22 Rules of Writing Your Law School Personal Statement

nfox 300Thinking of applying to law school? Most law school experts — and those who’ve attended — will say that your personal statement is one of the most important components of your application. Before panic sets in about what to write, Nathan Fox, founder of Fox LSAT, is here with a series of blog posts that provides a slightly humorous look at writing the personal essay. And let’s face it — anyone applying to law school can use some humor in their day!

Here’s part one in the series. Welcome, Nathan!

#1: You admire a character for trying more than for their successes.

Yes, you should put your best foot forward on your law school personal statement. But we already know about your degree(s), your job(s), your promotion(s), and your award(s). Don’t tell us what we already know. We’re trying to get to know you beyond your resume. Tell us a story. Stories usually involve a struggle.

#2: You gotta keep in mind what’s interesting to you as an audience, not what’s fun to do as a writer. They can be very different.

Consider your audience. People who read law school applications read a lot of law school applications. Thousands of them. They’re too busy to be interested in platitudes about the importance of the legal profession or the plight of the downtrodden. And that’s what everybody else is boring them with anyway. The law school personal statement is one time in your life when people are actually interested in YOU. You’ve got two pages to talk about what makes YOU special. Don’t waste them.

#3: Trying for theme is important, but you won’t see what the story is actually about til you’re at the end of it. Now rewrite.

The keys to good writing are: 1) shitty first drafts and 2) painstaking, ruthless, repeated editing. If you like the way I sound, you like Nathan the editor, not Nathan the writer. Nathan the writer gets drunk and puts everything on the page. Nathan the editor also gets drunk, don’t get me wrong. But Nathan the editor then reviews and rewrites every single word three, five, or ten times until it finally satisfies the Imperial Stormtrooper Nazi Lawyer in his head. If you want to be a good writer, you need to become a ruthless editor. Have a glass of wine and crank out the world’s shittiest first draft of your personal statement. Once that’s done, you can begin the real work of editing.

#4: Once upon a time there was ___. Every day, ___. One day ___. Because of that, ___. Because of that, ___. Until finally ___.

Some of the worst personal statements I have ever seen start in the present, then go back to high school, then jump forward to a work experience, then jump back to college. Don’t do this unless you know you can pull it off. (If you have any doubts, you probably can’t.) Blow my mind, by all means! But please don’t blow UP my mind with verb tense shifts every other sentence. For most law schools you only have two pages on the personal statement, and two pages isn’t quite enough time to go all Christopher Nolan. Start at the beginning, that’s an awful good place to start. Tell me what happened next, and tell me what happened because of that, and tell me what happened in the end. There’s nothing wrong with a chronological story. You might think it’s boring, but at least your reader can understand the damn thing.

#5: Simplify. Focus. Combine characters. Hop over detours. You’ll feel like you’re losing valuable stuff but it sets you free.

Tell me one story. In two pages you can’t tell me a meaningful story about something that happened in high school, and another story about college, and another story about your work experience. Write 10 pages in your shitty first draft by all means, but then pick the best story and kill everything else. It’s not wasted work; you won’t find the one diamond unless you mine, then burn, a dozen lumps of coal. Write more than you need, and pare back from there.

#6: What is your character good at, comfortable with? Throw the polar opposite at them. Challenge them. How do they deal?

This goes hand-in-hand with point #1. If you’re afraid of public speaking, we want to hear what happened when you were forced to make a speech in front of your entire high school. If you’re afraid of heights, we want to know about the time your girlfriend surprised you on your birthday with a skydive. Tell me about situations where you were not comfortable. That’s a story.

#7: Come up with your ending before you figure out your middle. Seriously. Endings are hard, get yours working up front.

Why are YOU a good candidate for LAW SCHOOL ? This is the last sentence of your personal statement, and this is where you should start when you’re brainstorming. Figure out why you are the right guy or girl, and why law, among the infinite careers that someone like you could pursue, is the right fit for you. Answer this question first, then engineer your story to hammer this point home.

Thanks, Nathan! Looking forward to reading Part 2 and Part 3.

— – —

Nathan Fox is the owner and sole LSAT instructor at Fox LSAT. He is the author of five top-rated LSAT books. He offers an online LSAT class, a live LSAT class in San Francisco, and private LSAT tutoring in person and via Skype.

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Learn more about Fox LSAT in Nathan’s interview: LSAT Prep Options: Fox LSAT

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Comments

  1. Bryanna Rainwater says:

    Thank you, Nathan! Big fan of the pod, I’m taking an LSAT class with Ben right now, but I’m trying to get my mind around the Personal Statement aspect ahead of time. Thank you for the sound advice.

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