The first step in the competitive law school admissions process began Monday afternoon for more than 50 Yalies, who filled Saybrook College Master Mary Miller’s living room with notepads and pens in hand and law school aspirations in mind.

Students gathered around Associate Dean of Yale Law School James Thomas LAW ’64 for a Saybrook College Master’s Tea titled “Do You Want to Go to Law School?”

Thomas, a former Saybrook College Master who worked in the civil rights movement before joining the Yale Law School administration 33 years ago, talked about the law school experience, career possibilities after law school and affirmative action. And to the delight of many students, he gave advice to students looking to get one step ahead in law school admissions.

“[Law school is] an intellectual experience of first order,” Thomas said. “You never know who’s sitting next to you in law school. It’s an adventure in discovery.”

Thomas repeatedly told students to “follow your passions,” and advised the students against planning their lives around getting into law school.

“You should enjoy your college experience,” Thomas said. “Go with your passions and follow that. The more you enrich your own life with unusual personal experiences, the better candidate you will be.”

Although Thomas said GPA and LSAT scores weigh heavily in the minds of the admissions committee, he said he pays close attention to recommendations and personal qualities.

“We are looking for some qualities that can’t be examined in board scores and GPA,” said Thomas, who, during more than three decades at Yale Law School, has personally read over 80,000 applications and admitted over 5,000 students. “[If we only considered GPA and LSAT scores] we would have astounding numbers, but it would be a boring place.”

Thomas talked about the numerous career options after law school, saying that an above-average number of Yale Law School graduates go into public service, politics and non-profit law. He said he considered going into private practice after graduation from Yale Law School, but chose not to because his heart was not in it.

“I could have doubled or tripled my salary, but I could not have doubled or tripled my satisfaction,” Thomas said.

Gertrude Agbozo ’05, who attended the talk, said her dream is to go to a good law program. A daughter of immigrant parents, she is interested in going to law school and eventually becoming involved in helping immigrants in the United States, a group she said faces the most legal discrimination in the nation.

“I would be able to implement more effective change as an activist by going to law school because law school can enable one to become a better thinker,” Agbozo said.

When one student asked Thomas about Yale Law School’s practice of affirmative action, Thomas said that affirmative action does not apply only to minority students at the school. He called for the entire admissions system to be reexamined by law schools across the country.

“Yale Law School looks for a variety of people,” Thomas said. “It’s important to ultimately have diversity in the profession.”

Thomas, who many audience members said had a terrific sense of humor, cracked some jokes — some even at the expense of motivated students who are at times obsessed with law school admissions.

He described an encounter he had with an influential New York trial attorney whose son — a very well-qualified candidate who had already received a Ph.D. — Thomas rejected.

“[When his father came to my office to talk to me] I said, ‘sir, may I be candid with you?'” Thomas said. “He made the mistake of saying ‘yes’ and I said, ‘I’m afraid your son came across as a rather conceited son of a b—-.'”

When talking about his love for fishing, golf and skiing, Thomas poked fun at himself and said, “I told my wife when I married her that I’d been going downhill for years.”