Many prospective law students have begun the application process with some variation of the following thought:
“I can start on my applications and get them completed in 4 weeks. I’ll be on winter break and I won’t have anything else to do. I can have them ready to be submitted in one month, for sure.”
But applications take time. They involve quite a bit of writing (see our previous post here). More importantly for timing considerations, you are relying on outside people or entities to help you. You can’t do everything in a month, and trying to live on that timeline will only cause more “calendar anxiety.” Where are you likely to get delayed?
Recommenders: The very people you rely on for their words of support might delay your applications. It’s not uncommon for applicants to be stalking their recommenders months after first approaching them about writing a letter. The most eager recommender may take weeks to actually write the letter, and even longer if he is still teaching or working full-time. When you settle on a recommender, give him a specific date by which he should submit your letter. Everyone works better with a deadline, and establishing a target date should motivate those writers who might need a bit more encouragement.
The instructions on the LSAC website say that you should “allow two weeks from the time of receipt for LSAC to process your [recommendation] letters.” To be safe, particularly during the busy time of the application cycle, you should plan for up to three weeks of processing time. That means that you should tell recommenders to submit letters no later than three weeks before the date you hope to apply to schools.
College Registrars: You must send college (and any grad school) transcripts to LSAC as part of the application process. This can take much longer than expected. Automated phone lines, grumpy office staff, antiquated record-keeping systems, overdue fines, and cumbersome paperwork might stand in the way of getting your transcript sent to LSAC. If you need a transcript from a non-U.S. institution, anticipate even more of a delay. LSAC’s website says to allow for two weeks to process any transcripts once LSAC has received them. You should plan at least that much time to jump through whatever hoops are required to submit your transcripts to LSAC in the first place, so budget at least a month to get your transcripts ordered and processed.
One additional note on transcripts: LSAC cannot create your Academic Summary Report (ASR) until you have submitted your transcripts. The ASR is extremely valuable for you to gauge how competitive you will be in the application process. Sending in your transcripts as soon as you begin the application process will not only save you from unnecessary stress, but will also help you make informed decisions about what your list of schools should look like.
"Free" time: Even if every outside organization and recommender comes through on time, you still have a lot of work to do. Planning to complete everything during a fixed window of allegedly “free” time — a school break, a vacation, sick days, etc. — is a recipe for disaster.
First, those times are often not “free,” despite your best intentions. Relatives, family traditions, or much-needed rest all have a way of pushing law school applications to the side. The tendency to say, “I can work on this tomorrow, I still have 9 more days of vacation” affects every one of us, and will make completion of your application materials an uphill battle.
Second, and perhaps more importantly, you aren’t going to produce your best work in these fixed windows of time. Personal statements, resumes, and optional materials take time and lots of drafts. You should not apply to law school using “the best materials I could come up with in four weeks.” That will not represent your best work, and will certainly not produce the best results.
It's still early in the calendar year, so you have plenty of time to plan ahead. Use it wisely.
Gregory Henning is a graduate of Harvard College and the University of Virginia Law School. After graduating from law school, he clerked for Judge R. Lanier Anderson of the United States Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit and then became an Assistant District Attorney in Boston. As part of the Ivey Consulting team, he works with law school applicants.