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Northwestern seeks to attract a different kind of law student
Northwestern seeks to attract a different kind of law student. We believe that to succeed in law school and in their careers, our students should have more than the highest intellectual capacity. We want them to have strong interpersonal skills, ambition, and maturity to meet the challenge of change and excel in their chosen fields. In order to make this assessment about applicants, Northwestern became the only major law school that attempts to interview all applicants and pushes work experience as a preferred admission requisite.
The importance of work experience became clear during our strategic planning process in 1998, in which we spoke to recruiters at many firms to find out what they expected of new associates. We learned that firms value associates who had significant work experience before going to law school because they often are better prepared to succeed in the changing legal profession, where law and business are increasingly intertwined and where being a mature, motivated, team player has become extremely important.
We, therefore, encourage our applicants to work for a while in nonlegal business or governmental positions rather than coming to law school right from college. Our long-term goal is to admit only students who have had at least two years of work experience. We want to enroll student who understand how the world of their future clients functions, who are mature and have an excellent sense of judgment, who are experienced in working in teams often with people very different from them, and who are leaders with well-developed organizational skills. We also want students who are giving up more - a decent salary and comfortable lifestyle - to come back to law school. We believe that such students are more focused to succeed in our community and enliven the overall learning environment by sharing their past experiences.
When interviewing applicants, we have noticed that typically college seniors are much more general in terms of goals, whereas those who have worked tend to be interested in a specific area of law that relates to their experience. This also relates, we feel, to curbing turnover and dissatisfaction within the profession due to those entering it for less well-defined reasons. Our unique admissions interviewing program, however, does allow us to look for, in applicants without work experience, the skills we value - strong interpersonal and relational skills, sense of passion and enthusiasm for the law and particular areas within it, maturity and demonstrated tendency to be responsible and dependable. All college seniors must have an interview as part of the admission process.
We initially thought that by establishing the work experience criteria and the interviewing program, our LSAT scores would drop. That was a calculated risk we took, expecting that in the long run we would be more attractive. In fact the reverse has happened. Our median LSAT score rose in each of the first three years that we have conducted the program, and today, our scores are the highest they have ever been. An internal study performed in 2000, which included five years of Northwestern Law students, also found that the average first year grades and average graduating grades were higher among those with work experience vs. those who came directly from college. In fact, the GPA of students who had worked for two years was higher than those who worked only one and the GPA of those who had worked for at least three years was higher than those who work for two.
In the end we find that prior work experience also helps with job placement and career strategizing. As we have increased the number of students with work experience, we have also seen an increase in their placement success upon graduation. Our long term goal is to empower our graduates to make wise choices and to manage the multi-job careers that await them. We believe that legal education should be a springboard to a wide variety of career opportunities, which may be more accurately analyzed if our students have already spent some time working in the professional world.
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