Archives For Law School

personal statement examplesIt’s that time of year—personal statement time. Whether you’re in the brainstorming, drafting or revising stage, there are some great rules of thumb when it comes to writing your law school personal statement, rules that can help you stay on track to submitting a dazzling one.

Over at jdMission, I’ve been reviewing actual personal statements each week, highlighting their strengths and weaknesses, and discussing what lessons can be learned from them. Here are the most recent tips for making your personal statement sparkle, with links to the essays and reviews if you want to read more!

1. Tie the pieces of your story together.

A good personal statement has a narrative. You best convey who you are through story, and you choose to include certain stories because they say something about who you are—something significant. They illustrate the quality or qualities that you want the admissions committee to know about you. If stories don’t do this, well, they don’t belong in your essay. Odds are, you tell more than one story in your essay. You tell a few. They may or may not be in chronological order, but it is essential that they fit together, that collectively, they support what you are trying to say. If a story seems like it isn’t adding much or doesn’t fit, consider cutting it, or ask yourself if you can tell the story differently so that it is a better thematic fit. Read an example essay and review here.

2. In the climax of your essay (the big transition), avoid vagueness. Use concrete language instead.

If you are going to walk the reader through a rough patch in your life in order to demonstrate how you came out on the other side of it stronger, GREAT! Transition stories can be very powerful. They also, in order to be well told, need to zoom in on the moment of transition; it isn’t a part you can breeze over or tell from a bird’s eye view. For example, if you are writing that financial stress caused by a foreclosure in which you didn’t have an attorney drove you to illness, don’t say that you “experienced hardship” or that it  “took a toll” on your health. What was the hardship? What was the toll? Specific, concrete details give transition moments their power. Read an example essay and review here.

3. Avoid bad beginnings and generalities.

I know this one is a generality (what’s a “bad beginning?”), but see why it’s so problematic? It’s hard to know what to do with it! One beginning that I would call categorically “bad” is the one that starts with you apologizing for who you are. Maybe it concerns you that the admissions committee wouldn’t want to admit someone who didn’t go to a liberal arts college and has worked her whole life to become a ballet dancer, and that’s a reasonable concern; you will need to demonstrate that you are up to the rigors of graduate-level academic work. Do not, however, begin your essay with, “I know you probably don’t think I can handle law school, being a dancer and all…” Start with the positive, with reasons why you should be admitted. Draw their attention to what about you makes you worth admitting, not to your weak spots. Read an example essay and review here.

4. Although your essay may be 90% there, the 10% may be most important. 

Sometimes, I will read an essay that is so compelling, so well-written and engaging and believable and uplifting, that I forget I’m reading a personal statement. This sounds ideal, right? It would seem you should aspire to give this experience to the admissions officer who reviews your application. Yes, that is true, but: It can still fail in an essential way, even if it’s that good. It must still connect the dots between the Most Amazing Story Of All Time and why you’re a good fit for law school. I may not be able to put down The Hunger Games, but if I read it as part of Katniss’s law school application, I’d finish it thinking, “That was great!” and then I’d pause. “Oh…wait, why is she applying to law school?” Don’t forget what you writing, and why you’re writing it. Read an example essay and review here.

Screen Shot 2014-08-27 at 2.58.13 PMBelow is an excerpt from Let’s LSAT: 180 Tips from 180 Students on how to Score 180 on your LSAT, which includes an interview with one of our LSAT instructors, Mary Adkins. Mary has degrees from Yale Law School and Duke, and has over 8 years of experience teaching the LSAT after scoring in the 99th percentile on the test.

Jacob: What should one’s goals be when studying for the LSAT?

Mary: I think a misconception that people often have is that they can improve their LSAT score by learning tricks, and the reason I think that’s so dangerous is it’s only going to get you so far. I mean, there are certain patterns to the test and we can teach those patterns. People can learn what to look for and how to spot an extreme term and a wrong answer choice, but unless you really understand the underlying skills that the test is designed to evaluate, your score isn’t going to be in the top percentile.

So, I’d say the goal should not be learning tricks, but learning what the test is designed to test: your ability to think logically. The goal should be to come up to that threshold and become a more logical, attuned, precise thinker. That’s the best thing you can do to be better at the LSAT, but the beauty of this is that it’s not just going to make you better at the LSAT – it’s going to make you a better logical thinker overall, which will make you a better student and a better lawyer.

