about finding a place where you’ll be happy…it’s all about fit.  Dean Perry and Dean Rangappa are absolutely right – visit the schools.  Talk to current students.  Talk to alums.  Talk to faculty.  Talk to administrators.  See how you think you’d fit in.  Do you envision yourself at a particular school?  Do you envision yourself as part of the law school community?  And, most importantly, do you envision yourself thriving?  You’ll discover that you have a gut feeling about a particular place.  Listen …and trust your instincts.

NYU:   As my colleagues suggest, strengths and weaknesses of a particular law school are really in the eye of the beholder.  We consider our size an asset.  Students who are happy here are those who thrive on having a wide range of choice – be it courses, clinics, student organizations and groups.   A larger student body and more course offerings means that students can explore a very wide area of study – everything from corporate/business law to international legal studies to philosophy to public interest law.   Someone who finds this kind of array daunting might not be at home at NYU.  Those who feel at home are people who enjoy living, working and studying in an energized environment – where the law school calendar is loaded with speakers, workshops, conferences and events for students to become engaged in cutting- edge legal issues. We are fortunate to have a fantastic location in a beautiful historic neighborhood that offers opportunities to enjoy all of the cultural pleasures of New York City.  Students who are happiest here are open to new experiences, challenges and being part of a student body that is not homogenous.  Thanks to our robust graduate program for foreign lawyers, our JD students work and live with other students from over fifty foreign countries.    And yet, we are a law school that values the importance of community.  Most of our faculty members live nearby, and many of our students live in Law School owned and operated residence halls.  Students here are willing and able to seek out opportunities to work with faculty members on their research or in one of the Law School’s more than 25 research centers.  There is abundant opportunity to build close working relationships with faculty because of the 9:1 student to faculty ratio.    I think that students who prefer a quieter, more bucolic setting, those who are accustomed to a slower pace of life, or prefer a high degree of anonymity might find NYU and New York City quite an adjustment. 

Columbia:  I would concur with what has been said about strengths and weaknesses being primarily about the fit between an institution and a prospective student’s preferences.  That being said, we think our size strikes the right balance between providing intense interactions between faculty and students, fostering durable relationships amongst students, and having the critical mass necessary to animate an extraordinary range of courses and extracurricular opportunities.  We feel strongly that our clinical programs, externships, journals, international programs, student organizations and centers for research and study, must enjoy strong, consistent participation to be the impactful experiences we want them to be, and that our size makes that possible.  We also place a high value on our presence in the Morningside Heights neighborhood of New York, which is both calm and urban, while providing proximity to not only some of the leading cultural institutions in the nation, but also to one of the most sophisticated legal communities and judiciaries in the world, as well as business, public interest and international organizations.  New York is also just a fun place to live for our students and a fantastic backdrop for their friends and families to visit.  Other strengths include the diversity and international nature of our student body and faculty, a group of professors that are really focused on the importance of teaching, and our access to the full range of resources of a world-class University.  As for weaknesses, I suppose I would echo what colleagues have said about some people perhaps finding the pace and activity of a place like New York a little overwhelming at first.  Of course my response to those people is that they should visit and see for themselves. 

Michigan:  Well, this is the worst question for going last! Saying “I agree with my colleagues” just doesn’t fly, does it?  Beyond the strengths common to any top law school—a brilliant faculty who will get you to think in ways you never have before, and a brilliant cohort of fellow students who will expand you even further – I would identify our two principal strengths as career options and community.   Geographically, our graduates spread out among the major US metropolitan areas and beyond, typically going to about 35 states—not to mention the significant number who start their careers overseas.  That spread creates a lot of flexibility, particularly when you’re looking for a job in a tight market.  And the jobs they get are highly sought after—placing well in clerkships, in academia, in the largest law firms, and in the most prestigious government and public interest organizations. But before you look for a job, you have to get through law school; for people who want to immerse themselves in the law school experience, Michigan is a great choice.  There is a strong sense of connection among students, and between students and faculty, and that can be very rewarding.  But that can be a drawback, too, depending on what you’re seeking: if you’re hoping to treat law school as a job, you may feel out of sync at Michigan.  

Can you describe the archetypical student for your school?

