Practical life skills and mindset can make a big difference for success in law school and afterwards, according to professionals who assist law school applicants in the admissions process.
Beyond academic and intellectual qualities, a law school applicant should exhibit personal qualities that include maturity, good communication skills and the willingness to embrace diversity, says Anna Ivey, author of “The Ivey Guide to Law School Admissions” and graduate school admissions counselor at Anna Ivey Admissions Counseling.
The personal qualities that law schools value include maturity or life experience, emotional intelligence, an ability to get along with different kinds of people and communication skills, she says. “And they always appreciate it when someone demonstrates that they can roll with difficult situations like a tough job market,” adds Ivey, a former dean of admissions at the University of Chicago Law School in Illinois.
The University of Houston Law Center in Texas conducts a holistic review of every applicant and consideration is given to many factors, says Pilar Mensah, the dean of admissions.
“The Law Center looks for certain personal traits and qualities that we believe will make a successful law student and attorney,” she wrote in an email. “We strongly consider a track record of academic excellence, which can be demonstrated by an applicant’s undergraduate performance as well as performance on the LSAT or GRE. We encourage prospective students to discuss their desire to pursue a law degree, including any aspects of their character or life experience that may have influenced their perspective or motivation.”
In 2023, the Law School Admission Council launched Law Ready, a program that works with undergraduate schools “to help prepare people to be more academically and professionally ready for law school,” says Kyle McEntee, senior director of prelaw engagement at the LSAC.
“The Law Ready academic framework is based on empirical research about law school and the legal profession. It’s about the skills, abilities and personal qualities that are rated critically important for law school and the legal profession. This academic framework helps people get that well-rounded background and develop those skills, abilities and qualities they need to be successful students and lawyers,” says McEntee, past executive director of Law School Transparency, a consumer advocacy nonprofit that provides resources to prelaw students.
Here are five “law-ready” personal qualities that experts say law school applicants should possess.
Excellent Time Management
Law school is academically rigorous, especially the first year, and students who know how to manage their time well are more likely to perform better academically.
“For people who are balancing family and work obligations along with their schoolwork and activities, you have to make it all fit together,” McEntee says. “In practice, you have to get the deal done, you have court filings due, regulatory comments in on time, and if you are late, you may be reprimanded by the court or fired by your clients.”
It’s important to know how to allocate and reallocate time to put forth the effort needed to complete tasks.
“Due to the challenging nature of a legal education, determination and resilience, particularly when confronted with adversity, are also noteworthy characteristics,” Mensah says. “The role of an attorney is to advocate on behalf of others, which requires personal integrity and a demonstrated commitment to serve the community.”
Law school and later the practice of law “can punch you in the face,” McEntee says. “You must get back up and think about how to do it better next time or even on the front end, thinking through what you have to accomplish and working hard. Law school is a three-year commitment of time, and practice is a career commitment to work on behalf of your clients and the justice system.”
Law schools “don’t want to admit someone who is going to be a big headache for their colleagues in career services, or the dean of students,” Ivey says. “Are you the kind of person who can move to Plan B and even has a Plan B, or are you going to fall apart when your first choice doesn’t come through?”
Attention to Detail and Quality
Precision, clarity and nuance are key aspects of law education and practice, and they are pluses for applicants who can demonstrate those qualities in their application materials and interviews.
“In law school,” McEntee says, “you get graded on your arguments, how well they are put together, their accuracy. Are you citing cases that are still good law or have they been overturned? The same kind of stuff you see in practice. You need to make sure commas and periods are in the right place. If you mess up a comma or period in a contract, you might change the whole meaning.”
Ability to Work Constructively With Others
Working well as part of a group or team is important in law, and law school has changed in recent years to reflect that, experts note.
“There are a lot more team-based activities because there’s a lot of teamwork involved in being a lawyer,” McEntee says. “It matters when you work on a team because it could be when you are in practice, you are all working on different parts of the same contract, and it all comes together in the end. Someone is in charge of the transaction, but all the different people are doing their different parts, communicating with each other and staying on top of what others are doing and making sure everyone works seamlessly together.”
It’s often the same in writing a brief, a memo or a motion to dismiss, he adds. “All those sorts of things happen in litigation. Sometimes you’re the leader and sometimes you’re the follower. You have to be good at those to be a good team member.”
A good law student, like a good lawyer, is open to new ideas, new arguments, new opinions and how others think.
“As a lawyer, you constantly think about what the other side is thinking – whether it’s on the other side of a lawsuit or the opposite of someone you are negotiating with,” McEntee says. “You have to seek to understand the people, the facts and all around you. Having an open mind gets you closer to a more accurate read on the situation.”
Personal qualities desirable in law school applicants are developed over time, including in law school and later in practice, experts say.
“Lawyers need to be lifelong learners. So, you are always working on these qualities,” McEntee says.
The LSAC’s LawHub has a podcast, “I Am The Law,” that profiles lawyers across the U.S., “and you can see these qualities over and over in the stories they tell,” he says.
The Law Ready academic framework includes help with argumentative writing, active listening and speaking skills, he adds.
“There are lots of opportunities within college to develop those five personal qualities – in class, organizations, volunteering or your part-time job as a barista at Starbucks.”