Two Law School Deans Speak to UNM Pre-Law Students

February 6, 2003

Tamara Martinez-Anderson, Assistant Dean of Admissions at Gonzaga Law School, and Vince Thomas, Assistant Dean of Students at Hamline Law School, addressed UNM pre-law students in Room 2069 of the Political Science Department on Thursday, February 6, 2003. The Deans spoke about many facets of law school admissions. The group of UNM students in attendance was highly diverse: freshmen, sophomores, juniors, and seniors were represented, as were students from a variety of majors and programs.

Dean Martinez-Anderson and Dean Thomas led students in a "mock admissions" exercise. Law School Reports and application materials from actual law school applicants (with personal names deleted, of course) were handed out and discussed. The purposes served by this "mock admissions" were multiple. First, the simulation showed students exactly what a Law School Report looks like. After this exercise, everyone was aware of the level of detail captured in an individual's Law School Report (remember this when you apply). Second, Mr. Thomas walked students through a process of how admissions officers read the reports; for example, he used Socratic questioning (he is a law professor as well as a dean) to get students to look for patterns and problems with an actual student's transcript, as revealed in the intricate details of the report. Third, the exercise demonstrated that applications are looked at as a package--that is, personal statements are looked at in relation to grades, LSAT scores, etc--and it is important for all the "parts" of the package to be assembled in a logical way. Fourth, the "mock admissions" revealed that admissions criteria include an inescapably subjective component; this means that careful planning and preparation are crucial as you make decisions regarding your own application. Fifth, the exercise demonstrated the importance of writing a strong personal statement. Indeed, as a group, we saw what admissions officers see: a compelling personal statement can win over people on the admissions committee. Sixth, the simulation illustrated in painful, vivid detail what is increasingly true in today's era of increasing applications: law schools have fewer slots than applicants, and not every capable student is going to receive the "admit" vote rather than the "defer" or "reject" vote from a given committee.

Students heard important advice about how to be better prepared when applying to law school. Mr. Thomas cautioned against being "a default law student" (or appearing to be one in your personal statement). The best personal statements, he continued, are sometimes ones in which people are brave enough to "take some risks," even with the full knowledge that "you may alienate some readers." Ms. Martinez-Anderson agreed; as she put it, "we need to know you well" after reading your personal statement.

In responding to a question from a student who was unsure about how to get started on his personal statement, Ms. Martinez-Anderson suggested: "Tell us about the experiences that shaped you, and also tell us about the person you want to become."

Both speakers emphasized the importance of self-assessment in every stage of the pre-law preparation process. "Why do I want to do this [law school]" is the question Mr. Thomas challenged all the pre-law students in attendance to think about. If you aren't clear on why you want to attend law school, he explained, you may not convince the admissions committee to accept you.

Mr. Thomas and Ms. Martinez-Anderson also discussed LSAT scores as a component of law school admissions. At Gonzaga, Ms. Martinez-Anderson explained, admissions officers sometimes wonder why students do not repeat the LSAT after receiving an exceptionally low score. However, both she and Mr. Thomas spoke against re-taking the LSAT without prior careful thought and analysis. For example, they pointed out that schools are advised to average the scores, that the individual's Law School Report shows all scores, that students often score in the same range on a second try, and that students sometimes score lower the second time. Even if the score improves, Mr. Thomas noted, insofar as the Law School Report shows all scores, the admission committee sees that the higher score is based on an extra chance/test and they may not give this the same weight as an identical score made by someone on only one try. In short, both speakers urged students to think carefully and to obtain accurate information before making any decision about re-taking the LSAT.

At the end of the presentation and the general question-and-answer session, some students remained to take advantage of the opportunity to speak one-to-one with Ms. Martinez-Anderson and Mr. Thomas. The informal discussions allowed students to get additional insights on special programs at Gonzaga and Hamline, personal LSAT scores, personal transcript analysis, and law as a profession.

As your pre-law advisor, I was thrilled to see an event of this nature in our pre-law program. I felt lucky to have been able to share an afternoon with such inspiring speakers as Deans Martinez-Anderson and Thomas. I was delighted to see UNM pre-law students getting first-hand looks at Law School Reports and getting the chance to have the admission process analyzed with such honesty and specificity as that shared by Ms. Martinez-Anderson and Mr. Thomas.

After it was all over, my only regret was that we could not stay longer and address all the questions that remained. . . However, we'll have many other such events in coming weeks, months, semesters, and years. Watch the pre-law calendar on this web page and/or subscribe to the pre-law listserv psc2602-L for announcements of upcoming events.

Ellen Grigsby