COVID-19 and Law School Applications - UPDATED 7/9

The COVID pandemic and the response to it continue to impact various aspects of the law school admissions process. This post is updated regularly with new information and new questions (and answers), but remember that events are moving VERY fast these days, and circumstances are changing all the time. When in doubt, double-check the info to make sure it’s up to date. In particular, if you have applications pending right now—including waitlisted applications—don’t hesitate to contact individual law schools for the most accurate info about their own admissions process.

What about the LSAT?

NOTE: LSAC is updating this page regularly as new information emerges or as plans change.

UPDATED 7/9/20: LSAC has shifted the August 29th LSAT to the online LSAT-Flex format, to be administered 8/29, 8/30, and 8/31. Beginning with the August test, LSAC is also offering a new opportunity and imposing a new requirement. The opportunity is a score preview option for first-time test takers. This fee-based option will allow test-takers to review their score before deciding whether to cancel it or allow law schools to see it. The cost is $45 before the test date(s) and $75 after the test date(s). The fee is waived for test-takers with approved LSAC fee waivers. Details on the new preview option are available here.

The new requirement is that, again, beginning with the August test, test-takers must have completed the LSAT Writing sample before their scores will be released.

What to consider as you decide whether to take the online July or August test or to reschedule to a future test:

First, we don’t know when LSAC will be able to resume in-person testing. That could be as early as October, but at this point, it’s difficult to see that far ahead with any certainty. Fall testing may also be impacted if colleges and universities are online in the fall (robbing LSAC of testing locations) or if the pandemic necessitates new social distancing measures. In short, there is no certainty that a future LSAT will be in-person. (Indeed, some law school admissions officials suspect that an online test will continue to be an option for the foreseeable future.)

Second, LSAT-Flex is different from the in-person test. The online version has just three equally weighted sections (instead of the usual five, with four graded)—one each of Reading Comprehension, Logical Reasoning (arguments), and Analytical Reasoning (logic games). That means that the reading comprehension and logic games sections are weighted more relative to the in-person test, and the arguments weighted less (because each section type represents one-third of your score, rather than one-quarter or one-half, respectively). This may affect how you’d want to prepare for the test. The online version is also only two hours, while the in-person test is much longer.

Third, LSAT-Flex requires particular equipment and operating systems, a stable internet connection, and an interruption-free environment for two hours. You should assess whether your current computing systems and environment can meet these requirements. LSAC has committed to working with candidates to secure the appropriate equipment and testing location for those who need it - for details, see the FAQ section of LSAC’s LSAT-Flex post.  We are currently investigating whether space and/or computers can be provided on campus for the August (and perhaps October) test, and will update this post as well as our mailing list with that information when it becomes available.

Finally, there is no indication that law schools will view the LSAT-Flex any differently from the in-person LSAT, although LSAT-Flex scores will be flagged as such. As with regular testing, admissions officials will certainly take note of any big score jumps (for example, between and in-person test and an online one), and in such cases, an explanatory addendum is appropriate. Over the next few years, both LSAC and individual law schools will be conducting research to assess the relative predictive value of the online version, but that research won’t impact admissions for at least a year or more.

If you are a UMass student or alum and would like to discuss your particular situation, please feel free to contact me.

Should I take the GRE instead?

Roughly 30% of ABA-approved law schools now accept the GRE, and the Educational Testing Service (ETS) recently announced an at-home testing option for those affected by COVID-19 cancellations. But there’s obviously more to this decision than just those two factors. Read more here about how to decide between the two exams. Note as well that the GRE’s at-home test has some equipment requirements that may not match what you have available to you.

Will law schools take into account how the pandemic has impacted test prep and might impact test experiences going forward?

To some extent, yes. Remember that the admissions process is never just a numbers game, even as the LSAT and GPA weigh heavily in decision-making. Admissions committees really do engage in holistic reviews of applications, taking into account all the many factors that have gone into shaping applicants and their experiences, perspectives, and so on. Without question, the pandemic and the challenges it is presenting to all of us will play a role in the admissions process from here on out, and law school admissions officials have been consistent in their messaging to this effect. But: don’t fool yourself into thinking that your LSAT score won’t matter at all. It will. And remember that almost all applicants are experiencing some level of disruption right now, so if you have some special claims in that regard, they should be different or more extreme than what is rapidly becoming the new normal.

I applied this past cycle, and I’m still on the waitlist at several of the schools I applied to. When can I expect to hear whether I’ll be admitted?

One of the main tools admissions officials have to manage enrollment uncertainty is the waitlist, and, by all accounts, they have been very active in using it this year. Nearly every applicant I’ve spoken with has been waitlisted at one or more schools - a very unusual pattern. The schools generally look to their waitlists when they have failed to meet their enrollment targets. Because of an overall decrease in application volume, extension of seat deposit deadlines, and uncertainty about whether classes will be in person or online in the Fall, enrollment projections are about as uncertain as they’ve ever been right now. Importantly, that picture varies considerably from school to school. The bottom line is that there is no way of knowing when and whether you might get some good news from a school where you’re waitlisted. Accordingly, you’ll want to make plans to attend a school that has offered you admission (or make the decision not to go to law school this year) while keeping an eye on those waitlisted spots. Remember that the school where you’ve deposited may have deadlines for withdrawing from those schools where you’re waitlisted—double check that you’re not running afoul of those requirements. And finally, our general advice about what to do when you’re waitlisted still applies.

I’m admitted to law school for Fall 2020, but I just learned my school will be 100% online. Should I defer starting law school?

