And then what? Talk to alumni.
Let’s say you’ve taken your LSAT. It’ll be a few weeks before you get your scores back, so you have some time to make more headway on your foggy path. During this time, you’ll likely be working on your applications—whether just getting started or putting final touches on essays—so you can submit them once you receive your score.
I found it helpful to reach out to alumni of the schools I was considering. It helped in a few ways:
- The conversations provided details I included in my Why X essays.
- Making the effort to reach out to alumni shows schools you’re seriously interested and you’ve taken initiative, which you can then mention in your communication with the school. But always ask for permission to share your interviewees’ names before you go name-dropping in your essays!
- What I learned about the schools and programs helped me specify a preferential order for my top schools.
- Bonus: Congratulations, you’ve just started building your legal network—so if they invite you to keep in touch, do!
But where can you find alumni willing to answer your questions?
- If you personally know alumni, start by speaking with them. Your own connections might be able to suggest other folks to talk with, too.
- Schools will generally be happy to connect you to ambassador-alumni. I didn’t go that route because I wanted to connect with folks who weren’t assigned to say nice things about their school and to hear from alumni who were working in the cities I’m considering settling in post-graduation. But this can be a great place to start if you don’t know who else to ask, and these alumni might be able to refer you to others.
- Since I didn’t know anybody, and I wanted to speak to “free agents,” I put on my sleuth hat and searched LinkedIn. I sent each alum an email (surprisingly Google-able!) or messaged them on LinkedIn if I couldn’t find their email address.
Nearly everyone I reached out to was willing to set up the 20-minute phone call I requested. Others were too busy, but friendly. Only a couple ignored me. No one was unpleasant. Overall, a positive experience!
When I got the alumni on the phone, I focused on four main areas of inquiry.
- School culture: What are the best parts of this law school’s culture, and what’s an aspect that you’d change, if you could?
- The town or city the school is in: What’s something you love about living in this town, and what would you change if you could? Where did you live while you were at school?
- Faculty: Are professors generally approachable? Is there anything I should consider about specific professors? What’s the best way to forge relationships with them? Is there a professor you highly recommend?
- Students: Was your section fairly cohesive, or did students mostly do their own thing (for studying or for social activities)? Do you feel like that’s average for your school?
Also, you’ll want to have a couple sound-bytes prepared before picking up the phone (for instance, nearly everyone wants to know if you’re interested in a particular type of law).
I also learned to ask two questions as we wrapped up the call: (1) Are there questions you think I should be asking that I haven’t already asked? (2) Is there anyone else you’d suggest I reach out to?
Most of these calls were much more comfortable and leisurely than I anticipated, and it felt so good to have personal conversations with people who were willing to share the good and the bad about their schools. Their insight enriched my essays and, in the best cases, made me feel emotionally connected to the schools. In every case, to varying degrees of genuine interest, the people I spoke with invited me to keep in touch.
Remember, the bonus here is that I started to build my legal network a full year before beginning law school. And I’m learning how to stay connected.
- I’m keeping organized notes and tracking my interactions in a spreadsheet. Some people are naturals at maintaining a large web of connections, but I rely on notes for everything in my life, and networking is no different!
- When I made my school decision, I followed up with the alumni I had spoken with, thanking them again for their insight and letting them know where I was headed.
- As I move forward, I plan to let them know when I’m in their city and offer to take them for a coffee so I can meet them in person. And in the meantime, I’m hoping to reach out once a quarter.
And now I feel like I have a lot more of a plan for law school then when my mother asked me all those months ago.
But it’s a lot of information, right? So just remember: for now pick a blog and do some reading. Or go for a walk and let a podcaster share their insight. Make note of weird jargon and unfamiliar concepts. Just keep moving—slowly. And you might find the fog lifts, at least a little.