 NYU:  New York University School of Law is a large, dynamic community located in the heart of New York City and enrolls an entering class of about 450 students.  We attract an extraordinarily diverse student body representing the widest possible range of students based on background, interests, experience and perspectives.    While I could take this opportunity to turn on the usual viewbook noise, let me try to be more helpful and candid.  NYU is an incredibly busy place.  Thanks to our location in New York City with our 28 centers and 65 student groups the calendar is chock a block with events every week.  Students who come here embrace the energy and dynamism and are able to balance many competing interests.

Columbia:  Apart from being intellectually and academically prepared to succeed in what is a very challenging JD program, and having a record of engagement and dynamism, we actually prefer that our students have little else in common. The reason is simple:  the strength of student body lies within its differences.  Our students nevertheless value the sense of community derived from being among people with such varied backgrounds, experiences, and interests, while simultaneously sharing common goals of engaging in superior scholarship and training, as well as collaborating with and learning from one another.  They also embrace the advantages of being part of a truly great University and an even larger campus—New York City.  The end result of this emphasis on variation has consistently been a cohesive and vibrant learning community, and the prevention of anything resembling an “average Columbia Law Student.”   

Michigan:  So true!  I have a sort of stock answer when people ask me to describe the typical, or the ideal, Michigan Law student—there’s no such thing.  It is absolutely the case that it is precisely all the differences among our students that make the student experience here so rich and engaging. That said, to really thrive and be happy here, a student should be engaged both in intellectual life and in community life.  This isn’t a great place to come if your ideal law school experience is attending class and then quickly departing to conduct the rest of your life; a huge part of the benefit of Michigan Law is active interaction with everyone else around here—the law students and faculty, and the greater University community.   And one myth I have to bust:  although we’re a public institution, only about 20% of our class is from the state of Michigan—the number of people relocating from the coasts outnumber the Michiganders themselves by a ratio of two to one, and even outnumber the people from the Midwest as a whole.  

Chicago: I think our student body is one of the top reasons for coming to the University of Chicago Law School.  We have a very diverse student body and I define diversity very broadly.  We have ethnic and geographic diversity as we have students from all over the country and even world.  They bring with them their history and experiences.  We have many different ideologies present and active in the community include liberal, conservative and libertarian.  Many voices get heard in the classroom which enriches that educational experience for each student.  Chicago is a place where students take an active role in learning through the discussions inspired both in and outside the classroom.   Students come from a variety of backgrounds and experiences which furthers the goals of the legal education.   Students hear many sides of a given argument while voicing their own perspective which is great preparation for the practice of law in a very diverse world. 

Yale:  I didn’t know Michigander was a word.  Anyway, I think all of us agree that we can’t describe a “typical” student, because we each admit individuals, not characteristics.  However, I will say that Yale is probably less structured than most law schools, with only one term of required courses.  We offer a “choose your own adventure” approach to law school, meaning that people with similar interests will often take very different paths to get to the same goal, and that is encouraged.  We don’t offer students a checklist of how to do x,y, or z, but we advise them on options.  So I would say that a common feature of Yale students is that they are very entrepreneurial – a good number of our clinics, social impact projects, and even academic workshops are student-created.

Stanford:  Let me echo what my colleagues have all mentioned – there is no such thing as a typical student.  Students will choose us over another school for a variety of reasons – whether it’s because we’re on the west coast or because of our interdisciplinary focus or because of our size and the absolute ease with which you are able to build relationships with classmates and faculty that run deep and last a lifetime or because of the strength of the intellectual experience you will experience.  Not surprisingly, you may find yourself admitted to all the schools – NYU, Columbia, Michigan, Chicago, Yale and Stanford.   The overlap in admissions decisions is not all that unusual. The decision as to where you will end up is entirely yours.  Maybe you’re accustomed to the urban life and Palo Alto is a bit quiet for you.  Maybe you’re from a small town and want the big city experience.  Maybe you want to be in an environment where you know each of your classmates.  Maybe you want an experience vastly different from your small liberal arts undergraduate experience.  All the offers are coming in and each school has some similar aspects and some different aspects.  But, the real issue is this: What is it that YOU are looking for in the school where you will spend the next three years of your life?  What is it about our school that resonates with YOU?

