Director of Admissions & Financial Aid, UW Law
Director of Admissions & Financial Aid, UW Law
Mathiew Le is the Director of Admissions & Financial Aid at the University of Washington School of Law located in Seattle, WA. He earned his bachelor’s degree from the University of Texas at Austin and his law degree from The Ohio State University Moritz College of Law, where he was a Senior Editor for I/S: A Journal of Law and Policy for the Information Society. Prior to joining UW Law, Mathiew was the Director of Campus Diversity and Associate Director of Admissions at the University of the Pacific McGeorge School of Law in Sacramento, CA.
AD: Thank you for taking the time to answer my questions today.
ML: Not a problem, I’m happy to do it.
AD: Let’s jump right into it, shall we? A recent survey by Kaplan Test Prep shows that out of all graduate schools, law school admissions offices are the most likely to take an applicant’s online presence into account during the admissions process, ex: Facebook, twitter. It states University of Washington school of law does NOT research an applicant’s Internet presence. If 37% percent of other law school admissions offices are looking into it, then why does the U of Washington choose not to use social networks as an additional tool for assessing the strength of an applicant?
ML: One of the biggest challenges with researching an applicant’s Internet presence is obviously the reliability of the information that is out there. Take Facebook for example: users pick and choose what information they wish to share on their page, most of which is irrelevant to assessing whether the applicant would succeed academically in law school and what contributions they would make to the law school community and legal profession.
Law schools ask for specific items to evaluate applicants, e.g., personal statement, resume, letters of recommendation, and transcripts. If an admissions committee feels compelled to search an applicant on Facebook for additional information, then I have to question why that is the case. What information is missing from the application materials that warrant such a search and why doesn’t the admissions committee request that information in advance? Of the 37% of law schools that take an applicant’s online presence into account, are the searches consistent among all applicants? Are the searches random? Even if we were to do random Facebook searches of applicants, my suspicion is that many law school applicants have privacy settings that prevent public viewing; and if not, I would strongly encourage them to do so.
AD: Now, I’ve done a little digging on my own and have concluded that you are a pretty private person – not a lot shows up when I Google you. I was able to find your profile page on UW Law’s website and video about you discussing the personal statement – all very BOORRRRING stuff! Given your refusal to delve into applicants’ personal lives, I think our readers would like to know what exactly are you hiding?
ML: What the heck, Don? I thought this was an interview for AdmissionsDean.com, not Match.com? [Long pause, and sigh]. Well, if you really need me to go there, I am an avid tennis player, I love to snowboard, ski, hike, rock climb, and the only pets I’m able to keep alive are Chia Pets — barely.
AD: C’mon, humor us – you can do better than that! How about providing our readers with a link to your Facebook page where they can get to know you a little bit better and perhaps see pictures of you table dancing in just a Speedo and large sombrero down in Cancun last spring break?
ML: Ha! Clearly if you saw those pictures, I need to revisit my Facebook privacy settings and delete some photos. Always good to be reminded – thanks AdmissionsDean.com!
AD: Surprisingly, technology has affected the process of not only admissions, but employers as well. What are your thoughts on law schools & employers investigating candidates?
ML: To me, it’s not that surprising at all. Technology has made applying to law schools and to jobs very interesting because a lot of information is accessible by simply Googling someone’s name in quotes. From an employer’s perspective, I get it. I understand that they want the crème de la crème when it comes to the employees they hire. Lawyers not only represent clients, but they also represent the firm. How you present yourself in the public view will have associations back to the client you represent and to the firm – all of which can impact business and relationships. When you hire someone, you are making an investment in them as an employee and every employer (I would imagine) wants to make the best investment. So I’m not surprised that employers would want to Google their candidates to see what information is out there. But I also believe those employers limit Google searches to those who make it to the final rounds of the interview process.
Similarly, I can appreciate why some law schools investigate their candidates as well. We all want the “top” applicants enroll into our law schools. But as I mentioned earlier, what information is lacking from the applicant’s materials that would lead a law school to say, “okay, let’s Google them”? Are there clear parameters in place in making that decision?
