This is the third installment of our 224 part series, Better Know A Dean. Today we posted our interview with Therese Lambert, Director of Student Recruitment at Miami Law.
Ms. Lambert has been employed at the University of Miami School of Law since 1983. Initially she was Director of the Career Planning Center, assisting students and alumni in finding summer and permanent jobs locally and nationally. This position also included the recruitment of prospective students, a job that matured into a full-time position. She has been Director of Student Recruitment since 1985, an office that works in conjunction with the Office of Admissions. Ms. Lambert has been on countless panels, including presentations at NALP, PLANC and the LSAC National Conference. Ms. Lambert earned her B.A. degree from Miami University in Oxford, Ohio and a M.S. degree in Higher Education Administration from the University of Miami. Prior to moving to Miami in 1983, Ms. Lambert worked at Cleveland-Marshall College of Law (Assistant Director of Placement, July 1982-June 1983; Administrative Assistant for External Affairs, April 1979-May 1982) and was a press assistant for Senator Jacob Javits (R-NY) in Washington, D.C. (June 1977 – January 1979).
Ms. Lambert, thank you for taking the time to talk with us today and for giving our users some insights to the admissions process at Miami Law.
AD: How would you describe the ideal candidate for Miami Law?
TL: There are so many ideal candidates! Obviously, we want applicants who have done well academically and received strong LSAT scores but we also want individuals who have been engaged in activities outside of their own small corner of well-being, who are not myopic in their vision of the world, and who say “Let’s GO” when presented with a challenge.
Law school is not for spectators so applicants who show they are proactive in grabbing opportunities to develop intellectually, professionally and personally are ones we love to see. We fully realize that applicants who apply after being out of school for a while — who have been in the work force, lived overseas, been in the military, raised a family, etc. vs. applicants directly from undergraduate school — are going to bring different skills, opinions and experiences to the table. The multidimensional aspects of the student body are what drive the classroom discussion, the range of student organizations, guest speakers, community outreach, etc. Thus, we take pride in the unique blend that comprises Miami’s student body.
AD: What does living in South Florida add to the Miami Law experience?
TL: We have all of the advantages of our location on the main campus of a gorgeous and exciting university while being only 6 miles south of the City of Miami. We have close to a dozen courts in the area, a high concentration of international banks, over a thousand corporations, many of them international, and vibrant legal and business communities right here, on our doorstep. The variety of guest speakers and adjunct faculty members who visit the campus daily add immeasurably to students’ development, not to mention the networking opportunities. If students want to work in their second and third year, they have countless opportunities to tap into. If they wish to do a clinical or externship program while they’re in school, they can do it right here in many different legal areas from human rights to animal rights, international and environmental law to tax law. This is a place where ideas are met with enthusiasm; Miami as a microcosm is ideal for learning and breaking ground on new and innovative initiatives.
Did I mention the weather, the sand and sea, the parrots that grace our Bricks, the exotic tropical landscapes, the one-of-a-kind Everglades, the mix of ethnicities, cultures and the arts? In comparing Miami to other major US cities, Miami is young and fresh – a City that has so much energy and promise.
AD: The Miami Law website suggests that students apply electronically using the LSDAS service, but that applicants are still allowed to submit a hard copy of the application by regular mail. Can you give our users some background about how the LSDAS electronic application service works, and how it makes your office/job more efficient?
TL: We really prefer that people apply electronically because it streamlines the process for applicants and for us. Everything comes to us through LSAC’s Credential Assembly Service (CAS) and applicants can check the status of their documents online with LSAC. Once they apply here, they get updates on their status through our system, CaneLink. This process is so much more efficient than in the past and is certainly a greener approach.
AD: Transferring is becoming more and more popular with law students these days. The course selection page of the Miami website states that, “students conditionally admitted as transfer students will be invited to register online in early April with our rising 2Ls.” Does this mean that Miami Law makes transfer decisions based upon a student’s first semester performance at their home institution? When does the transfer application become available, and when should a student submit the application?
