What’s Done In the Dark: The Inside Story Of Law School Admissions

In February of 2019 I was a senior in college in my final semester. I was also an intern at NBC Sports Boston—an awesome opportunity that I really enjoyed. I’ll admit it—I’m a huge sports fan. Not just in the sense that I watch a lot of games, but in the sense that I have a framed, autographed photo of Patriots running back James White scoring the game winning touchdown in the greatest comeback in NFL history (Super Bowl LI, which I attended) mounted in my living room. This photo is next to David Ortiz’ #34 jersey, which is next to an autographed Tim Thomas hat, next to an autographed team photo of the world champion 2007-08 Boston Celtics.

Are you getting the picture?

So it goes without saying that I was beyond thrilled when I actually got to help cover Super Bowl LIII—the final championship of the Brady-Belichick era, a run of success so long it stretched back from when I was in preschool, to when I was getting ready to graduate from college. It was a fitting ending on a number of fronts.

But in the back of my mind, I knew trouble was on the horizon. 

I was always interested in working in sports. I’ve always enjoyed learning about the law. When hometown hero Tom Brady found himself embroiled in legal drama with the NFL over an alleged plot to deflate footballs, (Deflategate) I was hooked. Not necessarily in the scientific morass of the ideal gas law or PSI or the alphabet soup of jargon that was thrown around at the time, but in phrases like “at least generally aware,” the expression used by NFL investigators in their report to describe Brady’s relationship with the alleged deflation of footballs, and “industrial justice,” the term used by United States District Court Judge Richard Berman to describe the NFL’s sham appeals process. 

It fascinated me.

But by this time, I knew sports and media was always something that would be there, and I felt called to do more. I was also disillusioned with the media business and the impact of social media on society. I wanted to utilize my passion for and interest in the law to work on some of the more important and substantive issues of our time. I had already applied to law school, was enjoying my final semester of college, the end of the football season, and my time at NBC Sports, before beginning my legal education in the fall.

But deep down, I knew Houston had a problem—and it wasn’t the Texans.

I began to realize that the law schools that were on the table were not in line with my goals. None felt like home. I also couldn’t definitively say I “left it all on the field” with the LSAT. It began to dawn on me that I may need to do what’s referred to on law school discussion boards as a “retake and reapply.” This was a tough decision to make. I felt like all the other parts of my application were strong. The results didn’t seem to make sense based on everything I was told and what I put forward.

Over the next year, I went on a journey where I learned everything there is to know about not only law school admissions, but also the darker side of higher education, and what lay at the heart of one of the biggest rackets in America.

One of the great fallacies of law school admissions is this word “holistic.” Used and abused by admissions kinfolk from coast to coast, it relates to the concept of an admissions office reviewing an applicant’s file with respect to everything one brings to the table. In other words, neither LSAT score or GPA, nor experience or accolades, are dispositive or prohibitive. Despite the publication of ABA-required LSAT and GPA percentiles, it is also said ad nauseum by many schools that there is not a floor or minimum requirement for an applicant to be considered, and typically there exists on schools’ applications a blithe recital of how the admissions committee “reads all files fully and considers each part of a candidate’s application in making a determination…”

If this were true, one would be hard pressed to explain away the mountain of statistical evidence, in the form of LSAT/GPA charts, that almost universally demonstrate well demarcated zones of green, red, and yellow dots—admits, denials, and waitlists respectively, that are neatly hemmed and titrated along a spectrum of percentiles that schools seek to advance upward and to the right per annum. The further up and away from the y-axis (GPA) and the x-axis (LSAT) one gets, the greener the dots become. Look for instance at admissions results from the University of Pennsylvania or Emory University or the University of Virginia and see what many in the admissions game refer to as “the right angle of death,” a term used to describe the palpable cutoff for admission that occurs along a particular LSAT score or GPA. While the data in these charts are user-reported and far from complete, the trendlines are self-evident.

The tapestry of colors in these tables often resemble fall foliage better than the campus stock photos that schools place in their brochures.

Certainly the most interesting, or well qualified, or experienced, or otherwise holistically sound candidates are not clustered in such neatly delineated quantitative areas. It would seem instead that the quantitative factors of one’s application are more prohibitive than the brochure says.

