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Overcoming a Serious Conduct Issue and Low Undergraduate GPA

How do you strategize your law school applications when you're not the typical applicant? I had a client in exactly that situation; let's call him Steve. Steve was older than most candidates. His undergraduate degree was in an environment-related field. He had a serious conduct issue in his past. And he had worked most recently worked in a blue collar factory job. His undergraduate GPA was almost half a point below the median for the law schools he was considering. However, I could tell that Steve was bright, had a good sense of humor, and was very serious about becoming a lawyer.

Steve and I worked on maximizing his non-traditional background and ensuring that his personality shone through in his personal statement. He had spent years working in the wildlife field and I encouraged him to highlight these experiences; I knew that an admissions committee would see them as adding diversity to an incoming class.

As a non-traditional student with a non-traditional background, he needed to highlight the unique perspective his experiences would bring. He used the personal statement to explain how his past motivated his desire to study environmental law and politics. I also encouraged him to be honest about his conduct issue and discuss it upfront in his application.

Steve had also recently been diagnosed with a learning disability, and we discussed whether it made sense to apply for accommodations. I also gave him strategies to prepare mentally for the LSAT and to calm test anxiety. We eventually decided to pursue accommodations, which were granted, and Steve received a score at the median for his top choice school.

I also spent a significant amount of time advising him on obtaining the best letters of recommendation. Steve had been out of undergraduate school for a while, so he didn't have professors who would remember him. Most of his recent employers were blue collar and hadn't previously written letters of recommendation for a law school.

Steve was accepted to multiple law schools, including his top choice – which was a 15 minute drive from his home. He confessed to me afterward that he had been unsure whether it was worth the money to pay a consultant. But, during the initial consultation, he saw the value I could add and was ultimately very grateful for my advice and feedback. Steve was a pleasure to work with and I'm glad I could help him make a fresh start. Steve's previous work had led to some health problems, but now he will have an opportunity to work in an office and put his education and analytical skills to good use.

– Contributed by Senior Consultant Heike Spahn, a former Associate Director of Admissions and Assistant Dean of Financial Aid at the University of Chicago Law School. She holds her J.D. from the Valparaiso University School of Law, where she later served as Assistant Dean of Admissions.

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