Jacob: So, if your goal is to become a more logical thinker, it’ll show in your LSAT score, will it not?

Mary: I believe it would. I was just going to say, as a tutor and teacher, of course I’m very excited when my students reach their goal scores or when my students see a lot of improvement, but one of my most rewarding moments, as a teacher, was when one of my students, at the end of the course, told me that he felt smarter having taken it. That’s exactly what we’re going for. It’s like an overall improvement in thinking ability. One way that’s manifested is in the LSAT, but it’s not exclusive to the LSAT.

Jacob: How long would you recommend studying for, as far as being able to change your thinking?

Mary: It’s so specific to the person, so it’s really hard to say, to be honest. I think several months, at least. To be safe, you should give yourself several months. I wanted to bring this up at some point, actually, because my colleague, Matt Sherman, has a brilliant response to the idea that you can peak too soon when it comes to the LSAT – he thinks it’s a myth.

There is no peaking too soon: you only get better at the LSAT the longer you study it. You don’t get worse. So, starting as far in advance as possible, in that view, would be beneficial. I mean, life’s realities make that impossible for most of us. We’re not going to study the LSAT for years, but if we did, we would be better at it when we finally took it. So, several months is kind of the general answer that I would give to that question, but even students starting to study two or three months in advance find that they’re really under a lot of pressure. They’re trying to do too much in a really short amount of time.

So, even 3-4 months in advance is still putting a lot of pressure on yourself, particularly if you have other obligations, like work or school, but I find students tend to find six months in advance much more manageable. Again, six months is not always long enough for them to see as much improvement as they want. So, that’s when it really becomes person-specific.


Studying for the LSAT? Manhattan Prep offers a free LSAT practice exam, and free Manhattan LSAT preview classes running all the time near you, or online. Be sure to find us on Facebook and Google+, LinkedIn, and follow us on Twitter!


law school application season 2014It’s almost mid-August, and that means the application season for 2015 matriculation is gearing up. At this time of year, I always get asked a lot about timeline. When should you be working on your personal statement? When should you ask your recommenders for letters of recommendation, and what deadlines should you give them? Can you plan to take the LSAT in December, or should you cram for October (if you haven’t already begun studying)?

Here we go—a thorough guide to the timing of law school application season, by category!


At the front of most people’s minds is the LSAT, and rightly so; it’s the most important part of your application along with GPA. If you don’t have an LSAT score yet (or don’t have one you plan to rely on to get into law school, yet) but plan to apply for admission in 2015, that means you’re either looking at the September or December exam. Notice I didn’t say February. If you plan to apply to start in 2015, do not plan to take the February LSAT exam because (1) some schools don’t take it, and (2) even for the schools that do, you’ll be at a disadvantage due to the rolling nature of admissions.

Which brings me to the next question—to take September or December? Almost across the board I am going to recommend taking September. Again, rolling admissions means aiming for the December test not only puts you at a disadvantage, time-wise (no law school is going to review your application until the entire thing is in, LSAT score and all), but it also only gives you one shot to get the score right. Taking September, on the other hand, means that if something goes wrong, you aren’t completely out of the running for fall 2015 entry. You can still take the December test.

So who doesn’t this apply to? Right now, there are about six weeks left before the fall LSAT. If you can’tstart studying pretty hardcore ASAP—and I mean tomorrow—you have two options. Either you sit down and take a practice test and you are scoring within 1-2 points of where you hope to score, in which case, you don’t need to hardcore study between now and then. Or you sit down and take a practice test and you need to improve more than 5 points to be happy with your score. For you, the person who needs 5+ points but doesn’t have the time to study between now and the end of September—I suggest applying next year. As a second, less ideal option, you could also study this fall and take December and apply, but again, for the reasons I mentioned above, understand that you will be at a disadvantage.