I’ll stop being facetious. We all know how this works. Applicants, schools, employers—the system, as it were, are all pawns on a chessboard—a ruthlessly efficient and heavily standardized game of statistics, money, and perceptions. Quantities, in the form of LSAT scores, GPAs, and acceptance rates, are annually laid upon the altar of US News & World Report, an American media company and defunct publisher that specializes in telling Americans what diets to try, which SUVs to lease, and which Halloween sales to shop at

In 2010, when US News, founded as a news magazine in 1933, ceased publishing new issues, the New York Times described the move as the company “shift[ing] focus to its highly influential and profitable rankings guides for institutions like colleges and hospitals.”

Highly profitable you say?

At the January 2020 annual meeting of the Association of American Law Schools (AALS) in Washington D.C., U.S. News, which has come to describe itself as “a multi-platform publisher of news and information” actually reserved a booth at the conference to market its subsidiary operation, something it calls “US News Academic Insights.” 

On its website, the company describes this product as offering “Instant access to a rich historical archive of undergraduate, graduate and online school rankings data.”

How do I know this? I was there. 

I actually stopped and took a long look at the sign out front, in some level of disbelief. All the industry players were there, even military-industrial contractors like Lockheed Martin and microchip conglomerate Qualcomm for some reason. None of them were marketed more prominently than US News & World Report. Even the law schools themselves were not featured that strongly in the signage or materials.

How could the agency charged with ranking these institutions, US News, so openly be in bed with them and the other players in the industry? How could the kingmaker of deeply influential rankings also be a news source at the same time? It felt like a situation akin to Dick Cheney going on Meet the Press and citing as evidence against Iraq a New York Times story claiming Saddam Hussein was seeking to acquire aluminum tubes—a story for which his own staff was the principal source. 

It was akin to Moody’s, the credit rating agency, rubber stamping AAA ratings on tenuous collateralized debt obligations (CDOs) leading up to the financial crisis so that its clients wouldn’t take their business elsewhere.

Is US News a news source? Who is the customer? Who is the client? The schools? The applicants? What kind of rating agency sets up shop at the trade shows of the institutions it’s supposed to be evaluating in order to peddle its wares to them? How can one simultaneously be in charge of ranking, reviewing and servicing the schools and students who are also its customers?

It seems they’ve cultivated an information environment in which they collect data from law schools (data the American Bar Association largely requires the disclosure of), then repackage the data into rankings, and sell it back to members of the public, who in turn use the data to make economic and educational decisions to trample over one another in search of success in their career pursuits. This success is determined by employers who rely on the same rankings and data to assess the quality of one’s credentials—credentials that were unlocked on the basis of one’s application numbers that are then collated with their peers and reported to US News, who then plug in and promulgate the data through their rankings product, and the cycle begins anew. 

It’s eerily reminiscent of 1984’s Ministry of Truth. 

Theoretically, US News could unilaterally move a school up several places in its rankings, perhaps from the 20s to the 10s, and said school would surely reap the benefit in prestige and perception for this move, even if the derivatives underlying the school’s rank have not improved proportionally. If US News ranks a school in a particular position, it is decidedly so. 

This system pits school against school, and numbers against numbers. US News exacts a meticulous arithmetic process to concoct its ratings, exacting upon the schools the same penchant for the quantifiable that the schools in turn exact upon their applicants. According to US News, 25% of a school’s ranking is determined by LSAT, GPA, and acceptance rate alone. 

The incentives are clear. The more applicants that apply to a school, the more selective it may be in accepting applicants with higher numbers, the more fees it collects, and the lower its acceptance rate becomes. Schools are incentivized for these reasons and others to encourage as many people to apply as possible. In other words, more people need to apply and be rejected in order for schools to espouse the pretense of selectivity as demonstrated by their acceptance rate, and advance past one another, competing for real estate atop the roiling promontory of US News’ pyramid.

In fact, according to a Barbri study of admissions officers at American law schools, nearly 42% of those surveyed indicated that they consider the impact that an applicant will have on their law school’s future U.S. News law ranking at least half of the time. 

