For months now you've probably been reading about the upcoming Law School Electronic Services Conference (ESCON) in New Orleans, Louisiana, on April 1–3 at the Royal Sonesta Hotel. This educational conference is meant to provide an opportunity for admission and IT professionals to learn more about LSAC services and to confer on topics of common interest.
The planning group is composed of technically savvy admission folks and admission-savvy techies from some of our most involved and experienced member schools. The conference includes session topics for the broad audience we hope to attract. For IT attendees who may not be as familiar with LSAC, we have a number of sessions that cover LSAC as an organization and the numerous services we offer. In addition to these sessions, we've included sessions on social networking, going paperless, data security, hiring, and other topics relevant and timely to our work environments. Of course, we'll still include sessions of a practical nature to inform and enhance your use of LSAC services.
Even before registration closed on February 23, the conference had reached capacity, and we had to start a waiting list for those interested in attending. To date, we have over 125 schools registered to attend; among the participants are 85 chief information officers or directors of IT. With over 300 registrants, we expect the conference to meet or exceed all expectations. Of course, we realize that—given the current state of our economy and the budget constraints at many schools—attendance at two conferences may be prohibitive. We plan to post much of the information available at the conference on the Law School Electronic Services Support website after the conference.
The planning group for next year's ESCON has already begun to consider sites at which to host the conference. If you or an IT professional at your school would be interested in participating on the planning group, please contact me at 215.968.1301 or by e-mail at . We plan to accept proposals for presentations, and work will begin as soon as this year's conference is complete.
Hope to see you in New Orleans! Laissez les bon temps rouler!
Two winters ago, while waiting on the platform to take the 8:16 train to Villanova University School of Law, I could count on two things: the train would be late, and I would be there waiting with my bag of paper files. That was my weekday routine. Two years later, the train is still late, but I no longer haul my bag back and forth. Going paperless has made my job easier. Besides, I was never fond of that bag. It was bulky and heavy, and it was most certainly responsible for the pain in my shoulder.
While getting rid of your shoulder pain is certainly one good reason to go paperless, there are many other advantages. Not only will you have access to your files 24/7 from anywhere in the world, you will also save time and money by not assembling paper files. A paperless process also means you can process files quickly and efficiently—no waiting around for law school reports!
For me, change was inevitable. I moved across the country to begin a new job. My office was short-staffed, and I walked in every morning to an endless sea of blue files in my office. It was organized chaos, but the countless piles of files made it nearly impossible to stay focused. I knew there was a better way, and ACES² made it possible.
In speaking to colleagues who want to go paperless, I've found that the biggest obstacle is that most simply don't know where to start. In our office, we began by looking critically at all of our forms. We quickly realized that we were using most of them because that's how we had always done it. We came up with alternative electronic solutions to collect data, and now—apart from the decision letter and a few yield pieces—all communication from our office is electronic. This dramatically reduces our postage costs, which can now be allocated to e-marketing and other electronic resources.
Another comment I hear from my colleagues is that going paperless will require them to buy additional monitors, scanners, and other equipment. This is not the case. Although dual monitors can be very helpful, they are not necessary. In fact, staff in my office mostly read files on small laptops. A scanner can be very helpful, but there are alternatives to scanning. If you require additional forms to be sent to your office to complete files, you can request that the applicant fax these to an inexpensive outside service that will convert your documents to PDFs and, in turn, will e-mail the electronic files to you. You can then upload the files to the applicant record. If applicants want to send something directly to your office, you can require that they send all correspondence electronically. This way, you can upload information to their records without having to scan anything. In my office, we choose to scan information that comes in the mail. Because we require electronic applications, and since most applicants will e-mail their information, the scanning load has not been overwhelming. In fact, our work-study students come in twice a week and take care of our scanning. My point here is that you should do what will work for your office, as going paperless is not a one-size-fits-all process.
As you prepare to go paperless, here are some things to consider:
Get With the Program
Require electronic applications, e-signatures, and credit card payments via LSAC. Electronic applications will eliminate data entry, and e-signatures will replace your certification letters. There is a small fee for processing credit cards, so if your budget is dependent on the application fee, you might want to increase your fee by $5.00 to cover these costs. By doing all of the above, you will no longer have to print paper applications, nor will you have to provide a PDF application on your website. Additionally, your office will be free of check and credit card processing, which will make your process more efficient. I realize that eliminating paper applications and their PDF versions makes some administrators nervous; however, today's applicants generally have access to the Internet through work, school, or public libraries.
If It Ain't Broke, Don't Fix It
Don't change your entire process. If your paper process is streamlined and it works for your office, don't mess with it. Simply think of ways to substitute paper forms with electronic documents and processes. For example, your office will continue to review applications for completion the same way you always have, except that instead of flipping pages on a paper file, you will be scrolling through PDFs.
