22 Rules of Writing Your Law School Personal Statement — Part 3

nfox 300Nathan Fox, founder of Fox LSAT, finishes up his 3-part series on writing the law school personal essay. If you missed Part 1 and Part 2, make sure to give them a read.

Welcome back, Nathan!


#15: If you were your character, in this situation, how would you feel? Honesty lends credibility to unbelievable situations.

You don’t have to get fictional here. How do you feel? This is a personal statement. Don’t be afraid to be personal. This might be the last chance you get to write this way. Let it all hang out.

#16: What are the stakes? Give us reason to root for the character. What happens if they don’t succeed? Stack the odds against.

Everybody loves an underdog. As you consider topics for your personal statement, remember that we what we want, more than anything, is a story. Imagine this: “Everything has always gone well for me, I’m super happy and well adjusted, I’ve studied ABC and achieved XYZ, please admit me to your law school.” Ugh, that is not a story. Instead of pretending everything was rosy, tell me a story about something you struggled with and then eventually conquered. Or tell me about your biggest failure and what you learned from it. Or tell me about your most embarrassing moment, and how it changed you. I’m not asking for a sob story, but I am definitely asking for a story. Start with something hard, and let me root you through to a successful finish. If you can do that, I’ll be on your side without even realizing it.

#17: No work is ever wasted. If it’s not working, let go and move on – it’ll come back around to be useful later.

When you’re working on your shitty first draft, give yourself permission to make it extra shitty. Don’t delete anything. If you find something that doesn’t seem like it’s working, don’t delete it and start over. Instead, cut and paste the clunky part down to the bottom of the page. Don’t judge yourself, and definitely don’t stop. Keep cranking out the raw materials. Later, in editor mode, you’ll process these half-baked thoughts and incomplete sentences into useful paragraphs. It’s like a biofuel refinery: you start with manure, but you end up with electricity.

#18: You have to know yourself: the difference between doing your best & fussing. Story is testing, not refining.

Once again: Write a shitty first draft. Don’t worry about perfect sentences, perfect paragraphs, or even a cohesive narrative. Just get something on the paper. Write four pages without stopping or editing. Once you’re done, then you can start getting critical. Get drunk while you’re writing the first draft. I’m serious.

#19: Coincidences to get characters into trouble are great; coincidences to get them out of it are cheating.

Stories frequently involve accidents; a car accident or a hurricane or a missed flight can be a great place to start your story. Just make sure you have to work your way out of trouble, rather than having some other random circumstance rescue you. You got T-boned at an intersection, broke your neck, and had to work your way through two years of physical therapy? That’s a story that paints you in a nice light; your reader will know you have stamina, fortitude, etcetera without you ever using the word “stamina” or “fortitude.” You missed your flight, but Richard Branson happened to be walking by and let you ride on his private spaceship? That does nothing for you. “Lucky” is not what you’re going for.

#20: Exercise: take the building blocks of a movie you dislike. How do you rearrange them into what you DO like?

I hated Gone Girl because it starred Ben Affleck, and Ben Affleck is a terrible actor. If we instead took Ben Affleck and threw him into an active volcano, that’s a reality show I’d like to TiVo. What’s this have to do with personal statements? Absolutely nothing. Sorry.

#21: You gotta identify with your situation/characters, can’t just write ‘cool’.

Happy Days didn’t TELL you how cool Arthur Fonzarelli was. Instead, they SHOWED you the Fonz, leaning up against the wall in his leather jacket, rapping the jukebox with his fist to make it play. They SHOWED a flock of hot chicks appearing every time the Fonz snapped his fingers. They SHOWED him look in the mirror, reach for his comb, then put the comb away because the hair was already perfect. Nobody needed to utter the word “cool”; you could tell just by watching him.

Similarly, please omit all the adjectives and adverbs from your personal statement, and replace them with nouns and active verbs. If you tell me you’re “diligent,” I will think you’re full of shit. If you show me a real story from your life, where you’re doing things that SHOW you being diligent, then and only then will I believe you. Let me reach my own conclusion though. I’m very resistant to bullshit. Adjectives and adverbs are generally bullshit.

#22: What’s the essence of your story? Most economical telling of it? If you know that, you can build out from there.

I can’t stress this enough. Your personal statement needs to focus on 1) Why YOU, and 2) Why LAW SCHOOL. Start with two sentences: I’m a good candidate because _________________. I’m a good fit for law school, particularly, because _______________. That’s the essence, and finishing point, of your law school personal statement. Start there.

Thanks, Nathan! Great series!

And don’t forget to check out the rest of the series:

22 Rules to Writing Your Personal Statement 

22 Rules to Writing Your Personal Statement Part 2

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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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