Baby Lawyers: Creating a Timeline for Your Applications to Law School

You need a timeline.

Honestly though, you do.

Most Canadian schools graduate in June. The LSATs are offered usually four times yearly, and most deadlines for Canadian law schools are in December. That allows you really two solid kicks at the can out of three before you can submit your application, while juggling applications that open in September.

Already, I can feel see that little vein in your neck throbbing. Not in a, "Oh, this is creepy way." But more that "My entire future seemingly hinges on an arbitrary assessment of my skills" sort of way.

But I digress. Timelines.

These will be different for people looking to enter the market at different times following or during the undergraduate career. I'll be dividing the timeline approaches consequently into those who apply in their last year of undergraduate studies, and those who take a year (or many) off before applying to law school. I'll also fill you in on my preference, and honestly, what tends to be the industry's preference, from what I've heard.

So without further ado:

People applying directly from your last year of undergraduate studies:

Short answer: I've known people who have done it.

Did it make them happier or a better lawyer in the long run to "start earlier?"

Well, you'll see.

I'll illustrate my point with the help of an overachiever good friend of mine from undergraduate studies, who was already graduating university at twenty/twenty-one. She also wrote the LSATs at the same time as volunteering in all sorts of ways for our Classics department, and genuinely just being a wiz kid in every class she was in.

Sounds fine, right?

While she was a nice girl (and remains a nice girl), I like to think of her as a cautionary tale in what not to do in your timeline process.

Objectively, it worked out for her. She applied to several schools in the states, got accepted to some fantastic schools (Duke University, and Columbia, the latter of which she eventually attended).

However, I noticed some aspects of her situation which timeline planning could have been more kind to her on.

  1. She honestly was too young, both literally and figuratively, to go off to New York and study law. While it was obviously a great distinction to get into an Ivy League-level law school, she also is the first person to admit she has a stereotypical "tiger mom" who pushed her to do so.

The first time I visited her in New York when I was there for a sports tournament, I met her near Central Park.

Keep in mind, this is now a 21 year old girl, attending Columbia Law, and looking, objectively, every inch the part. I got out of the taxi near Hell's Kitchen (a neighbourhood in New York where Columbia is close to/in, in case you didn't know), and was met by friend dressed head to toe in a smart tweed skirt-suit, holding a briefcase, and smiling ear to ear.

Meanwhile, I'm there in my sweats, kneepads, and sports gear, having literally snuck away from my volleyball team to visit her.

We embraced, and that's when I noticed something was wrong.

She held on far too long for a normal hug- even for a friend who I hadn't seen in probably a year and a half.

Throughout our dinner together at a fancy Hell's Kitchen restaurant (where I felt decidedly stupid and out of place with my literal duffle bag of sports equipment in a restaurant with literal chandeliers), hints- no, gigantic mallets- of information came slamming out that she wasn't as happy or successful as 'Twenty-One year old Columbia Law student who lives in New York and Unironically Goes to Restaurants with Fancy Chandeliers' would appear.

She mentioned how she felt pressure from her parents, because even though they were wealthy, just the tuition alone was $80,000 dollars American every year (around $130,000 Canadian, not including room and board).

She mentioned how she hadn't been able to make any friends yet, and that she was constantly scared of the Socratic Method.

She mentioned how she wasn't particularly fond of New York and took the train back home to Montreal every chance she got.

Now, I'm not telling you this story to throw this lovely girl's business all over the internet.

What I'm telling you this story for, is how, even down the line, she did get a few friends, and she did graduate Columbia, she wasn't emotionally ready for law school.

And honestly- you might not be too.

Nowadays? Honestly, I don't think she's practicing law or is in a law-adjacent career.

My point is: You shouldn't sacrifice your own natural timeline for an arbitrary, "Let's Impress Everyone Timeline." If you feel ready to run off to New York and attend Columbia- good on you- let's make that happen.

But if doing so would lead to clear emotional issues and honestly- what she told me herself was the onset of a dark depression- it's really not worth it.

Which leads me to having a proper timeline that works for you and won't make you feel like my poor friend did, especially back in the day.

Be in tune with what fits emotionally right for you:

I know. Emotions, in law? But if you're so busy concentrating on your own emotional issues, you won't be able to be an effective lawyer.

Me personally, it took me a little longer to come to the decision to head to law school. I graduated undergraduate studies in 2014, took a year off to figure out what I wanted to do in life, worked, and worked on applications and LSATs.