Many applicants are considering requesting deferrals because they dread the idea of starting law school remotely, and fear the impact on their grades, networking opportunities, and 1L bonding experience. It’s important to remember that your entire cohort will be going through the same thing, and law schools will be doing everything they can to make the experience a valuable one, whether in-person or remote. It’s also of course impossible to predict how long the active infection-control measures we’re experiencing right now will last and/or how they will evolve. We barely know what the Fall semester will look like—the Spring 2021 semester is nearly unimaginable. And of course, different schools will execute different plans—remote, hybrid, delayed start, early start, etc.

It’s clear that there’s not a one-size-fits-all answer to this question. The best we can do here is suggest some factors to consider:

Is your school approving deferrals at all? Under what circumstances?
Will your school renew your scholarship offer if you defer?
Do you have undergraduate loans that will go into repayment if you’re not in school in the Fall?
What will you do instead of your planned legal education? Do you have a job lined up? If not, will you be able to find one?
Are you happy with how this past admission cycle went and the offer of admission/scholarship you accepted, or are there reasons you might want to start the application process all over again instead of deferring?
Do you have new family care obligations that might impact your decision one way or another?

If you’d like to talk through your specific situation, please feel free to email me.

My summer/fall internship has been cancelled—how will this affect my application?

First, remember that law-related internships are not the make or break of a law school application. In fact, admissions committees are not generally too concerned with whether you’ve completed such an internship or job—rather, they’re interested in learning more about whatever you’ve done, and what you’ve gotten out of it. So if your summer internship in a law office has been cancelled, don’t worry about it having an impact on your application. Instead, pursue whatever opportunities are still available to you and are meaningful to you. That might mean finding an ad hoc job to replace some of your lost income, or volunteering to help folks more seriously impacted by the epidemic, or caring for family members. Whatever it is, it will add to the overall portrait you’ll be able to present to the admissions committees.

But law-related internship or job opportunities are important for helping you decide whether a legal career is right for you. If a Summer (or Fall) 2020 internship was going to be the thing that helped you decide whether to apply in Fall 2020, you might want to consider pushing back your application to the following cycle. There are no downsides whatsoever to working for some period of time between college and law school, and for those of you who really aren’t sure yet whether this is the right path, a post-grad law-related job could help you decide. You could also pursue a Spring 2021 internship in a local law office or legal organization—and perhaps even earn credits for that internship.

One or more of my Spring 2020 classes was converted to Pass/Fail—will that count against me in the law school admissions process?

No. Again, the law school admissions committees are looking at the whole picture, not just one grade or set of grades. What’s more, they welcome addenda explaining anomalies in your academic record. A brief explanation of the circumstances will suffice to allay any concerns they might have. This is true whether you’re applying this year or several years from now with perhaps an odd-looking Spring 2020. And of course, a large number of applicants in the future will have odd-looking Spring 2020 semesters on their transcripts—almost all undergraduate institutions are offering some form of alternative grading for this semester. (Indeed, all of thee law schools are doing the same.)

In addition, LSAC has announced that they “will place a letter in the CAS report of every applicant enrolled during Spring 2020, to remind law schools going forward that the semester was one in which many schools changed their grading systems in light of the COVID-19 pandemic.” This should help especially future year applicants, as Spring 2020 hopefully fades into a distant memory.

That said, it may be a good idea to submit an addendum regarding your particular choices regarding P/F for Spring 2020. This is especially true if you elected P/F in more than just one or two classes (at UMass, about two-thirds of students converted one or more classes to P/F, and about one-third took all of their courses P/F). It’s not that it will count against you! Rather, you want to make sure the admissions officials understand all the circumstances surrounding your decision.

How can I decide where to apply if I can’t visit law schools or attend law school fairs?

While in-person visits and law fairs are largely out of play for this coming Fall, law schools are nonetheless doing everything they can to connect with potential applicants online:

  • LSAC is replacing their in-person law school forums with virtual law fairs. Look for additional information about how these will work both here and on LSAC’s website in the coming weeks. (If you’ve taken part in a virtual career fair on Handshake, you’ll already have a good idea of the format.)
  • Smaller virtual law school fairs sponsored by individual law schools, undergraduate institutions, and other groups are also being planned. Most of these will be posted on LSAC’s Events page.
  • Law schools are posting virtual tours and information sessions on their own websites. Some of these are more in depth than others, but you should expect all or most law schools to develop these tours further through the Fall. Check back frequently on their websites.
  • Reach out to admissions offices to be connected with current students, faculty, and/or career services offices, or just to schedule a time to speak with an admissions representative. Remember that they want to talk to you about their schools! And they’re all super-friendly—it’s kind of a requirement of their jobs. Don’t hesitate to contact them.
  • If you’d like to speak to UMass alums who are either current students or recent grads of particular law schools, you can find them through the search functions on LinkedIn or through the UMass Amherst Lawyer-Alum Network group, also on LinkedIn. (If you’re having difficulty doing so, please email me for assistance.)

What else do I need to know about the impact of COVID on Fall 2020 applications?

The pandemic-related closures and restrictions will impact not just the LSAT, but also your ability to visit schools and to meet with law school reps at forums and on campus. Depending on the mode(s) of instruction adopted in the Fall, it may also impact your ability to connect with your recommenders or, for those of you planning to apply in subsequent years, your ability to establish and/or strengthen the kinds of professional relationships with instructors that yield compelling letters of recommendation. We are working this summer to incorporate information and advice regarding these changes into the relevant permanent pages of this website. You’ll see these appearing in the coming weeks.

Is the UMass Amherst Pre-Law Advising Office still open?

Of course!! If you’re a UMass Amherst student or alum, I’ll never stop being here for you, even if “here” is in some virtual space. Email me with any questions or to make an appointment for a phone/Zoom meeting.