Nearly every ABA Accredited law school uses rolling admissions.
Exactly how it works isn't perfectly cut and dry, but in general rolling admissions is when schools look at applications and make decisions as they come in. The school will accept (and waitlist) candidates until they have determined that they have given out as many acceptances as they are going to and then no one else will be admitted.
Since schools like to keep their class size consistent, law schools may accept people late into the admissions cycle once accepted students have decided to go elsewhere, or if fewer great applicants than the AdCom thought would apply ended up applying late in the cycle. These acceptances typically are students who were on the waitlist.
In (most) college admissions, you have to send in all your application documents by a certain date — usually in late December or January — and the school won’t look at your application until after the deadline. If they do look at your packet before the deadline, you won’t get preferential treatment for submitting 1 month vs 1 minute early.
With rolling admission, you can send your application over a longer time, like six months, and the school looks at applications as they get them.
Then, law schools send out their decisions about who they will accept on a rolling basis. These AdCom (admission committee) decisions typically happen in Waves. Schools will choose students until all the spots for the new class are taken. Law schools with rolling admission often start taking applications around September 1 and keep going into early in the spring term. Some schools have deadlines as early as January, and some go as late as the middle of the summer.
For proactive applicants, the fact that law schools use rolling admissions can be really helpful. Rolling admissions tends to benefit students who apply early in the admissions cycle. Successful applicants to top tier law schools tend to apply close to the opening date for admissions vs the deadline.
The benefits of rolling admissions include:
At least if you apply early.
While you still need a good application that meets what the law school wants, applying early in a rolling admissions cycle — when there are still a lot of open spots — can make it more likely for you to get in.
Students can use the big application period that comes with rolling admission to not have to apply to a bunch of law schools all at once. (although many do). They can plan the application process by first applying to law schools at the top of your list or those that open first, and then you can apply to the law schools later opening dates or deadlines.
By spreading out the law school application process over a few months, you'll have more time in the late summer to early winter to finish up all your applications.
Law schools look at applications as they get them, so you'll probably get an answer about whether you got in faster than if you law schools didn’t use rolling admissions. Applying in the fall to law schools with rolling admission lets you know if you've been accepted much earlier, so you don't have to worry and wait as long. You will still have to wait. Making the wait a little easier is why we made LSData in the first place.
Unfortunately, there is no counterfactual for this claim because all law schools use rolling admissions and some applicants will wait longer than others.
While rolling admission has some great things, students should also know about the bad things about applying to law schools with this way of doing things.
Because applications are looked at as they come in, students who wait until late in the application time might have a harder time getting one of the spots left. A student who can get in but waits until the last minute to apply might be more likely to not get in, so it's better to not wait too long to send in your application.
Some law schools with rolling admission, have important deadlines that may not even be shared. Law schools may pay more attention to students who send their applications before a certain date.
Because of the lack of transparency around law school admissions, it is really hard to know if applying early is actually helpful, and if it is, how helpful. So the way most applicants handle the unknown is to put a lot of pressure on themselves to apply as early as possible. This pressure to apply early can make for a lot of stress around getting in apps early and trying to figure out how many times to take the LSAT when you think you can get your score up, but the application is already open.
I am the half of LSD that didn't take the LSAT, or go to law school (Sorry about that). But I did go to MIT business school while surrounded by law students and lawyers, so I am somewhat qualified to talk about the intricacies of law school apps and finances.
Windsor (the dog) didn't write this but he WAS a Resident Tutor and career advisor at Harvard College with me, so deserves some credit.