As if applying to law school weren't hair-raising enough - between the timed torture of the LSAT, the rounds of begging for glowing letters of recommendation from the few lawyers you know, and the frantic search for funds - now you learn you must write a personal statement to accompany your application.
Your personal statement will accompany your application materials and will serve several potential purposes. First, it will help to set you apart from your competition for those coveted few spots. It can also assist you in explaining any little lapses in judgment that might appear in your record - an unfortunate premature experience with the judicial system of the misdemeanor kind, for instance, or a weak semester of grades due to an intense social schedule - and assuring the admissions personnel reviewing the materials that you have, indeed learned your lesson. Finally, it will help form your ultimate alma mater's first impressions of you, the future lawyer. Here are some ways to make that statement shine:
- Take some time in the beginning of your preparations to organize your thoughts and form an outline for your statement. Treat it as you would any school writing assignment, and give it some structure.
- Don't give in to the temptation to tell your life story. Eschew such trite openings as "I was born in ..." or "My parents were ..." in favor of a genuine thesis which you will develop over the course of 3 to 5 paragraphs.
- Think about where you are in life - a recent or soon-to-be college graduate, someone who's been out of school for a few years, or an adult who has decided to pursue a second career in mid-life or later. Use your circumstances to demonstrate in your statement what makes you a compelling candidate for one of those coveted seats in first-year Torts.
- Regardless of what approach and thesis you select for your statement, you will want to consider including statements on why you want to go to law school in general and to this law school in particular. Also consider focusing on what unique assets you bring to the law school's community, and why you and this particular school are a good fit for each other.
- If you are attempting to explain poor scores on the LSAT or a weak undergraduate GPA, don't make excuses. Be honest in your self-assessment, but demonstrate the ways in which you've grown and changed since then, and find concrete examples to show how your commitment level and willingness to work hard has improved.
- Look at your application materials as a whole, and seek to use your personal statement as a gap-filler to disclose that which isn't immediately apparent elsewhere. Don't use your essay as a summary of a resume that you've already included.
- Use humor cautiously. Like pungent spice, a little goes a long way in a law school statement.
- Avoid clichés about "participating in the legal process fully" or being interested in "the myriad ways law intersects modern life." Go a little deeper into yourself and explore the reasons the law appeals to you. Try the reverse psychology gambit: why shouldn't you go to law school? Take ten or fifteen minutes to do some freestyle stream-of-consciousness writing on this prompt, and you may well come up with a gem or two that can be worked into your thesis effectively.
- Bring your "A" game - this should be the best writing you are capable of delivering. Use active voice, not passive. Vary your sentence structure. Use transitions, and stay away from weak words like "somewhat" or "mostly" or "occasionally." Be succinct, and develop your chosen thesis with strength and directness.
- Double-check your vocabulary. If you use a word that doesn't quite mean what you think it means, you will not impress the reviewers with your word power.
- Focus some attention on your lead. A powerful lead that compels the reader will go a long way towards ensuring your success. Use anecdotes, specific examples, and vivid descriptions to bring your lead to life.
- Read your essay aloud to get a better sense of how it flows. Revise accordingly.
- Once you have a penultimate draft, revise your statement at least three times, using a gradually narrowing focus. Use one review for critically analyzing your structure and development of your thesis. The next review should focus on your word and grammatical choices. The final review should be a technical one for misspellings, improper punctuation, and typographical errors.
After revisions and polishing, you are ready to send your application materials, with your personal statement included. Make sure you follow this process with each law school to which you apply and send a personal statement. While it isn't necessary to completely reinvent the wheel for each school, you should target your statement to each specific program.