Pen and Chisel Q&A: Can I Tell Multiple Stories in My Law School Personal Statement?

headshot-2Here at The Girl’s Guide, we get tons of questions from law school applicants about how to best frame their application story. Rather than making stuff up that may or may not be right, we’re bringing in the big guns!

Please welcome Eileen Conner, founder of Pen and Chisel, who has agreed to serve as our resident expert on law school application writing. Eileen is here to help with any law school application questions you might have — including personal statements, diversity statements, addenda, and any other items you need to submit.

Got a burning question? Just send a note and maybe it will be answered in a future column!

Now, without further ado, on to question one.

I have two different life experiences that are each a big part of my reason for going into law. How can I use them both in the same law school personal statement?

A: Very carefully, if at all.

While it’s possible to successfully tell more than one story in your personal statement, I generally advise against it. Using two (or more!) stories about your life to make a good argument is a serious challenge.

Why is it hard to use more than one story to argue for admission to law school?

Squashing two different stories into one short essay often means that you end up telling neither story well. If your stories aren’t directly related, telling both of them can clutter your essay with superfluities, diffuse your focus, and weaken your overall argument for future success in law. In many cases, it’s impossible to make two different stories fit together well enough to make a convincing case for admission.

The last thing you want to show the admissions committee is a rambling, incoherent argument. This is the biggest and most common danger you’ll have to combat.

In addition, trying to tell multiple stories can make your essay much too long. Most law schools have very strict length requirements for personal statements. Making a thorough, vivid, and convincing argument within those parameters is difficult even if you’ve only chosen one story to tell. Adding in a second or third story ups the challenge significantly.

What is the solution?

You have a few choices here.

The best choice is to pick one of your two experiences and simply focus on that for the whole of your essay. Eliminate or repurpose the other.

This will let you concentrate on making one argument instead of diffusing your efforts into multiple arguments. You’ll have more space to tell one story thoroughly and well, and to connect that story to your ultimate case for attending law school. You’ll be able to go into more vivid detail, which will make your essay more interesting and convincing. On the whole, this is the best choice for most prospective law students.

If you do decide you need to use two stories in your essay, consider only using the relevant parts of each story instead of telling them both in full.

For instance, if a particular interaction or incident working on one project spurred you to start work on another project, that’s a great way to go. This lets you set up a problem and transition to the solution smoothly, without spending too much time on extraneous information. It also gives your essay a natural progression, which will let you segue smoothly into your next ambition: to succeed in law.

However, this strategy will only work if your two stories are related in some way. If they aren’t, it’s going to be very hard to make them play well together, no matter what you do.

But what if I really want to tell both stories?

Well, sometimes you have to make tough choices. You may just need to take a hard look at your different experiences, decide which one will best let you argue for admission to law school, and use that as your only topic.

However, sometimes you can repurpose one of your experiences and use it elsewhere in your admissions packet.

For instance, consider supplemental essays. Could you use one of your experiences to show the admissions committee that you’ll help make their incoming class more diverse? If so, consider using it as the topic of your diversity statement. This leaves you with the other story to use as the main focus of your personal statement.

This way you’ll get to tell both of your stories — but they won’t be smashed together in a muddled, disjointed mess. Instead, each story will have the chance to shine on its own.

Only you can decide the topic of your personal statement. Consider your experiences carefully, choose the pieces that will best let you make your case for success in law, and put all your effort into perfecting your argument. By embracing the best topic and eliminating any superfluous information, you’ll improve your chances to convince your targeted law schools to admit you to their incoming class.

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Thanks, Eileen! Got a burning law school application question? Just send a note and maybe it will be answered in a future column!

More about Eileen:
Eileen Conner is the founder of Pen and Chisel LLC, where she specializes in helping law school candidates perfect their application essays. A graduate of the University of Michigan’s prestigious creative writing MFA program, Eileen is the former Senior Editor for Law at Revision Editing.


Read On:

As you embark on your law school application journey, you might want to bookmark Applying to Law School 101: What You Need to Know to Succeed.

Then check out some of these posts:

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