Have a retreat or lunch meeting with your staff to explain why change is necessary and to validate their concerns. Most staff members are concerned that going digital means there will be less for them to do. This is not the case. However, be prepared to shift duties and start new projects. Change-management experts recommend focusing your energy on those staff members who are willing to change. Don't waste your efforts convincing those who are resistant to change; they will eventually join in once the rest of the office is on board.
Putting It All Out There
Use the online application status check. I realize some offices are uneasy about posting the actual decision, but do consider that this is the Internet generation, and millennials expect instant gratification (whether good or bad). Announcing "Decision Made" instead of posting the actual decision on the online application status check is not providing any additional service, as applicants still have to wait for the mail to learn their fate.
One Step at a Time
Don't be overwhelmed or try to take on too much at once; change is gradual. Take small steps until you are comfortable going all the way. My office, like many others, had a dry run for one cycle. We assembled paper files for the fall 2008 cycle, just in case. We are now 100 percent paperless.
Keeping Up With the Joneses
Most undergraduate institutions use a paperless process in admission already, and our applicants expect the same of us. This means that all communication is electronic, efficient, and fast. No wonder applicants e-mail you a week after they submit their application! Not keeping up means that your competitors are completing files faster, making decisions faster, and gaining more time to court applicants.
So whether you are under pressure from your dean, thinking of being environmentally friendly, or merely looking to simplify your process, I encourage you to go paperless. Go ahead, give it a shot. The transition will be less painful than you think.
Jon Sklut is a principal engineer in the Software Services Group at LSAC. He joined the organization in 1997, and he has spent 11 years developing desktop, Web, data processing, and data exchange applications for the Information Services Division. Jon helped build the ACES² application for hosted and remote implementations. Currently, he focuses on the evolving architecture, implementation, and support of ACES². Proactively, Jon continues to look into future technologies to help build new services for LSAC with candidate and law school software applications. His work with the network engineers, the security engineer, and the Law School Support Services Group at LSAC, as well as with IT professionals at law schools that house an ACES² appliance, offers many challenges. Jon's interests outside the workplace are photography, coaching intramural basketball, playing Rock Band with his two sons, and adding to his vast music library. If he could meet one famous musician, it would be Neil Peart, the drummer from Rush.
As you may be aware, the US Department of Education (DOE) will implement new race/ethnicity reporting requirements for the 2010-2011 academic year. (For specifics, please visit http://nces.ed.gov/IPEDS/reic/resource.asp.) In anticipation of these changes, starting in June/July 2009 LSAC will revise the ways in which it collects and reports the race/ethnicity of test takers and applicants in the LSAT and LSAC Credential Assembly Service (LSDAS) registration process. Changes that individual law schools make to their LSAC electronic applications will be accommodated, and LSAC will continue to transfer that data (including multiple selections) back to the institutions via ACES² in the same way that it is currently done.
Individuals registering for the LSAT or LSAC Credential Assembly Service (LSDAS) by paper or phone will self-identify with one or more of the following nine race/ethnicity categories, in accordance with the new DOE policy.
Applicants registering for the LSAT or LSAC Credential Assembly Service (LSDAS) through LSAC's online system will also select subcategories from within the nine main categories. Multiple selections across categories and subcategories will be possible. Following are the categories and subcategories that will be available through LSAC's online system.
Aggregate Reports from LSAC
LSAC will continue to report aggregate race/ethnicity data in places such as the National Statistical Reports and the online Volume Summaries by Ethnic and Gender Group. However, because of changes to race/ethnicity categories and the allowance for multiple selections, prior data will not be directly comparable to data collected after June/July 2009.
For the new reports, LSAC will count separately each race/ethnicity category identified. For example, someone who indicates they are Hispanic/Latino and Asian will be counted in the Hispanic/Latino category and in the Asian category. Similarly, a respondent identifying as both Black or African American and White will be counted once in each category. In this way, information will not be lost by combining it into a "two or more races" reporting category.
LSAC recognizes that initially this reporting may be confusing because it will be possible for the sum of the categories to be greater than the total number of individual applicants. For example, if there are 100 applicants, 10 of whom indicate two races, the sum of all of the categories would show 110 applicants. To alleviate this confusion, reports will include the "Total Number of Applicants."
Paper Reports from LSAC
Because of space limitations, LSAC intends to abbreviate the race/ethnicity categories selected by the individual in all paper documents sent to law schools, including specifically the Law School Reports. LSAC will support the reporting of up to three categories on the Law School Reports. Subcategories will not be reported in the paper version of the National Statistical Reports or Law School Reports. Instead, the subcategories will be "rolled up" into the nine main race/ethnicity categories for reporting.
Data Reporting through ACES²
The race/ethnicity subcategory data will be available through ACES² and will be stored in ACES² separately from the application data. This is a change from the way the system works today. After June/July 2009, a school will be able to choose which data it wants to see on any of its reports.
