(1) Pay Attention to Each School’s Prompt
Hopefully, for most applicants, this is a no-brainer. The prompt for each school is first available in August/September when law schools release that year’s application. The prompts typically don’t change much year to year, so you can get a head start by looking at the previous year’s application. For many/most applicants, the prompts are similar enough that the same personal statement template can be used with minor adjustments for each school (see Tip #2 on personalization). For some applicants, however, the prompts are different enough that you should write multiple personal statements. Be sure that the personal statement you use for a school does in fact respond to the prompt for that school. The ability to follow directions is a necessity for law school applicants.
(2) Personalize Your Statement
Most law schools want to see that you have put time and effort into researching why that school is a good fit for you. One of the ways you can demonstrate your due diligence is to include a paragraph (typically at the close of your personal statement) outlining several specific factors that have drawn you to that law school. Be specific. Important considerations to note: (a) Vague statements asserting that a law school is a good fit for you without any supporting evidence or information are useless, so do your research and work on articulating the reasons for your interest in each school. (b) You can review a school’s website to determine what you like about that school, but don’t just regurgitate information from the website. They want to know why that information is relevant to your interests and/or goals. (c) Top-ranked schools (typically, top 5 or so) pretty much know why you would like to attend, so personalization is less important unless there is something that truly differentiates that school from others to you. (d) Some schools have a separate “optional” essay allowing you to discuss why you want to attend that school. If that is the case for one of your schools, write the separate essay, and omit the personalized paragraph from your personal statement. (e) Be sure to submit the correct versions to each school. Save the school’s name in the title to help minimize any potential for error.
(3) Be Personable
As you now know, one of your goals as an applicant is to let admissions committees get to know you. It is just as important that they like you. Admissions committees are in no rush to admit applicants who are arrogant, pretentious, elitist, or rude. So the tone you use in your personal statement is important. Don’t assume that you need to use a formal tone just because you think lawyers write very formally. By using a formal tone, you are actually building a wall between yourself and the admissions committee—the opposite of what you should be doing. Aim for a more conversational (but not casual) tone so that the statement flows easily for the reader. Further, forget the big words that you think make you sound smart. They actually risk making you sound arrogant, pretentious, or even unintelligent (if used improperly). Strong writing conveys intelligence without the need for big words.
(4) Tell a Story
Another easy way to be both personal and personable in your personal statement is to start off with an anecdote about yourself that sets up the framework for the rest of the statement. For example, if you are highlighting certain characteristics in your statement, tell an anecdote that demonstrates those characteristics. If you are discussing a defining moment in your life, describe a scene from that experience. A well-told anecdote can immediately capture readers’ attention and draw them into your world. Even if you don’t include an anecdote in the statement, the topic that you choose should, in a sense, “tell a story” about you in a way that captures and keeps the reader’s attention.
(5) Be Concise
Some schools set no limit for personal statements, but most suggest either 2–3 or 2–4 pages. Aim for two pages, double-spaced. Do not make the error of thinking that more is better. Law schools value the ability to persuasively convey information in a relatively short space. Also, keep in mind that admissions committees are reviewing thousands of applications. Don’t waste their time.
1. DON’T just restate your résumé in narrative form. That shows no critical thinking ability. If you are going to talk about more than one achievement or experience mentioned on your résumé, then connect the dots. Find a common theme that ties those items together.
2. DON’T address your weaknesses in the personal statement. Use an addendum.The personal statement should highlight the positives about you.
3. DON’T focus on your high school activities or accomplishments. Focusing on achievements in high school can draw attention to a lack of similar achievements in college.
4. DON’T be overly dramatic. Understatement is better.
5. DON’T spend too much time talking about someone or something else. Always bring the focus back to you.
6. DON’T start your statement with a famous quotation, no matter how well you think it might fit with the theme of your personal statement. Admissions committees want to hear your words, not those of someone else.
7. DON’T use legalese or Latin phrases.
8. DON’T be careless. Be sure not to accidentally mention the wrong school in your statement.
9. DON’T use big words in an effort to impress the admissions committees. It sets the wrong tone for the statement.
10. DON’T write a position paper or opinion piece. Even written well, those types of writings are not particularly useful to admissions committees because they miss the point of the personal statement.
Your grades and LSAT score are the most important part of your application to law school. But you shouldn't neglect the personal statement. Your essay is a valuable opportunity to distinguish yourself from other applicants, especially those with similar scores.
You want to present yourself as intelligent, professional, mature and persuasive. These are the qualities that make a good lawyer, so they're the qualities that law schools seek in applicants. Talking about your unique background and experiences will help you stand out from the crowd. But don't get too creative. The personal statement is not the time to discuss what your trip to Europe meant to you, describe your affinity for anime, or try your hand at verse.
Best practices for your personal statement
1. Be specific to each school
You'll probably need to write only one basic personal statement, but you should tweak it for each law school to which you apply. There are usually some subtle differences in what each school asks for in a personal statement.
2. Good writing is writing that is easily understood
Good law students—and good lawyers—use clear, direct prose. Remove extraneous words and make sure that your points are clear. Don't make admissions officers struggle to figure out what you are trying to say.
3. Get plenty of feedback
The more time you've spent writing your statement, the less likely you are to spot any errors. You should ask for feedback from professors, friends, parents and anyone else whose judgment and writing skills you trust. This will help ensure that your statement is clear, concise, candid, structurally sound and grammatically accurate.
4. Find your unique angle
Who are you? What makes you unique? Sometimes, applicants answer this question in a superficial way. It's not enough to tell the admissions committee that you're an Asian–American from Missouri. You need to give them a deeper sense of yourself. And there's usually no need to mention awards or honors you've won. That's what the law school application or your resume is for.
Use your essay to explain how your upbringing, your education, and your personal and professional experiences have influenced you and led you to apply to law school. Give the admissions officers genuine insight into who you are. Don't use cliches or platitudes. The more personal and specific your personal statement is, the better received it will be.
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