TL: Transfer applicants can get evaluated on one semester’s grades and if we deem their academic performance as satisfactory, they will be conditionally accepted. If they continue to do well, they will be officially accepted after their second semester’s grades are received. They cannot actually transfer until they have completed the first year. While we don’t offer a part-time program at Miami Law, competitive transfer applicants from part-time programs who have completed the first-year equivalent in a part-time program, may be considered for transfer into the full-time division. Transfer students apply electronically just like those applying for the first year.
AD: What factors do you take into consideration when deciding whether to extend an offer for transfer?
TL: Although the transfer application is very similar to the one for first year students, that is we still require the CAS report and LSAT score, major weight is given to the grades achieved in law school.
To be considered for transfer, Miami Law applicants are normally required to have a 3.00 average or better, or to be in the top third of their class at an ABA-accredited law school. Exceptions may be made for students from highly competitive institutions.
AD: Students transferring to Miami Law have obviously done very well at their home institution and most likely earned (or would earn) Law Review honors should they decide to stay. What advice would you give to someone who is weighing whether they have to give up Law Review honors to transfer to Miami Law as a 2L? Does Miami Law open up its Law Review for participation by transfer students?
TL: Sometimes transfer students do need to grapple with this question, but transferring does not automatically preclude them from getting onto a law review here. Each review has its own standards for eligibility for walk-on or write-on status, but it is certainly not impossible to achieve. Students interested in transferring can visit our website for information about our law reviews or click here to get more details about gaining law review status.
AD: Miami Law offers numerous degrees that can be combined with a J.D., including a combined J.D. /M.B.A. What is your most popular combined degree program and what are the guidelines and timeline for admission? (e.g., do students have to take the GMAT and the LSAT? When does a student have to decide they want to apply to a joint program?). Also, for students who elect to pursue a joint degree, when do they study law and when do they study business? Does pursuing this career path change the recruiting time line for traditional (law-only) students (e.g., interview during the fall of their second year for a summer associate position after their 2L year)?
TL: The J.D./M.B.A. is the most popular of the joint programs but we have so many – over 20 (which include our J.D. /LL.M. options). The LSAT is an acceptable test for some of the programs; others require their own standardized test. In the case of the MBA program, students do need to take the GMAT. Our website details our joint degrees and the application policies for each program. In most cases, students can apply to each program at the same time they’re applying for the J.D. or wait until after the first year to apply. Regardless, most programs require that be 1L year be completed before enrolling in the other program; e.g., a student could not be enrolled in the MBA program and then retroactively try to apply to the School of Law for the joint program. For graduates who were undergraduate business majors, Miami Law offers the only triple degree in the U.S., the J.D./LL.M./M.B.A Triple Degree Program. Occasionally, a law student will propose and be allowed to complete the J.D. with another graduate school with permission from both schools.
If a student wants to complete the joint degree quickly, then he/she may be able to earn the maximum number of credits during the 2nd and 3rd year and in the summer. Working with our experts in the Career Development Office and taking advantage of Miami’s externship program is advised so that joint degree students can maximize work experience, which is valuable to employers and provides networking opportunities. As far as the interviewing process, we’ve allowed our joint degree students to apply to employers interviewing 2L students so long as their future time at Miami Law mimics that of a true 2L. In other words, they may be in their third year of school here at Miami Law but since they are returning to campus for an additional year, they can apply like a traditional 2L since they will have another year of school to complete once they finish their summer position.
AD: When is the best time to apply to Miami Law?
TL: Since we make admissions decisions on a rolling basis, completing the application by Thanksgiving or before the end of the year will place applicants in the best position for both admission and scholarship consideration. Obviously, applicants sitting for the December LSAT won’t be able to complete their files this early, but they can get everything else submitted so that the only missing piece is the LSAT score. Often applicants don’t give themselves the lead time they need to submit everything and then before they know it, the holidays intervene and cause further delays. We will still accept the February LSAT and later tests as well, but again, all things considered, earlier is better.
