How to make your best case in your law school statement
It can be daunting writing a law school application and preparing your personal statement, but there are some key points you need to include and the length of your statement is also important. We look at how you can write the right statement at the right length.
Then becomes ‘how long should my personal statement be?’
We will outline below the length and type of content, remembering that entry into law schools has become increasingly competitive with applications for law school entry rising steadily since 2018.
Writing a top personal statement for law school means asking yourself key questions and writing a ‘story’ that will engage and compel the law school admission council to give you the tick of approval
Should you provide a lot of detail about yourself? Your aspirations? Your life experiences? Any other test scores? What and who your family members are?
Is it helpful to say your grandmother was related to Ruth Bader Ginsburg (assuming she was), or that your father has the corner office in the biggest firm in town?
There is a lot to consider when assembling your personal statement, which is a critical part of your law school application.
Remember that unlike some school like medicine, you are in a sense going in ‘blind’. There are no preliminary qualifications required and your personal statement and its content and length could be a critical factor in whether the admissions committee see you as someone who they want in the school and who can successfully study there.
Key Ingredients of Your Personal Statement BESIDES Its Length
In fact, the Big Law dad and RBG connections are things you can put into your statement, but the right way.
So lets look at some of the key factors you need to put into your statement before identifying what the word count should be.
The personal statement is one that is for you to provide good information about you as a person, not just a law school applicant.
The writing process you need to follow is one that is different from writing a legal brief, for example. The content of your statement needs to reflect your personality, aspirations and background, but it also needs to present an argument about yourself.
In many ways it needs to ‘sell you’.
Lawyers need to be good writers and good with words.
As an intending lawyer and potential student you need to ensure that you are writing clearly, succinctly and in a way that actually impresses with well-worded content. Write carefully and read it (as below).
You also need to ensure that your statement is clear and grammatically correct. You may be used to text-speak and social media acronyms but when it comes to the law school admission council you need to make sure your grammar and content are correct.
Preparing the Rough Draft
Before starting your statement you need to toss as many ideas around about yourself and the factors outlined below, ensuring that you are – literally – making a case for yourself and finding your own voice to express that effectively.
Once you have done that you will begin to get the idea of how long the personal statement should be, but it means noting a range of questions about yourself.
For example, ask questions like these:
- what sort of person do you think you are – and how do you think others think of the person you are?
- what single factor helped influence you to become a lawyer?
- when did you first consider becoming a lawyer?
- what are your main ‘drivers’ or motivators?
- what are your career goals?
- is there a particular legal field that you hold a keen interest in?
- is there anyone who particularly inspired you and why?
- what have you done that you are particularly proud of?
- what has been the toughest time in your life and how has it affected who you are today?
- what do you hope that a legal career can provide for you?
- what community or other causes do you care about and why?
- how long have you wanted to study law?
- what factors or events in your life have shaped you?
There are of course other questions and you need to brainstorm them and write them down so that you can flesh out your application with information that puts you in appropriate context and lets the law school admissions committee get to understand and see what sort of person you are: WHO you are.
Some law schools will provide some idea of the sort of questions you should answer. For instance, the the University of Washington’s law school outlines topics like “Describe a personal challenge you faced” or “Describe your passions and involvement in a project or pursuit and the ways in which it has contributed to your personal growth and goals.”
Whatever the questions, make them pertinent, relevant and explanatory of yourself as a person.
Many of the questions listed above will provide the personal experience context that provides a key part of any effective personal statement.
Your life story is not a book, but rather a succinct, clearly written exposition of the key factors and experiences that make you the person you are today.
Hit the high and any low points in your life in the context of your application, referencing the person you are today and the aspirations you hold, the goals you want to achieve.
If you are from another country or the son or daughter of immigrants, for instance, you can describe how that has affected and shaped you.
If you have come from a unique background, perhaps won a scholarship from a poor neighborhood or the like, then use that as a pillar to build your strong personal statement.
As a young person seeking to obtain a law degree you may not have much professional experience, but if you have been working in any professional office, law or otherwise, then put down what you have done and what you have learned from the experience.
The activities you have engaged in beyond school are important and can give excellent insight into your motivation and to the sort of person you are generally.
Obviously if you have been involved in law-related matters like law clinics and so forth it is relevant, but the key here is to provide an insight into your life and personality.
Your Best Qualities
It is important when you are showcasing your story that you also outline your qualities and how they can shape and impact your work as both a student and a lawyer.
In terms of the law you may well be able to describe your ability to work and think critically. Are you a problem solver? How has that translated into your personality and life in the law in future do you think?
Are you a creative thinker? Do you have a strong empathy and commitment towards key issues like poverty, climate change, sustainability, gender rights?
These are all issues to be listed. Remember it is you writing honestly and clearly about yourself, so be sure you outline honestly-held beliefs and qualities that you possess.