For argument’s safe, I am more than confident that if I conducted a Facebook search on every candidate who applied to UW Law I would come across someone’s photo album where their privacy settings weren’t as private as they thought. And it’s likely that I would come across a photo where I’m prompted to ask, “what the heck is he doing?!” But what am I going to do with that information? Do we penalize them for their failure to be Facebook savvy regarding privacy settings? Does that one photo take away from their extensive commitment to public service or social justice, or their strong academic credentials and letters of recommendation? I just think it’s a slippery slope when presumptive decisions might be made on an applicant’s character and fitness based on this type of information, particularly when clear parameters may not be in place.
AD: Because some law schools are saying using the Internet social networks are reasonable, what should future law school applicants refrain from putting on the Internet or, if it’s up there already, what should they do with it once they begin the application process?
ML: Stay on top of your Internet footprint. Based on that survey, a growing number of admissions offices take an applicant’s online presence into account during the admissions process. If you are applying to law school revisit your privacy settings for all of your social networking sites and ask yourself, “if I didn’t know me, how would this come across if the law school I’m applying to saw this or if a potential employer saw this?” Think about whether your postings might come across as inappropriate. Hopefully applicants will pause before posting anything in the cyber world. Do people really need to see that picture of you in your skivvies doing a keg stand whilst hoisted by several friends? No – they don’t – it’s not cute – at all.
AD: Speaking of technology and the Internet, perhaps your most famous alumnus is William H. Gates – father of Microsoft founder Bill Gates. In fact, in 2003 your newly constructed law school building was named after Mr. Gates, Sr. There is obviously a special relationship between the Gates family, Microsoft and UW – how do to you see that relationship benefit students at UW?
ML: This special relationship benefits students to a great degree. The building is named after Mr. Gates, Sr., and the academic programs that the Gates family supports benefit both UW Law students and the community at large. The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation honored Mr. Gates, Sr.’s significant civic contributions by funding the William H. Gates Public Service Law Program. This program supports broad-based public service programming for all students and offers five full scholarships each year to entering students who have demonstrated a commitment to public service and who pledge to use their law degree in public service work.
Another connection is through the Microsoft Law Preview Scholars Program. Microsoft sponsors five scholarships to students who come from underrepresented backgrounds and who wish to participate in the Law Preview program, a summer course that prepares incoming law students with the challenges of the first year of law school.
AD: In 2011 you moved from the admissions office at University of Pacific, McGeorge School of Law to the University of Washington School of Law. What differences between the schools surprised you and how, if at all, are the schools similar?
ML: One of the major differences is that Pacific McGeorge is on its own standalone campus, whereas UW Law is part of a large research university with robust graduate and professional schools. Each setting is neither good nor bad; applicants need to weigh the pros and cons of each setting. Of the many similarities that I see, the one that stands out is that both institutions are extremely committed to their students from the time the student arrives on campus as a first year to the time they graduate.
AD: University of Washington School of Law application deadline is February 15th. There is no early application deadline. When is the earliest you start receiving applications? When is the best time to apply, and is there any advantages to applying early?
ML: We begin accepting applications on October 1 every year and make decisions on a rolling admissions basis. The best time to apply is before the end of December for a couple of reasons. During November and December, the admissions staff has more time to complete an applicant’s application and prepare them for committee review, whereas waiting until January or February to apply, applications tend to get backlogged because of the sheer volume. The second reason is because the earlier you apply, the more spots that the school has to offer; later in the cycle, admission spots become limited.
AD: Because UW Law is on the quarter system and has a later start date, do you find yourself making admissions decisions later in the cycle in, say, August or early September?
ML: Yes, we sometimes make decisions as late as early September. Keep in mind that our quarter starts the last week of September. But the good thing is that now we are on a rolling admissions basis so when our applications open up on October 1 we get them ready for review much earlier than we’ve had in the past. Generally speaking the first decisions are made the end of October or the beginning of November each year.
AD: If a prospective applicant ends up on the “wait list”, is there anything he or she could do to improve their chances of getting off the list and accepted?
ML: Truly there is nothing a student can do to improve their chances of getting off of the list and being accepted. If the student is placed on the wait list, the admissions committee has already determined their ability to succeed in law school and what contributions they would make to the law school and to the legal profession. We keep our class size small so the best advice to applicants on the wait list is to be patient, let us know of your continued interest, and keep your contact information up to date.
