Should Law Schools Require Applicant Interviews?

Metaphysics aside, there are some very real differences between what a person looks like on paper and how that person comes across when they are sitting down in front of you. Companies interview its job applicants for this exact reason. Many graduate programs—including Medical Schools—require applicants to interview with someone from the admissions office prior to acceptance. These institutions place a great deal of value on the opportunity to read someone. So my question is, why don’t law schools?

Law school admissions committees are flying with one eye closed. When they crack open—or download, I guess—a new application packet, they may see an applicant that appears to have every attribute that they are looking for. But without actually talking with this applicant, the attitude and motivations of that person will remain a question mark. There is no dialogue with those applicants. There is no forum for asking questions about the applicant’s choice of major or their reasons for choosing to apply to that particular school. Cover letters from applicants might cover these concerns to some extent, but the assertions in these one-page, first person ego-sketches will have to go unquestioned.

Learn from the med schools

Medical schools, on the other hand, feel that an application without an interview gives the admissions office an incomplete sight-picture. The University of Indiana’s Medical School, as just one example, requires their applicants to interview because “(t)he interview also allows schools to learn additional information about you, and perhaps to get a sense of the likelihood that you would accept a spot if they offered you one, so it is important that you express your enthusiasm and sincere interest in the school.” Medical schools realize that an applicant’s resume, cover letter and transcripts don’t produce a very complete picture, and they realize as well that many students send out numerous applications to various other schools, sometimes without much rationale for their choices. These schools also place value on personality and interview skills:

As a physician you will need to be able to walk into a room, meet a stranger, establish trust with that person and build rapport with them within a few seconds so that person may open up to you and even tell you something that makes them uncomfortable in order for you to make a correct diagnosis. Perhaps the most fundamental question for your interviewer is, “If I were a patient, and this person sitting before me were my doctor, how would I be feeling?”  One of your most important goals is to demonstrate in the interview that you will have the requisite social skills and ability to connect with others to function in the role of a physician.

Sound familiar? If you replace the words “diagnosis,” “patient,” and “doctor” or “physician” with their legal equivalents, you would find this to be a very important set of considerations when determining whether a potential applicant would make a good lawyer three years down the road. Focus on an applicant’s potential “bedside manner” could be just as—if not, more—relevant for applicants to the legal profession. A significant part of our job is developing a rapport and a foundation of trust with our clients, and those that do that well are better lawyers for it. And shouldn’t that be precisely the concern of a law school’s admissions office: whether someone will be a good lawyer and do their institution proud?

The legal profession’s auto-da-fé

There has been a good amount of debate on Lawyerist and elsewhere about the law school bubble, and I think some of the arguments about its damage to our industry are well-founded. There really are too many graduates from law school each year in this country. But I think that the truth of that assertion lies as much at the feet of the misplaced motivations of new students as it does the dearth of jobs in the market.

Countless students go to law school each year not because they want to be a lawyer, but because they couldn’t think a better next step. Many go to school compelled by the outdated illusion of money, or because their B.A. degree tied their hands. An interviewer should be able to spot these misguided reasons from a mile away.

Now, maybe admissions truly don’t care about the motivations of its applicants. Maybe they just take whoever looks good on paper, and are happy to laugh their way to the bank. But the idealistic part of me hopes that a school would want new students that choose to this field for a good reason… whatever that may be.

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