Law School Personal Statement

The law school personal statement is one of the few places where candidates can show the admissions board “who they are” versus just “what they can do.”  The personal statement is the place where candidates can show selection committees their character, why they are a perfect fit for law school, and it gives students a chance to stand out among other applicants.

There are so many different directions students can go with their personal statements.  However, there are a few key tips to remember: keep the focus on yourself, tailor your personal statement to the school to which you are applying, remember your “why,” and be sure the personal statement grabs the committees attention.  The committee reviews countless applications per day and it is important to write something that will stand out amongst the sea of applications.

For many selection committees, the personal statement is the first thing they read when opening an application.  It sets the lens for which they view the rest of the application.  The selection committee uses personal statements for a couple of things.  On one end, a personal statement filled with grammatical and stylistic errors, shows the selection committee the student is not ready to take on the extremely detailed nature of being a lawyer.  On the other end, the selection committee uses personal statements to build a well rounded and diverse class of future lawyers.  If a student’s personal statement reads like all others, the selection committee may be inclined to pass on the application, because the student does not appear to add any diversity.

So many students who apply to law school look very similar on paper: stellar grades, strong LSAT scores, a plethora of community service projects, and lots of internship experience.  With all other things being equal, a personal statement can be the factor that causes a selection committee member to argue for one student over another.  It is for this reason that students are encouraged to write a personal statement that paints them as a well-rounded, smart, confident, dedicated student, who is ready to take on the challenges of law school.

Many law schools limit the personal statement length to a word count that equates to one to two pages.  This means a student’s personal statement must be concise, to the point, and only include details and claims that can be backed by examples.  Only the most important parts of what makes you as a person, ready for law school, should be included.  With a limited word count, it is important students present an accurate picture of themselves in a clear and efficient way.  Every word counts on the personal statement, so it is important for students to write and re-write the personal statement until it reads smoothly.

Law schools want to learn a lot from the personal statement to help them make their admission decisions.  Selection committees are looking for leaders.  They are looking for confident and ambitious students, students who have diverse cultural experiences and a worldly view on life.  They are looking for students with a diverse range of experiences, a passion for justice and the grit to not just get through, but to thrive during hard times.  Law school itself is filled with many challenges, and those challenges become even bigger during practice as a lawyer after law school.  The selection committees need to be confident that the students they choose to take seats in incoming classes will make the best use possible of their seat in the class.  The worst thing for a selection committee would be to admit a student who ends up dropping out of the program or not making full use of the program’s resources.

An ideal personal statement will generally touch on the following: have you shown you can succeed in an academic setting, have you positively impacted your community, are you a leader, have you experienced the world or have you only learned from books, can you see various sides of the same coin, how will you benefit the school, and why do you want to attend this specific law school?  A strong personal statement will roughly answer the above questions, all while telling a story and conveying all information about the student that cannot be conveyed through the rest of the application materials.  Law school personal statements are no easy feat.

The process of writing a law school personal statement can be daunting.  Knowing the personal statement has the ability to make or break admission can leave some students paralyzed, unsure of where to start.  The best way to go about the law school personal essay is to simply start writing.  No one writes a flawless personal statement in their first draft.  In fact, what makes a personal statement good is the continuous revisions that go into the final product.  Writing and re-writing is the process that takes a personal statement from decent to phenomenal and memorable.  The end goal product should be a personal statement that removes all doubt the selection committee may hold regarding your acceptance, convince the selection committee members to advocate for your admission, and convince the entire selection board that you are worthy of acceptance to their law school.  It is important to show selection committee members that your entrance to law school makes sense on both a logical and emotional level.

While it is important to state facts and supporting examples of why a student should be admitted to law school, logic along is not enough to win over the selection committee.  The logical facts for why a student is a prime candidate should be the base of the personal statement, but not all of it.  Logical facts may include topics such as strong GPA and LSAT scores, or practical internship experience in the field.  Appealing to the selection committees emotions includes touching on examples of tragedy and triumph and overcoming adversity.  Emotional appeals should be used lightly throughout the essay.  Too much emotion could make the personal statement seem “over the top” or disingenuous.  It is also important to appeal to the selection committees ethos, or appeal to their beliefs.  At the heart of law lies ethics.  It is for this reason that students must demonstrate their ethical character and sound judgement.  Students should come across in their personal statements as positive people with good judgement, who are capable and trustworthy enough to be in a position of power with the law.  Be wary of using examples that may seem cliché.  The goal of the personal statement is to make you as an applicant stand out.  Using examples that other students are likely to use, will cause applications to be forgotten.

Students should have a clear idea of what they want to say, before sitting down to actually write.  The most important part of the law school personal statement is to paint a clear and precise picture of who the student is a person in the most efficient way possible.  Selection committees are people, not robots.  Therefore, if they are reading a personal statement that drones on and on, they will get bored, and shut off.  Students should aim to captivate the selection committee with their words.  This is potentially the only time a student can explain who he or she is beyond the list of numbers: GPA and LSAT scores.  Students should be highlighting aspects of who they are that a selection committee would not be able to discern from the rest of the application.  Most importantly, students should tailor each personal statement to the school at which they are applying.  Different schools are looking for different students.  The Harvard Selection Committee will be looking for something different from the USC Selection Committee which will be looking for something different from the Berkeley Selection Committee.  Students should do their own research on each school they are applying to so they can appropriately tailor their personal statement.

All in all, writing a personal statement for law school requires balance, as does being a good lawyer.  There is a balance in appealing to logic versus emotion.  There is a balance in being personal while still maintaining professionalism.  There is a balance in keeping the essay interesting and fresh while not appearing gimmicky.  It makes sense that the law school personal essay rests on finding the perfect balance.  After all, being a lawyer requires a person to exercise a high level of balance.  The nuances of writing a strong personal essay are the same nuances that go into crafting a strong argument to persuade others; this is the same skill needed to become a strong lawyer.  Law school selection committees only have so many seats to award to prospective students.  It is the job of the section committee to assure that every seat is filled by a student who is capable to excel at the very difficult academic undertaking of law school, and who is equally as strong in their ability to exercise the upmost ethical judgement in their decision making.  It is for this reason that law school selection committees weight the personal statement so heavily, and it is the reason it is important for students to spend an adequate amount of time tailoring their personal statements to each law school.