AD: What are the most common mistakes you see on an application? What should applicants avoid at all costs when applying?
ML: The most common mistakes I see on an application – I could probably write an entire book on this topic alone! We’ll do my top three that I see often.
Third on the list is when an applicant submits a letter of recommendation from a Senator, Congressman, or someone the applicant deems important, but yet the letter is only a few sentences long. The recommender’s professional achievements is not the applicant’s achievements and students tend to think that just because they got a Senator to write them a letter somehow offsets the fact that an average recommendation. Go for substance over someone’s title.
Second on the list is not following directions. Our personal statement, for example, is limited to 700 words or less, which equates to about two and half pages, 12-pt font. The number of statements that I see that go over the word count by 200 or in some instances 900 words is baffling to me. I may not sit there and count every single word to make sure that every statement is under 700 words, but I know what 700 words or less looks like and a pure disregard for the instructions doesn’t help an applicant’s case for admission.
The number one most common mistake I see in applications is the grammatical or spelling errors. “There” versus “their” or “irregardless” or just typos that I see throughout the entire application. You are presenting yourself to the admissions committee and you want to make sure that you are putting your best foot forward and though one or two grammatical or spelling errors may not make or break a decision, a series of them undoubtedly will.
AD: How would you describe the perfect candidate for University of Washington School of Law? When you open an applicant’s file, what are you hoping to find?
ML: Unfortunately there is no “perfect candidate” for UW Law in the same way that there is no “perfect” way to get into law school. We don’t operate on a formula — we truly evaluate each candidate on a holistic determination. I would say the common traits among admitted candidates are that they have demonstrated their ability to succeed academically as well as the potential to be leaders in law school and in the legal profession.
AD: How much weight are you placing on an applicant’s LSAT score?
ML: It’s an important part of the evaluation, but I assure you it’s not the only part nor is it the most important part. The LSAT is there to help us determine how the applicant will fare in their first year of law school; it’s just one part of the evaluation.
AD: When you are reading over applications for University of Washington School of Law, what are the most common mistakes that you come across? What makes you automatically throw an application in the “reject pile?”
ML: I don’t know if anything is an automatic “reject”, because we still go through the entire application. But let’s say a student starts off with their personal statement addressing the wrong school, with numerous grammatical and spelling errors; their resume has similar errors; their letters of recommendations are lukewarm; and their academic record is less than stellar. It’s not looking good for that candidate.
AD: For future applicants for University of Washington School of Law when it comes to the personal statement, do you have any advice about what topics they should cover? Any topics they should avoid at all costs?
ML: The personal statement is your opportunity to make a positive first impression on the admissions committee; what you write about, how you write it, and the impact it has on the committee sets the tone for the rest of your application. As far as topics are concerned, we intentionally leave it open-ended because students will utilize the personal statement in a variety of ways. Some will talk about their leadership experience, some will talk about their volunteer work, and some will talk about overcoming a challenge or adversity. I will say that after reading scores of personal statements, the ones that stand out are those that are well-written, to the point, and share directly the individual’s viewpoint or perspective.
As far as topics to avoid, I recommend avoiding the cliché ones, such as the Road Less Travelled or the I Have a Dream or the “I’ve known since I was five years old that I wanted to be lawyer…” personal statement. I have read these time and time again and my inner response is usually “here we go again.” You have to understand that we read all of the personal statements and we can figure out what’s trending in any given admissions cycle. Stay away from those trends. At the end of the day, write one that is personal to you (after all it is a personal statement), share your viewpoint or perspective, and edit, edit, and further edit.
AD: How many applications did you receive for the Class of 2014 and, ultimately, how many did you accept? Of those folks, what was your yield (i.e., how many matriculated in the Fall of 2011)?
ML: For the Class of 2014, we received 2,656 applications, 586 were admitted, and 182 enrolled.
AD: Were these numbers up or down when compared to the previous cycle?
ML: These numbers were fairly consistent compared to prior cycles. We had a slight increase of applications and our target is always around 180 students.
AD: Data from the LSAC shows that the number of October 2011 LSAT test-takers was down sharply (down 16.9%) — and this is following up the June 2011 administration when test-takers were down by 18.7%. Not to sound too much like YouTube’s “Double Complete Rainbow” guya>, but what does this all mean?!?!?
