How to Get In: Northwestern University Law School

What can you do to set yourself apart in your application? Admissions officials have the answers.

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5. What sets you apart from other schools? What can students gain from your school that they might not be able to find anywhere else?

We often are labeled as "the progressive law school." We think the main reason for that is because we are so market-focused in our approach. We spend a lot of time talking with potential employers and ask them what changes they would like to see in how law schools prepare their students and what abilities and characteristics tend to make their top associates and employees stand out. We are constantly changing and innovating as a result, and our goal is to prepare our students in a way that helps them to succeed and differentiate themselves in their post-law school careers better than any other law school. Hopefully, our recent No. 1 ranking by the National Law Journal is a reflection of this. Because of this career-centered focus, our admissions process, as well as our educational program and student culture is unique. We try to interview every applicant and we look for people with significant post-undergraduate work experience, including project management and leadership.

Our market-based focus is also a driving force behind our accelerated J.D. program, the way we infuse teamwork and group projects throughout our curriculum, and the opportunities we provide for our students to cross-train in business by taking many of Kellogg's core management classes and by offering the largest J.D.-M.B.A. program in the country and the first three-year program of its kind. Students have a wealth of experiential learning opportunities through our Bluhm Legal Clinic, which is very strong, and our international team projects course, which is entirely unique to us. Through that program, teams of students study the legal system or a human rights issue of another country and then go overseas for two weeks to conduct a field mission by interviewing attorneys, government officials and business leaders. It all culminates in a final group report and presentation. Finally, because we place so much emphasis on leadership and work experience in the admissions process, we provide our students with a lot of say in the way the school is run. We rely on their input and ideas and try to adopt them when it makes good sense strategically.

6. What do you look for in recommendation letters? How important is it that the letter's writer has worked regularly with the candidate in an office or school setting? Do you put much weight on letters from prominent public figures who may not know the applicant well?

In general, letters of recommendation tend to be the least important part of the application­—mainly because, in most cases, they are always positive and typically pretty general so they tend not to differentiate one candidate from the next. The candidate who can buck this trend, though, can use it to their advantage in two ways: get it from the person (usually a supervisor) who is most familiar with your work and ask them to talk about specific examples from their experience with you to back up any general statements that they make. The very general recommendation from a "famous" person will have little impact and we would caution against selecting them unless they know you very well. In our case, we do prefer letters from the work environment over those from previous professors.

7. Can you give a brief description of the life cycle of an application? What's the timeline applicants should expect?

We have a rolling admissions process. Generally, the timeframe from application submission to a decision is about one-and-a-half to two months.

8. Which firms/organizations recruit heavily from your school? Which ones hire the highest percentage of your graduates?

We have a national base of firms who recruit at Northwestern and students have the opportunity to pursue employment after law school in any of the major regions and legal markets throughout the United States. We also are pretty aggressive about meeting with and marketing ourselves to the top law firms throughout the country. Nearly three-fourths of our recruiters typically come from areas outside of the Midwest, and they represent nearly all of the top 100 law firms and many of the top 200. Usually about 10 percent to 15 percent of our students also pursue judicial clerkships upon graduation.