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Law School Personal Statement
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The law school personal statement, more so than essays for other graduate programs, resembles the kind of essay you wrote for your college applications. The topic is often completely open-ended. This freedom intimidates many students who prefer to have guidance and a clear notion of what admissions officers are looking for. Your goal must be to avoid depending too heavily on preconceptions and to focus instead on what you have to offer. In sum, law school admissions committees want interesting, confident, and successful people.
When writing your law school personal statement, you should reflect on two fundamental questions:
1. Why do I want to be a lawyer?
2. What are my qualifications?
As the founder of EssayEdge.com, the Net's largest admissions essay prep company, I have seen firsthand the difference a well-written application essay can make. Through its free online admissions essay help course and 300 Harvard-educated editors, EssayEdge.com helps tens of thousands of student each year improve their essays and gain admission to law schools ranging from Harvard to State U.
Having personally edited over 2,000 admissions essays myself for EssayEdge.com, I have written this article to help you avoid the most common essay flaws. If you remember nothing else about this article, remember this: Be Interesting. Be Concise.
Why Do I Want to Be a Lawyer?
In the tired eyes of an admissions officer, nothing is more tedious than an essay that starts off, "I have always wanted to be a lawyer," and then cites a list of trite reasons. One obvious mistake is to focus on your parents' experiences as lawyers without demonstrating any independent, mature thinking about your own goals. A less obvious, more common mistake is to write about how you want to help people. The fact is that most law school graduates, especially from the top schools, go on to work in the private sector. Law school admissions officers are well aware that most of their graduates will go on to seek financially rewarding careers, so applicants who mention clichés about wanting to "improve society" usually sound disingenuous.
If you have a specific goal, such as working for a particular disadvantaged group that lacks advocates, then the situation is different: It's always good to showcase a unique, focused commitment. Even better would be if you had a track record of community service to back up your objectives. For example, you may have worked with handicapped people for several years, and this exposed you to certain injustices that you want to correct. The same approach would work for topics that are not about public service. For example, one might describe a background in science and connect this to current interests in intellectual property law.
How Am I Qualified to Be a Lawyer?
Unlike medical schools, which want to assess specific personal qualities in their applicants, law schools use academic achievement as the primary criterion in evaluating your ability to succeed in law. Thus, you need not be concerned if nothing in your essay directly addresses the issue of why you're qualified for a legal career. However, if you have substantive points to make within this area, you can certainly help your case.
It's most essential to discuss your background and qualifications when these overlap with your current goals. For example, you might discuss your interest in international law, tying it to a multicultural background or global work experiences. As always, the details you provide will make or break your discussion. But the strength of an "Experiences in Law" essay depends more than usual on the originality of your experience. The fact is that many people will have similar experiences and even perform the same level of duties. While such an essay can establish your competence, it will be unlikely to make you stand out. Less conventional experiences, however, are certainly worth highlighting.
TOP 10 LAW SCHOOL STATEMENT WRITING TIPS
1. Don't Write in Legalese.
As a prospective law student, you may be tempted to try to impress your reader with an already tight grasp of legal writing. Resist this temptation! You will have plenty of time to produce the labyrinthine sentences and sophisticated vocabulary for which legal briefs are famous. Your reader will have seen too many essays to appreciate bewilderingly advanced prose. Law schools are looking for unique individuals who want to learn about the law, not ready-made lawyers. Write clearly and personably.
2. Don't Bore the Reader.
Do Be Interesting.
Admissions officers have to read hundreds of essays, and they must often skim. Abstract rumination has no place in an application essay. Admissions officers aren't looking for a new way to view the world; they're looking for a new way to view you, the applicant. The best way to grip your reader is to begin the essay with a captivating snapshot. Notice how the blunt, jarring "after" sentence creates intrigue and keeps the reader's interest.
Before: I am a compilation of many years of experiences gained from overcoming the relentless struggles of life.
After: I was six years old, the eldest of six children in the Bronx, when my father was murdered.
3. Do Use Personal Detail.
Show, Don't Tell!
Good essays are concrete and grounded in personal detail. They do not merely assert "I learned my lesson" or that "these lessons are useful both on and off the field." They show it through personal detail. "Show, don't tell" means that if you want to relate a personal quality, do so through your experiences without merely asserting it.
Before: If it were not for a strong support system which instilled into me strong family values and morals, I would not be where I am today.
After: Although my grandmother and I didn't have a car or running water, we still lived far more comfortably than did the other families I knew. I learned an important lesson: My grandmother made the most of what little she had, and she was known and respected for her generosity. Even at that age, I recognized the value she placed on maximizing her resources and helping those around her.
The first example is vague and could have been written by anybody. But the second sentence evokes a vivid image of something that actually happened, placing the reader in the experience of the applicant.
4. Do Be Concise. Don't Be
Wordiness not only takes up valuable space, but also confuses the important ideas you're trying to convey. Short sentences are more forceful because they are direct and to the point. Certain phrases, such as "the fact that," are usually unnecessary. Notice how the revised version focuses on active verbs rather than forms of "to be" and adverbs and adjectives.
