P.S. Boot Camp: Sir, Step Away from the Law
Hello, 203 readers. I'm back in town after being on the road for a few information sessions. If you're interested in having some of your questions answered, check out our recruiting schedule to see whether we will be visiting your college this season (either virtually or in person). We are sending out invitations to attend our recruiting events through LSAC's CRS service (where we identify you by your undergraduate school) or through your prelaw advisor's listserve, so please make sure you are on one or the other if you want to get an email reminder.
Onwards. So this week I'm going to talk about yet another common applicant we get: the Law Zombie. This is a person who really loves THE LAW. He is passionate about THE LAW, loves debating THE LAW, and can spend hours reading about -- yes, you guessed it -- THE LAW. And he's not afraid to say so in his application.
I usually don't know what to make of the Law Zombie. On the one hand, I can't really say that I'm concerned that this student hasn't thought about why he's going to law school, given his very obvious interest in THE LAW. And there's clearly a certain amount of intelligence, perhaps brilliance, inherent in someone who spends all of his waking hours reading every Supreme Court case in history and listening to oral arguments on NPR. In fact, when I read this kind of application, I get flashbacks to the toothpick scene in Rain Man, and imagine admitting a legal genius who can recite Supreme Court holdings on command and who occasionally startles innocent bystanders by randomly shouting "SCALIA!" very loudly (before devouring their brains).
However, while the Law Zombie might make a great addition to our faculty, there are a few things I find troubling about him as an applicant. First, I'm a little wary about someone who glamorizes THE LAW too much, especially before going to law school. I mean, legal cases are interesting and all, but the real study (and practice) of law isn't just about reading sexy Supreme Court cases and camping out all night to get into an oral argument like it's some kind of rock concert. Some of it is tedious and mundane, and an applicant who is a little too excited about THE LAW strikes me as potentially unprepared for or naive about what law school -- and being a lawyer -- is really going to be like.
Which brings me to the second point. It's not enough to just love THE LAW. That's like saying you love books -- yeah, so what? Law encompasses many different subjects: torts, contracts, constitutional law, property, law and economics, criminal law, etc. It also has different aspects: procedural, substantive, jurisdictional, etc. When someone simply says they are "fascinated," "excited," "passionate," etc. about THE LAW, I have no idea what that means. What, exactly, are you excited about? Why are you fascinated by a particular issue? How is your interest related to anything else that's happened in your life? It's unlikely that you just spontaneously developed a rabid interest in the subject, so you need to dig a little deeper if you're going to translate your passion into something that makes you compelling as an applicant.
WARNING: The suggestion to dig a little deeper into the legal issues or questions that interest you should NOT be taken as an invitation to do legal analysis on a subject. While the concept of tiered scrutiny, for example, might be really interesting and open a lot of intellectual possibilities for you, it's unlikely that without any legal training you will be able to provided a sophisticated scholarly analysis on the subject that will impress the Yale Law professor reading your file. You don't need to write a legal treatise on the questions or issues that interest you. Just identify them, and explain why they matter to you in the context of your background or other significant experiences you've had or courses you've taken.
If you think you might be a Law Zombie, here are a few helpful hints:
1. Tone it down a bit. Seriously. I'm not saying you have to remove the "I <3 THE LAW" bumper sticker from your car or anything, but you can safely assume that in applying to law school, your interest in the general subject matter of the profession is understood.
2. You have the potential to find some kindred spirits among the faculty reading your file. But you need to tread carefully, as indicated above -- that is, you should try to get a little more specific, in terms of the questions and issues that pique your curiosity, so that the reader has a sense of how you think. At the same time, you don't want to come off like a know-it-all (and a bad one, at that) by trying to analyze subjects you might not yet fully understand, or about which you haven't read all the relevant literature. No one expects you to be a legal expert before you come to law school, so don't go overboard.
3. Get out more. It's OK to have other interests. Maybe you can watch some reality television. I recommend Project Runway.
I want to say for the record that I don't have anything against Law Zombies per se. But if you are a Law Zombie and I admit you, I fully expect you to learn all the moves to Thriller. Classic.