Waitlist Update

For those of you sitting on the SLS waitlist, just a bit of an update…

We’re not quite at the point of reviewing files.  We’ve utilized the waitlist each year for awhile now so if history is any kind of guide, we should do so again this year.  However, we have a small group of admits with a May 10 deadline so we’ll need to let the dust settle over the next few days before we know exactly where we stand. 

What can you do now?  Here are some tips:

  1.  Update your file – spring grades, promotion at work, new job, honors at graduation, etc. 
  2. Think about submitting an additional letter of recommendation. When we start reviewing waitlisted candidates, we start fresh.  An additional thoughtful and detailed letter can be very helpful.
  3. If you need financial aid, make sure you list SLS as destination points for both the FAFSA and the Need Access surveys.  You want to get an aid offer from me as soon as possible after I offer you a seat in the entering class.  If you’ve not even done the Need Access piece, that alone will take days and you may not have days.  Get started now.
  4. Some applicants create their own timeline.  They can stay on the waitlist until late July when they need to sign a housing lease for a school back east or the moving van is due to pack up their belongings on August 1.  I appreciate knowing about these deadlines.  Really.
  5. Be flexible and be able to put up with some amount of uncertainty.  If I call you in late July, you will have to accept an offer without knowing whether you will be able to obtain on-campus housing.  The first housing lottery is in May and the second is in early July.  Walk-in assignments take place in mid-to-late August.  Are you willing to accept an offer without knowing for certain if you’ll be able to live on campus?  Think about it now in anticipation of it becoming an issue.
  6. Send in a letter of continued interest.  Think carefully about this one.  Sometimes applicants remain on the waitlist just for the heck of it.  Why?  They want to see if they’ll eventually get in – I guess it’s some sort of badge of honor.  But, what if SLS is your first choice and you really want the opportunity?  Let me hear from you and – this is important – remember that sincerity matters.  Stay in touch with me.  Don’t email me daily.  Don’t call me daily.  Don’t clutter up my in-box or my voicemail box.  But, do let me know you remain interested as the summer progresses.
  7. Do your research on SLS ahead of time.  If I call you in June, you’ll probably have about a week to make a decision, but as the summer progresses my generosity will lessen.  You may find yourself with 2-3 days to contemplate the offer if I call you in July and if I make a call in mid-August you may find yourself with 24 hours to reach a decision.  So, you shouldn’t tell me that you need extra time because you need to schedule a trip out to Palo Alto and that you can’t book a flight for another week.  You’ll find me just a tad unsympathetic and antsy to get on to the next person on the list.  Do your research now.
  8. Be positive, be patient and be realistic.  Have another option in place and ready to go if this doesn’t work out as anticipated.

Questions?  Comments?  You know where to reach me.

Almost Done…

It’s Sunday evening and I’m sitting here at my desk looking at the work ahead of me for the upcoming week.  We are almost done.  All first round decisions should be finalized this week.  I know many of you have been waiting… and waiting… and waiting for a decision.  As I have mentioned to some of you in recent phone calls, I know that the process can be agonizingly slow.  At the end of each season I take stock and try to find ways to make things move more quickly.  This year -if we manage to finish up this week as anticipated – we’ll be about two weeks ahead of schedule, but there is still room for improvement.  Granted, speeding up the process is not the primary concern – the thorough and detailed review of each file takes precedence, of course, but if there is a way to become more efficient I am willing to explore it.  Now, you and I both know there is a very quick way to reach a decision – look only at the numbers and skim everything else – but that is so antithetical to our philosophy here at SLS and that idea will never take hold.  It is not a numbers game to us.  Of great importance to us as we make our decisions is how each member of the class will contribute to his or her classmates’ experience.  What will you learn from your fellow students?   And what will they learn from you?  How do you create a class with this in mind if you pay homage to the numbers only?  You don’t – it would be impossible.  So, we march on with our process, refining it as necessary, and continue to do the best we can in creating a class that enters SLS brimming with all kinds of experiences and talents.