In other words, according to the Barbri survey, the question admissions officers reported asking themselves when assessing at least half of the applicants put before them, is not exactly whether or not these living, feeling, human beings that have applied to law school are suitable leaders of tomorrow, but instead what impact their acceptance would have on the bottom line.

A far and away plurality of those surveyed (48%) indicated that the first part of an applicant’s file they review is their LSAT score. A similar plurality (44%) indicated that the second factor they look at is an applicant’s GPA. 

In comparison, the second highest rated answers to the questions posed to admissions officers of what they review in an applicant’s file first and second, was personal statement (your life story and motivations) at 22% and resume (your achievements and qualifications) at just 16%, respectively. 

When asked what most significantly impacts the decision to accept someone from a waitlist, over 61% of admissions officers surveyed indicated that it was the “impact that the applicant’s LSAT or GPA will have on overall admissions statistics.” The second highest rated option was “Whether the applicant demonstrated an intention to immediately accept your offer to attend” at a whopping 18.7%. In this case, using the same logic skills that are assessed on the exam providing the score which is the basis of this whole scenario—schools would be selecting applicants with desirable scores who are not even actually coming to said school, over applicants who actually would.

The word holistic was not found anywhere in the survey.

Interestingly, within the same survey, a staggering 70% of admissions officers surveyed indicated that they were either “very unhappy” or “somewhat unhappy” that US News Law Rankings even exist.

Speaking of admissions officers, take the case of UCLA.

In April of 2020, one of the most popular threads in the history of the “Law School Admissions” Reddit was posted. In the thread, an understandably panicked law school applicant reports that the University of California, Los Angeles School of Law actually revoked their acceptance offer after the applicant asked if the school would be able to increase their scholarship offer as the applicant had multiple competitive offers from other schools. Known as scholarship negotiation, this is a common practice in law school admissions for applicants and schools to dance back and forth with scholarship offers, as admissions officers and aspiring lawyers trade dollars for LSAT and GPA points, with the former trying to increase its numbers as much as possible, with the latter attempting to go to their most ideal school in the most affordable way possible.

The poster writes, “My acceptance offer was withdrawn by UCLA with a rather snarky remark that I should attend the other school instead. To say I am shocked is an understatement, and it is unbelievable how unprofessional UCLA has been this cycle.”

Of the 102 comments in reply to this post, other applicants corroborate this account:

“I also asked for a deadline extension owing to COVID and the Dean said no and said he was not convinced I would want to attend. I found it very rude and off-putting, especially when their deadline is so much sooner than everyone else’s,” said one applicant.

Another similarly situated poster writes, “I’m just writing here to vouch for this post. While I wasn’t given an obnoxious response to scholarship reconsideration requests, I was given a very rude, passive aggressive, and off-putting response when I requested an extension on their deposit deadline, when a simple ‘no’ would have sufficed.”

In a subsequent thread, apparent screenshots of the exchange were posted, showing the Dean telling the applicant, “History dictates that someone with a scholarship who is not willing to pay $500 [seat deposit] to secure it is likely not going to come.”

UCLA Law, boasting an applicant pool of over 6,000 and an acceptance rate of around 20% according to its latest ABA 509 report, apparently does not appreciate its applicants trying to game the process in the manner in which it games out its applicants.

The ABA maintains a database of admissions data on each law school.

Meanwhile, the Law School Admission Council (LSAC, a non-profit corporation that charges $195 to access its application website) hocks a similar treasure trove of applicant data, some of which is accessible to the public via the LSAC Data Library.

LSAC ascribes to itself the moniker of being “committed to promoting quality, access, and equity in law and education worldwide.”

On its “Mission and History” page, LSAC describes its “rich history of creating a vibrant and supportive ecosystem for law schools and their candidates that promotes quality, access, and equity in law school admission.”

On this page, readers can find a slideshow that takes one through a timeline of the company’s history. Reading like a museum exhibit, LSAC paints itself with quite the distinguished history of outreach initiatives and promoting access to legal education, most notably its latest achievement of converting its crown jewel—the LSAT, to a digitally administered exam.