ML: In short, it means that the pool of candidates for law schools is getting smaller.
AD: Okay, fair enough. But why the contraction? Some of your colleagues like Greg Canada at UC Hastingshave opined that all the negative press about the value of a legal education in the New York Times and Wall Street Journal may have caught up with law schools. What do you think, is a law degree still worth the financial risk?
ML: I definitely believe that a law degree is still worth the financial risk. Even when the legal market and the economy were doing well before the recent economic downturn, graduating from law school with a JD didn’t guarantee anyone a job. You still had to go out there and network, submit resumes, and interview for a job.
I believe the negative press about a legal education is a good thing because it makes students think carefully about why they want to go to law school. Will paying X amount in tuition for three years in law school help them achieve their career goals? If you want to be a prosecutor or a public defender, you need to make the financial investment in law school. But if you want to do something that is more policy related, a two-year master’s in policy administration may be the better choice. The students I meet now are asking much more thoughtful questions about how going to law school might benefit them.
On the other hand, I think the negative press also makes the law schools pause to think about the services they provide to students. How are they preparing their students for a challenging job market? What are ways in which the law school could help offset the financial burden on students who wish to do public service or work in areas of social justice? These are all important questions and any time that the higher administration are pushed to address these issues, whether it’s a result of negative press or not, is a good thing in my opine.
AD: Some are opining that the drop in test-takers (and presumably applicants) could be sending a signal that law schools need to drop their tuitions. What are your thoughts? Is that a realistic possibility?
ML: Raising tuition is probably one of the most controversial topics in higher education whether it is law school or on the undergraduate level. What I don’t believe is that law schools will decrease their tuition any time soon. Some schools may be able to stabilize tuition rates for a couple of years but at some point costs will increase – that’s inevitable. That being said, there are still a number of law schools where the cost of attendance is surprisingly affordable, like at University of Washington.
AD: Given the decrease in test-takers, I assume you’re expecting fewer applications for the Class of 2015, is that correct?
ML: I do. As you mentioned earlier, the decrease of test-takers has spanned over the last several LSAT administrations, which will mean fewer applications.
AD: Does a smaller applicant pool affect your decision-making when you are choosing to let someone in? Is this a good year to apply when, perhaps, the applicant pool is a little less competitive?
ML: A smaller applicant pool doesn’t affect our decision-making at all. Part of that is because our incoming class size is so small compared to the number of applicants we receive every year. Our acceptance rate hovers around 20% of our applicant pool, which makes us relatively selective. When a file goes to committee, we’re still looking at the same things we looked at last year and the year before that regardless of the number of applications.
AD: Let’s talk job market. Let’s admit that the economy is tough, as well as finding a job now a days. According to the most recent ABA data, 89.5% of your graduates are employed after 9 months. There’s a lot of talk these days about “transparency” surrounding law schools’ employment numbers… why shouldn’t we believe that UW Law isn’t fudging its numbers like some other ABA-approved law schools?
ML: That’s a fair question given the skepticism of recent articles. The numbers that we report are substantiated by the other numbers reported to the ABA including the number employed in law firms, the number employed in business and industry, government, public interest, judicial clerks, and academia. Is everyone employed? No, some are still seeking positions and some are not seeking employment because they are enrolled in LL.M. programs or other graduate programs.
AD: Where do most of your graduates find jobs and how are they fairing in what is clearly a very difficult legal hiring market?
ML: The majority of the students find jobs in Washington State, in private practice. A number of students are employed in public service sector jobs. It is true the current legal hiring market has been difficult but our students are doing well. One reason is that UW Law is one of three ABA-accredited law schools in Washington; another reason is that our class size is small.
AD: What is the percentage graduates practice in Seattle? Are there any other states that you see your graduates gravitating too?
ML: A little over 50% of our graduating students practice in Seattle. Other states are growing in popularity with California ranking second, New York third, Washington, DC and Oregon fourth, and then Alaska. We have recent graduates in other states as well including Texas, Illinois, Pennsylvania, Virginia, Tennessee, as well as those who go abroad to Japan and other countries.
