The Ultimate Guide to Writing a Law School Personal Statement

The Ultimate Guide to Writing a Law School Personal Statement

Want to write an incredible law school personal statement?  Of course you do. But like most things, the task is easier said than done. That’s why I created the Ultimate Guide to Writing a Law School Personal Statement. If you’re just getting started, I recommend reading the whole guide.

What Is a Law School Personal Statement?

A law school personal statement is an application essay that is required as part of your admissions packet, along with your undergraduate transcript, LSAT score, resume, and letters of recommendation. Most schools do not require you to respond to a specific prompt. Instead, you’re given the discretion to write about whatever you want. A personal statement is  similar to a cover letter when you apply for a job. Here’s how some law schools describe the function of the personal statement:

Harvard Law School

The personal statement is intended as an opportunity to give the Admissions Committee a better sense of who you are as a person and as a potential student and graduate of Harvard Law School.

http://hls.harvard.edu/dept/jdadmissions/apply-to-harvard-law-school/the-application-process/application-components/

Notre Dame Law School

The Admissions Committee gives considerable emphasis in its evaluation to the personal statement. The statement should provide the Admissions Committee with insights about the applicant and the applicant’s interest in pursuing a legal education. Applicants often use the personal statement to provide further insight into their personality, background, personal interests, or matters that are not fully present in other parts of the application.

http://law.nd.edu/admissions/information/juris-doctor-application-instructions/

Loyola Law School Los Angeles

A personal statement is required and assists the Admissions Committee in selecting a highly-qualified and diverse entering class. It is also used to assess each applicant’s written English skills. The personal statement provides each applicant with the opportunity to describe his or her interest in law school, the uniqueness of his or her character and experience, and his or her potential to contribute to Loyola’s community.

http://www.lls.edu/admissionsaid/degreeprograms/jdprograms/apply/jdprogram/#PersonalStatement

These three descriptions provide a good representation of what we are after here.  That is, your law school personal statement should convey a) why you want to go to law school and/or b) how you would contribute to the diversity of the law school. (This is broader than racial diversity.  It also includes  diversity of background, experience, and worldview.) Your essay should also convey that you are a strong writer (i.e., above-average writing skills) and are persuasive, which is a critical skill for lawyers.

How Long Should a Law School Personal Statement Be?

The short answer is two double-spaced pages, which will be about 500 to 600 words. The vast majority of schools ask for an application essay of this length.

However, you MUST be absolutely sure that your essay complies with a particular school’s requirements. For example, Harvard wants a minimum of 11-point font, 1-inch margins, and double spacing. Berkeley Law allows up to four doubled-spaced pages. By contrast, Duke and Georgetown do not impose any length requirements.

Failing to comply with the relevant requirements is a great way to get dinged. Remember, being a lawyer entails knowing and following the rules. Your failure to do so speaks volumes about your fitness for law school.

Should I Write Two Personal Statements?

Given that different law schools allow for personal statements of different lengths, many applicants wonder if they should write two different essays, two versions of the same essay (one long, one short), or just submit the same two-page essay.

Here’s my advice:

If you’re an extremely well-qualified application for a particular school, which means both undergraduate GPA and LSAT score above the 75th percentile for the previous year’s class, then you’re probably okay submitting the same essay to all schools. Law schools care deeply about the quality of their incoming class so your excellent scores should be enough to overcome whatever detrimental effect the short essay causes, if any.

If your scores aren’t both above the 75th percentile, then you really should take advantage of the extra opportunity to showcase yourself. To do so, you should expand your two-page essay. Writing a separate, completely different essay doesn’t make sense. Necessarily, one topic will be better than the other. You shouldn’t submit anything that isn’t your best work.

3 Tips for Expanding a Two-Page Essay

Add an extra point or two to each argument you make. For example, if your two-page essay is structured around two reasons why you want to go law school, try to add a third point.

Flesh out each of the points you make with vivid detail. Suppose your essay is a narrative on a formative experience from your childhood. To add length, you can add more details to that experience.

Don’t just add fluff to fill out the extra space. In a well-written essay, every word justifies its existence on the page. The extra length doesn’t change that rule. Taking a well-crafted two-page essay and adding a page and half of fluff will turn it into a hunk of junk.

What’s the Format for a Law School Personal Statement?

Most effective law school personal statements will take the format of a narrative essay. Narrative essays allow authors to creatively express themselves by sharing experiences and anecdotes. You can think of it as telling a story. For most essays, the story will be told from the view point of the author. It is a personal statement after all.

It’s important to remember, however, that effective narrative essays have a clear purpose. This is akin to a thesis for an argumentative essay. Your purpose doesn’t necessarily need to be laid out explicitly. For example, a narrative essay could effectively convey that the author is hardworking and resilient without saying explicitly saying “I am hardworking and resilient”. In fact, stating your purpose explicitly often is a sign of an undeveloped writer.

What are Some Topics and Prompts for Law School Personal Statements?/
Most law schools do not require applicants to address a specific topic or respond to a particular prompt. This freedom is great because applicants can write about whatever they want. The flip side is that many applicants have no idea where to start. Below are some common prompts to get you thinking and topics you should stay away from.
Keep in mind that the prompts are just a starting point. A personal statement can respond to one of these prompts and still fall flat.

Common Personal Statement Prompts

  • What drives you?
  • Describe an experience that has shaped you.
  • Describe an obstacleor challenge you have overcome.
  • Describe the growth you’ve experience during college.
  • What makes you unique?
  • Why do you want to go to law school?
  • Describe your greatest attribute.

Topics to Stay Away From

Anything From High School

It’s not very impressive if the most interesting/compelling thing about you occurred in high school. The are some exceptions. For instance, if you went through something incredibly traumatic or experienced a formative event that shapes your life to this day, those may make good personal statement topics. Tearing your ACL before senior year or getting an “F” in speech class are lame topics for a law school admissions essay.

Anything Cliché

This includes witnessing an injustice and wanting to fix it, banal study-abroad-related topics, and save-the-world stuff. Again, the exceptions apply to those who are living and breathing these sorts of things. If you’ve spent 4 hours a week for the past ten years volunteering at a women’s health clinic, then that’s something worth writing about.

My 2 Tips

  • Be Authentic. There are over 50,000 applicants to law school each year. Trying to be “unique” will only lead you to come across as cliché. So just be yourself.
  • Proofread. Proofread. Your essay should be perfect, as in zero typos and misspellings. The best way to accomplish this is to finish your essay, wait a day, and then read it out loud while standing up. Waiting a day will refresh your mind and allow you to read the words that are actually on the page, not the ones you think should be on the page.

Samples and Examples

There are a handful of books out there that contain examples of law school personal statements. I don’t think you should look at these. Believe me, I understand the urge. But you should be focusing on your essay. Reading other essays may lead you to, consciously or subconsciously, mimic someone else’s work. Since these essays are all in the public domain, there’s a good chance the admissions staff have read them, or knock-off versions of them.