A student asked me about the process of applying to law school, and how to register for the Credential Assembly Service (CAS). Here's some guidance to those of you wondering about law school applications and letters of recommendations.
Student: So I am trying to figure out how to register for the CAS, and am a little stuck. Do I need to have all of my letters of recommendation and law school choices (that I am going to be applying to) ready to go before I register for CAS?
I have my letter contacts, and their approval, but I'm not set on which schools I want to apply to yet. Also, I haven't yet requested my transcripts—but I think that happens after I register for CAS, right?
Nathan: You'll need to register for the LSAC's Credential Assembly Service (CAS) before you can officially request law school letters of recommendation and transcripts. The CAS has very particular procedures for making these requests; you'll trigger the requests via the CAS website, and the recommendations and transcripts must then be returned to the CAS without you ever touching them. So you may as well go ahead and register for the service now, or whenever you have the $165 fee. (Don't forget that the LSAT, the CAS, and most law school applications can be free for those who qualify for the LSAC fee waiver.) Once you're registered for the CAS, you can request transcripts immediately.
On the letters of recommendation, you probably want to give your recommenders a warning before triggering the official CAS request. You can get the ball rolling with either an email or a phone call. It's a nice touch to say something like, "I'm not asking you now, but I'm applying to law school this fall and I'm asking if, in the near future, you'd be willing to write a letter of recommendation." This approach shows that you are professional, proactive, and respectful of the recommender's time ... which might very well lead to a more positive (and timely) recommendation.
Finally, even if you haven't yet finalized the list of schools to which you will be applying, I strongly recommend that you start an application for at least one or two schools that you're sure you will apply to. Obviously you won't submit these applications until you have an LSAT score you're happy with, but in the meantime you can at least start looking at the kinds of questions that will be asked. For example, you can see what type of prompts schools use for the personal statement, and what kinds of diversity statements and other addenda you'll need to draft.
Studying for the LSAT must remain your number one priority, since LSAT score is the primary determinant of both where you'll get in and how much, if any, scholarship money you'll be offered. But when you're out of gas on LSAT studying, and it doesn't feel like anything is sinking in, this is a great time to start ticking off some boxes on your law school applications. These things take time, so it's better to start now.
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