How and When to Write a Law School Addendum

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In law school applications, the addendum is an optional additional essay that explains an unusual circumstance or weakness in your file. Situations in which an addendum is warranted include a failing grade, gaps in your academic career, significant differences in LSAT scores, disciplinary concerns, and medical or family emergencies.

Keep in mind that not all students need to submit an addendum with their law school application. In fact, submitting an unnecessary addendum is not a good idea. You should only write an addendum if the additional information is necessary to fully and accurately represent yourself.

Low GPA

If your GPA and LSAT score are mismatched (i.e., low GPA and high LSAT), or your GPA does not represent your abilities overall, you may wish to include an explanation of the circumstances in an addendum.

In some cases, a difficult grading curve, or an especially low grade in a course or two, can wreak havoc on your GPA. Make sure you explain the specific circumstances clearly and succinctly. If you had to withdraw from a course due to a family crisis or financial issues, explain so in your addendum. Similarly, if you suffered from an untreated learning disability that impacted your first semester grades in college, make sure the admissions office is aware of the situation and the actions that you have taken to remedy the situation. 

The addendum is not a place to vent your frustrations about a professor’s unfair grading policies or a course you didn’t like. Stick to the facts and make sure that the addendum explains proactive measures you have taken to make sure the issue does not reoccur. Make sure your addendum demonstrates that you have the ability to excel in a challenging academic environment.

Low LSAT Scores

In general, using the addendum to explain a low LSAT score is not recommended. LSAT scores can be canceled (for up to six calendar days after the test) and the LSAT can be retaken, so this is not an area that usually requires explanation. However, if you experienced a significant family emergency, you may have a reasonable explanation for why you did not cancel your LSAT score. In addition, some students have a history of high performance in school, but low performance on standardized tests. This is a circumstance that can be explained and supported with examples and would be helpful for the admissions office to know. 

You should not write an addendum that offers only excuses for why your LSAT score is low. If you find yourself complaining about an unusually challenging course load as a rationale for a low LSAT score, you may want to rethink your decision to provide an addendum.

Some schools, such as the University of Chicago, require applicants to explain significant changes in LSAT scores. Be sure to check each law school’s requirements carefully.

Disciplinary or Criminal Record

The law school application includes questions related to the character and fitness of applicants. These questions vary from school to school, but they all have a similar goal: to ensure that applicants are “fit” to become members of the bar upon graduation. If you had to answer "yes" to questions about academic dishonesty or criminal incidents, you are required to explain the circumstances in an addendum.

Provide all facts about the incident, including date, location, charge, disposition of the case, and penalties or fines imposed. If you are unsure of any details of the incident, check with the relevant local authorities to ensure you provide accurate information. State and county offices or your local school should have records of the offense. If you are unable to obtain the records and are unsure of some of the details, say so in the addendum when describing the incident.

The accuracy and honesty of your explanation will have repercussions beyond your law school admissions results. According to LSAC: "The legal profession requires its members to behave ethically in the practice of law at all times, in order to protect the interests of clients and the public.” This ethical expectation begins with the submission of your law school application. When you apply to the bar, you will be expected to answer similar questions about character and fitness, and your answers will be cross-checked with the answers you wrote when you applied to law school.

Other Unusual Circumstances

Beyond the typical reasons for providing an addendum, there are other valid but less common reasons, such as work requirements and health issues. Applicants who were required to work to support themselves during college should explain their circumstances in an addendum. Make sure to provide details about your financial responsibilities and the number of hours you worked during the school year. If your work schedule had a negative impact on your grades, be sure to explain this as well. It is also helpful to share any benefits you gained from your work experience during college. (For example, perhaps you became more focused and dedicated because your free time was limited.)

Students who suffer from significant or chronic health conditions may also wish to share their circumstances in an addendum. Any medical issues that caused limitations in your ability to go to class or complete assignments on time should be explained, particularly if your grades were affected. Try to be clear and concise in your explanation, and provide information about your current condition and prognosis, if possible.

Length and Formatting

The addendum should be no longer than one page; typically, a few paragraphs suffice. Label the addendum with your name and CAS (Credential Assembly Service) number for reference. The structure of the addendum can be simple and straightforward: state the topic you want to explain, make the point you want to communicate, and then offer a short explanation. According to Columbia Law School: “We strongly suggest that applicants use their best judgment, in terms of content and length, when considering the submission of supplemental materials.” Review the application instructions for the law schools to which you’re applying to determine exactly what to include in your addendum.

When Not to Submit an Addendum

The primary reason not to submit an addendum is that your application is complete without one, and no part of your application requires further explanation. As Yale Law indicates: “It is not necessary to include any, and many applicants do not include addenda. “

Minor differences in LSAT scores are not a good reason to submit an addendum. The addendum is also not an opportunity to restate information that is already included in your application or share complaints about your undergraduate GPA. As you decide whether or not to include an addendum, consider whether the information that you’ll be providing is new and relevant. If it's not, it might be best to exclude the addendum.