So you’ve been rocking your GPA and doing your best in your coursework. You’ve also prepped as much as possible and knocked the LSAT out of the park (awesome!).
As we know from my previous blog post, the LSAT and GPA are the two most crucial components of your application.
Want to know the third? Yep, you guessed it: the personal statement. Let’s dive into why the personal statement is so important in the law school application process.
Your GPA and LSAT score are just numbers. Important numbers, but numbers just the same. However, the personal statement is a different story. This is your opportunity to express yourself to the admissions committee about who you are and why you want to go to law school.
The personal statement could make or break your application because it is your chance to tell your own personal journey to applying to law school. It’s also your ability to showcase your writing skills.
Having strong communication skills will not only help you succeed in law school, but as a lawyer as well. Think of your personal statement as a case for yourself and the admissions committee as your judge.
Law schools, unlike medical schools, typically do not conduct interviews, so that’s why there is such a strong weight put on your personal statement. It’s an opportunity for the admissions committee to get to know you personally outside of your numbers, determine whether you’d be a great fit for their incoming class, and understand the experiences that have led you to apply to law school.
It’s also an opportunity to convey how obtaining a law degree is the next logical step in your career path. It should reflect on your past, present, and future while also highlighting your strengths and the qualities that you have to be a successful lawyer.
The hardest step is the first step, where you actually begin to write your personal statement. Yes, it can be completely overwhelming (I get it!). I don’t suggest sitting down with a goal of completing a draft on your first go-around. Your initial goal should be to brainstorm topics or ideas to possibly incorporate into your statement.
How do you do that? Good question. I’ve listed some questions below that may help you in your brainstorming process.
Take a half hour to reflect on these questions and write about whatever comes to your mind (don’t worry about grammar, complete sentences, or punctuation):
Once you’ve taken the time to brainstorm, you should start thinking about your outline and which anecdotes create the best storyline.
Remember, your personal statement is typically only two pages, double spaced, so you don’t have a lot of space to convey your journey (always check the requirements for each school you’re applying to). That’s why it’s helpful to take this process slow and produce numerous drafts.
Remember, law school admissions committees review thousands of applications every cycle. Your first thought should be how are you going to draw the reader in without starting with a quote from your favorite poet (I don’t recommend that).
The story that you choose should just be a small component of the statement. The rest should reflect on how that story changed you, how it shaped you into the person you are today, and eventually, how that story has led you to applying to law school.
Your body paragraphs should be focused and lead the reader into the bulk of your essay from your intro paragraph. Each paragraph should be relevant and contribute/support your main idea on what you want to convey to the reader.
Remember the brainstorming exercises I mentioned above? Those will help you determine your angle for your statement and what makes you memorable. The committee wants to find out something about you beyond your resume, so the body paragraphs should identify something genuine and unique about your personality.
As you write, remember to show, don't tell throughout your story. As you’re writing examples, focus on describing the situation and illustrating what you want the reader to learn about you in the end.
Your reader is most likely reading thousands of essays throughout the application cycle and probably reading them fairly quickly. Your intro should draw the reader in, and your concluding paragraph should leave the reader with a clear sense on why you’re applying to law school. It should also bring the statement full circle.
You want to leave the reader with a definitive understanding of your character and aspirations in law. It’s often difficult not to leave the reader with a cliche like “and that’s why I want to be a lawyer.” Let the writing come to you, and don’t try to force a concluding paragraph because that’s where most writers get tripped up.
Are you able to find the flow within your writing? Do you get a clear sense of your personality? Do you sound genuine?
You will also notice wording issues or small typos while reading it out loud. You want to avoid as many grammatical and spelling errors as possible.
Have other people read through your statement in order to give you feedback on what is good and what needs to be improved. These people should be advisors, friends, or family members. You don’t want to have 20 people review it, as that may get confusing, but select 3 or 4 people you trust to give you constructive feedback.
The two questions you should ask them while they’re reviewing the statement are:
1. Do you gain a good sense of who I am throughout the statement?
2. Do you understand why I want to go to law school after reading the statement?
Once you’ve received feedback, you may have to do a major rehaul of the statement. Remember to keep all of your drafts, since you may change something in one draft but ultimately return to that wording later on.
Writing your personal statement for law school is going to take time. Don’t expect to finish it over a weekend and be ready to press submit. This is going to be a long process, so start early!
Once you receive the feedback and complete your rewrites, take a step back from the statement for a couple of days. You will have a fresh perspective on the statement once you revisit it.
No. I’ve been to plenty of conferences as a pre-law advisor, and that is the number one mistake applicants make. “And this is why I am applying to Boston University School of Law…” when in actuality you just submitted your application to NYU.
Once you realize your mistake after you already submitted, there is nothing you can do about it. Omit the risk of making a mistake like this and don’t mention school names in your personal statement. It only adds to the stress of submitting your applications in a timely manner.
Typically, law school statements are around two pages, double spaced. However, be sure to read the directions carefully for each school that you are applying to. Some schools allow the statement to be longer or require a word count.
Also, each school’s prompt for the personal statement differs from school to school. Make sure that you’re answering the prompt correctly. This does not mean that you will need to write eight different statements, but you may need to tweak your writing a bit for each school.
This is ultimately up to you (and you may wish to receive advice from an advisor). If you know full well that you’re going to law school because you strictly want to be an environmental lawyer, then it might be a good idea to focus your personal statement (or at least a small part of it) around your career goals.
However, if you’re unsure about your career goals after law school, that’s okay too. You will focus your three years in law school on trying to figure this out through summer internships, externships, law clinics, and coursework.
Another tip is that some schools may ask for an optional essay in order for you to address specific program interests. This would save you room in your personal statement to discuss other things about your experiences and your personality.
The personal statement is not the place to address any weaknesses within your application. You don’t want to draw extra attention to any weaknesses in your personal statement, only strengths.
Most schools offer an optional addendum for you to address any academic weaknesses, disciplinary sanctions, or a low LSAT score. This is another question to bring to an advisor if you’re unsure.
Have questions about how to write your law school personal statement in your admissions essays?
Feel free to email me at firstname.lastname@example.org, and I’ll respond to you personally as soon as I can.
If you want to discuss pre-law further, feel free to schedule your FREE introductory appointment with me, Stephanie.