Personal Statement

This is something that will take you a couple of weeks to get right, most likely, and that’s including drafts that you have others read and that you revise until it’s working. Not to mention, many schools offer the option of writing the secondary essay (often a “diversity” essay) and/or include in their applications other questions to be answered, as well. Starting now is a good idea if you don’t need to devote 100% of your free time to getting a good LSAT score. If LSAT study does need to remain your sole focus, however, keep it that way—save essay-writing for the 3 weeks after you’ve taken the test before you’ve gotten your score back.

This is also true for any addenda you may want to write (explaining away a bad semester, grade-wise, for example, or a criminal conviction or disciplinary action).

Letters of Recommendation

Ask for them yesterday. Recommenders like to have time for these, not because they actually plan to spend two months writing, but because their schedules invariably fill up like wildfire come fall when school resumes. You call follow up with them occasionally (every few weeks or so) to politely check in if they haven’t submitted the letters. And as for what deadline to give them, well, since admissions are rolling, I’m entirely comfortable asking them to have the letter in by whenever you plan to have your application in for optimal consideration. That could be as soon as you get your September LSAT score, or it could be the first day applications are accepted. As long as you give the recommender ample notice, this is unlikely to be a problem.

The Rest of Your Application

The rest of the application—resume, transcript, score reports—are either out of your hands or shouldn’t take a great deal of time to perfect. Most of you have drafted resumes with the help of your college’s career counseling office, for example—but if not, absolutely get some advice and review, even if it’s just online, of proper resume drafting for law school applications.

When to Submit

Again, because of the nature of rolling admissions, you are best off applying as early as possible. This means you should check when the schools to which you are applying begin accepting applications and submit yours as close to that date as possible. Of course, you are going to be restricted by the release date of your LSAT score if you haven’t already taken it. That’s fine. Just have everything ready to go so that as soon as your score is available, you can promptly submit your full application.

Hang in there, be systematic, and it’ll all be over before you know it!

Manhattan LSAT

Studying for the LSAT? Manhattan Prep offers a free LSAT practice exam, and free Manhattan LSAT preview classes running all the time near you, or online. Be sure to find us on Facebook and Google+LinkedIn, and follow us on Twitter!

what's-a-good-lsat-scoreLaw schools consider LSAT scores among several factors in determining admission. A student’s academic record is always going to be an important factor. However, the LSAT tends to be more important than GPA because every law school applicant must take the LSAT and it is scored uniformly across all applicants, whereas a particular GPA at one college may not represent the same level of academic achievement as the same GPA at another college.

LSAT scores range from 120-180, with 120 being the lowest possible score and a 180 LSAT score being the highest. The “raw” LSAT score is based on the number of questions answered correctly. Each LSAT will typically have 100 to 103 questions, with each question being worth 1 point (all are multiple-choice). Accordingly, the raw LSAT score is between 0 and 100 to 103. LSAT raw scores are converted to an LSAT final score that ranges from 120 to 180. The LSAC also determines a percentile rank for each LSAT score, showing the percentage of test takers scoring below a test score. Only 4 of the 5 multiple-choice sections count toward the LSAT test score (the fifth is experimental). The essay section is not scored. There is no deduction for blank or incorrect answers. Each question in the various test sections is weighed equally.

A good LSAT score is a score that would likely be acceptable by the majority of law schools. The average LSAT score is 150 and puts the student in the 50th percentile. Generally a score of about 160 is acceptable to most law schools. However, for the top-tiered law schools, the LSAT score must be at least 171, or in the 98th percentile, for the student’s application to be competitive.

After taking the LSAT once, the student who does not feel his or her LSAT score was good enough may be tempted to retake the test to improve the score and ultimately improve his or her chances of being accepted into the desired law school. Students are permitted to take the LSAT up to three times in a two-year period. Before spending the time and money on preparing for and retaking the LSAT, it is important to note that according to the LSAC statistics, students who retake the exam typically do not enjoy a significantly improved performance. For example, for 2010-2011 LSAT re-takers who originally scored 145, 65.1% percent saw a score increase, but the increase was on average only 2.4 points, while 28.2% of these re-takers had a decrease in score. Furthermore, different schools take different approaches as to how they factor multiple test scores. Some schools will consider the average LSAT score, while others consider just the highest LSAT score.

