How To Write Winning Law School Personal Statements
After weighing academic performance, law schools are most interested in assembling a class of interesting people. In this sense, their criteria are broader than those used by business or medical schools, whose applicants face more clearly defined expectations. Unfortunately, law school applicants often find this freedom intimidating rather than encouraging.
Too often writers resort to a safe route, and it should be obvious why such an approach would prevent them from achieving the goal of uniqueness. The topic itself need not be revolutionary. Rather, the key to this type and all types of essays is simply to be specific and personal. Don’t be afraid to give your readers a glimpse of who you really are.
This applicant describes his upbringing in the inner city as a way to offer insight into his current maturity. He does not use his disadvantaged background as an excuse for anything, nor does he overstate its significance. Rather, he portrays his past honestly to show how it shaped his character and determination.
This applicant focuses on his extensive international experience in business and education. The details of his work often have little to do with law, but in exploring his global travels he demonstrates the unique perspective he has cultivated.
This applicant offers an in-depth account of a boot-camp experience. Note how his focus on a single experience can nevertheless convey a great deal about his character, because he offers concrete details from his personal experience. Depth is almost always preferable to breadth.
Finally, this applicant achieves uniqueness through his writing style. What makes the essay effective is not the specific topics with which he engages the reader, but the playful and inventive thought process he demonstrates.
These four examples are meant to show you the boundless ways in which you can offer a unique portrait. You don’t need to come from a very diverse background or to have accomplished something extraordinary. These essays are effective because they offer honest portrayals and are grounded in specific, personal details. Law, although mentioned, is not the focus of any of these essays. In your own essay, you should stay focused on the topic you choose and explore it fully, making a connection back to law only if that seems natural.
In the previous section, we examined some essays that mentioned law as a natural conclusion but focused on some novel experience unrelated to law. When you don’t have interesting, fresh ideas to offer about the legal profession or the study of law, you are better off emphasizing your unique strengths rather than stating platitudes about your future career. In the tired eyes of an admissions officer, nothing is more tedious than an essay that starts off, “I have always wanted to be a lawyer,” and then cites a list of trite reasons. One obvious mistake is to focus on your parents’ experiences as lawyers without demonstrating any independent, mature thinking about your own goals.
A less obvious, more common mistake is to write about how you want to help people. The fact is that most law school graduates, especially from the top schools, go on to work in the private sector. Law school admissions officers are not out to judge the moral value of your career intentions, particularly because they know that people often change their minds. They’re well aware that most of their graduates will go on to seek financially rewarding careers. Therefore, applicants who mention clichés about wanting “to improve society” usually sound disingenuous.
Focusing on Specific Legal Areas
If you have specific goals such as working for a particular disadvantaged group that lacks advocates, then the situation is different: It’s always good to showcase a unique, focused commitment. Even better would be if you had a track record of community service to back up your objectives. For example, you may have worked with handicapped people for several years, and this exposed you to certain injustices that you want to correct. The same approach would work for topics that are not about public service. For example, this applicant describes his background in science and connects this to his current interests in intellectual property law. He recognizes that his unusual background is a strength rather than a liability. His unique reasons for attending law school are clearly grounded in relevant experience and thoughtful consideration.
Unique Personal Interests
Discussing specific areas of law is a surefire way to demonstrate a mature commitment to the study of law. However, admissions officers certainly do not expect this level of decisiveness. Another way to show your reasons for pursuing law is to tie your interest to personal qualities or skills.
This applicant shows that her interest in law is grounded in her willingness to seek “justice at any cost.” What’s important is not that she be the only person with this conviction, because that would not be possible. Instead, the uniqueness comes through her personal details, the evidence that she provides to back up her principled nature.
Brushes With the Law
Some people will discover their interest in law through an unplanned encounter. This applicant describes her involvement in an Equal Employment Opportunity suit, then ties this in with her interest in environmental law. The result is an essay that accomplishes two objectives: first, a concrete event that demonstrates her exposure to law, and second, a distinct field of law for which she has special qualifications to pursue.
In this essay, the focus is even more explicitly on the role that law and lawyers have played in the applicant’s life. Though the details of the essay still center on the applicant’s background, he uses past encounters with the law to define his current objectives.