Before: My recognition of the fact that the project was finally over was a deeply satisfying moment that will forever linger in my memory.
After: Completing the project at last gave me an enduring sense of fulfillment.
5. Do Address Your
Weaknesses. Don't Dwell on Them.
The personal statement may be your only opportunity to explain deficiencies in your application, and you should take advantage of it. Be sure to explain them adequately: "I partied too much to do well on tests" will not help your application. The best tactic is to spin the negatives into positives by stressing your attempts to improve; for example, mention your poor first-quarter grades briefly, then describe what you did to bring them up.
Before: My father encouraged me to go to _______ Law School, but I did not realize at the time that _______ Law School was not the law school I wanted to attend to obtain a legal education. I experienced both personal and academic problems, which affected my grades and my performance in law school.
After: Discontent with _______ Law School and my performance there, I withdrew and instead went on to attain a master's degree in Library and Information Science. But I have never abandoned my aspiration to become a lawyer. My work in the law library at _______ University has allowed me to learn more about the law, and now I plan to return to law school with renewed dedication.
6. Do Vary Your Sentences
and Use Transitions.
The best essays contain a variety of sentence lengths mixed within any given paragraph. Also, remember that transition is not limited to words like nevertheless, furthermore or consequently. Good transition flows from the natural thought progression of your argument.
Before: I started playing piano when I was eight years old. I worked hard to learn difficult pieces. I began to love music.
After: I started playing the piano at the age of eight. As I learned to play more difficult pieces, my appreciation for music deepened.
7. Do Use Active Voice
Passive-voice expressions are verb phrases in which the subject receives the action expressed in the verb. Passive voice employs a form of the word to be, such as was or were. Overuse of the passive voice makes prose seem flat and uninteresting.
Before: The lessons that have prepared me for my career as a lawyer were taught to me by my mother.
After: My mother taught me lessons that will prove invaluable in my career as a lawyer.
8. Do Seek Multiple
Ask your friends and family to keep these questions in mind:
Does my essay have one central theme?
Does my introduction engage the reader? Does my conclusion provide closure?
Do my introduction and conclusion avoid summary?
Do I use concrete experiences as supporting details?
Have I used active-voice verbs wherever possible?
Is my sentence structure varied, or do I use all long or short sentences?
Are there any clichés, such as "cutting-edge" or "learned my lesson"?
Do I use transitions appropriately?
What about the essay is memorable?
What's the worst part of the essay?
What parts of the essay need elaboration or are unclear?
What parts of the essay do not support my main argument?
Is every single sentence crucial to the essay? This must be the case.
What does the essay reveal about my personality?
9. Don't Wander. Do Stay
Many applicants try to turn the personal statement into a complete autobiography. Not surprisingly, they find it difficult to pack so much information into such a short essay, and their essays end up sounding more like a list of experiences than a coherent, well-organized thought. Make sure that every sentence in your essay exists solely to support one central theme.
10. Do Revise, Revise, Revise.
The first step in an improving any essay is to cut, cut, and cut some more. EssayEdge.com's free admissions essay help course and Harvard-educated editors will be invaluable as you polish your essay to perfection. The EssayEdge.com free help course guides you through the entire essay-writing process, from brainstorming worksheets and question-specific strategies for the twelve most common essay topics to a description of ten introduction types and editing checklists.
My interest in the law began with donuts. As a child, I developed early persuasive skills during family disagreements on how to divide boxes of the treats. My parents belonged to the "the biggest people deserve the most donuts" school of thought; while as the youngest family member, I was a devout believer in the "one person, one donut" principle. The debates were often cutthroat, but when it came to donut distribution, I sought justice at any cost.
As my family grew older and more health-conscious, we stopped eating donuts, and for many years I forgot our childhood debates. However, some recent life decisions have brought to mind those early explorations of justice. When I first arrived at the American International School of Rotterdam, I quickly learned that my colleagues were a diverse and talented group of people. Unsure of how to establish my own place among them, I tried phrases that had always worked to impress college friends. "When I work for the UN . . . ," I told the second-grade teacher, and she answered with an erudite discussion of the problems she faced as a consultant for that organization. I told the kindergarten teacher, "When I'm in law school . . . ," only to hear about his own experiences in law school. By the time I discovered that even many grade-school students were better travelled than I, I learned to keep my mouth shut!
Living alone in a new country, removed from familiar personal and cultural clues to my identity and faced with these extraordinary co-workers, I started to feel meaningless. How, I wondered, could I possibly make a difference in a place as vast as our planet? To my own surprise, I found that answer at church. Although I was raised in the Bahá'í Faith, I have only recently understood the essential place that religion plays in my identity. Bahá'í social beliefs include the need to work against extreme poverty, nationalism, and prejudice; and I now realize that I cannot hold those beliefs without doing something about them. My identity rests on these convictions; I cannot see the need for help and just move on. I have to help; it's who I am.
The lessons I've learned from my international colleagues have channeled my desire for service into the field of international development. I still wish to fight the "'Biggest Get the Most' Theory of Donut Distribution," but now on an international scale.
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