Law school admissions officers read hundreds of personal statements every year; one of the most important things you can do to improve your chances of getting into your dream school is to make sure that your essay makes a great first impression. Most law schools will provide you with a general question and a page or word limit; exact requirements will vary from one school to the next, so it’s important that you take the time to confirm exactly what your limits are for the essay. The application itself or the program’s website should tell you what to do, but it’s never a bad idea to confirm with the admissions office via phone or email.
There are four steps to the process of creating a great personal statement, and we’re going to look at the first two of them here.
Take some time to think about what makes you special. Law schools look for diversity, and that doesn’t just mean ethnic or gender diversity; they want to find an interesting blend of people with unique backgrounds and experiences. If you’re diverse in one of the traditional ways—usually, this means that you’re from a race or ethnicity that is underrepresented in the student body—then you can absolutely discuss that in your application. But you can look for other ways that you would increase the diversity of the student body as well. Are you an athlete, a musician, or an entrepreneur? Have you participated in meaningful volunteer work, overcome a significant challenge like a serious chronic illness, climbed a mountain, or written a novel? None of these things are necessary to the law school admissions process, but they definitely help make an application essay more interesting.
There are many things that you can and should use in your personal statement to present yourself as an interesting, well-rounded person who will not only benefit from a legal education but who will also make the law school a better place in some way. This is your chance to think about what those things might be, and jot them down. Don’t be afraid to think outside the box here, and don’t dismiss any ideas at this stage; just get them down on paper, and deal with them in more detail in Step 2.
Look at the ideas you’ve brainstormed, and pick a few to feature in your essay. You ideally want to create a “brand” that can be summarized in a few words and will be memorable to the admissions committee. Don’t make the mistake of devoting most of your essay to explaining what kind of law you want to practice; frankly, so many people end up practicing in an entirely different area than the one that originally draws them to law school that admissions officers don’t take this too seriously unless it’s backed up by some kind of supporting evidence. Writing about how you want to be a prosecutor because you love Law & Order won’t win you any points; writing about how you want to be a prosecutor because of your experiences interning at a rape crisis hotline and a battered women’s shelter probably will, because that reveals something interesting about you as an individual.
You want to introduce the admissions committee to what makes you unique, then weave your “brand” throughout the rest of the essay as you explain what has drawn you to law school and how you imagine using your law degree someday. At this stage, you should pick a few of your key attributes and experiences, and try to relate them to the legal education you’re seeking. If there’s something specific about the law school that directly relates to your background, that’s even better; for example, if you want to be a legal advocate for children and the school has a great family law clinical program, talk about why that interests you, backing it up with specific details about yourself. Remember that legal professionals place a high value on organization—a good brief is one that is clearly organized and easy to follow—and since at least some of the people reading and evaluating your essay are legally trained, creating a good outline is crucial; you’ll rely on it in Step 3, which we’ll discuss in Part 2 of this article.