Law School Personal Statement

Other than your LSAT/GPA combination (admissions index), there is no other part of your application that carries as much weight with admissions committees as your law school personal statement. This is your opportunity to separate you from a slew of candidates that, on paper, did just as well as you. Think of the personal statement as the face of your law school application.

Because of the value of the law school personal statement, you should budget 4 to 6 weeks to write it. During this time you will brainstorm, write, edit, and get feedback from other people. At the end of this process you will hopefully have a great personal statement that will get you offers that you can be proud of.

Goals of the Law School Personal Statement

One key tip for succeeding at anything is to begin with the end in mind. So, what exactly are you looking for on your personal statement? Well, aside from being a personal glimpse into what you have to offer the law school, great law school personal statements accomplish three tasks:
  1. Gain the reader's attention;

  2. Get the reader to believe that you should be admitted to their law school; and

  3. Clear away any concerns the reader might have about you.
You should understand that your law school personal statement will be read by the members of that school’s admissions committee—usually a collection of professional admissions officers, professors, and law students. These people will read hundreds of personal statements, many of which have been professionally edited. Your job is to stand out from this crowd—a tall task.

Choosing Your Law School Personal Statement Topic

The first step to writing a killer law school personal statement is to find your topic. When doing this, you should think of this search as one for a personal statement theme rather than a topic. The topic of your personal statement will be YOU.

Here is a list of some potential themes:

  • Why I Want To Be a Lawyer – Avoid conclusory statements like “I’ve wanted to be a lawyer since…” Instead tell a story that illustrates your call to law school.  This is a very common topic and will often come across as cliché. 
  • Why I am Qualified – Do not repeat your resume. Tell stories that highlight your skills and only allude to your accomplishments.
  • Why I am Exceptional – There is an art to persuasively highlighting the fact that you bring diversity to the law school. Tie your diversity to your motivations or qualifications. If you can’t do that, do not make you diversity a central theme, rather mention it in passing.
  • Highlight Your Passion – Great issue-based essays are written by those with a strong tie to their topic. If there is an issue that dominates your thoughts, studies, or activities, strongly consider it for your theme. Show why the cause is important to you and what you have done to further it. Spend some time analyzing all sides of the issue even if you disagree with the opponents. This can be a very strong theme if you are able to convince the admissions committee that you plan to use your law degree to further your passion.
  • This Event or Person Changed My Life – If you use this, just make sure the statement is sincere. This theme can often be cliché. One good use of this theme is to give an example of a time that you put yourself into an environment out of your comfort zone and excelled.
  • How I Overcame an Adversity – Discuss how you have grown from this experience and how the experience has armed you with the skills you need to be a good lawyer.

Don't Submit the Same Personal Statements to Different Schools

You may think that you can save time by submitting the same (or very similar) personal statements to all of your potential law schools. Do not fall into this trap. If you are creative, you will be able to use your themes in most of the personal statements. Law school committees are like a person you are courting. If you have sentences in your personal statement that look like their school could be swapped with any school, you will come across as lazy and insincere. And, you should take note of the subtle differences between each specific law school’s instructions for the personal statement along with any guidance they give.

Compare Harvard with the University of Texas:

Harvard

Please submit a brief personal statement.

The personal statement is intended as an opportunity to give the Admissions Committee a better sense of who you are as a person and as a potential student and graduate of Harvard Law School. In many instances, applicants have used the personal statement to provide more context on how their experiences and strengths could make them valuable contributors to the Harvard and legal communities, to illuminate their intellectual background and interests, or to clarify or elaborate on other information in their application. Because applicants and their experiences differ, you are the best person to determine the content of your statement.

Additionally, the Committee makes every effort to understand your achievements in the context of your background and to build a diverse student body. If applicable, you have the option, and are encouraged, to submit an additional statement to elaborate on how you could contribute to the diversity of the Harvard Law School community.

University of Texas

UT Law takes no shortcuts and uses no computer program to assess each candidate.

