Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Zenterview - Teach For America and Fordham Law

Our newest Zenterview is with Jordan Kovnot, a rising 2L at Fordham University School of Law in New York City. Jordan spent two years between his undergraduate career and law school working as a corps member in Teach For America.

We wanted to ask him about his law school application experience and how his national service figured in, since he continued teaching for an additional year after his commitment to Teach For America.

How would you describe preparing for the LSAT, in three words or less?

Practice tests.
What methods/classes/tutors did you use to prepare for the LSAT?

I took a course with TestMasters, which I thought was a very good course. I scored the same thing on my final 3 practice exams (which were included with the course) and got the exact same score on my LSAT.
To which law schools did you apply, and what factors led you to those law schools?
I applied to schools based on where I wanted to be and where I thought there would be good opportunities for internships. In New York: Fordham, NYU, Cardozo, and Columbia. In Philly: Penn and Temple. In DC: Georgetown. All were east coast schools with good reputations.
What did you write your law school personal statement about?

I wrote my personal statement about some of my experiences as a teacher and what I learned during that period of my life:

"I had strong convictions that poverty was a result of institutions like racism and capitalism and that urban education had been broken by neglect. I felt that my nuanced and modern understanding of social problems would give me a leg up because I “got it.” I thought my outlook might gain me acceptance and the ability to energize members of my new school community. I imagined coming into a failing school and working with a PTA that was up in arms. Instead I learned that there was no PTA. I was wrong about almost everything else as well."
What "soft factors" do you think helped your application the most?

The truth is that "soft factors" matter very little [for most people] in law school admissions. There are two things that are going to be looked at by any admissions office: Your LSAT and your GPA. Different schools use slightly different formulas, but they all use one. If you are below their threshold then nothing else about your application is going to make much difference. If you are on the threshold with your numbers, that is when your resume and personal statements can come into play.

However, it is important to remember that for most law schools there are no admissions interviews so there is very little opportunity to "market" yourself. That being said, Teach For America featured prominently in my resume and in my personal statement. It shows that you have an interesting background and a record of achievement and success.
What made Fordham law the best decision for you?

Ultimately I decided I wanted to be in New York and Fordham was the "best" school I got into in NYC. After talking to several attorneys, almost all advised me to go to the highest ranked school I could get into, even if lower-ranked schools offered money, which is what happened.
We understand your decision to turn down scholarship money now since Fordham has such a great placement rate at the top law firms.

If your numbers are well above a school's admissions threshold, they will offer you money. However, given the current state of the job market I am glad that I made the choice I did. Going to a higher ranked school may not improve the quality of your legal education but it will improve your job prospects. People will say that you can compete for the top jobs coming from a lower-ranked school if you place at the top of your class. This is probably true but its very hard to do. Going to a lower ranked school isn't necessarily going to make law school any easier. Its going to be challenging and a little overwhelming no matter where you end up.
What was the best piece of advice someone gave you during your law school application process?

Study hard for the LSAT! Its the most important piece of your application and can make up for a sub-par GPA.
What do you want to do immediately after law school? 10 years after?

After law school I want to get a job doing litigation somewhere. Ultimately I may want to do either constitutional law or consumer law, maybe at a smaller-sized law firm.
How did Teach For America influence your career interests? What has been the biggest influence on your law career choice?

Teach For America has made me much more selective about what I am willing to do with my career. I had a great experience with the organization. Every day I looked forward to going to work, and my job was both fun and satisfying.

I got to teach young children how to read which was incredibly rewarding. My feeling is that I don't want to take a job that isn't going to equal those things. There are a lot of law jobs that will pay a ton of money but there are fewer that are satisfying and rewarding. I want to do something that is intellectually stimulating and satisfying and I am willing to make some salary trade-offs to accomplish that if necessary.