Even for the most selective, top-tier law schools, there are cases where a relatively poor showing on the LSAT may be outweighed by an academic record that makes a clear case for the student’s ability to thrive in a rigorous academic environment. Law schools will also consider the applicant’s personal statement, recommendations and work experience. Each of these items, including the LSAT, is viewed in the context of the entire application package. For one applicant the LSAT may be heavily weighed, while for another student, the importance of the LSAT is decreased because of details provided in the personal statement in combination with stellar grades. That said, LSAT remains critical for the vast majority of applicants barring extraordinary extenuating circumstances.

Studying for the LSAT? Manhattan Prep offers a free LSAT practice exam, and free Manhattan LSAT trial classes running all the time near you, or online. Be sure to find us on Facebook and Google+LinkedIn, and follow us on Twitter!

should-you-take-the-june-lsatIf you’re just getting started with the LSAT, one thing you might be considering is when you should take the test.

The LSAT is offered four times a year—February, June, October, and December. October is by far the most popular administration, partly because it falls at the beginning of the admissions cycle and partly because it gives college students the chance to spend their summer studying.

However, if you’re willing to start studying a little earlier, I’d encourage you to consider the June LSAT. Here are a few reasons why the June test might be the right choice for you:

  • The June LSAT is the only LSAT offered in the afternoon. This is BIG. If you’re like me and think the true purpose of mornings is to lie in bed drinking coffee while watching House of Cards, then the June LSAT is a great choice. By taking the LSAT when you are normally awake and alert, you’ll likely perform better and feel more refreshed throughout the test.
  • You’ll be done sooner. That might not sound like such a compelling factor, but consider how busy the next few months will be for you. Essay writing, school visits, recommendation requests, endless application forms… do you really want to be doing all that while studying for the LSAT? Getting the test out of the way in June will reduce your stress and give you time to focus on your applications.
  • Taking the June LSAT can improve your law school admissions chances since it allows you to apply at the start of the admissions cycle. Most law schools accept applicants on a rolling basis. This is important because—even if you’re a very strong candidate—you may not get in if you apply too late. This is especially important if you’re applying to a top law school.
  • The June LSAT lines up better for students on the semester system. It might seem tempting to spend the summer studying, but if you take the October LSAT, that will likely fall in the middle of midterms. Not such a great plan.
  • If you take the LSAT in June, you’ll be able to retake in October. Of course, we hope you won’t have to retake! But the LSAT can be a daunting undertaking, and test day is often fraught with shenanigans. Do yourself a favor and have a fallback plan ready. If you take the October LSAT, your only real retake option is the December LSAT, which pushes you to the very back of the admissions cycle. However, if you take the June LSAT, you have the option to retake in October—which still lets you apply relatively early.

We have several classes starting this spring that are designed to get you ready in time for the June LSAT. Take a look at what we have coming up:



BOSTON LSAT COURSE Starts March 10th


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SAN DIEGO LSAT COURSE – Starts March 13th

AUSTIN LSAT COURSE – Starts March 27th

Take $100 off on us with the code SPRINGSTUDY14

Should I Cancel My Score?

Mary Adkins —  February 12, 2014 — Leave a comment

cancel-lsat-scoreSo you woke up early on Saturday morning, scrambled some eggs, stuffed your wallet, pencils, and passport-size photo into the Ziploc bag you remembered to buy at midnight the night before, and took yourself an LSAT. But it didn’t go as well as you hoped. You’re considering canceling your score, but you’re not sure if it’s the best idea. Here are the critical questions to consider.

1. Was this LSAT considerably different than your usual practice test experience?

Did you only complete 3 games or reading comp passages when you usually complete 4? Or did you become violently ill? If you know you bombed the LSAT, then you should cancel unless all your goal schools are firmly committed to only considering your best score. You can find out which schools focus solely on your highest score on their websites. For example, Harvard averages your scores (“and considers them,” which means your highest may still be what really counts); Northwestern takes your highest; most schools are even fuzzier than Harvard. But unless you know you’ll score higher next time and that that higher score will be what counts, don’t keep a score that youknow is too low for you. 

