A personal statement is a common requirement for admission into graduate programs. It is also common that the instructions for the personal statement will be open ended. You will want to state why you are pursuing the graduate-level legal program you are applying for, but beyond that, it is up to you to share information that you believe will be helpful to the admissions committee in making its decision.
What is the best approach to writing your law school personal statement that will help you stand out from the crowd? Read on for specific tips and advice for the writing process to nail this part of your application.
Law School Personal Statement Tips
There’s no one way to write your personal statement, but there are some universal principles that you can apply to make this process easier.
Make an Impression
Your personal statement is about who you are, rather than a demonstration of what you understand about law. With this in mind, respect the legal professionals who are likely to be reviewing your personal statement and do not:
- Try to impose your opinion of the legal field
- Make generalizations about the legal field
- Aim to impress your readers with your knowledge of legal language
Keep in mind that your readers will see a number of applicants annually. Your goal is not to impress these people with your current knowledge, but rather to create an impression based on your personal drive, current goals, and plans to capitalize on what this program offers.
Show, Don’t Tell
This is an old adage in writing, but the best legal professionals are proficient at creating context and building persuasive imagery by evoking specific, believable examples from past precedents. Put this same tactic to work in your personal statement. Instead of telling the admissions committee what you are good at, show them by taking them on a journey with intentional, detailed examples from your own past.
Create a focused narrative built on vivid details and with a specific destination in mind. Be sure to offer your readers a meaningful conclusion to whatever story you present and tell them explicitly what you learned from each of the experiences you describe. Finally, reiterate how these reflect on your ability to be a successful student of the law.
Open With a Hook and Finish Strong
The goal of the opening paragraph is to hook the admissions committee, while a strong closing paragraph will provide a satisfying finish to the entire narrative presented in the body of the personal statement.
What qualifies as a hook? Without exaggerating your experiences or qualifications, establish something definitive about your perspective. Is there an aspect of your life driving you to pursue legal studies? If so, use that to anchor your story. Or, is there an interesting or unique challenge or opportunity you want to address in your career, one that greater legal knowledge will help you champion? Introduce themes like these to help establish a clear path through the rest of your statement as you answer more general questions like, “Why this degree program?”
As you hone in on the close, don’t feel pressured to assert a specific moral takeaway. What the admissions committee is after is something with greater impact—an insight that is unique to the things you have learned and that have helped shape your convictions and the path for your career.
Tips for the Writing Process
Now that you have a better idea of what to focus on in your personal statement, let’s review how you can go from a daunting blank page to an error-free final document that really sings.
Know the ins and outs of the program you are applying to, including the admissions requirements, curriculum and faculty before you start writing. The more you know about the program, the more you can highlight what stands out to you about the program and what seems relevant to your career goals and the challenges you want to overcome with a legal education.
Once you have gathered your external research, it’s time to look inward and reflect using the universal principles outlined above. This is the stage where you can put your thoughts on paper without worrying about structure—just get your ideas out so that you have something to work with.
Now that you have all of your thoughts on paper (or typed up on your computer), it is time to get organized. There are thousands of articles about how to create an outline online, but this does not have to be an overwhelming process. The goal here is to get your notes from the research and reflection steps placed in a logical order that will take your reader from the introduction to the conclusion, leaving them convinced that you will be a great fit for the program.
You already know that you want to kick things off with something that will hook your reader. Then, your body paragraphs will continue with what you have set up in the introduction, giving evidence of why the reviewers should admit you to the program. And then you will wrap everything up with a strong, satisfying conclusion.
Take your time with the outline to ensure you are hitting the points you want to cover to keep the personal statement from meandering. More pages do not necessarily equate to impactful content.
You may be surprised how fast this step can go if you have given ample attention to the proceeding steps. With your notes and outline in hand, sit down and tie everything together into a cohesive document. Lean on the skills you have used to write your papers in the past and trust yourself.
Write your personal statement at a time and in an environment that is conducive to getting the words on to the page. Do you write better at night, or are you more of an early bird? Do you need silence when writing, or do you thrive in a cafe while listening to your favorite music? Set yourself up for success in the drafting process and know that getting started is often the most challenging part.
Reviewing your draft can be broken into two parts:
- Reviewing for content
- Reviewing for spelling and grammar
Enlist someone you trust to review the content. Do your ideas make sense and flow and in logical order? Can the reader follow your thoughts? Is the takeaway clear? The reviewer can point out areas where you might have missed a key part of the prompt or did not explain yourself very well. If you are struggling with a certain section, talking through it can be a big help.
Once you have the content nailed down, it is time to proofread. You do not want to leave any careless errors on the page. If you do not consider spelling and grammar as strengths, enlist the help of someone who is strong in this area to conduct the review. It can be the same person who read for the content review, or someone entirely new. Fresh eyes never hurt when it comes to proofreading. When faculty and administrators read a personal statement, they want to see true excitement for the program and a strong level of professionalism without being distracted by errors.
When this step is complete, you are ready to submit your finalized document and check the law school personal statement off of your application to-do list.
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