My job is, at times, a most unenviable one.  Letting candidates know that the good news will not be forthcoming is not a task I relish.  Signing those letters is tough – no doubt about it.  As the end of the season nears, I have to let some candidates go whose files I’ve been holding on to just trying to see if I can fit them in.  You may not realize it, but many of you get multiple reviews by me and I get to know you quite well.  This is a one-sided relationship, I know, and it is common knowledge that one-sided relationships are not healthy, but it works in the admissions world.  I also realize that applicants sometimes hold me responsible for forcing their life plan to veer off path and I am not surprised when someone reacts in an unusual way upon hearing unpleasant news from me.  So, let me tell you a story from a few years ago. One unhappy candidate sent me a little package in the mail with a not-so-nice note about my karma being completely negative.  How could it be otherwise if I am the bearer of such bad news to so many people over so many years?  His answer to get my karma back on track?  Glow-in-the dark karma string.  Who knew such a thing existed?  I’ve never seen them anywhere.  Glow-in-the dark stars, glow-in-the-dark dinosaurs, of course, but karma string?  In the package I found yards of it with instructions to hang the string around my office.  I got a good laugh out of it as did my colleagues when I told them all about it.  Bad karma?  I’m not convinced.  I know I am the bearer of bad news for some people, but I remain convinced that other opportunities will turn up.  What is that oft-repeated saying?  When one door closes, another one opens.  SLS is not the only law school in the country and I know many of you will take up your law studies at another fine school.  Or not.  Maybe you’ll try a different path.  Maybe you’ll take advantage of a job that’s just come your way.  Maybe you’ll take the trip you’ve been thinking about for years.  Maybe you’ll work for a few years and discover something else you are passionate about.  Maybe you’ll reapply when the time is right again for you.  Maybe you’ll explore other areas of interest.  Maybe you’ll open one of those other doors.

Please don’t send any glow-in-the-dark karma string…

My time back east…

Once a year in the middle of February I make the long trek to Annapolis, Maryland to help the Truman Foundation read through its applications for the coming year’s class of Truman Scholars.  I leave my SLS applications behind (well, not completely behind because as long as I have my laptop you are always with me) and hop on that non-stop flight from SFO to BWI and then enter a very different world for a few days.  I sit among a few other admissions colleagues, I sit among former Truman Scholars who are now dedicated public servants, I sit among scientists, I sit among doctors, I sit among former deans, and I sit among policy makers.  And we read, and we discuss, and we make decisions. [As a funny aside, I fondly remember a dinner from a few years back where a small group of us grabbed dinner at a local Annapolis restaurant.  Conversation at one point focused on running for political office because it became clear that a number of those sitting around the dinner table had that common experience.  I had one of those OMG moments where I just cringed from thinking I did not belong at this table.  They’re going to ask me about public office and I have nothing to offer up.  Well, being the egalitarian group that they were, the question did finally reach me.  But, hey, I rose to the occasion because I remembered that I had indeed run for office.  Never mind that it was way back in middle school – yes, 8th grade to be exact – but, I had in the fact run for student body vice-president!  What a relief.  Of course, most important was the fact that I succeeded in bringing comic relief to the table as things were getting way too serious.  What happened to talking about good books we’ve just read?  What offices we’ve run for?  Come on.]

 In reality, leaving cozy Palo Alto in February to head back to the storm-ridden east coast for four days spending time reading another organization’s applications may not seem to make a whole lot of sense. It’s not as though I’m caught up with my work here as there are still many files yet to be read.  It’s not as though the phone has stopped ringing and the emails have slowed down.  Then why do I make this journey?  Beyond the obvious reason of being involved with a great organization, it all has to do with what I take away with me after reading the Truman applications.  I walk away amazed at what college students committed to public service are capable of doing and I walk away amazed with their sense of purpose.  I walk away reassured with the knowledge that I have seen an engaged and committed group of young people who will be shaping policies, creating organizations, and building bridges in the years to come.  I walk away knowing we are in good hands. 

 I’ve not forgotten you, though, SLS applicants.  I took that non-stop back to SFO from BWI and landed by 9:30 am.  How did I spend my Sunday? Watching the Angels and Demons DVD I’ve had on loan from Netflix for the last 8 weeks?  No.  Reading the latest issue of Saveur which highlights Los Angeles cuisine?  No.  Watching a recently taped episode of Criminal Minds (you know I’m a fan)?  No.  I logged on to the computer and pulled up files, hunkered down and spent the day reading.  My focus is back on you.  Another round of offers went out this week and the work continues.