Today, the National Summary Report shows data that LSAC has collected, which is not necessarily consistent with data that schools have received on their applications. After June/July 2009, schools will be able to directly compare application data or LSAC data with the aggregate data. ACES² screens will be modified to support the display of multiple categories and subcategories from the LSAC data, as well as the three race/ethnicity values from the application data as is done currently.
Candidate Referral Service (CRS)
The CRS will be modified to support selection and reporting across multiple categories and subcategories of race/ethnicity data. ACES² Prospect will be enhanced to support this information.
We will provide updates as we move forward with implementation of these changes in data collection and reporting. In the meantime, if you have questions, please contact:
We continue to improve ACES² to provide you with robust and flexible functionality that meets the varied needs of your admission offices. We work to provide software releases approximately every six weeks that include upgrades, new functionality, and corrections to any bugs that have been discovered. We have some exciting new features planned for late winter and early spring; here are some highlights:
In mid-March, look for One-Time Commitment Release. If your school participates in LSAC's Commitment Overlap Process, you probably release your commitment data to LSAC each time your data is updated. You will now be able to opt in to LSAC's commitment overlap service once, and set your report conditions for future updates. This will allow your data to flow automatically to LSAC throughout the commitment overlap season.
This spring, you will be able to grant individual application fee waivers to whomever you choose. ACES² will work in conjunction with a candidate's LSAC.org account and allow you to grant, associate, and report on fee waivers for individual candidates. Stay tuned for more details on this enhancement!
Upgrades are also coming to Recruit Events this spring. After analyzing all of the improvements requested by many of you, we are working on streamlining this functionality in ACES².
As ACES² continues to grow and improve, we will provide information on future releases. Remember to review the release notes that accompany ACES² upgrade notices. Please continue to let us know of changes and improvements that will help you.
Project management is a process that provides us with guidelines and tools to identify business and technical requirements and understand how those requirements work with our business and our clients. This process enables us to plan and implement the tasks needed to put those requirements into action. Our focus here at LSAC is to provide platinum customer service and at the same time organize the activities and tasks necessary to improve that service and meet the objectives of our operations, law schools, and candidates applying to law schools. That is a tall order and it requires us to be consistent in our approach.
We have a structure that guides us through the process. The first step is to clearly set the appropriate priority for the project requested. Priority and direction can be received from the law schools through the Services and Programs (S&P) Committee, from representatives on the Information Services Division Advisory Group (ISDAG), and also from various law school committees and subcommittees that represent both admission and technical staffs. Priorities can also come from the law school candidates themselves; we solicit their advice and conduct multiple user assessment sessions. LSAC also receives feedback and requests through the operations and business divisions.
The second step is to plan and identify the scope and objective of the effort at hand. This step includes capturing the requirements and ascertaining that they are documented and approved by the people who have requested them. This step leads to the project plan, which is the list of all tasks, target dates, durations, and people responsible for completing these tasks. All roles and responsibilities are noted for every project team member. A team environment is now in place; everyone is working toward a common goal and supporting each other through the process.
Design and development is the third step, and it requires a solid understanding of the applications that support our services and operations. That knowledge also must apply to our business and service procedures, and it must ensure that the development effort results in the actions needed to satisfy the requirements gathered.
The fourth step is testing and validating that the processes and functions are performing as needed with accuracy and timely processing throughout the application. There are three layers of testing that are performed in this critical step. The first layer is completed by the Quality Assurance staff at LSAC. QA analysis and the successful completion of validating the test criteria (with the desired results achieved) provide a foundation for the next crucial layer—giving the end user an opportunity to review and verify that all requirements have been met. The final layer is to do regression testing, which is to test all major functionality and processing to ensure that nothing has been affected and/or changed outside of the scope.
The final step in the project management process is to implement into production all the changes and functionality requested, which includes all requirements that were identified within the scope of the project. This is the step that takes the project live to the clients and end users.
There are many tools that are in the project management toolbox. We have created templates to address all of the required documentation so that we can maintain a consistency of look and feel for the deliverables. Tools such as meeting agendas, meeting minutes, project plans, business requirements documents, design and work flow charts, test criteria, test plans, and the implementation schedule for the move to production are among the many templates available to everyone who is a project team member or client.
This comprehensive documentation is an effective tool for capturing, assessing, and documenting all risks and issues associated with or encountered in the project. Additionally, such documentation is helpful in making and recording all decisions related to the project. Often, these documents help us note what worked well and what needs improvement for planning the next project.
There are many facets to project management; what I have thus far described is a methodology that has been implemented at LSAC. Our track record has been productive. It is based on the amount of projects delivered to our clients and our partners throughout the law school environment over the past few years. Project management will continue to guide our many projects to successful completion.