Planning Your Law School Application Timeline: It Pays to Be an Early Bird

April is finally here, and as many of you are discovering, the application process isn't anywhere near done after you hit that "submit" button. You've probably received final decisions from at least some of your schools, but chances are, you'll still be waiting for final decisions from other schools (your longer shots) well into the spring and summer, maybe even early fall.

Most of my recent blog postings have been geared to applicants from the current season who are still managing those limbo schools. Today I'm going to write to those of you who are already gearing up for the coming admissions season: the early birds.

And you early birds are definitely out there, because we've already started working with you. Here's a reminder of the 10 things you need to start thinking about now to be in peak form once the fall rolls around (and it will be here before you know it).

In addition to those 10 things, I want to get more granular and focus on a timing issue involving your essays and your recommendations. Many applicants structure their timeline like this:

  1. Spend the summer working on your LSAT prep
  2. Take the LSAT in October
  3. Start working on your essay after the LSAT
  4. Wrangle your recommenders and have them working on their letters in October
  5. Submit nice and early and have your applications go complete in November

Sounds perfect, right?

But what happens when October is here and you approach your first-choice recommender and he says, "I'd be happy to write you a letter. Please send me a copy of your application essay."

Uh-oh. Essay? Seriously? You haven't even started your essay yet. You had assumed you could spend the month of October working on your essay while your recommender was working on his letter in tandem. You figured that timeline would work just fine, because you would both reach the finish line in time for you to submit in November. You had it all worked out.

But many recommenders demand that you work on these pieces sequentially: essay first, then recommendation. And you don't find that out until you approach them to write your letter. So you end up hustling through your essay, because you don't want to hold up your recommendations, because you don't want to hold up your applications, because you know that submitting early in the season is really important. But hustling through any part of your application is not a good idea either, and now you're in a pickle.

The early birds we're working with are already at work on their essays. (One of them finished his essay today and inspired me to write this posting.) Some of them already have LSAT scores from the February test, or they are working towards June scores. If they are working towards the October LSAT, they'll have their essays done long before then. They already know whom they are going to ask for recommendation letters, and have given their recommenders an ETA for delivery of a final essay draft so that their recommenders can plan their own timelines accordingly.

And that's another hidden but important upside to being an early bird: When you approach your recommenders with this kind of timeline, you sound organized and on the ball. You sound in charge. You sound like the kind of person who is going to make a great lawyer.

Why? Because a fundamental job of a lawyer is to sweat the details, to sweat the timelines, to figure out how different filings need to be structured to get you to the end goal (whether it's a filing to a court, or the SEC, or opposing counsel, or an acquisition target), and to plan accordingly and work backwards from there.  Any kind of important filing involves both strategy and tactics, and timeline is an important part of both. Your job using those skills starts now, when your "filing" is your application, and your end goal is getting into your top choice law school.

So if you're not already off to the races, now's a good time to start.


Former Dean of Admissions at the University of Chicago Law School and a recovering lawyer, Anna Ivey founded Ivey Consulting to help college, law school, and MBA applicants navigate the admissions process. You can read more admissions tips in The Ivey Guide to Law School Admissions, recently updated and available as an e-book, and find Anna on Twitter and Facebook.