We provide a full-file review of all completed applications, in order to:
  • Identify students who exhibit demonstrated commitment to public service, leadership, and other qualities valuable to the legal profession;
  • Identify students whose background, experience, and other qualities are likely to be of value in the classroom and the Law School; and
  • Provide a service to the state of Texas by educating its citizens from underrepresented regions of the state and disadvantaged socioeconomic backgrounds.
[…] Moreover, specific attention is given to an applicant's socioeconomic background. While some information related to socioeconomic background can be found in an applicant's responses to the application form and the Law School Report, the Law School's application for the entering class includes specific requests for socioeconomic information. Applicants are encouraged to include information concerning their socioeconomic background or any other information related to the factors listed by the Legislature, in their personal statements and/or in the optional statement on economic, social or personal disadvantage. Such disadvantage might take a number of different forms, e.g., an applicant who is a first-generation college graduate; an applicant’s struggle with a serious physical or mental disability; an applicant’s encounter with discrimination based on race, religion, sexual orientation, gender identity or national origin; or an applicant's limited educational opportunities due to geographical or other restrictions.

While an applicant at either school could submit essentially the same personal statement, the schools are looking for different things. Harvard values examples of intellectual interests, achievements, and what you will add to the Harvard community in their law school personal statements. And, it encourages applicants to write a second statement concerning the diversity they will add to Harvard. By implication, Harvard does not want your personal statement to be themed on the diversity you bring to the table—they give you a separate essay option for that. Contrast that with the University of Texas who is specifically looking for evidence of diversity in the law school personal statement.

You should include specific details about the law school you are applying to and why you feel like you are a good match for the school.

What Are the Components of a Good Law School Personal Statement?

A Good Law School Personal Statement is Personal

Above all, an excellent personal statement gives the admissions committee a glimpse into your personality that could not be envisioned from the rest of your application. Law schools want to admit students who demonstrate that they will be successful. The better your personal statement does this, the more likely it is that you will be admitted. Be genuinely honest and focus on your most favorable characteristics.

This is your opportunity to sell yourself. Try to highlight as many of the qualities of successful law students as you can. Examples of your intellectual or analytical ability, imagination, and maturity woven into the theme of your statement go a long way. Admissions committees are also looking for examples of public service, leadership, teamwork, motivation, and career potential. Make your motivation and drive clear to the reader. The admissions committee wants to be convinced that you are extremely interested in the legal profession and motivated to enter law school.

A Good Law School Personal Statement is Well Written

Start with a sound structure. Your law school personal statement should have a readily identifiable structure. To ensure that this happens, it is highly important to construct your personal statement from an outline. An outline should make sense by itself; the ideas should follow logically in the order that you list them. Your body paragraphs should consist of events, experiences, and specific examples that support and move along the theme.

A well-written personal statement incorporates many different elements. A great law school personal statement has a strong introduction and a strong conclusion. A great law school personal statement uses the active voice and the first person “I.” It is also creative, using metaphors and analogies. And, finally, a well written law school personal statement is clear and to the point. Every sentence flows and advances a purpose.

One grammatical mistake in your personal statement could mean the difference between acceptance and rejection. Proofread, proofread, proofread. Lawyers are professional writers. The admissions committee will immediately spot the good writers, with polished ideas, a nice structure, and no errors.

Get help with the editing process. Begin by reading your personal statement out loud to a friend or family member. Next, have a trained professional look at your law school personal statement. Utilize your school’s pre-law advisor, or a professor who is willing to help. People who have gone to law school are probably a better choice for this review than those with no legal background. If you are unable to find someone who can give you good advice, consider hiring an admissions consultant to review it.

A Good Law School Personal Statement Avoids Common Mistakes

Finally, your personal statement must avoid the common mistakes that other prospective students are bound to make. Here is a list of common mistakes made on law school personal statements:
  • Summarizing your resume
  • Focusing on weaknesses
  • Spelling and grammatical errors
  • Using big words or "legalese"
  • Exceeding the page, format, or word limitations
  • Using gimmicks like writing the personal statement as a legal brief
  • Trying to include sarcasm or humor
  • using contractions and slang
  • Writing about inappropriate or controversial topics

For more tips, be sure to check out the Law School Coach Guide to Law School Admissions