This is what worked for me, but honestly- it was what I needed to do.

One: I was going to have to find a way to finance my own way to law school. I didn't have any magically wealthy aunts popping up and spending money to take me there. I needed money.

Two: I wanted to be absolutely sure I wanted to attend law school if I was going to make that sort of monetary investment.

Three: I wanted to get a solid score on the LSATs despite not particularly being a fan of standardised testing, and naturally being a better essay-writer.

I knew I needed to make time for all those things. And fourthly, I talked to a first generation associate/mentor of mine who is famously blunt and now a partner, and he said right off the bat, rightly or wrongly, no one is going to trust a 25 year old with their money. Unfortunate, but honestly, true.

I think that's one thing people underestimate in thinking they have to push through to law school- that they're so used to continually going to school, that seems like the only option, rather than being thrown out into the big old world to fend for yourself.

I'll let you in on a secret, though:

Employers look a lot more favourably on your C.V. if you have actual, real life experience.

I'm not talking just law experience- a lot of firms have their own rules and regulations and will mold you accordingly as soon as you join their firm.

They want to see that you've worked. That you have customer service skills. That you can talk to people. That you're a hard worker and not just a law robot who can spew out facts one after another.

I know of another partner whom I talked to in a large, national-level firm who mentioned a partner of his actually still has his McDonalds' Employee of the Month plaque from 1978 in his office.

He keeps it there as a reminder to be humble, work hard, and a reminder of where he comes from (also, it's just a bit funny and always throws people for a loop).

He also mentioned that he actually actively looks for students who have survived a "crappy" job. Be it McDonalds, any other service industry job, or any job where you really take your licks and don't have things handed to you on a silver spoon.

Remember this when you think a job is "beneath" you when graduating undergraduate studies, and are looking for money to make law school a reality. No job is a 'dirty' job, figuratively.

A more straightforward tip:

Literally, have a timeline and work backwards:

This might seem straightforward, but you'd be surprised at the amount of kids I've heard of who actually don't do it.

For me, personally, applying for law schools has three major steps.

  1. Figuring out when the LSAT is and when you can take it in relation to applying. The most natural times to apply, presuming you graduate in June, is to take the summer sitting of the LSAT (usually your first, "old college try"), and the fall sitting of the LSAT (your improved score). If memory serves, certain schools also allow you to sit the December sitting and have it count towards your scores as well, but don't quote me on that. Either way, you'll be sitting two out of the three sittings, as allowed.

  2. Work your timeline backwards in terms of which sitting of the LSAT you are taking. Taking the LSAT in December? Start studying in September. The fall? Start studying in July. I personally feel comfortable with studying at least three months before the test itself, and that was what I found worked well enough with my schedule at the time, with working out enough time to work out all the kinks in your understanding of the LSAT, as well as taking copious amounts of practice exams.

  3. Take the LSAT, and apply for universities: This is a little more straightforward, which is why I amalgamated it into one step. The big monster of the LSAT is over- now you just need to provide the universities you want to apply to with your paperwork and be aware of the closing dates. But also make sure you have enough time to get copies of all your transcripts, get references from undergraduate professors, and, if needed, have copies of written essays available to send to law schools as well (Side note: This will take longer if you are applying to law schools in the States, as pretty much every law school I applied to in the States has this thing about 'optional essays,' which are really NOT that optional if you actually want to attend the schools. They are trying to see if you're a good fit with their mentality nine times out of ten, or see that you can write- if you are applying to American law schools, keep this in mind, and perhaps create another step/timeline for this working backwards from the date all your paperwork is due).

So what did we learn today, kids?

  1. Be emotionally ready to head to law school, and base your timeline on that, rather than an arbitrary timeline created by society/someone else.

  2. Be financially ready to know how you can afford law school, especially if you want to attend a big name American university, and you don't have parents who are helpfully footing the bill.

  3. If you're not going directly into law school from undergraduate studies, use a year off to sort yourself out- both financially, emotionally, and in terms of your career path.

  4. Use that year to also build on your employment and interpersonal skills- this doesn't have to be a law job!

  5. Build backwards from the three big steps of attending law school- LSAT prep, taking the LSAT, and the applications themselves.

  6. Take a deep breath, remember the Benjamin Franklin quote, "By failing to prepare you are preparing to fail." As long as you keep an eye on the prize, you should come out the other end: harder- tougher, and ready for law school!

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