How to Write a Law School Personal Statement

Applicants should get to the point, avoid being overdramatic, and draw upon personal experiences.


Times have changed. Law schools are well aware of the dismal job market, and they want to make sure you know what you're getting yourself into by applying. It's important that you convey in your personal statement that you've carefully weighed the benefits and drawbacks before applying. Your entire essay shouldn't be about the law, and it shouldn't all be about why you want to go to law school, but the experiences you choose to share should lead into why you believe you have the attributes, characteristics, and affinity for the legal profession.

[Get more Law School Personal Statement Tips.]

Here are some common myths:

I should start with something really dramatic.

Please don't. Lawyers don't write that way. You should worry less about shocking the reader and more about quickly piquing the reader's interest. Berkeley Law just posted a great example of what admissions committee members really think when you start your personal statement with a melodramatic tale. This is a must-read no matter where you are applying.

Rather than trying to seek an emotional reaction, begin your personal statement with something honest and insightful. Two of my clients got into Harvard Law this week; neither started with an overly dramatic anecdote, quote, or attention-getting device. They opened with an honest statement about what matters to them, and then they told stories that supported that statement, and why that theme drew them to law school.

[See six mistakes people make in law school personal statements.]

I have nothing to write about because of my upper-middle class upbringing.

If everyone could write a story about growing up impoverished and disadvantaged, there would be nothing remarkable about those sample essays often included in books. Think about what has motivated you to make the choices you've made for your life. Think about what is important to you. Show that you really think about things, that there are things that really matter to you. Don't apologize for your privileged upbringing, but also don't emphasize it by talking about the trip to Africa you took with your parents when you were seven and how seeing poverty there changed your life. Actually, I take it back. You can write about this so long as this takes up no more than three sentences of your essay and the rest is all about the non-profit you started in college to feed starving people and fund schools in Africa. You can write about seemingly mundane things like your pre-law organization or your retail job, but make it relevant by talking about the issues that arose and dilemmas you solved.

[Learn how to conclude your personal statement .]

I have a great personal statement because nothing has ever gone right in my life.

Oftentimes, the people who really have stories to share about growing up disadvantaged are the same people who have trouble really showing how they overcame those obstacles. These stories are really only powerful if you can show you turned things around.

I should pick an area of law practice I intend to pursue.

You don't need to decide upon your area of specialization in law. In fact, I urge people to shy away from declaring exactly what kind of law they hope to practice except in very limited circumstances (for example, someone who is already a patent agent and wants to be an intellectual property law attorney). See Anna Ivey's post, which perfectly captures my sentiments about the emerging trend of being interested in international law.

[Get more tips and tricks for personal statements by the University of Chicago School of Law.]

Another reason not to pick an area of law is that you should use law school to explore what areas are "hot" and employable. (See my most recent blog talk radio show, How to Get Hired as a Rookie Attorney.)

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