Writing your personal statement for law school can be one of the most important pieces of your law school application. The creative freedom creates a unique opportunity to add your own voice to your application, to add a different dimension beyond your academic record, and give admissions committees a sense of who you are. We answered a few questions about the most common mistakes applicants make in writing their personal statement in order to help you dodge the clichéd and craft the perfect essay.
You have an incredible academic record. Your LSAT scores are impressive. And you have a few outstanding references praising you from head to toe. So it may have crossed your mind to ask, how much emphasis is placed on the essays, anyway?
Actually, a lot of emphasis is placed on the essays. Aside from the LSAT and academic record, the personal statement is the most important component of the application process. This is the only opportunity where the admissions committee has a chance to really get to know the applicant, to get an idea or sense of what the applicant is going to add to the community, what voice the applicant is going to bring to the classroom. Keep in mind that law school classes are taught differently than college courses. The professors, particularly in the first year, do not lecture. They are questioning the students. Much of what happens in the classroom in law school comes from student discussion and students challenging one another. So the admissions committee is looking to see how the applicant is going to fit in in that regard. How are you going to contribute to the ideas and discussions that are being generated in a classroom? How are you going to challenge your classmates? So, this is really where the admissions committee shapes the classroom and is really looking at how people are going to fit into that overall picture.
Okay, law schools take the essay pretty seriously. So what are schools looking for in a personal statement?
It may be a good idea for clients to do a life inventory before they start the personal statement. Think about all the experiences you’ve had, even back to childhood, that would have been the most remarkable experiences, the defining kinds of moments and experiences in your life – those things that have really shaped your values, your beliefs, your work ethic, your character – and try to hone in on those experiences in the personal statement. You don’t want to rehash what is already in the resume or what is evident from other components of your application. You want to really elaborate on experiences or provide new information about yourself. This is your opportunity to really give a good picture of how you are going to fit into that community of people in the law school.
Another common question is whether applicants should directly address why they want to go to law school in the personal statement.
In general, that should definitely not be the main topic for your essay. The reader should have an understanding after reading the essay why you are interested in pursuing the legal education, but you don’t have to address it specifically, especially if you are coming directly from college or may be a year or two out. However, if you are an applicant who has been out of school for several years and if you’ve been working, or if you’ve gone to graduate school – and perhaps professional school as well and you already have a couple of advanced degrees – it is important to address why you want to go to law school and what you are interested in doing because the admissions committee is going to want to know in those cases why you are making the career change or why you are pursuing another advanced degree.