What was missing from the timeline was the fact that in 2014, the United States Department of Justice announced a landmark consent decree to: 

“…resolve allegations that the Law School Admission Council (LSAC) engaged in widespread and systemic discrimination in violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). Under the proposed consent decree, LSAC [paid] $7.73 million in penalties and damages to compensate over 6,000 individuals nationwide who applied for testing accommodations on the Law School Admission Test (LSAT) over the [preceding] five years. The decree also require[d] comprehensive reforms to LSAC’s policies and end[ed] its practice of “flagging,” or annotating, LSAT score reports for test takers with disabilities who receive extended time as an accommodation.”

“The United States intervened in DFEH v. LSAC Inc., which was originally brought on behalf of California test takers in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California. The allegations in the complaint detail LSAC’s routine denial of testing accommodation requests, even in cases where applicants have a permanent physical disability [emphasis added] or submitted thorough supporting documentation from qualified professionals and demonstrated a history of testing accommodations since childhood. Without the necessary accommodations, test takers with disabilities are denied an equal opportunity to demonstrate their aptitude and achievement level. The lawsuit further alleged that LSAC engages in discrimination prohibited by the ADA through its practice of flagging the LSAT score reports of individuals who received extended time as a testing accommodation, thereby identifying to law schools that the test taker is a person with a disability.”

Certainly, for an organization that is committed to “creating a vibrant and supportive ecosystem for law schools and their candidates that promotes quality, access, and equity in law school admission,” such developments would be deeply troubling, and a sign that something is wrong. 

For an organization that serves as the gatekeeper and enforcer of standards for individuals seeking a career in the profession responsible for rectifying the very sort of widespread corporate malfeasance committed by LSAC, a reasonable person would expect LSAC to change its ways.

Instead, in March 2018, a federal judge held LSAC in contempt of court for its lack of compliance with the 2014 consent decree. U.S. Magistrate Judge Joseph Spero of San Francisco found that LSAC viewed the prior decree “as an intrusion to be avoided rather than a challenge to be embraced,” according to the ABA Journal. He sanctioned LSAC by extending the order an additional two years – meaning the council would remain under court scrutiny until 2020.

In October of 2019, after eight years of stonewalling a legally blind man through the court system, LSAC lost a suit brought against it by the man, Angelo Binno of Michigan, for whom LSAC refused to modify its exam to accommodate his blindness. As a result, LSAC will now have to modify the test.

LSAC, a non-profit corporation that does not pay federal income taxes and somehow figured out how to make nearly $90 million from this process in fiscal year 2018-19 according to its IRS Form 990 filing, has been panned by critics for its business model, systematically disadvantaging students of low socioeconomic status, charging $200 for its flagship exam, and hundreds of dollars in application fees for the largely costless and autonomous process of transmitting digital application documents. 

Caroline Kitchener, the author of Post Grad: Five Women and Their First Year Out of College, writing in The Atlantic, reported that “while law schools are steadily becoming more racially and ethnically diverse, they remain overwhelmingly upper-middle class. Only 5 percent of students at elite law schools come from families that fall in the bottom half of the socioeconomic spectrum—a number that has hardly changed since the 1960s.”

One of the major cost drivers for applicants is taking the LSAT, as well as preparing for it.

J.Y. Ping is the founder of the LSAT preparation company 7Sage. 7Sage describes its mission and market position as “Mak[ing] legal education accessible—The LSAT is the gateway to the legal profession, and thus it is the gateway to key positions in our society. But those who are unable to hire $150/hr tutors, or take $1000 LSAT prep courses have been at an unfair disadvantage.” 

Ping describes himself as “an educator figuring out ways to bring down the cost of education while improving its quality and accessibility.”

“This is how we liberate and democratize education! We want to level the playing field. Top-notch, high-quality LSAT instruction should be affordable, and we have worked hard to do just that,” Ping says on his website.

7Sage’s LSAT preparation program is one of the more popular LSAT prep programs, and a search for it online yields many positive reviews. Particularly popular features of 7Sage are its “LSAT Prep Test Scorer” which allows users to enter their answers from their practice tests on its site and receive a score, performance breakdown, charts, and other useful information, free of charge. 