A Look Back…musings from a 1L Guest Blogger

In this guest post, 1L Jacques Ntonme describes his experience when he first applied to Stanford Law School and offers some sound advice.

So you are waiting to hear back from schools.

I remember when I had a gotten all my apps in, all that work and then…nothing.  Especially this time of the year, it is natural to start wondering why you haven’t heard back.  This can be especially strange (read: frustrating) if you applied in October or November.  I applied late in the application season and was just glad to be done with applications.  I wasn’t losing sleep over it in most of February.  But once I heard from some schools, I felt more listless in not hearing from the others.  I mean, don’t they work on roughly the same admissions schedule?  If I haven’t heard back yet, does that mean I didn’t get in?

Like a child trying to make sense of the world, I developed my own mythos about the admissions process: I have only gotten responses on Friday, so I should hear from school X on Friday.  Then it’s Friday and no call.  That must mean I didn’t get in!  Sounds silly, right?  Maybe familiar, yes?

Schools generally wait until the end of the application season to really take a final look at the application pool.  I am not sure what a “final look” is, actually.  I just know that’s the jargon that’s used this time of the year.

So I found myself sitting on my hands thinking, “What should I do in the mean time?” and “Why are my hands going numb?”  Unless you have something critical to get in-more grades, news about that Rhodes Scholarship-there is not really not much more to do with regards to applications.  Here are my suggestions of other things you can do:

1) If you have gotten positive responses, congratulations.
a)Avoid making a big deal out of it since it will only increase the nervousness of your peers, which is an unpleasant experience for them.
b) Start contacting people who are currently going or have gone to the school.  This can be a friend, older sibling, etc.  If you know someone who is practicing but didn’t go to that school, they might know someone at their firm, non-profit, or other organization who has gone there and can put you in touch with them.
c) Along with the admit notice, the school probably also gave you some info about an admit day.  Mark it on your calendar, buy a plane/train/bus ticket, and find someone to crash with (the school may be able to set you up with a hotel or a current student’s couch or floor).  If you are going to an admit day or weekend, keep in mind note (2)(b).

2) Everyone:
a) Try to get in any remaining financial aid materials in as soon as possible.  Firstly, it involves math, 2010 taxes, and often your parents’ co-operation or help; it takes me a long time to really get all three cooking.  So start early!  Secondly, it may end up being financial aid information from a school you have already heard from, not hearing from another school, that drags out your decision-making process.  Third, some schools prefer to give offers and the financial aid info at the same time so you go “wow!” Don’t make them delay in making you say wow; it’s just cruel.  One school waited until mid-April to notify me because they were moving their aid money around between people who had accepted offers of admission and those who declined.  When I heard, I was both complimented and confused-it’s mid-April guys!  Fourth, at most schools, the admissions office folks are different from the financial aid folks and they work on different timetables.  But for reason three, the school needs/wants both before they notify you.  They want to hurry things up and you want to hurry things up; so hurry up to finish that financial aid paperwork.
b) Do more research about schools and the legal profession in general.  You were probably doing some research before you started applications.  When applications took over your life, heart and soul, you might have stopped asking questions about the why of going to law school to focus on the how.  Now that you are done with the how, go back to the why.  The Why informs the decision of what law school to attend.  Whether you have a smorgasbord of options or just one, you need to examine whether it is a good fit.  And the best way to find out is to ask students.  Not just one student, but lots of students.  No one answer, even from a good friend, sibling, or current student reaching out to you can give you a good sense of what it’s like to be there.  For starters, ask questions about class size, contacts with professors, what they did for their summers and how they landed there, what they do for fun, the gym, the collegiality of the students, the career opportunities (do you want to be a professor? a non-profiteer? at a big law firm? you want to clerk?), surrounding shopping, ease of getting off campus, nightlife, etc.  The cool part is that everyone will give you different answers (no one opinion is gospel) and you can merge them together to get an omni-sense of the school and legal profession.  Omni-sense.  Yep, I made that word up.
c) Spend quality time with your friends, family, co-workers, significant others, et al.  You are leaving a job or school and possibly leaving for a place you have never been.  The people listed above are likely not making the trip with you or you certainly won’t have as much time to stay in touch once school starts.  They’ll be a further away before you know it.