AD: Who at Miami Law is involved in the admissions review process?
TL: There is a faculty committee that sets admissions and scholarship policies. The Associate Dean of Admissions and Enrollment Management reviews all of the applications and works with the committee as needed throughout the year.
AD: Take us through Miami Law’s admissions review process. How does Miami Law evaluate a candidate’s undergraduate GPA, LSAT score report, personal statement, letters of recommendation, and other relevant factors?
TL: Luckily, Miami does not have a cookie cutter approach to reviewing applications. The GPA and LSAT score are important no matter what an applicant brings to the table. If a person is weak on the GPA but has a high LSAT and a compelling explanation for the low GPA, he/she may have a chance that on paper looks bleak. Similarly, if a person has a lower LSAT score but a really high GPA, being admitted might happen. Obviously, the reputation of the institution, the perceived rigor of the major, the GPA track record, the personal statement and letters of recommendation can push an applicant in the gray area over the line. Additionally, applying early can sometimes help those who are on the margins since the applicant pool may still be a little soft in the early stages.
AD: How do you evaluate two students with identical GPAs, one of whom went to a Tier 1 college and another who went to a Tier 2 college?” “Tier 1 v. Tier 3?”
TL: The LSDAS report tells us what the GPA and LSAT college mean is for students from that college/university who sat for the LSAT over a three-year period. This gives us more information about grade inflation and competitiveness of the school. For example, if a tier 1 school is difficult to get into but has high grade inflation and the student did not do well academically, then we’ll certainly consider this in the evaluation. When the file is reviewed, the strengths and weaknesses are assessed after which the candidate is compared to the applicant pool. Trying to fit applicants into a set formula does not work well for Miami.
AD: Do you find one undergraduate major better preparation for law school than another? For instance, many undergraduate institutions offer a Pre-Law major — does Miami Law look more or less favorably on Pre-Law majors when deciding whether to offer admission?
TL: Pre-Law majors are not necessarily going to have an advantage though they may be more directed/inclined to take courses that develop skills useful in law school and practice. Certain majors are likely to produce more interest in law than others, but we’ve had ample examples of students from non-law related majors who have excelled in the same way the typical political science or business majors have. It does make sense to take some business related courses regardless of major. As mentioned elsewhere, the skills needed in law school and in practice are analytical and logical reasoning, critical thinking, reading comprehension and writing. Not surprisingly, these are the skills tested on the LSAT.
AD: What is the most memorable/effective personal statement you read during the last admissions cycle?
TL: There is no one statement that jumps out. The statements that are most effective are well written but not overworked and tell us about the applicants’ achievements, goals and motivation. The statement should reflect the type of student the individual will be and what he/she will contribute to the classroom and the student body. As stated elsewhere, we want students who are going to be proactive and maximize opportunities, not sit back and wait for something to happen. Rehashing the resume is not effective but choosing salient points, highlighting strengths and showing that the applicant will hit the ground running makes a statement more powerful. As a general rule, keeping the statement short (~2 pages) is recommended. Applicants who are applying for the Miami Scholars Public Interest Program should address the importance of public service in a legal career and how they envision utilizing their law degree to promote access to justice.
AD: What are the 5 most common mistakes applicants make on their applications?
TL: (1) Poor spelling, grammar or punctuation; such mistakes suggest the applicant is sloppy and undisciplined.
(2) Overworking the personal statement. The personal statement is the one place on the application where you can promote your cause. It should be about and written by you. Statements that are overdone, heavily revised by others, try to be too clever in content or use thesaurus driven vocabulary, lose their zest and appeal.
