Craft a Law School Application That Gets You In: Perfect Your Personal Statement

The Big Picture

HandprintYour law school application must answer three questions:

The personal statement is your best chance to convince the admissions committee that you’re a solid applicant with a clear plan for your legal career. If it fails to do this, you’ve missed an opportunity, in a big way.

The Mechanics

For now, let’s assume you’ve answered the big three satisfactorily. What else is there to think about?

Follow the Directions

First and foremost, follow the directions.

If the application asks a specific question, answer it. Sure, it’s a pain to adapt your standard essay to the question you’ve been asked to respond to, but deal with it. Don’t send in a generic personal statement, answering the question you wish you’d been asked.

Similarly, if there’s a page, word, or character limit, abide by it. This isn’t the time to get cute and sneak in a few extra sentences (and it’s good practice for filing court documents, which come with strict length limits). Be sure you understand the directions, and follow them.

Consider What Each School Wants

Consider crafting different essays for different schools. Each school has its own personality, so you can improve your chances of admission by portraying yourself as their ideal candidate. Obviously you don’t want to lie, but even subtle shifts in which aspects of your background and goals you decide to discuss can make a big difference.

A personal statement that focuses heavily on your experience with a controversial environmental group might play better at Vermont Law, for example, than it would at a school that primarily produces corporate attorneys. Consider your audience!

Tell A Story

Opening with an anecdote is a great way to draw the reader into your essay, and convince them you’re someone they’d like to spend time with. This can be a little tricky, as you have to be sure your story is interesting, relevant, and non-cliché, but it’s worth the effort to stand out in a crowd of applicants spouting platitudes about justice.

Your story could be set in the past (what motivated you to apply to law school?) or the future (a snapshot of yourself post-graduation) but it should be, and seem, authentic. If you’re not convinced you’ve pulled it off, ask for help. But be sure you ask someone who’s willing to be honest and tell you if your story is boring and needs work.

A friend who’s willing to give constructive feedback is a valuable commodity! Keep this person around.

Look for Blemishes on Your Perfect Personal Statement

As with the résumé, your personal statement needs to be technically perfect. Getting to this point will require multiple rewrites, so DO NOT leave this until the last minute. Procrastination is inevitable, but your essay will be a lot better if you have time to get feedback and rewrite (repeatedly).

As a final check, read the essay out loud to see if it rolls off the tongue. If not, you’re probably using convoluted language that could be streamlined.

Simplify!

How to Craft a Law School Application That Gets You In

Find out how to make every component of your law school application the best it can be:

Return to Applying to Law School 101.

Have questions about your law school personal statement? Leave them in the comments!

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Comments

  1. Kenya Dawkins says

    What do you do if your pre-law advisor doesn’t really advise? For example, he doesn’t help with your personal statement or even review it for you. What aother avenues are there?

    • That’s a pretty common situation, unfortunately! Luckily, there are a number of online resources that might be able to help, and you can reach out to people you know and trust, as well.

      For example, to get a sense of your chances, sites like http://www.lawschoolnumbers.com/ can help, as can various law school predictors. For obsessively discussing your chances, check out http://www.top-law-schools.com/. Some of these sites are more helpful than others, but you’ll find no shortage of opinions!

      As for the essay itself, think about other people who have good judgment and know something about law school admissions. Is there a professor you know and like who might be willing to help? Any lawyers in the family or among your friends? You have to be a little careful here, because people might not really understand what schools are looking for, but if you choose carefully, and solicit multiple opinions, you should be able to craft a successful personal statement without help from your pre-law advisor.

      Finally, there’s always the option to go the commercial route, and hire someone to help you. Options range from a full consulting package, to essay edits and advice. Not feasible for every applicant, of course, but it can be very helpful for some.

      Best of luck!

      (Oh, and check out the Yale Law Admissions blog. Highly useful and entertaining, even if you’re not applying there.)

  2. Kateri Ciccaglione says

    In thinking about what my personal statement will contain, I’m worried that because many different aspects of law interest me, this will come across as vague in my essay. For example, I could see myself working as a corporate attorney, but I am more interested in human rights and international law. Additionally, I think combining the two, however and working in international business law would also be an interesting field. My interests are varied but overall I have a desire to attend law school because all of my academic interests are centered around the legal world. I hope to explore my academic interests in law school and eventually develop my career from the aspects of the legal field that I find the most interesting. What is the best way to convey a somewhat specific but at the same time somewhat general interest in what law school has to offer? I want to be taken seriously as an applicant, but feel as though nailing down a career path is something I cannot do at this time because I want to enter law school with an open mind. Obviously I have particular interests, but as I said before I feel like they’re not specific enough to say “this is exactly what I want to do with my legal degree.” Any advice? Thanks!

    • My advice is to pick one, and go with it! (Preferably, you’d pick the option that makes the most sense with your background, since that’s easiest to support.)

      No one is going to hold you to your personal statement when it’s time to get a job. You just need to show a reasonable interest in something you’ve thought about and researched. And it’s fine to hedge a bit, if it makes you feel better (“At this point, I’m considering…”).

      Best of luck!

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