Stage One: Studying for the LSAT
Ideally you want to start studying for the LSAT a bare minimum of 4 months in advance. While it may be tempting to put off studying, or to only give yourself a month to study, the LSAT is a test that you need to prepare for and the earlier your write it the earlier you can get your applications in, which is a HUGE bonus considering the rolling admissions process most top schools have adopted. Finally, remember that the fall LSAT (normally October, but occasionally December) is the last test you can take if you want to get your applications in on time – I would recommend taking the June test if at all possible, that way you can a) get your applications in early or b) re-take the test in October if necessary.
Stage Two: Taking the LSAT & Waiting for your Score
Hopefully your studying has paid off and you enter the exam feeling confident and secure - if you don't, no need to fret, there's a lot of anxiety in the room that is highly contagious so it's only natural to be a little uneasy. Regardless of how superb you felt during the exam, the two months that follow while you wait for your score will inevitably have you questioning your ability to score well. At this point I need to urge you not to panic - do not register for the next test date until you get your score back, try not to cry to your mom more then twice because most likely you're fine, and if not then you simply re-take it (schools normally only look at your highest score and it's not abnormal for students to take the LSAT twice).
Stage Three: Crafting Your Applications
In the beginning it seems impossible to fill the page count for your personal statement, diversity statement, and "why _" essay, not to mention your resume. Your first draft will most likely be something along the lines of "I want to go to law school because it's always been my dream ... blah, blah, blah." After some deep contemplation you'll find yourself tempted to write a philosophical account of how all of your life history has driven you towards law school - I caution you that the two page maximum is not long enough for the memoir you want to submit, instead choose one specific example or case that you believe clearly demonstrates why you want to attend law school (personal statement), what about your nationality or ethnicity will contribute to the campus environment (diversity statement), and what about the specific university makes you think that they would be a good fit for you and vice versa (why_ essay). In terms of your resume and general proof reading of your application materials I suggest you take advantage of both your on-campus resources (i.e. career services) and your family and friends.
Stage Four: Interview Process
Say sorry to your phone now (and your data package) because you're going to be refreshing your inbox every two second waiting to see if that Harvard Law interview request, a necessary step towards admissions, has finally appeared. Even though you refresh your inbox every two seconds on the dot you will still be amazed and overwhelmed when the interview request finally does appear.
Note: not all law schools have, or require, interviews for admissions. Harvard law school is one of few schools that has a Skype interview as part of their mandatory admissions process. A few of the other T-14 schools have optional but recommended interviews (i.e. Columbia and Chicago). These invitations appear anytime between late November and mid March.
Stage Five: Rejections
No matter how good your scores are you are pretty much guaranteed to get rejected from at least one school, sometimes the results will shock you (many people who get into top schools get rejected by a select number of lower levelled ones *ahem* Duke). The rejection might sting, especially if it's the first decision you receive, if it's from your top school, or if it comes in a wave - don't fret! If you applied to a good selection of schools, including a few safety schools, and submitted the best application you could, then you're bound to get into some great universities!
Stage Six: Admissions
Admissions offers start rolling in anytime between late November and mid April. It's a long, stressful process so when your first acceptance appears you'll be overcome with excitement (even if it's not your top pick). With any luck you'll receive an acceptance offer from your top school and stage seven won't apply to you.
Stage Seven: Waitlist
You've gotten your fair share of acceptances and rejections and you're still waiting on your top school(s) decision when all of a sudden you get the dreaded "Waitlist" status update. They want to know if you'd like to accept your position on the waitlist - indicating that you're fine with waiting until September in the hope that enough people will drop out that a seat will open up for you. This process is daunting but I recommend putting a security deposit down on one of the schools you've been accepted to so that you'll have the security of knowing that law school is in fact in your future.
There are some special flowers out there who manage to bloom no matter what - these people get a waitlist notification and choose to look at it positively - after all, they still have a chance of getting accepted. This is probably the healthiest option, plus it's pretty accurate, by definition the waitlist means you stand a chance of getting in (statistics will vary according the school), regardless, you should look at a waitlist decision as a positive because it means you are a competitive applicant!
Stage Eight: Admitted Students Weekends
Pretty much every school that you've been accepted to, including the ones you're not actually interested in, will encourage you to attend their admitted students weekend. Thankfully the majority of these schools offer reimbursement or stipend packages for students who choose to attend - plus they generally cover at least one or two meals a day during your stay. You'll begin to question if you should go to all of them simply for the free food, trip, and swag, before ultimately realizing that travelling is exhausting and you've only got so much time to cram admitted students weekends into.
Expect during your time at the events to be loaded full of information, to be told countless times why this school is the best school for you, and to be bombarded by current law students and faculty members whose job it is to sway you towards joining their program in the coming fall.
Stage Nine: Deciding on a School
The time has come, you must decide on one school. Do you decide based on rank alone? How much weight do you give to scholarships vs. ranking? Does location matter to you? What school is going to give you the best paying job after graduation? There are so many questions you need to answer in order to make your decision and unfortunately you're the only one who can answer them.
If ranking is important to you don't feel bad about that, embrace it but be practical - if you can't afford to attend the highest ranked school and haven't received any scholarship money from them but have received generous funding from lower ranked schools, then take the time to consider how much debt you want to take on for your education. Additionally, be aware that you need to be happy where you are, so if the school is fantastic but you absolutely hate the area then it may be best to choose another school in a location more appealing to you.
Stage Ten: Enjoy It
You've made it! All that stands between you and your 1L year is the summer - enjoy your freedom while you have it because soon enough it's going to be late night cram sessions and countless hours spent in the library.