(3) Putting the name of another law school in the punch line (statements like “I’ve dreamed of going to Georgetown since I was 13 and can’t wait to become a Hoya.” don’t work well at Miami);
(4) Not using good judgment in asking for letters of recommendation or realizing how important LORs can be. Strong letters from professors or employers who know the applicant well and will take the time to write a great letter can be important, especially for students on the margins;
(5) Writing e-mails to us in an informal manner. E-mails are official correspondence and should be treated as such.
AD: Do you have any advice about canceling an LSAT score? Will the admissions office know an applicant canceled a score and is there any stigma attached to a canceled score?
TL: The CAS report will indicate if a person sat for and canceled the score or registered and did not show up for the test. Once will not be problematic; however, numerous times suggests the person is not taking the test seriously. If there are reasons behind several cancellations, it should be explained. Plan to be optimally prepared for the LSAT the first time with Plan B to retake it if necessary. In your planning, give yourself enough time between exams to regroup and better prepare for the second sitting.
AD: Do you have any advice for students when getting letters of recommendations?
TL: Be careful in determining who to ask. Many law schools may prefer to see LORs from professors as they can assess your academic work, overall skills, discipline, and potential to succeed in the rigorous environment of law school. Applicants who have been out of school for a number of years and are unable to obtain recommendations from former professors may substitute recommendations from employers or other persons with whom they have worked closely since graduation. If students plan to take a gap year or two, my suggestion is to alert the professors they would ask for a recommendation of their plan to apply to law school in a few years. Students should send those professors an email from time-to-time to keep them updated on their progress and fresh in their minds.
When applicants approach their preferred recommenders, they shouldn’t presume anything. Ask them “Do you feel you know me well enough and are you comfortable writing me a strong letter of recommendation?” If they are not so inclined, this will give them an opportunity to decline or if they hesitate, give you an indication of their tepid enthusiasm. Applicants should choose professors who not only know them well but also who they feel will take the time to write a strong letter; unfortunately plugging in names on canned letters has become more commonplace. Once professors have agreed to write the letter, applicants should give them their resume and an overview of the courses they’ve taken. Ask to spend a few minutes with recommenders so any questions or concerns they may have can be addressed.
The more a recommender knows about the applicant, the more relevant and genuine the LOR will be. Give recommenders plenty of advance notice – LORs written in haste may not be helpful.
Miami Law asks for two LORs. At least one (and preferably both) of these recommendations should be from a faculty member who is familiar with the applicant’s academic performance and has had an opportunity to evaluate some significant aspect of their academic work. LORs can be very useful in our assessment of applicants’ ability to succeed and willingness to work hard. Applicants who have two strong academic LORs and wish to submit additional letters, e.g., from someone who knows them in a professional setting or a leadership role, may submit those as well.
AD: What are Miami Law’s wait list policies, and can you offer any (non-harassing) strategies for getting off that list?
TL: Getting off the waitlist will depend on what is happening with Miami’s yield from our admit pool and what appears to be happening in the national pool. There is not much a waitlisted person can do except keep us posted on any new accomplishments, grades, awards, etc. Calling or e-mailing occasionally is acceptable; every week is not advised.
AD: Do you give preferential treatment to an applicant who tells you that Miami Law is their first choice and that they will accept your offer should you extend one?
TL: In some cases indicating Miami is an applicant’s top choice might make a difference; however, I must admit that throughout the years many of us have been burned by disingenuous applicants. Applicants who claim Miami is their #1 choice, particularly those who have indicated continuing interest, should be ready to state they will 1) definitely attend if given an admit offer and 2) are willing to withdraw all other offers and pending applications. Further, applicants should think about financial aid and cost of attendance in advance of making a conclusive statement about accepting an offer. Our scholarships are merit-based; thus, if they are coming off the waitlist they will not receive scholarship. It all boils down to being genuine and sincere throughout the application process. Many folks in admissions have a sixth sense about applicants’ veracity, and this can work against an applicant if we don’t get a good vibe. On the other hand, if the vibe is good, we might go out of our way to advocate for an applicant on the margins.