The Law School Personal Statement: Get the Edge

Law School Personal StatementOh, the dreaded personal statement. But not just an undergraduate personal statement; This is for your career as a lawyer. As applicants, we wish we had the grades and LSAT score to make us a shoe in, but for the majority of us, we don’t. We’re looking for that edge, that extra something that can convince our desired future Alma-mater that we’re worthy of their law degree.  That we will pass the Bar exam on our first try and they will be proud to have us as a student and practicing lawyer.

There are plenty of advisors and professional programs itching to be hired to help you work through your law school personal statement, many of whom with decades of experience.  That might be an option for you.  Writing courses such as Learn Plain Writing can also give you much needed help when it comes to the mechanics of writing.  The process might seem like a lot but you might as well embrace the law school personal statement as one of the few opportunities to showcase and be creative, two characteristics essential for any great lawyer.

How important is it?

We all know a great GPA and LSAT score is a big deal when applying to any law school.  But there is something very important about the law school personal statement.  As more and more law schools are opening their doors to applicants who are more than their numerical assets, the personal statement can be your ticket in.

I went through the law school applying process twice because as a mom of twin toddlers at the time of my first acceptance letter, I just wasn’t ready to put us through that just yet.  And the second time around I actually got a full scholarship and more acceptances.  One thing that changed from application one to application two? My personal statement.  Who knows what the admissions departments were thinking but if I could gauge my application packet’s effectiveness, my personal statement stands out the most.  Law school admissions offices are looking for the next leg up and what better way than to find that person who can offer more than good grades and test scores.

A Suggestion: Pick a Trait that Illustrates What You Want the Admissions Office to Know

Deciding how to begin any personal statement sends most of us running to the hills.  But it doesn’t have to be that way. Developing a sound plan of attack is needed and then simply, execute.  The personal statement is your presentation of your best self.  You can edit and edit and edit whereas in a real live interview you only have right then and there.  The personal statement can increase your chances of acceptance if done right.

Picking what to write about is one of the hardest tasks.  You must demonstrate a sound grasp of writing efficiency while divulging some personal story, information, or thoughts.  That can be very tricky. But no reason to panic, just be honest and real.  That’s it. You know yourself the best and your only job is to connect the reader to that part of you that clearly shows you deserve a spot in their upcoming class.

So what kinds of traits are good to write about? Of course you can choose the very generic ones like strength and intelligence but if you’re going to stick with those then you have to share a pretty unique “story” highlighting how you embody this trait.  Then there are the not-so-commonly highlighted traits such as precocious, loyal or religious.  All of which are fine if you can effectively, and still uniquely, relate it to how this makes you an ideal candidate deserving of acceptance.

A trait can be illuminated by a well-written, well thought-out story about yourself.  You are given such liberty with the personal statement that you might as well use it to your advantage. This is your time to focus on how attractive you are as a candidate and an eventual lawyer.  Think about who you are and not who you think they want.  We all have unique qualities to share.  Pick one and roll with it.

Another Suggestion: Describe a Life Changing Event and What Followed After

Some of us are specially defined by certain events in our lives, some tragic, some positive. No matter where you grew up, what kind of education you had, or who your parents are, everyone has some event in their lives that changed them forever. For some of us it may have been a death in the family or other tragedy.  Or perhaps it could have been reuniting with your birth parent after being separated for many years.

For others, the event might not be as tragic or intense.  It could be a novel you read in high school that changed your perceptions about our criminal justice system.  The event you choose should be centered on something that truly touched your life in a profound way.  Remember, the personal statement needs to be personal! There is no right way so long as it is a true and accurate reflection of you.

Don’t Forget It’s Also About the School

When reading a personal statement, law school admission committees enjoy a great story that focuses on the applicant. But you want to be a memorable applicant, so your statement also needs to let the school know why you’ve chosen them. Ideally, you should relate those reasons to the theme of your story, although it might be hard to do so. (And don’t do it if it isn’t true!)

On the other hand, if you’ve decided to apply to a certain school because they ranked as the number one school for meeting members of the opposite sex, don’t tell them that. Avoid discussing any rankings, gushing about how prestigious the school is, or even tossing in generic praise. Admission committees see right through such tactics. Trust me, there are plenty applicants who unfortunately do just that.

Your law school personal statement will be a bit more impressive, however, if you can make relevant mention of a faculty member or two and some of their work. That shows you’ve taken some time to research the school a little further than the average applicant. You can also mention what the school is known for, for example its Entertainment Law program, and why you are ideal for such a program. You want to effectively demonstrate that you know the school, that the school is the right place for you, and that you’re the right student for the school.

Edit, Edit, Edit

 The last and most important thing I want to say about writing the law school personal statement is to make sure there are zero grammar and spelling mistakes. It cannot be stressed enough how a poorly edited personal statement can get an applicant’s file put in the denial pile. You do not want to be cast aside because of simple mistakes that your 15 year old brother could have corrected.  A big part of being a successful lawyer is to pay attention to detail.  If a seemingly “small” detail is overlooked it can mean the difference between having a case filed or completely dismissed.  Every lawyer dreads the call to the client telling them they couldn’t even have their day in court because of a dumb mistake. You think writing a personal statement is no fun? Think about being sued for legal malpractice.  In short, edit, edit, edit!

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