Another very popular resource of 7Sage was its infamous logic games videos, notorious among the LSAT community and a boon to many. These YouTube videos feature Ping and “7Sagers” breaking down, analyzing, and teaching how to do what is for many the most mystifying part of the LSAT—the analytical reasoning section, also known as logic games. 

During my own LSAT preparation several years ago, I myself was an avid user of these videos, as were many of my peers.

In October of 2019 however, Ping announced “really bad news”:

“Two months ago, LSAC’s legal department requested that we remove the videos on copyright violation grounds. We immediately retained Quinn Emanuel, one of the best law firms in the country, and worked with two amazing lawyers (one of whom used to be a 7Sager) to try to work this out with LSAC. Despite our efforts, they remain firm. Our remaining option was to litigate but we don’t have the resources to pursue that path.

On November 15th our [logic games] videos will no longer be available to the public for free. They will still exist, but only to students enrolled in a full 7Sage course. This way, we can track usage and send licensing fees accordingly.”

LSAC sicced its dogs on Ping, the man whose mission was to “make legal education accessible,” by utilizing its aforementioned monopoly profits to lean on 7Sage, forcing it to eliminate its educational videos lest it kick up a licensing fee to LSAC.

In other words, LSAC let it be known that it runs this block (or as Ping describes it, “the gateway to the legal profession”) and it wants its street tax.

None of these things were found in the LSAC “Mission and History.”

It begs the question—why are we doing this? 

Is this really the best we can do? Is this the only way the law school admissions process can work?

Only in America would it look like this: a phlegmatic, corporatized & data-obsessed death march that has as its principle aim merely the amplification of the ranking inputs of the whole machine—all adorned in the tweedy, ascetic, and beguiling marketing strategies of Big Education.

Only one question remains.

Is this who we are?

Because it’s what we’ve become.

I could continue to provide data and statistics, but that’s redundant. What’s lost in all of this is the collateral damage of those the process siphons and churns through each cycle—the applicants—the aspirational human beings that go through it each year—applicant voices that otherwise are never heard or regarded. So I decided to see what reaching out to applicants themselves would look like. Utilizing a popular law school admissions discussion site, I connected with applicants to get their honest thoughts, feelings, and ideas on their experiences with this process for this article. What I heard was simply shocking.

What revealed itself in the testimony of the applicants I spoke to, was not a process that is tough but fair, or presenting a challenge to overcome, but instead an exhausting, financially and emotionally draining industry that one might be apt to call “Success, Inc.”—where prestige is for sale to the highest bidder.

In articles such as these, it’s a tenet of journalism that these sorts of perspectives be attributed to the individual sharing. However, in talking to applicants and other individuals at various levels of the game, a persistent fear was retaliation—folks not wanting schools or other powers that be to know their identity, out of fear expressing themselves and going against the grain could result in some sort of blowback. For this reason, as much of a sad testament to the structural flaws and power imbalances that imbue this racket that it is, I respect these concerns and thus have adopted aliases in some cases or removed names to respect the privacy and sensitivity of the applicants.

Jennifer in New Mexico told me:

“This process was almost impossible for me. I come from a family where half my siblings either barely graduated high school, or never did. I was the first in my family to ever even consider going to law school, let alone try applying. I had no one to ask about the LSAT, fee waivers, CAS, LSAC, personal statements, or anything else that goes with the process. I also work full time and go to school full time. As I took the LSAT and applied to schools I was working two jobs to try to make ends meet. I had no idea you could apply for fee waivers, and by the time I learned that I could apply for them, it was too late. The LSAT Flex [at home LSAT offered during COVID-19 pandemic] made the process much more difficult, as it did not account for discrepancies in home testing environments. I couldn’t pay for LSAT study courses, but even if I did, when would I take them between full-time work and school? This process felt every step of the way like it was meant to prevent someone like me from participating.”

Another applicant said that “Being on the hook everyday to either get life changing or life crushing news is too much. I don’t usually let these things bother me but this completely exceeded my expectations in terms of mental and emotional toll.”

