The personal statement – that famous, infamous even, stress-inducing 500-750 words. What separates you from the law school of your dreams. Pages of scribbled down notes and back of the napkin insights into who you really are. Here are a few pieces of advice to help get you through it.
1. It’s not the college essay.
With law school admissions, the LSAT and your undergraduate GPA are the most important elements of the admissions process. Your primary time and financial investment should be in these two pieces. That is not to say that the personal statement is not important, or that it can’t set you apart. It is saying, though, that it is not as important as the LSAT and GPA components.
I like to think of law school and college admissions as sort of flipped. On the ACT or SAT, a small score boost isn’t really what pushes people over the finish line at the top colleges. How different is a 33 and a 34, really? Or a 1450 and 1490. It’s the other stuff that gets you in – the essay, the extracurriculars, the letters. This is where someone can really shine. Alternatively, with law school admissions, small numbers differences matter. A 171 really is better than a 170. The personal statement and extra-curriculars are more of a threshold, save truly exceptional ones.
Additionally, we are taught to write college essays using very flowery language. Tell the admissions committee who you really are (in 500 words or less). Show them the inside of your soul. The law school essay tone is different – it needs to be about why you are pursuing a very specific, expensive professional education putting you on a clear career path. If it gives them a peek into your soul, that’s just a bonus.
2. The three questions
The personal statement needs to answer three questions. It is less important how they are answered than the fact that each is fully and completely addressed.
- Why is law school the missing puzzle piece of your life? How does it complete you?
- What makes you stand out from all of the other applicants?
- Why is this law school the place for me?
As an example of what I mean, I get a lot of students who say things like, “I want to end the Syrian refugee crisis,” or “I want to start a business,” so I’m going to law school. These goals beg a set of questions – okay, why law? Why not public policy? Why not the civil service? Why not business school? A better answer is, “I want to end the Syrian refugee crisis. I believe international law, given its institutionalization, global reach, and customary flexibility, is the best route for doing so. I hope to either be an international prosecutor with the ICC, or work as a State Department human rights attorney on the Middle East desk.” And, then the essay explores these themes. The business narrative should read something more like, “Business school may teach leadership skills, but law school is fundamental to understanding the regulatory frameworks underlying successful businesses. To be an actual leader – a creator – of a new organization, one has to be expert in the numerous legal areas that both enable and constrict business development. That is why I am pursuing legal study.”
This essay format can really set you apart – you want the admissions committee to walk away from your essay and think: this kid has to go to law school, this law school in fact, and I have a clear vision of the type of lawyer she will be, the contribution she will make to the world, and what she will bring to our campus community.
Furthermore, law schools love to see academic prowess. The more you can frame your interests in the form of puzzling legal quandaries, or academic research questions, the better. I always like the “I’m coming to law school to wrestle with XX big question” format. While law schools are professional schools, they also do important research, and want their students to contribute to that. More academic essays suggest analytic skill, which is precisely what law schools are after.
3. Edit, edit, edit. Then, put it to bed.
Edit it until it feels done. Show it to a maximum of three people you trust, including your CC coach (too many cooks in the kitchen just causes stress). When you feel it can’t get any better, hit the send key. Don’t ever submit an essay you believe you can make better, even if it means pushing back your submission date.
This post is part of a series on law school admissions. You can read Jimmy's previous blog posts here and here.
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Whether you’re just beginning on this race, or whether you just need a final push to get you over the finish line, your tutor will design a customized road map that will take you through every aspect of the application process, covering LSAT preparation, recommendations, the personal statement, addenda, and anything else that you need. Applicants who follow our structured approach find that they are less stressed out and more successful.
Applying to law school in the near future? Here are some other informative and helpful posts on the process below!