As a law school applicant, you may not have a chance to sit down with the admissions committee and explain why you’d be the perfect fit for their institution. But you do have the personal statement, and that’s almost as good—as long as you follow these tips. Director of Admissions at New England Law | Boston Michelle L’Etoile explains.
You are so much more than your LSAT score, undergrad GPA, and extracurricular activities. That's why your personal statement is a critical part of your law school application: It's your chance to address the law school admissions committee directly and show us your character, what’s important to you, and why you’re a great fit for the school. It’s also an opportunity to set yourself apart in a sea of competitive law school applicants. So don’t let it go to waste!
Follow these tips to make sure your law school personal statement really shines.
Tip 1: Focus on you
This may seem obvious, but law school applicants sometimes miss this important point: Your personal statement needs to be about you. Not the people or work that influenced you. You. (While your mother, father, or a grandparent can inspire an interest in law, don’t focus your personal statement on that person; otherwise we’ll wish they were the one applying to law school!)
We want you to use the personal statement to show us that you have skills needed to succeed in law school, beyond what your LSAT score or GPA can tell us. We're looking for things like a strong work ethic, motivation, and the determination to overcome obstacles.
Think about your strengths, defining characteristics, and values—especially the ones that might come into play as a lawyer: Are you thoughtful, analytical, empathetic, service-oriented? Think about how you spend your free time: Do you love traveling, researching, or volunteering? Think about what motivates you: Do you want to work in a burgeoning legal field like intellectual property law, help others by developing public policy, or start your own firm?
Once you’ve zeroed in on some qualities you want to highlight, it's time to brainstorm anecdotes from your life that demonstrate those things…
Tip 2: Brainstorm broadly
The personal statement often gives you lots of freedom in what you write about, so feel free to brainstorm broadly about possible topics.
In the New England Law application requirements, we advise applicants to “write about personal characteristics and circumstances; strengths; work experiences; extracurricular activities; ethnic, economic, and educational background; or any other topic that will help the committee evaluate you.”
Not sure what to write about? Good law school personal statement ideas often come from:
- Extracurricular activities: campus clubs, recreational sport leagues, community service groups, arts organizations, social clubs, etc.
- Meaningful obstacles or challenges you’ve overcome
- Professional activities: full- or part-time work, internships, cooperative education, research positions, etc.
- Accomplishments: leadership positions, awards, achieving significant goals, etc.
- Hobbies or other unique interests that are important to you
As you brainstorm personal statement ideas, remember that you want to put your best foot forward, show how you’ve grown, and prove that you’re ready for law school. After all, you’re ultimately trying to convince the admissions committee that you’ll be an asset to the school.
Handy tip: update your résumé before you brainstorm personal statement topics. Even though you definitely don’t want to just repeat your résumé in your personal statement, it helps to update your résumé before you start writing, because you’ll be forced to remember all the things you’ve been involved in since you became an undergrad. And those experiences and accomplishments might make great essay topics!
Tip 3: Be genuine
You don’t need to be a superhero to impress the law school admissions committee. You can show your passion, dedication, and law school readiness in lots of everyday anecdotes from your life. You can even write your personal statement about a mistake or a weakness—just make sure you turn it around to show how you ultimately overcame that mistake or weakness.
Finally, this may go without saying, but don’t stretch the truth (ahem) in your personal statement. We can tell. And we fact check.
Tip 4: Just write
Once you have a personal statement topic in mind, set aside some time to write—and just let yourself go. Give yourself permission to bang out a crummy first draft. Write in a stream-of-consciousness style. Don’t worry about making it sound good; just focus on getting your ideas on the page (er, screen). It will make the process much easier when you go back to you can edit later.
Tip 5: Remember your “why”
You want to go to law school to work in the legal field. But why? Why is law school a critical next step in your career plan and life path?
While you don’t necessarily need to spell out why you want to be a lawyer, your underlying reasons for going to law school should be the foundation of your personal statement. For example, maybe you want to be a lawyer because you want to correct the injustices you see in the world around you. You might write your personal statement about a memorable protest you once participated in as an undergrad, and how it made you want to do even more to help people.
Tip 6: Be specific
Don’t try to fit your life story into your personal statement. Keep your essay focused on a particular theme, thesis, or even moment in time.
Part of the challenge is that you’re limited in space, so you have to be both succinct and efficient with your writing. And whatever you do, don’t just rehash other information that’s elsewhere in your application. You’re only going to be able to highlight one or two things about yourself, so be thoughtful about what those things are.
And remember: If you start with a story, let us know what happens at the end. Don’t leave the admissions committee hanging!
Tip 7: Grab our attention
Unlike your undergrad application essay, you may need to be more straightforward with your personal statement for law school. But that doesn’t mean it has to be boring. You still want to tell a story that allows the admissions committee to get to know the real you and remember you in a sea of applicants. So tell the story no one else can tell.
Start your personal statement with an attention-grabbing anecdote, a surprising fact, or an intriguing line of dialogue. That being said, write like you normally would—don’t write in a style you haven’t mastered. In particular, jokes and other attempts at humor can easily get lost in translation, so be careful.
Tip 8: Know what makes the school tick
You probably already did lots of research to determine which law schools really fit you (you did, right? Right?!). So by the time you’re drafting the personal statement portion of your application, you should have a good sense of what your intended schools are all about. But if you don’t—if you can’t talk about what a school values, its defining characteristics, its mission—then you don’t know the law school well enough to write a great personal statement.
So read the school's mission statement, news and blogs, and social media feeds. Get a sense of what’s important to the institution, and then try to weave those values in your personal statement.
Tip 9: Polish it up
By the time you apply to law school, you’re probably accustomed to writing at the collegiate level. But it’s good to be reminded to send in your very best work with your law school applications. Competition is tough, and you want your application to be as strong as it can be. Plus, there’s a lot of writing in law school, and you need to prove that your skills are up to snuff.
Carefully proofread your personal statement—not to mention the rest of your law school application—before you send it in. Also double-check to make sure you followed the application directions to the letter: Did you stay within any given word count? Did you fully respond to any given essay prompt? Did you adhere to any special formatting or submission criteria? Have you have used the right law school name? (You might be surprised how often law school admissions folks get essays that reference the wrong school!)
Finally, ask others to review your personal statement too, like an undergrad professor, mentor, or that good college friend who aced English. You can also take your essay to the writing or career services office of your undergrad school (these services are often available long after you graduate too).
You don’t need to be the next J.K. Rowling to craft a great personal statement for your law school applications. Just follow these tips, and you’re sure to write an essay you can be proud of.
Michelle L’Etoile is the Director of Admissions at New England Law | Boston.
Want to learn more about the law school application process—and get more personal statement tips? A campus visit is a great place to start!