I spoke to the mother of one applicant with very high numbers, who shared the experiences of herself and her son:

“I am the mother of a KJD [a student applying to law school directly from college] who is applying this cycle…I have found the process in general grueling, cruel and a bit inhumane. The KJDs I find are treated worse. It seems that schools punish students for wanting to go straight through school. Almost seems like a bad thing…I know my son got most of his application fees waive[d] and even got a letter from UM with a personal note from Dean Z stating that they were looking forward to his application and that his business degree would come in handy for law school. All this just to waitlist him. I later became familiar with the term yield protection [schools waitlisting or rejecting well-credentialed applicants in order to avoid accepting extremely well-qualified students who may attend elsewhere in order to keep acceptance rates low] and understood exactly why schools do this…The schools knowing full well they have almost reached their class size and have 1,000 students on a waitlist. All this so that their numbers look attractive and they can possibly move up the T14 [top 14 US News-ranked law schools] ranks. These schools do not seem to take into consideration that these applications need to make arrangements to leave their cities, their families, their support group and move sometimes across the country. Some of these applicants are married with children and need to secure schools for their children. Most need to secure housing and sign leases at a city which in many cases they have never visited. The schools do not seem to care about any of this. They just want their numbers to be where they can be more advantageous to them. Without taking into consideration that each applicant is a person who needs to make decisions on a huge life change and immense debt. There are plenty of applicants…that applied in September and have yet to receive a response from their “dream school” and are holding on to see what happens before committing elsewhere. You then have some deans who are very active giving the applicants all the hope in the world knowing full well that only a very small percentage will be taken off the waitlist. I am an adult and a parent, worrying about the applicants that have posted the most desperate posts online during the day. Some have even reached out to me privately because they are desperate and need a word of hope or consolation. This process is unfair to applicants and horrific. These schools should, in my opinion, work on real rolling admission timelines. If you apply in September we will give you a decision by the end of November and so on. But no, they use the applications to their advantage and play with them until their pool benefits them to the max. I find that they have no regard for the hard work, money, time, hope of the applicants. It is my opinion that they trample all over the applicants’ lifetime of work to make their numbers benefit them. Nothing fair, humane or beneficial in any way to the applicant.”

Another applicant, who only provided their screen name, “LegalAspirations,” told me that:

“I never suspected when I began the law school admissions process that it would be as complex as it is. I expected application fees, sure, but not things unique to law admissions, such as the $195 CAS [LSAC Credential Assembly Service] fee or the $45 report fee per school, separate to the app fee. I find it alarming that so many schools require the CSS profile which requires parental information, despite that many are independent of their parents and/or have a situation that prevents them from even being in touch with their parents. There’s a polarizing tug-of-war: one side tugging and thinking it’s amazing you’re applying to law school (often friends and family), and the other side tugging you to believe that unless you’re attending a “prestigious” law school, it really isn’t worth much. If you don’t score in the 90+ percentile, try again…I think there’s too much non-stop emphasis on acceptances, rejections, and waitlists, yet too little focus on self-improvement and open discussion about people’s concerns prior to entering law school. I think that’s unhealthy, people watching decisions day in and day out and it being one of many worries yet few people actively discussing working through the worries so that they’re stronger for law school. I’m guilty of that, though less so my second go around. I can’t help but wonder how many people would make fantastic attorneys if there weren’t so many financial barriers just to apply.”

Perhaps the most powerful, profound, and yet troubling account that I heard, came from my conversation via Zoom with Robin in Colorado. Robin’s name has been changed due to privacy, with some details omitted.

Robin, considered a “non-traditional” student given the time between earning her bachelor’s degree and applying to law school, told me that she simply “didn’t understand the barriers to entry, or how much it cost.”

Robin, a Native American, wants to pursue law school to focus on domestic violence and Indian law. Robin, in the personal statement she used in her applications which she shared with me, discussed, in graphic and heart-rending detail, the story of her daughter’s abuse and what motivated her to want to become an advocate for others.

Robin begins her personal statement, sent to all law schools with her application:

“I was burdened with the need for legal representation during the darkest moment of my life. As a Native American mother; I was twenty-two, five weeks and one day post-partum, and sitting at work. I had returned to work two weeks prior because our savings was depleted. I had been physically, emotionally, and sexually abused during my marriage. Despite this, I never would have guessed that he would hurt our daughter. My marriage left me destitute, physically broken, and suffering the near-loss of my daughter. However, it gave me a life altering moment that has brought me to applying to law school.”

