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Join the Crowd
You’re reading this article because you have absolutely no idea what to write your law school personal statement about. Take a deep breath and relax—you are not alone.
For example, take a look at the following tweets about law school personal statements:
- “This Personal Statement for Law School apps is killing me.”
- “Writing my law school personal statement for the third time.”
- “My personal statement is [expletive]. I don’t have any work experience in law firms . . . like other people.”
- “Personal statement for law school is harder than I thought.”
- “This personal statement might be the death of me… I hate law school already.”
- “This law school personal statement will be the death of me. Hands down the most ambiguous two pages I’ve ever written.”
As you can see, for many applicants, the hardest part about applying to law school is coming up with a personal statement topic. It’s hard to write about yourself—we get it.
But if we asked you to tell us what makes your best friend unique and interesting, you would be able to respond without hesitation.
- “He traveled the world for six months and loves learning about new cultures.”
- “She volunteers all of her spare time at the local homeless shelter.”
- “He is hilarious and can always cheer me up when I’m feeling sad.”
So what’s the problem with writing about yourself?
Why You Are Having Difficulty
Applicants who have a hard time coming up with a personal statement idea generally fall into two categories:
In the first category are the people who have spent their whole lives doing things that improve their resume. Jobs, research assistant positions, clubs, fraternities/sororities, volunteer activities, study abroad trips, etc. You name it, they have done it. These applicants face the “paradox of choice.” Because they have so many great experiences to choose from, they are overwhelmed and do not know where to begin.
In the second category are the people who have few experiences. Quality instead of quantity. A person in this category may be a student who put him or herself through college while working a full-time job in a service position, such as a waiter or bartender. Maybe someone in this category graduated from college several years ago and has since been working in a full-time position to earn a living. These applicants are full of self-doubt because they believe that their experiences are not impressive enough for law school.
Applicants in both categories also face another problem. They think that they must conform themselves to what other applicants are doing. They don’t want to choose the wrong topic. But when it comes to personal statements, there is no right or wrong answer. There is only good execution and poor execution. It is better to choose a sincere and genuine topic than a random topic chosen only because you think that you should write about it.
The good news is that working in a legal profession is not a prerequisite to attending law school. That’s right—you don’t need to have worked in any legal capacity to get into law school.
Most law school admission committee members know that most applicants have no legal experience. In fact, many law school graduates do not even have legal experience. Get this out of your head right now. Eliminate your self-doubt.
The Goals of the Personal Statement
Although we could write pages about the goals of the personal statement, this article is about choosing a personal statement topic. Therefore, we will limit our advice to two short tips:
Your first goal, if possible, is to be as unique as you can. Make yourself standout from the thousands of applicants.
Your second goal should be to tell a good story that makes the reader like, respect, or admire you. You do this by only writing about one or two interesting experiences. You do not do this by simply retyping your entire resume.
For more personal statement tips, read: How to Write a Great Personal Statement.
Law School Personal Statement Ideas
Gradvocates has compiled a list of personal statement ideas. Please note that some topics won’t be applicable to you. For example, if you have absolutely zero interest in public-interest law, then do not write about how you want to get a law degree to help make the world a better place.
Spark and solidification: This topic involves writing about what sparked your interest in becoming a lawyer. Explain the steps that you took to explore that interest. Put particular emphasis on the event that solidified your desire to attend law school.
Desirable Qualities: This topic involves writing about one or two of your best qualities and then providing examples of these qualities through one or two experiences. For example, if you assert that you are “hardworking,” then you could write about how you worked and went to school full time during college. If your quality is “a desire to serve your community,” then you can write about specific things that you accomplished that show that quality. The quality you talk about should have some sort of connection to the practice of law. For example: hardworking, perseverance, serving your community, or leadership.
Overcoming Difficulty: This topic involves writing about difficulties that you have overcome in your life. If you choose this topic, you must make it clear that the experience fostered specific qualities in you that make you a good fit for law school.
First-hand injustice: This topic involves writing about an injustice that you witnessed or experienced and how it made you want to become a lawyer, so you can help change the status quo. Be careful, as this topic can come across as extremely cliché. If you choose this topic, then it is not sufficient to just explain the injustice and how you want to advocate for those affected by it. Make it clear why specifically becoming a lawyer, as opposed to a counselor or volunteer, is necessary to help out. You must also realize that this is a personal statement, and so you cannot just write an essay on a social problem. Be sure to include your own thoughts and feelings.
Change of Careers: This topic is for older applicants who have been working in a different career for several years before realizing that they want to attend law school. Write about what your previous career involved and what exactly made you want to pursue law instead. For example, applicants in this category may be scientists who want to practice intellectual-property law, or a teacher who wants to work to reform the education system (this latter example overlaps with “First-hand injustice” discussed above). Another real example involves a firefighter who decided to obtain a law degree after successfully representing himself in a multi-million dollar lawsuit against his municipality for employment discrimination.
Still Stuck? Gradvocates Can Help
The Gradvocates Editing team can help you pick your topic. Every purchase of Law School Personal Statement Editing comes with unlimited email interaction with our editing team. After purchasing personal statement editing, send us an email so we can help you come up with a great topic for your personal statement. You can then submit it for editing whenever you are ready.