2. Was this LSAT below your practice scores, but only your best ones, and/or only by 2-3 points? 

If you were at the bottom of your score range or slightly below it, the question becomes: which is a more accurate reflection of how you’ll perform on the next “real” LSAT—how you were scoring on practice, or how you scored in a real test setting? This is a time to be very honest with yourself. Did you give yourself slightly more time during practice? Did you “count” questions right that you thought you should have gotten right? If either of these, or something similar, is true, then your “practice scores” weren’t accurate. It is also important to consider how anxiety plays a role in your life.

To say, “but I was anxious so it’s not a reflection of how I’ll score next time” only makes sense if you are going to work on your anxiety between now and then. I see many students who think that going in and bombing because they were nervous is something that’ll just solve itself on its own before the next administration—unfortunately, I havenever seen that happen. If you got a lower score than you think you should and think you may be able to do better, but you believe anxiety played a role in this last test-disaster, cancel your score only if you plan to work on your anxiety between now and June. Yoga, exercise, meditation, long practice exams with focused calming techniques, therapy—whatever your preference, be committed to trying whatever it takes.

3. Are you going to put in the work to do better next time? 

Along the same lines, you can’t just sit on your laurels (that’s the first time I’ve ever used that word, and hopefully the last). Even if you were steadily scoring higher on practice, you’re going to have to maintain working in order to maintain your skills. More likely, you actually want to improve between now and the next test. Questions to ask yourself are: do you have time to devote to studying? Do you have energy? Do you have motivation? It’s fine to take a break, first, especially since you’ve probably been working your butt off in the last week or so before the test, but after that 1-2 week break, you’re going to have to dive back into LSAT-prep land. Are you willing and able?

4. What do you actually need to achieve your goals? 

All of the above should be considered in light of what you actually need to score in order to feel comfortable applying to your goal school. If you’re in the school’s median LSAT range, and you didn’t bust, i.e. score WAY lower than you have been, and you don’t have a GPA in the crickets-zone, keep the dang score. Work on making your personal statement awesome. If you are below the 25th percentile, the questions above become relevant: how likely are you to do better next time?

If you determine that realistically, the odds of your doing better under your life circumstances are not worth the risk (and so you don’t cancel), and yet you anticipate you have scored below the 25th percentile of your target schools, I suggest revisiting your goals. Play around with the LSAT/GPA calculator that the LSAC helpfully provides while you wait for your score. Still apply to your goal schools if you want—I’m not saying you shouldn’t—but at least consider adding more schools that are within a safe range for your anticipated score.

Take a deep breath, and consider this as rationally as you can. It’ll be okay.

If you want to take it again… 

If you are concerned you bombed it–or just didn’t do as well as you know you can–and therefore have decided to take it again, check out upcoming in-person and online classes at Manhattan LSAT.

If you are bidding X –> Y goodbye (for now)…

Now that you’re LSAT-free, it’s time to turn your attention to the rest of your law school applications. Check out the blog at jdMission for all kinds of tips and strategies on applying to law school, from writing your personal statement to getting letters of recommendation. You can also sign up there for a free consultation with an admissions consultant.

Regardless, I hope you are all proud of yourselves for showing up on Saturday and giving it your best. It’s not an easy test or a short day, so give yourselves a big pat on the back for taking on the challenge. Just think–now you have a hundred gallon-size Ziploc bags to last you through 2014!

This past week, some really interesting articles about the legal profession, its present and its future, made their way to me. I thought I’d share them here The-future-of-lawon the blog, since they will also probably interest all you future lawyers! Here they are, in no particular order:

Will computers replace humans as lawyers?

(And will it be this cryptic start-up?  More on it here)

How to fix the justice gap: A controversial suggestion

And more on access to justice:

A futuristic infographic on what’s to come…by a paralegal:

Good news! Lawyers can still act human, and even be fun ones:

A lawyer dad applauds a son’s decision not to become one, too.

An LSAT Love Story

Mary Adkins —  November 6, 2013 — Leave a comment

An-LSAT-Love-Story-BlogLast weekend I got to attend Columbia University’s mock trial tournament sponsored by Manhattan LSAT and had the privilege of watching some very talented students from colleges up and down the east coast flash their argumentation skills. At one point, I found myself talking to a senior who said that despite his love of mock trial, he didn’t want to go to law school.

“I’d much rather take the GMAT than the LSAT,” he said. “I opened an LSAT book and saw logic games and was like, ‘no thanks!’”



