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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…

Getting Started

Stanford blogging?   Yes, indeed.  Come along for the ride – you’ll find tips, you’ll get advice, you’ll hear from me, you’ll hear from guest bloggers, you’ll learn more about the school, you’ll have access to the SLS inside scoop. 

And, while we’re on the subject of inside scoop, here’s something that should be of interest to all of you.  While I traveled across the country with my co-panelists (Rick Geiger from Cornell, Bill Hoye from Duke and Ken Kleinrock from NYU – the best traveling companions, by the way), a pesky little rumor would surface here and there.  The rumor?  SLS has changed its admissions policies and will now place more weight on the LSAT.  Worried looks and general nervousness accompanied the question as applicants sought me out at events for clarification on the change.  When I was back in the office, pre-law advisors called on behalf of their students wanting to know more about why we were instituting the change.  I was surprised by the rumor, but I completely understood the concern.  Afterall, SLS has managed over the years to convey its philosophical stance on the importance of the LSAT by not placing undue weight on this factor alone.  Think of each individual application as a puzzle and think of how pieces will fit differently depending on each individual.  For us, the LSAT has just been that – another puzzle piece.  But, let’s get back to that annoying rumor. Two words…not true.  Put your concerns and worries aside – we have not changed our policies.  You heard it from me.  Trust the source.  Now, go forth and spread the word.