Truth is stranger than fiction.

A current student recently e-mailed me a link to Top Law Schools and (gently, politely!) chastised me a bit for a report on there about behavior by the Admissions Office. The story was that someone whom we admitted early decision (TLS code name = FMaze) contacted my office and asked to be released because of a change of heart, and that in response, an unidentified person in my office gave the caller a “lecture about the obligations” of early decision and “interrogate” the caller to “disclose the name of the Florida law school” he or she was now longing for. The student who e-mailed me queried whether the Admissions Office’s behavior was inconsistent with my extolling freedom of choice in some other posts.

Well, let’s just cut to the punchline: That call never happened. Seriously. Our early decision pool is quite small, and my staff is even smaller; certainly we would have had a group discussion about any such call, and it ultimately would have been handled by me. In fact, we’ve sort of been waiting for this call, because a couple of weeks ago, someone else drew my attention to an earlier post by the same person, in which he or she was angsting about how to handle the change-of-heart. We were puzzled when it never came. We continue to be puzzled.

But rather than metaphorically scratching my head for the entirety of this post, a more productive discussion might be to explore how I would have handled this call had it in fact occurred.

An orienting principle for me is this: I don’t want students here who don’t want to be here. That principle, in conjunction with the Thirteenth Amendment, pretty much ensures that I’m not going to browbeat anyone into matriculating, ever.

That doesn’t mean, however, that I wouldn’t want to have a discussion with a would-be withdrawer about the nature of commitment and so forth. I do work in higher ed, after all. Tiresome of me, to be sure, but I do feel some obligation to engage in a little education when a teachable moment calls me up on the phone. So can I imagine that the “lecture” allegation would have been earned, had the call been made? Absolutely.

Likewise, I can imagine that, depending on the articulated circumstances and motivation for withdrawing, I might want to attempt to change the caller’s mind. If the motivation stemmed from an inaccurate Michigan-specific concern, it is quite possible I’d want to be indulged in a little information-sharing. Recruiting, after all, is one of my principal job duties.

But that’s about it. No waterboarding, for example. No hollering. No tears.

Although the poster in question didn’t bring it up, I know that sometimes people worry about getting in trouble if they want to back out of a commitment they’ve made in the admissions process. But if someone were to approach me with their concerns, that conversation would never lead to a misconduct report on my part. (I might, however, feel differently if the applicant was not in fact forthcoming, and the information only came to me indirectly.)

Can I affirm that my world-view reigns at every law school? Well—no, I can’t. I know many admissions officers who share my views, but I know others whose first orienting principle is that a lawyer’s word is his or her bond; those folks tend to feel more aggrieved when people want to back out of commitments. (To be clear: I share that principle. But I’m dealing with prospective lawyers, not actual ones. See supra about my tiresome attempts at education.) The possibility that you’re going to have to deal with an aggrieved admissions officer, though, shouldn’t be enough to make you silently go to a law school where you don’t want to be. If you take a direct, straightforward, and polite approach, it’s unlikely the conversation is going to be prolonged or unpleasant. And it’s certainly the only way to get the result you hope for.

So FMaze—give us a call!

-Dean Z.
Assistant Dean for Admissions and Special Counsel for Professional Strategies