My immediate reactions:

“But you are missing out on something great for a bad reason!”
“If you knew the test, you’d feel differently.”
“You didn’t even give it a chance!”

In other words, I responded like the LSAT was my boyfriend, first novel, or mom.

What’s so lovable about the LSAT?

I’ve written on how it makes you smarter. But that was an appeal to research showing what I already believed to be true, because the LSAT had already made me smarter.

In high school and college, I got by on my strengths, which were not, though I didn’t realize it at the time, anything resembling logical thinking. I was an insightful thinker and could write in a way that flowed, and these were enough to push me over the threshold for most teachers and professors. I graduated with high GPAs.

When I first opened a book of practice LSATs, I was a college junior doing so out of curiosity. It wasn’t an intentional move to initiate a study plan–I wasn’t even sure I wanted to go to law school. Much like the fellow I mentioned above, I just wanted to see what this LSAT thing was all about. I took a few questions–maybe a whole logical reasoning section, maybe just a few pages, I can’t remember. What I do remember is that I missed the vast majority of them. I answered 2-3 right and at least 10-12 wrong. I recall seeing X’s all over the dingy pages of the yellowing, used practice book I’d bought, and closing it, thinking, “From now on, I have to hide the fact that I’m just not good at logic.” I was convinced I wasn’t a logical thinker, and that any day, someone would discover it about me.

Two years later, I was sure I did want to apply to law school, and I went about approaching the LSAT yet again, intimidated tremendously by my earlier, brief encounter with it. I enrolled in a course, did all my homework, didn’t miss a class or a diagnostic test, and began the slow, arduous process of improving my study skills: I turned off the music. I put in ear plugs. I made myself focus for thirty-minute increments without getting up for a snack or to put some wacky clip in my hair. And over the weeks then months, I watched my score go up. As it did, I became aware that I was learning a certain mode of thinking, and so my confidence went up, as well. I started to believe in myself intellectually in a way I hadn’t before. By the time I actually took the text over six months after I’d begun studying, I had gone from answering only 13 questions (4-5 of which I got wrong) on a timed logic games section–that is, leaving the other 10-11 blank–to completing a perfect logic games section.
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It seems everyone is ranking law schools these days. This year was the first that three institutions put their hats in the ring: Above the Law, Tipping the Scales, and to an extent although it prefers not to use the term “rankings” but Score Reports, Law School Transparency. Below is a look at the differences between them.

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*HERE is more info on US News’ Quality Assessment

*Law School Transparency allows you to compare schools on a variety of metrics and makes clear that this list of employment scores shouldn’t actually be viewed as rankings: “Treating the Score Reports like rankings may produce bad decisions. For example, sorting schools by Employment Score on a state Score Report will not provide a quick answer as to the school with the best outcomes in that particular state.”

A few things interested me about these comparisons. First, why does Tipping the Scales rank Stanford over Yale?
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law school choiceStudying for the LSAT can be a trying time for most students. The questions test your ability to reason and synthesize, making them substantially different than most college exams we’re all used to. To top it off, test takers are told that you have to do well to get into the school of your choice. That is way too simplistic to be useful, so here’s the scoop on how the LSAT actually affects your choices.

First, know this is not the SATs. You are not being tested on whether you have the background knowledge necessary to take the basic courses of the school. Nor are you being tested on what level of classes you can take. The LSAT is designed to be a predictor of how well you are likely to do in your first year of law school. If you’re scoring particularly low, it indicates that you’re likely not analyzing arguments the way you need to as a lawyer.

That said, the immediate concern for most test takers is not how they’ll do in the first year of law school, but just making it to that first year of law school. Your LSAT score is the single most important factor in acceptance (no pressure). An average LSAT score is 150, meaning that a 150 is generally in the 50th percentile. At ManhattanLSAT, average is not the goal. It’s time to put a number on “good.”

A good LSAT score is one that is likely to be accepted by the majority of law schools. Note; that’s not the same thing as you getting accepted to the majority of the law schools. Those schools will look at your GPA, essay, and a variety of other factors, but a good LSAT score means your application is at least in the running. The number value on a good score? Right around 160. If you’re scoring in the 160’s, you’re doing well. Continue Reading…