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Most law schools do not interview their applicants, and your essays are often the only opportunity to make a positive, personal impression. Almost all law schools require a personal statement. In addition, it may be possible to submit optional essay topics and/or addenda. Keep in mind that each essay should succinctly address any prompts provided by the law school, and you should carefully avoid redundancy between essays.
Your essays must reflect your development of the qualities and core competencies valued by law schools. It is unlikely that you have the space to elaborate on all of the examples listed below. Choose those that feel most authentic, illustrating the qualities you choose to discuss by providing examples of active engagement and careful self-reflection. It is possible to reveal some of these qualities through your personal statement, while others may be more evident in the content of an optional essay.
Effective Written and Oral Communication Skills
Law schools typically provide very little guidance about the content of the essay. The personal statement should tell your unique story, highlighting experiences that are foundational to your pursuit of an advanced degree. Use your statement to persuade reviewers of your strengths as an applicant and potential to succeed in a challenging program. An authentic personal narrative will enable a reader to understand who you are and what has motivated your professional choices.
1. Selecting a Statement Topic
Choose a topic that reveals that best parts of your character, accomplishments and aspirations. A well-chosen topic provides a meaningful context for your accomplishments, skills, or experiences. Here are some potential topics, but don’t feel constrained by these suggestions:
- An event or issue of particular importance in your life (e.g. family background, engagement with activism, community service, personally important hobbies, etc.).
- What makes you unique or what truly interests and excites you.
- Coursework, experiences, or research, such as completing your thesis, working with a professor, or volunteering for legal aid, a clinic, or a nonprofit organization.
- A time when you had to overcome a significant difficulty or adversity in your life. This may include personal, academic or social difficulties. Explain how facing and overcoming adversity helped you developing qualities needed to succeed.
2. Things to Do and Not Do
- Anchor each paragraph by writing a clear topic sentence.
- Write in the first person. This is your statement, and it should be told from your perspective.
- Show, rather than tell, by providing persuasive, accurate, and concrete examples, details, and explanations for the statements that you make.
- Recognize that ideas and sentences do not need to be complex. Sometimes it is best to keep language simple.
- Also try altering the lengths, styles, and rhythms of your sentences for variety, ease, and enjoyability of reading.
- Use active verbs (led, facilitated, mentored, chose, learned, etc.). Vivid, active language is crucial for keeping the attention of the reader.
- Keep your tone confident and positive. Communicate self-assurance in an effective, professional manner without arrogance.
- Be prepared to write several drafts of your statement, setting aside enough time to revise multiple drafts prior to submission.
- Proofread carefully. Check for clear syntax, correct grammar, and spelling. Do not rely only on spell check!
- Follow application instructions explicitly on required length, format, and topic. If the law school does not provide guidelines, it is best to limit the length of your essay to roughly three pages, double spaced, with one-inch margins in an 11-12 inch standard font.
- Remember: Lawyers value succinct, precise writing!
- Write an overly emotional or sentimental essay without connecting to a larger theme. Personal tragedy is a strong motivator, but you must express what you learned and how you grew.
- Simply summarize your résumé. Your personal statement is not a list of your accomplishments. Rather than fixating on what you did, tell the reader why you made the choices you made and how they impacted you and/or others.
- Overuse quotes, questions, poems, or cliches. This is a sample of your writing and your thoughts, not those of others.
- Overuse adverbs and adjectives.
- Forget that there is a fine line between humor and annoyance, confidence and arrogance. Gimmicky or excessively self-congratulatory statements are not always well received.
These essays are truly optional. Do not feel compelled to submit an optional essay if a response feels inauthentic or superficial. If you do have a meaningful response, this can be a valuable opportunity to share additional information with admission staff allowing them to get to know you more fully. Be careful to avoid regurgitating the information you already provided in other parts of the application.
An addendum is an opportunity to explain a problem or setback that you may have encountered either personally or academically. It is a good idea to offer an explanation regarding long absences from school during your undergraduate degree, semesters where you underperformed or had to withdraw from school, a track record of dropping multiple courses, issues of academic integrity, or anything that may result in character and fitness challenges when you sit for the bar exam. If you are considering writing an addendum, it is best to discuss the content with a pre-law advisor.
It is important that others read and critique your writing. Ask them what they learned about you, whether the topic is compelling, whether the evidence supports the main point of the essay, and whether they feel they developed a good sense of who you are as a person. Be open to the idea that you may need to start a completely new draft if your first attempt is not having the desired impact.
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