AD: Since we are on the topic of ABA Data and job placement, about 15 law schools are currently being sued for incorrect data misleading job prospects upon graduation to applicants. New York Law School is one of the 15 law schools facing the law suit. They recently filed a motion to dismiss the suit over the employment data. They initiated that ABA needs to be targeted for the incorrect data. Do you believe the blame needs to be placed ABA?
ML: The legal question of joint and several liability I’ll stay clear from, but as far as blame, I think these lawsuits raise important questions as to who is responsible for the integrity of the data. But in all honesty I would need to hear all the facts before commenting on this.
AD: Fair enough. But are you taking any additional steps to ensure that University of Washington School of law data is accurate?
ML: Absolutely. We have an extensive protocol to ensure that all of our data reporting is accurate.
AD: Another big topic these days that relates to employability of law grads – that the overwhelming majority has no practical training and are, therefore, of limited value when they enter the workforce. How does University of Washington School of law prepare future graduates for the “real world?”
ML: Nearly 70% of our students participate in one of our on-campus clinics. Clinics are a great way for students to earn academic credit while they represent real clients or mediate cases. These students are able to tell employers “look I know how to draft motions” or understand the challenges of working with opposing counsel. Also, all of our students are required to do at least 60 hours of public service work. In the course of satisfying this requirement, students learn skills to prepare them for “real world” practice.
AD: Let’s talk transfer students. Lately, it’s becoming more and more popular. According to the ABA University of Washington School of Law, had 12 students transfer in. What attributes do you look for in a transfer candidate?
ML: We are looking for why the student wants to transfer into UW Law and what contributions they intend to make to the law school and the legal profession.
AD: What is the main reason why someone would transfer OUT of UW Law?
ML: Usually the main reason why someone would transfer out of UW Law is for family or personal reasons.
AD: Is there any particular school you receive a lot of transfer applications from? What do you think draws transfers applicants to University of Washington School of Law?
ML: We receive a lot of transfer applications from Seattle University every year. We are neighbor law schools and our programs have different strengths. Sometimes students realize during their first year that another institution is better suited for them.
AD: In 2009, 2010 & 2012, USNews ranked University of Washington School of Law #30, taking a little bump in 2011 at #34. What are your thoughts and how do you feel about the USNews rankings?
ML: It is what it is. This is not intended to be a cop out answer, but I would dare say that most law schools do not have a favorable opinion of US News and the inherent flaws in these rankings. That being said, I know students use it as a guide when it comes to choosing which schools to apply to and in choosing which school to enroll in. The rankings have done a disservice to law school administrators who have used it as a measurement for their own successes – that somehow because the school moved two spots in a given year makes the school better or worse? It’s complete and utter nonsense. The rankings have as much power over the institution as much as the institution is willing to give it. Do I think that if we got rid of US News that would solve the problem? No, another ranking system would simply take its place.
AD: How much weight do you think a prospective student should place in USNEWS Law Rankings? If you were applying to law school, how would you use the data that USNEWS compiles to assess prospective law schools?
ML: Unfortunately prospective students place more weight on the US News than I would like them to and more than they are probably willing to admit to me upfront. I’ve met students whose sole goal is to get into one of the top 10 ranked law schools according to US News. That same student may have demonstrated a long-term commitment to environmental advocacy issues but the student will reject a lower-ranked law school with a strong environmental law focus and outstanding faculty because US News has created a class system where students equate attending a lower-ranked law school with second class legal knowledge. The ranking should only be one part of the assessment but the reality is that the rankings skew decisions.
What I tell prospective students is to use the US News for what it’s worth – a guide for basic information, location, GPA ranges, LSAT ranges, and employment rates, etc. Then students should do more thorough research and ask the hard questions about how that law school would be a good fit for them. There are over 200+ ABA-accredited law schools out there; only you can determine which law school is a good “fit” for you. You’re making an investment into your education. Just as you wouldn’t buy a house without a careful inspection, in selecting a law school you should do a thorough inspection beyond the superficial US News information.
AD: Well thanks so much for taking the time to talk with me today. [Laughing] As you were giving your last answer I hopped on Facebook and it does appear you’ve changed you privacy settings – no more incriminating pictures!
ML: PHEW! [Laughing] Seriously, though, it’s been fun and I hope this interview proves useful for prospective applicants.