Jeff Carroll, a first-year law student at the University, took his LSAT practice test at a Marriott Hotel in New Orleans on New Year’s Eve, the night before the 2007 Sugar Bowl. Carroll was covering Notre Dame football for the South Bend Tribune, a job he had held for about a decade.
Carroll had no previous law-related work experience, but after 10 years on the road covering Notre Dame football, and talks of starting a family with his wife, Carroll decided to take a crack at law school.
Contrary to what many undergraduates may believe, the fact that Carroll had never interned at a law firm and had spent the last decade in a completely unrelated field didn’t put him at a disadvantage in the admissions process.
According to a Kaplan Test Prep and Admissions survey of 152 law school admissions officers released last week, more than half of those surveyed reported that having legal work experience doesn’t give an advantage in admissions.
“What’s clear from our survey is that admissions officers continue to consider an applicant’s LSAT score to be the most important admissions factor,” Howard Bell, executive director of pre-law programs at Kaplan wrote in a press release regarding the study, “followed by undergraduate GPA, the personal statement, letters of recommendation and professional experience.”
“While this news should not discourage applicants from interning or working in the legal profession prior to law school,” Bell wrote, “they should understand its relative insignificance in comparison to other admission factors.”
Though the Kaplan press release states that many people may have previously thought that having law-related work experience would give them an edge in getting into law school, some students at the University of Michigan Law School were already aware that working in the legal field before applying wasn’t a make-or-break factor.
Before applying to law school, University law student Zach Dembo worked for Teach for America, an organization that places college graduates as instructors in impoverished rural and urban centers.
Dembo said that while he had heard that it was important to take some time off between undergraduate work and law school, he said he didn’t think having law-related experience was a necessity, and that it had turned off some people that he knew from applying to law school.
Sarah Zearfoss, assistant dean and director of admissions at the Law School, wrote in an e-mail interview that while the University didn’t participate in the survey, she agrees with the results.
Zearfoss wrote in the e-mail that the Law School tends to admit candidates with a wide range of experiences and that working in the law field before applying may be beneficial because it can help a student to decide if law school is the right path for them.
“We certainly like to see that people have had meaningful work experience … but it need not be law-related in particular,” Zearfoss wrote. “That said, I think it can be advantageous to the candidate … to gather some experience with the world of law before making the decision to embark on it as a career, in order to get a clear idea of the experience and expectations.”
Though having law-related experience might not be a factor in getting in to law school, students said it certainly brings a level of familiarity and background to the field.
John Calvin worked as a courier for 15 years at Detroit-based law firms Butzel Long and Dickinson Wright before becoming a student at the Law School. His motivation for working at these firms wasn’t to gain experience for law school, but just to earn a living so he could play music at night in local clubs.
“I think a lot of people get a job at a law firm because they want to go to law school, so they do it in that order,” Calvin said. “Mine was a job at a law firm and that made me want to go to law school.”
He said that being around legal documents and attorneys gave him the background in legal language and procedure, and enabled him to have reference points during class.
Although Carroll hasn’t worked in the journalism field for years, he believes that what he learned covering Notre Dame football has directly helped him in law.
“Maybe the background knowledge isn’t the same as someone who spent time in a law office,” he said, “but I guess the main point is there are other skills you can learn doing other jobs that are outside that field that can give you some skills that can pay off in law school.”