Submit that application…

The application deadline is rapidly approaching.  February 1, 2010 (11:59:59 PM PST) to be exact…

Take note of this date and mark it clearly on your calendar if you’ve not already done so as I must confess I’m not all that generous when it comes to applicants who ask for special consideration in submitting a late application.  If you’ve only discovered today that you want to go to law school next fall and you’ve not even taken the LSAT yet,  you are not in an enviable position.  4000-plus candidates will have managed to hit that “submit” button in a timely fashion.  What might your reason be for not making the deadline?  Am I being harsh?   Perhaps.  Probably.  But deadlines are important and they are plentiful in law school – paper deadlines, clinic application deadlines, add/drop deadlines, financial aid deadlines and the list goes on.  Let’s not even get started on “real life” deadlines.  So, if you’ve not been good about meeting deadlines in the past, make a change and chart a new course starting today.   Now, of course, if there truly is a compelling reason for a late submission, let me know and I will give it full and careful consideration.  I’m not that harsh all the time.

If you’ve not yet gotten that application in – but have every intention of doing so by the deadline noted above –  and are wringing your hands because you think you’re late and behind the eight ball, stop the worrying.  The class is not yet full.  There are seats still waiting to be filled.  Take that nervous energy and use it instead to put the finishing touches on that personal statement.  And, savor the moment when you are done and have turned things over to us.

Hello, 2010…

OK, we’re back in business.  Walking through the SLS doors on Monday was a tad difficult.  Two weeks away from the workplace – even though it comes at one of the worst times of the admissions season – allowed some downtime to travel, to get to books that have sat too long unread, to get caught up on episodes of Criminal Minds (Hotch retire from the BAU?  Hah.) and, of course, to start that new exercise regime for the sixth time in the last three months.  But, I digress here as this blog is not about me.  It’s about you so let me get back on point.  We’re back in business.  We’ve spent the week opening the mail that accumulated while we were away.  We’re trying to respond to the huge volume of email that went unanswered in our absence.  We accessed all the applications that were submitted electronically in that two-week period.  We are working like crazy to get back on schedule.  Remember the Grimm Brothers fairy tale about the elves and the shoemaker?  Well, a few elves here at SLS would certainly be welcome right about now!

As an applicant, what can you do if you’ve not yet heard from us regarding a decision?  This would be an excellent opportunity to get us more information.  If your fall grades are now available, get an updated transcript to LSAC so that our records are updated.  If you’ve received any new honors or awards, send us details on that.  If you’ve started a new job or taken on new responsibilities at your current job, let us know.  Approach this as an opportunity to further your case – if there is something that could affect or impact our review of your application, get that information to us.  Email is the quickest and most efficient way to accomplish this.

If you are thinking about coming out to Palo Alto for a visit, check our website to see what classes you might want to sit in on.  I’d strongly recommend Constitutional Law as an option.  The class meets on Monday and Tuesday (9:50 to 11:00) and on Wednesday (8:30 to 9:40).  There are three sections of the course – one section is taught by Gerhard Casper who served as President of Stanford University from 1992 to 2000; one section is taught by Pam Karlan who is one of the founding directors of our extremely successful Supreme Court Litigation Clinic; one section is taught by Kathleen Sullivan who served as Dean of SLS from 1999 to 2004.  All three faculty members are simply extraordinary.  Come and see for yourself.

Keep in touch…

[For those of you who are now extremely stressed because you think we’ll take even longer to make decisions, I’m kidding about the elves.  We’re in good shape.]

Goodbye 2009…

Just a heads-up that the law school (and the greater University) is shutting down for the winter break at the end of the day today and will not be open for business until January 4.  What this means – for those of you waiting to hear from us – is that no decisions (good news or bad news) will be going out until we return from the break.  All submission functions will still be in place and mail will still be delivered, but you won’t be hearing a peep out of us until winter quarter starts up in early January.

 For those of you still working, feverishly perhaps, on your applications, know that you’ve got time on your side given this shut-down.  Make good use of this gift of time and put together a well-crafted application.

For those of you who sat for the December LSAT and are a tad nervous that this score puts your application at a disadvantage over those who took the test earlier, no worries.  The December score is absolutely fine in terms of timing. 

 Happy holidays to all.  We’ll be back in touch in 2010…