Robin goes on to write about the abhorrent details of what happened that day at the hospital, her interactions with a forensic pediatrician and police, and what happened to her daughter. Those details are omitted here.

Robin continues:

“I sold all of my worldly possessions to afford the retainer for my first attorney. I lacked the knowledge of how to select a lawyer, and my familial support was dismal at best. What a monumental obstacle when I needed support and guidance during a time that I was the most vulnerable. My entire world had just been ripped out from under me, and I was utterly alone and unsupported. This counsel insisted and coerced me into pleading nolo-contendere and assured me that I would have my daughter back in six months or less. I wish to pursue my legal education to be the type of attorney I desperately needed at the time. My daughter and I were separated and I was treated as an offender—despite being a victim to domestic violence myself. Being gaslit and re-victimized is commonplace with most battered women, and it took several months for this to be shown in our case through psych evaluations and domestic violence inventories. 

The court was insistent that I failed to protect my daughter, despite my lack of knowledge or awareness. It showed me that those who need help often do not know it, do not know where to turn, or have any idea of how convoluted the legal system and processes can be. Victims need support, resources, someone to listen, and, ultimately, they need to experience support, guidance, and acceptance. I left Indian Territory in a pursuit for peace, safety, and healing. I have volunteered, been a parent to two, pursued a Bachelor’s whilst working full-time as the sole provider, began to heal, and have persevered. I have broken the cycle, and I want to enable others without resources to do the same. I feel that pursuing law would provide this opportunity to do so.

I have devoted the last six years of my life to correcting the stigma revolving around domestic violence: teaching people how it should be discussed; providing victims with resources and support; and educating people on how victims are often gaslighted as aggressors. Law school will afford me the opportunity to make a larger impact on this underserved and needy population. Living through hell taught me that I will be an advocate for rights: yours, mine, theirs, and ours. I fought to return my daughter home, and would have been much better served by an attorney who could empathize with what I was living. I will persevere to become the attorney I once needed.”

Robin told me that she began college at age 16 after emancipating herself. During college, Robin frequently had to miss class due to domestic violence and having to struggle to make ends meet financially. Despite the challenges, Robin managed to graduate with her bachelor’s degree, albeit with a GPA that had the number two in front of it—understandable for someone required to summon the strength to deal with so much, and triumph in the face of such adversity.

Robin, upon realizing she wanted to become a lawyer and apply to law school, knew that she would need a high LSAT score to make up for the GPA. She pursued multiple LSAT tutors, each costing hundreds of dollars that she did not have, but to no avail. Her score did not increase.

Robin paid $60/hour for ten sessions of tutoring, later moving to another tutor who charged $200/hour. Working as hard as one is possibly able, and at such sacrifice, she persevered.

Unfortunately, her score on the LSAT was not cooperating.

Robin was not aware that LSAC offers fee waivers to applicants who cannot afford the test and had been paying out of pocket for test expenses. Living on a $48 bi-weekly excess and having declared bankruptcy, Robin told me she felt like trying desperately to raise her score felt as if she was taking food off of her kids’ table.

She began to feel like she needed to lower her expectations and just go to a school she was overqualified for due to the high cost, the pressure, and the toll the process was taking.

Robin eventually discovered the existence of LSAC’s fee waiver and applied.

LSAC denied her application.

After writing the company and stating, quite bluntly, her background and situation, particularly the $150k in debt left by her husband, both of her parents being disabled and without an income and unable to co-sign any loans, LSAC eventually reversed its decision.

In the application process, Robin was told by one law school that her diverse background unfortunately “does not really matter” and that an application is “just a number.”

Robin was actually asked by another school for private information on her daughter’s abuse, as the school had concerns about character and fitness, part of the process of passing the bar. Bar passage rate is an important part of a law school’s rank and perception.

Robin was told by the admissions officer of this law school that she probably “doesn’t meet the character and fitness standards here, let alone the bar.”

Robin reached out to one of the top admissions consulting agencies in the world, who gave her a phone consultation. Robin told me that the admissions consultant she spoke to told her, quite simply, she had no shot.

