In this installment of Law Admissions Q&A, a monthly feature in Law Admissions Lowdown that provides expert admissions advice to readers who write in with their questions, I will focus on how engineers and those with a science background can best position themselves for success in law school admissions.
Dear Shawn: At age 10, my dad received his first patent. As any proud daughter would, I bragged to all of my classmates that I was going to become a patent attorney. I neither understood the patent nor had any concept of what patent attorneys did, but the idea stuck. By the time I entered college, I started to put in motion the steps I needed to take to make this dream a reality.
My desire to become a patent attorney also fit well with what I would term a genetic predisposition to engineering; much of my immediate family is in engineering. Thus, it was natural that I studied engineering in college, and I also kept very busy with sports and jobs, which helped me learn time management and teamwork. I have been working for about a year in engineering since graduation.
I took the February 2012 LSAT and scored in the high 160s. Will my 3.2 GPA keep me from getting into top tier intellectual property schools? How much work experience or legal background do employers typically want from their patent attorneys? -Patent Fever
Dear Patent Fever: With a strong application package (essays, recommendations, and so forth), you will be competitive at many of the top intellectual property law programs in the nation notwithstanding your slightly lower GPA. To a certain extent, law schools understand the tough grading curve in the sciences and engineering.
[Read more about how law applicants can handle low scores.]
I recently worked with a candidate with a similar LSAT score and lower GPA and less work experience, who ended up getting into a number of the top IP/patent programs in the country. The amount of relevant work experience you have before law school is less important than your demonstrated passion for the field in which you want to work. Also, a strong background in the sciences, which you appear to possess, is a prerequisite for a successful patent law application.
As you may know, it is very important that you choose the schools to which you apply based on the strength of their patent/intellectual property programs, and not just their overall ranking. For example, the University of Houston Law Center, the Santa Clara University School of Law and the George Washington University Law School have extraordinarily strong intellectual property programs even though they are not in the top 10 law schools overall. For more, you can explore U.S. News' list of the top intellectual property programs.
Dear Shawn: I have a B.A. and master's in the sciences from two top schools, and I have had a few related scientific jobs throughout school. I have a couple of specific questions about law school.
During undergrad, I didn't take many courses in political science or anything that is remotely typical of many law school applicants. How do I best market myself to law schools given that my background is heavily steeped in natural sciences? Also, what is the best way to convince law schools that I am serious in my application and about my change in careers? -Atypical Applicant
Dear Atypical Applicant: Having a background in science will not hurt you in the application process—and in many ways, it represents an invaluable point of differentiation. Law schools want a diverse class, so they are looking for applicants from various disciplines. They care more about why you want to go to law school and what you plan to do with your J.D. than what legal or public policy experience you already have.
In your application, be very clear about why you are making the switch from science to law and how you will leverage your scientific knowledge in your work as a lawyer. With the emergence of increasingly complex technologies, an educational background in science is becoming essential for various subfields of law.
Consider pinpointing one moment or event that was the turning point that shaped your decision to pursue law, and structure your essay around that. This will be helpful in convincing the admissions committees that you are serious about law.
[Get more admissions tips from law school deans.]