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Explanatory Essays in the New Law School Admissions World

No one wants to need an explanatory essay for their law school application. It’s never a positive to explain why you were placed on probation your freshman year of college. Or why you felt the need to relieve yourself in that public alley. Or how that cop was just asking for it.

However, law school applications are down. Schools are being a little more lenient with admissions numbers. LSAT scores are dropping, and GPAs aren’t what they used to be. So surely a misdemeanor here or there will slip through the cracks, right?

Let’s split these explanatory essays up into a few categories and discuss how each one will be affected by the change in law school application volume.

Law School Explanatory Essay 1: Academic Probation

Law schools care about academic probation insomuch as it affects your GPA. So academic probation is just a fancy way of saying your GPA is low. As GPA medians fall, so will how much weight the law schools put on academic probation.

Law School Explanatory Essay 2: Other Academic Issues

This is a fancy way of saying you were caught cheating or plagiarizing. This has always been a big deal to those reading law school applications, and it will continue to be a big deal. Cheating/plagiarizing calls your judgment and your character into question. It suggests you might do the same during law school. Expect this to carry just as much weight now as it did before.

Law School Explanatory Essay 3: Criminal Issues

3a) Minor Criminal Issues

If you have a few ‘stupid college kid’ violations, law schools will continue to put very little weight on them. Everyone was drunk and dumb at some point in college. Most of us more than once. Many more often than not. As long as you disclose, this will continue to be a non-issue.

3b) Major Criminal Issues

These will continue to be a big deal. Any crime that calls your morals into question (especially your honesty) is a big issue. And there’s really no way that law schools will ever stop caring about it.


Because they ask about these crimes to get a sense of your ability to pass the Character & Fitness portion of the bar. They want to know that you’ll be able to actually work as an attorney after you leave law school. If you were convicted of fraud or embezzlement, you’re going to have a hard time convincing the state bar that you’re trustworthy enough to have power of attorney over people.

So looking back, not much has changed. If you had academic issues, those are reflected in your GPA. Any other issue calls your character into question. And, despite what many out there may think, that’s an issue in the legal profession.