Admissions consultants, in this case law school admissions consultants, consult not only applicants, but law schools. In other words, admissions consultants, most of whom are themselves former admissions officers from law schools, make money by taking consulting fees from monied applicants to have their personal statements, email correspondence, and other written materials manicured and edited professionally, have their timelines and strategies calibrated for maximum results, receive networking advice and contacts, and have their admissions cycle be precisely managed and augmented in a way that only familial wealth and elite connections can afford.

Admissions consultants simultaneously are paid by the law schools on the back end to help consult the schools themselves as each admissions director neurotically attempts to game out the US News & World Report ranking criteria, and elbow its ranking abutters to try and leapfrog one another and juice their ranking in order to try and placate the deans of their schools.

Admissions consulting has been prominent in the news in the last few years. In the 2019 college admissions scandal, the FBI in Operation Varsity Blues uncovered a wide-ranging criminal conspiracy to rig undergraduate admissions decisions at top US universities, where at least 53 people, most of whom celebrities and wealthy elites, paid more than $25 million between 2011 and 2018 to William Rick Singer, a disgraced admissions consultant and organizer of the scheme—who used the payouts to inflate entrance exam test scores and bribe university officials.

Before I met Robin, I actually reached out to the founder of the admissions consulting company she spoke with to ask for a comment on this law school admissions story. At the time it only existed as an idea—to analyze the inner-workings of the law school admissions process. 

The response I actually received from them: “I wish I could join you. Ping me in 15 years and I will — but I can’t take on [the] schools [as] they could really harm our company in various ways.”

The implications here are quite obvious.

Robin eventually got in touch with what she described as a woman-owned test prep company that exists to help similarly situated women study and succeed on the test. She later became part owner of the company.

Robin went from where she started on the LSAT all the way to scoring in the mid 170s (99th percentile).

Due to her hard work, Robin actually became so skilled at the test she became a tutor, receiving a loan from her tribe to afford the materials needed to set up a course.

Robin unfortunately did not fare well in the admissions process. 

Despite her increasing LSAT scores, her GPA, and as profound and extraordinary as her character, experiences, perspectives, and passion to be a lawyer and an advocate for others was, nothing seemed to matter.

In reviewing her application materials, and thinking back on my own two admissions cycles, all I have learned about this process, all of the personal statements I have read and candidates I have come across, I do not believe I have ever seen an application or an individual as compelling as Robin.

But the law schools saw her, like so many others, as merely her numbers.

Robin eventually got in touch with PLSI, the Pre-Law Summer Institute, which is part of AILC, the American Indian Law Center. 

AILC describes its mission as, “provid[ing] training and technical assistance to tribes, tribal organizations, and tribal courts; legal and policy analysis on various issues important to tribal governments; and preparatory legal education to individuals.” 

PLSI is an intensive two-month program that prepares American Indian and Alaska Native individuals for the rigors of law school by essentially replicating the first semester of law school.

After working with PLSI, Robin was able to get in touch with the Georgetown University Law Center Native American Law Students Association (NALSA).

They wanted to help.

NALSA got Robin in touch with the admissions director, who re-reviewed her application.

As of last week, Robin told me based upon her conversations, she feels fairly confident she is going to be admitted to Georgetown Law imminently. 

Smiling on the Zoom screen, Robin told me she has already made her plans to move from Colorado to Washington D.C.

“It was important,” Robin told me, “to get them to see me as a human rather than just a file on their desk.”

Robin said in 20 words what it took me 7,000 to articulate. This is a process not of people, but of math. In so many ways, Robin’s story is a beacon of hope for so many—but also a story, and an outcome, that is quite rare. Robin was able to do what so few others are able to—force the schools to see her as a human being. 

Robin had a child’s painting of a heart on the wall behind her desk during our Zoom meeting. 

It was the only object in the background.

Tom Blakely is a first-year student and co-host of the new ‘Just Law’ podcast from BC Law. Contact him at blakelth@bc.edu.

One thought on “What’s Done In the Dark: The Inside Story Of Law School Admissions

  1. Pingback: Goodnight, Seattle | BC Law: Impact

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