Personal characteristics are somewhat different from the ‘qualities’ outlined above as they may overlap but be matters that shape your personality and ‘self’.
Be honest and outline the sort of person you believe to be in terms of character. Are you creative? Impulsive? Passionate? Temperamental? Impatient?
You can take even relatively negative characteristics to explain how you use them to effect and how you have developed yourself as a result of particular personality traits.
Remember that with all the other information the law school or professors have about you there will be much that may be missing and that your personal statement needs to cover off. You need to explain and have them understand you, rather than just your academic and any professional experience.
Much of this leads on to the reason you want to enter law school in the first place.
Motivation for Admission to Law School
You should identify the reasons why the particular school is one that you are keen to study with before entering the legal profession.
Be clear about this. For instance the school may have a strong reputation in a particular area of law that you are passionate about.
If you have a strong interest in some cause or public policy area, for instance, you may be focusing on the constitutional and public interest areas, intellectual property or some other area that the law school has particular strength in.
Do not overlook the fact that you can also contribute to organizations within the school that can use or benefit from your experience in certain areas; where you might provide ideas and leadership.
One thing to avoid is discussion in the personal statement about a low LSAT score or GPA score as these can detract from your overall statement and, if need be, can be added to the statement as an addendum.
You need to have done your research into the particular law school to know exactly what they look for. Talk with other students or staff members. Go to the campus and get a feel for who they are and what they might be looking for.
Create Your Personal Statement Outline
Once you have got your ideas together create your outline of how you will create a strong personal statement that will resonate with the school. You are putting your best foot forward and will need to structure the piece so that it creates the greatest effect.
A common mistake is to rush to writing without getting your thoughts clearly sorted. Work on your outline, write a first draft and read it through and have someone else do the same. You need to know that it is accurate, coherent, well written and hits the right buttons in terms of what you are saying.
A common mistake is for students to omit important information or overlook a good narrative angle that can add impact to your ‘story’.
Write a Story
Story telling is powerful and resonates through the ages as one of the most important aspects of writing a good personal statement. You need to structure your statement so that it is well written and elegant on the one hand, but tells your story with commitment and passion on the other.
From the beginning of your statement you should create a connection with the reader by telling a story or anecdote that can encompass what you are saying about yourself and why you are here, seeking to become part of this law school.
A good ‘hook’ at the beginning of the statement can be immensely effective in capturing the mind and heart of the reader. So work hard on developing that hook, showing your personal growth and experience and which will encapsulate yourself and your desire to be a lawyer.
It can be colorful, descriptive, evocative, emotional. You’re not trying to write a Grisham or Gabaldon, but to be authentic and effective. Perhaps Hemingway?
Describe Your Purpose
When you have crafted your hook you can move on to the reason for making your application. The ‘story’ at the opening will lead to the reason you are now making the application and how it shaped you to do that thing.
Don’t be cheesy or come across as somehow creating some artifice that fails to achieve the authenticity you need, but create a strongly personal message of how you got to be the applicant writing this statement.
The life events you have previously described have been something that can lead you to write a great personal statement that resonates with the law school professors.
Describe The Lawyer You Would Like to Be
Your background and personal history, including the life-shaping events, significant accomplishments, difficulties and successes, will tie in to the sort of law that interests you in a way that the admissions committee can understand the embrace when they read it.
You need to create a connection between who you are with who you want to be; what sort of lawyer you want to be.
Remember when you are writing these points that you are continuing your story, rather than seeking to blandly summarize the key reasons you think you should be admitted to the law school. There is indeed a narrative you need to follow that IS Grisham or Gabaldon because you are writing a personal statement and it needs to be continued in that style.
Remember that part of a great story is some issues of conflict and resolution so your story should include those issues too, in a manner that displays how any issues in your life, professionally or personally, shaped your desire to enter law school and become a certain type of lawyer.
The Conclusion of Your Statement
The conclusion should be something that should tie back into your story in a way that is genuine, rather than hackneyed and obvious. Try and avoid the sort of tried-and-true (but cliched) conclusions that heap praise on the school and explain that you really want to be a great lawyer, etc.
Don’t bore them with clichés. If you conclude with reference to your personal story then you also reinforce a great personal statement that can have far more effect than bald and boring proclamations of intent.
You want to indicate that you will be a great fit for the school and have a positive impact on both the school and your own career. But a successful personal statement will not say those things outright, but rather make it clear that these will be the outcomes from your admission.
The Ideal Length of Your Personal Statement
The length of the personal statement will depend upon the factors outlined above and there is no prescribed ideal length. Most law schools do not prescribe the exact length of a statement and the maximum would normally be around two pages of double-spaced content.
If you want to check resources on personal statements for law school you can check some of the following to see what works and to help provide context for your own statement.