If You Will Apply Next Cycle…
If you will not apply to law school for another cycle, please be sure to read: Engineering Your Personal Statement Topic: Do Something Worth Writing. That article explains that if you absolutely do not have anything to write about, you can actually use the time from now until you apply to law school to choose impressive experiences that you will write your personal statement around. You can essentially come up with a great personal statement idea and make it happen, so you don’t find yourself in this situation when you are ready to apply.
We hope that his article has served as a great starting point for writing your law school personal statement. Please do not hesitate to contact us if we can help you in any way.
Other than an applicant’s LSAT score and undergraduate GPA, the most important component of a law school application is the personal statement.
The personal statement is your opportunity to tell admissions committees about the person behind the numbers, achievements and other aspects of you that they will learn about in the other parts of your application. A great personal statement, therefore, leaves the reader with a sense of who you are as a person, what motivates you, and what experiences and skills make you ready to excel as a law student and as a lawyer.
Here are our top five dos and don’ts for writing a great law school personal statement.
DO brainstorm several topics before deciding what you are going to write about.
The first topic you come up with will likely not be the strongest one. By brainstorming many topics, you allow yourself both the time to dig deep into your academic, professional and personal experiences and explore areas of your background and accomplishments that might not at first glance seem to be applicable to a law school application essay. Many of the most powerful essays are those that come not from common experiences, but those that are from off the beaten path and highlight aspects of who you are that are not readily apparent from other parts of your application.
DO outline your essay before beginning to write it.
The major benefit of outlining your essay before turning it into prose (as opposed to simply sitting down and writing a first draft of the essay) is that you are separating two important steps in the writing process: structuring your thoughts and articulating them. Outlining your essay enables you to focus only on the structure and get that to where you want it to be. After you’ve settled on the structure, you can focus exclusively on clarity, word choice, and other verbal aspects of your essay.
DO go through several drafts of your personal statement.
Regardless of your writing ability and experience, your first draft will not be your best effort. Going through several drafts of your essay will enable you to look carefully at the clarity and word choice of your essay. In addition, giving yourself a couple of days off between drafts will allow you to look at the essay with fresh eyes. This often allows you to see aspects of the essay that you might not if you are trying to complete several drafts in a shorter amount of time.
DO create two versions to accommodate different length requirements.
Although one personal statement is appropriate to be used for all law school applications (occasionally some minor tweaks are appropriate to convey an interest in a specific school), length requirements for schools can vary significantly. Some schools limit personal statements to two or three pages, others to a word limit such as 600 or 1000 words. As most applicants apply to between 10 and 15 schools, you are likely to have to satisfy several different length requirements. The easiest way to do this is to prepare a three-page version and a two-page version, which are the two most common length requirements. You can then modify these versions to fit the exact length requirements of all the schools you are applying to.
To create these two separate versions, start by writing a three-page version and pare it down by removing one of the three (or so) experiences you describe in your essay, and then by searching for any words that can be removed and phrases that can be written more concisely without losing the meaning.
DO proofread your final version.
This might go without saying, but proofreading your essay to make sure that there are no typos or grammatical errors is particularly important when completing a law school application. Verbal precision is one of the most important aspects of both being a law school student and a lawyer, and your personal statement is the first significant piece of writing you will submit as you enter the law school community and the legal profession. Admissions committees will notice any careless errors and, although such errors alone will not determine whether or not you are offered admission, they are definitely in the “negative” column.
You will not be able to create your best effort without devoting at least a few weeks to the creation of your personal statement. From brainstorming, outlining, drafting, and proofreading, you should expect the process to take several weeks. Leaving this part of the application to the end will inevitably lead to a suboptimal product that won’t leave a good impression on the admissions committees that read it.
DON’T avoid negative experiences.
Speaking candidly about setbacks, disappointments, or situations you don’t feel you handled properly can often create very strong topics. Although sometimes difficult to discuss, addressing these topics gives you the opportunity to show admissions committees that you are both thoughtful about your past and that you can learn and grow from your mistakes. The key in addressing negative experiences is in focusing on what you have learned and how you have changed. Coupling a negative experience with a later positive experience is a great way to describe such a change.
DON’T talk about the experiences of others.
Many people feel compelled to mention or discuss the experiences of family members, ancestors, or close friends. While the experiences of others may help provide background to your own experiences, it is important to remember that this essay is about you, and admissions committees are considering you, not a friend or relative, for admission. Law schools want to hear about you, your own experiences, and what you bring to the table.
DON’T create a prose version of your resume.
Although it is very important, the personal statement is only one component of your application. Admissions committees will have lots more information about you from the other components of your application: your academic transcript, your resume, your letters of recommendation, etc. The personal statement is your opportunity to go beyond those other aspects and show admissions committees something about who you are as a person. Don’t miss out on that opportunity by simply narrating the academic and professional steps you have taken up to this point.
DON’T attempt to replicate examples of personal statements posted online or in published essay collections.
There are many examples of personal statements available on the web, in books, and in other places. Keep in mind that these essays are published and distributed because they are uncommon. These essays worked well for those who wrote them because they stood out and were personal. Instead of copying what you have read from other sources, create an essay that is personal to you just as those essays were personal to the people who wrote them.
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