Writing an Excellent Law School Personal Statement

Monday, July 8, 2013

The personal statement is one of the most important sections of your application. This is your opportunity to present yourself as a positive addition to the school. Law schools do not provide the opportunity for personal interviews. Your personal statement is a written interview with the committee and it is a demonstration of your writing ability. The ability to write well is an important characteristic of an attorney. Therefore, your personal statement is the only opportunity you have to present your personal and academic strengths.

Tips for the Law School Personal Statement

  1. Why do law schools want a personal statement?
    • They don’t conduct personal interviews.
    • They want to learn about, and gain insight into, YOU.
    • They want a writing sample in addition to the LSAT sample (some law school reps compare the two).
  2. How long should it be?
    • Follow the guidelines or requirements of the individual school. When in doubt, 1.5 spacing is acceptable (not single spacing); 2-3 pages in length is standard.
Do –
  • Make it personal/subjective; YOU are the subject. This is not an academic essay.
  • Identify the one or more characteristics that make you distinctive.
  • Write about someone or something that matters deeply to you.
  • Keep it down-to-earth/authentic/GENUINE.
  • Step back and think twice before using humor.
  • Stay focused on the topic; move clearly to your conclusion. In other words, outline and organize your statement.
  • Write smooth transitions from one paragraph to the next.
  • Define uncommon terms or concepts.
  • Write in the first person.
  • Avoid hackneyed terms or expressions.
  • Avoid creating hyphenated terms, e.g., "reader-friendly".
  • Have a few people critique your statement - not just the pre-law advisor - for topic, style and mechanics.
  • Make sure that the copy you send to law schools does not include your Word edits.
Don’t -
  • Try to impress with a high-brow style or vocabulary.
  • Write about something that you think the admission reps want to see in a personal statement, e.g., the reason you want to be a lawyer.
  • Give a personal history with too much detail and no point.
  • Write about your XYZ collection (rather, write about how your grandfather inspired you to research and love XYZ).
  • Cover everything there is to know about you.
  • Simply write a narrative version of your resume.
  • Cover too many points, e.g., your grandfather influenced your life AND personal liberty is everything to you AND you always walk to the beat of your own drum.
  • Rely too heavily on the sample statements in grad school guides; the samples may not have been provided, or admired, by law school admissions committees.
  • Forget that law school is a professional program, requiring a professional approach to the entire application process.
  • Target the statement to a particular school (unless it’s requested on the application).
A personal statement for Law School is an essay that should present in two pages a clear and vibrant image of you.
  • It is an essay. There should be structure–an introductory paragraph, topic sentences and a conclusion. This structure should be a help and not a burden in developing a dominant theme. The ideas (and the sentences) do not have to be complex. Write for clarity. Elaborate on the theme; present experiences that develop your ideas. Grades, tests, and recommendations will be used to determine our intellectual ability. The personal statement should be positive. Explain grades and test scores elsewhere. Citing the example of someone you admire is appropriate if the focus stays on you.
  • It should be clear and vibrant. Admission officers offer a range of ideas on writing personal statements but they universally agree on one request "Don’t bore me." Style should be honest and concise. Obscure references, pretentious phrases and ostentatious vocabulary will not be mistaken for eloquence. The tone should be confident; a personal statement should be positive. Explain grades and test scores elsewhere. Citing example of someone you admire is appropriate if the focus stays on you.
  • It is an image of YOU. An essay that is a pro-forma exercise is a missed opportunity for yourself as well as for the admissions committee. The personal statement is a chance to identify the significance of past experience, current purpose, and future goals. At its best, it is a way to "gather your dreams together into words."