During every admissions cycle, law schools form three pools of applicants: (1) clearly in, (2) clearly out, and (3) maybe. The personal statement won’t help you with the first pool, but if you’re in the third, a great statement can distinguish you from your competition.
The Concept. Remember that the committee already knows your GPA and LSAT scores, so the statement should, according to the Princeton Review, communicate “who you really are and what has made you the person you are today.” To do that, you must tell a story that illuminates the unique personal characteristics that you can bring to the school.
The Topic. The writing process begins by identifying a topic. One student discussed the various hair colors she had tried over the years, and she compared herself favorably to the main character in the movie Legally Blonde. Another student explained how his experiences as a Nordstrom salesperson gave him the people skills to succeed in professional life. A third wrote about the abuse she suffered in high school from her favorite teacher. A fourth talked about the medical malpractice that resulted in his grandfather’s death. The possibilities are limitless.
The Writing Process. Once you settle on a topic, you have to write with a storyteller’s techniques. That means avoiding abstract and generic language. Instead you must fill every sentence with specific details. You must also create a narrative that will pull the reader through your statement from the first sentence to the last. Finally, keep in mind that committee members at competitive schools read thousands of statements during every admissions cycle, so you have only a few seconds to catch their attention.
Revision: Once you have written a first draft, you will need to revise repeatedly, just as professional writers do. Your document will be complete only when a reader can journey through your narrative without pausing to consider an unclear phrase or a badly chosen word. It also has to be error-free.
Length: One single-spaced page is plenty of space to convince an admissions committee that you are an excellent candidate. Some schools allow more than that, but your statement has to be extraordinary to keep them reading past a couple of pages.
FINDING A TOPIC AND GENERAL ADVICE
The publicly available links below will take you to a variety of sites that address the personal statement. Excerpts are below, from the following links:
“Though many law school applicants write contemplative personal sttements and focus on an abstract idea or a philosophical issue – the meaning of ‘liberty or justice, for example – admissions officers seldom pick these for at least three reasons: 1) the writers’s thought process becomes derailed or muddled; 2) the writer often neglects to link abstract ideas to something concrete and personal; and 3) they don’t reveal the person.”
“Two popular, generic topics that prospective students often choose are study abroad or their experience with the legal system…. Keep in mind, however, that a personal statement about one of these more common experiences may be a topic about which the admissions committee has already read many times. This may make you less noticeable among those in the applicant pool who share the same general characteristics.”
“Admissions committees review countless applications for each admissions cycle. Try to distinguish yourself by highlighting experiences that make you unique. Think about your friends’ experiences – if they can tell a story uncannily similar to yours, it may not be the best topic for your personal statement.”
“Remember, law schools are judging your writing skills. If you can’t write a grammatically correct essay, you probably won’t write a grammatically correct brief. Proofread. Proofread again. Ask someone else to proofread it. Do not rely on spell-check.”
“When you are thinking about what to write, think about something you are passionate about – it will come through in your essay. Don’t worry so much about what you think the admissions office wants to hear, or about trying to sound like a lawyer. Think about what they don’t already know about you from other parts of your application. What distinguishes you from the pack? If there were five other applicants with your same GPA and LSAT scores, they may be looking for what makes you unique.”
“Many applicants feel the need to say that they really, really want to become attorneys and have spent their lives pining for law school. Avoid this temptation. Applications committees know that when you were six, you wanted to be a firefighter. Instead, tell them why you’re interested and what you bring to the table."
“Who are you? What makes you unique? Sometimes, applicants answer these questions in a superficial way. It’s not enough to tell the admissions committee that you’re an Asian-American from Missouri. You ned to give them a deeper sense of yourself.”
“There are certain things a law school wants to be assured of – maturity despite youth, commitment to the study of law despite lacking a specific career aspiration, ability to succeed in a rigorous environment, independent thinking skills, feeling a duty greater than simple self-interest. A good personal statement uses none of these phrases, but tells a story that convinces the reader to come to the conclusion(s) on his/her own. A good personal statement is interesting to read, without needing to rely on shock value. It has a conversational rather than academic tone. It’s not there to show how many big words you know. Lawyers need to write like real people – clear sentences. Start now.”
“Don’t reiterate things from your resume. Leave job descriptions to the resume, and if you discuss resume items in the personal statement, be sure to take a more anecdotal and lessons-learned approach rather than describing your duties and accomplishments.”
LAW SCHOOL DESCRIPTIONS OF THE PERSONAL STATEMENT
Yale Law School Personal Statement: “A good personal statement provides a coherent narrative of what has brought you to this point (in your life, of applying to law school, or a combination fo the two). What this narrative consists of will depend on the person writing it. For some, it may focus on their upbringing or cultural background. For others, it may be an intellectual journey, where certain ideas or courses influenced you. And for others it may be one or several experiences, personal or professional, that were meaningful. Whatever the narrative is, the reader gets an idea of the major events, turning points, influences, or experiences that make up who you are.”
Yale Law School 250-Word Essay: The 250 word essay, in case you haven't checked out our application, is an essay on any subject of your choice, which the Admissions Committee uses "to evaluate an applicant's writing, reasoning, and editing skills."
- Harvard Law School: “The personal statement should give the Admissions Committee a betters sense of who you are as a person and as a potential student and graduate of Harvard Law School. In many instances, applicants have used the personal statement to provide more context on how their experiences and strengths could make them valuable contributors to the Harvard and legal communities, to illuminate their intellectual background and interests, or to clarify or elaborate on other information in their application. Because applicants and their experiences differ, you are the best person to determine the content of your statement.”
- Temple Law School: “The personal statement is your opportunity to present yourself, your background, your experiences, and your ideas to the Admissions Committee.You may want to write about your intellectual interests, your career goals, your achievements, your family background, or your involvement in your community… It is up to you to decide what you want to write about and how you want to express your thoughts. Keep in mind that the readers of your personal statement will be trying to get a sense of you as a person and as a prospective Temple Law School student. We encourage you to be as candid and thoughtful as possible. There is no specific length required for the personal statement, although on average, personal statements are two to three pages in length.” (emphasis added)
- Loyola Law School – Los Angeles. “A personal statement assists the admissions committee in selecting a highly-qualified and diverse entering class. It is also used to assess each applicant’s written English skills. The personal statement provides each applicant with the opportunity to describe his or her interest in law school, the uniqueness of his or her character and experience, and his or her potential to contribute to Loyola’s community.”
- Cornell Law School – scroll down to “Personal Statement”:
- University of Chicago: “Most importantly, a personal statement is supposed to be PERSONAL! We want to hear about you, what makes you tick, what motivates you, and what inspires you. We are trying to make up a class of interesting, dynamic people, and this is the place to show us that you will add something vital to our school.”
- University of Maryland School of Law (scroll down)
- North Carolina Central University School of Law
- West Virginia University School of Law: “The only requirement for the personal statement is that it may only be a maximum of two pages, typed and double-spaced with one inch margins. The subject matter is completely up to you! We recommend that at some point in your statement that you include why you wish to pursue a legal education. Also, proofread, proofread, PROOFREAD! Writing is a large part of law school and the legal profession. This is your chance to prove that you have a strong writing ability.” (emphasis added)
UNIVERSITY DESCRIPTIONS OF THE PERSONAL STATEMENT
PUBLICLY AVAILABLE ESSAYS
University of Chicago