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Law School Admission Essay: Personal Statement

Article courtesy of Accepted.com, admissions consultancy
By Catherine Cook
Accepted.com Senior Editor

Law school applications are steadily on the rise, and your personal statement is the best place to make yourself stand out from the wannabe attorney crowd. What should you include in your essay to convince the admissions committee to stand up and take notice?

Law School Applicants Are Not All The Same

Law school personal statements do not follow a set formula or template to fit what an admissions committee is looking for. However, there are guidelines to keep in mind as you begin to outline and write your law school personal statement. Not only will the details be different, but also the focus of your essay depends upon where you are in your career and life when you are applying to law school. Keep in mind that you do not want to try to include every detail about your life, nor do you want your personal statement to be a resume in prose. You want to give the admissions committee a snapshot of who you are and what makes you a compelling applicant for admission to their school.

The College Graduate

You are getting ready to finish up at Big State U. and have decided you want to begin law school the following September. An effective personal statement from a recent or soon-to-be college graduate could have any of the following components, depending on where your strengths lie and on what you'd like to emphasize. It is not necessary to have all of these details, but at this stage in your life, any of these areas could be fodder for your essay.

  • Work Experience. You don't need to have had internships on Capitol Hill, a summer paralegal job, or other legal experience in order for your work experience to be relevant to your application. The important thing is that you demonstrate and articulate a strong work ethic, a track record of increased responsibility, examples of leadership, and the writing, speaking, and organizational skills that you honed during your summer or school-year employment.
  • Volunteer Work and Community Service. Perhaps you were involved in a sorority, in a fundraiser for the local chapter of the Red Cross, or in serving dinner to the homeless at Thanksgiving. It doesn't really matter what kind of volunteer work you have done, just that you can show some kind of giving back to your community. Emphasize offices held, leadership positions, or any original ideas that you took from conception to implementation and execution. The more details and quantifiable data you include, the better. Here's an example: Rather than saying, "I volunteered for the Santa Clara County chapter of Big Brothers", say "I spent an average of four hours a week teaching English to Spanish-speaking elementary school students. After only four weeks, their teacher sought me out to let me know that their grades and attitude had dramatically improved."
  • Academic Interests. Do not repeat information that can be found elsewhere in your application, but emphasize the things that you have studied that are particularly appealing to you and their relevance to your pursuit of a degree in law. Again, you do not have to be a political science major, but if your current studies are leading you to a desire for an advanced degree, then talk about how that transformation happened. Perhaps you took a course in Computer Science that introduced you to intellectual property law, or a sociology course that triggered an interest in family law. If this is the focus of your essay, show how your decision to attend law school was influenced by a connection in the classroom.
  • Extracurricular activities. Do you compete on the school's water polo team? Play the violin? What else is there about you that distinguishes you from other applicants? There probably won't be another place in your application to include this information, so make sure you show and tell everything about yourself that makes you a unique and interesting candidate.

Two To Six Years In The Workforce

  • Work Experience. Depending on what your current occupation is, you may or may not have work experience in the legal field. If you are working as a paralegal, the connection between your current job and your desire to attend law school will be clear. But suppose you aren't working in the legal field. Perhaps you have worked with the corporate counsel on closing deals, or you have negotiated contracts with outside vendors, or have been involved in developing marketing materials that are focused on branding and trademark. All these things have ties to the legal field; it's up to you to make the connection and show that your work experience is relevant to your new career goals. And as with the recent college graduate, you want to show increased responsibility, leadership, and writing and speaking skills that have served you well in your current career.
  • Community service. Law school admissions committees want to see that you have donated some of your time and talent to worthy causes. If you don't have any community service to speak of, consider adding this to your list of pre-law school to-do's. It is particularly significant, though not necessary, to have volunteer work for a legal organization such as CASA (if you want to practice family law), or Legal Aid (should you want to become a public defender). But suppose you have been heavily involved in your child's school, as president of the PTA, or a member of an advisory board. Suppose you have brought a new reading program to your local public school. While this is not related to the study of law, it does show leadership as well as a demonstrated philosophy of giving back to your community.
  • Other exposure to legal field. Were you the trustee of your grandmother's estate? Were you involved in trying to get a new ordinance passed in your neighborhood? If there is something else in your life that has motivated you to pursue your law degree, let the admissions committee know. The more you can describe the path that led you to your decision to attend law school, as well as your plans for once you graduate, the better the adcom will know, understand, and appreciate you.

Older Law School Applicants

  • Work Experience, including why you have decided to change careers. So, you've been working for 18 years as an engineer, and have had a successful career. Now you want to become an attorney. Why? This will be the most important question you will address as an older applicant to law school. Perhaps it is an unrealized dream that you have finally decided to pursue, or perhaps there is some connection between your current job and the legal field that is appealing to you. Maybe you are ready for a new challenge and you believe law school and a second career as an attorney will provide that stimulation. Whatever the reason, you will need to address it in your personal statement, with specific details.
  • Connections to the legal community where you plan to practice law. One of the most important things that law schools will want to know is what you plan to do once you graduate. Presumably, if you plan to practice law in the same community where you have lived during your first career, you have made connections to the business and community. As a more experienced applicant, you will likely have a better idea of what you want to do with your degree once you graduate than the 22-year-old just out of school. Tell the adcom what your plans are, and how you plan to get there. Maybe the local judge is a friend who has been encouraging you to get a law degree for years. Perhaps you have ties to the business community, and have already decided that you will work for XYZ Corporation down the street, and they have all but guaranteed that they want you to come on board once you graduate. You want to make clear that you don't need to rely on the school's placement center to obtain your first job as a lawyer. These are details that will make you application stand out from the others.
  • Clearly defined short and long-term goals. Know what you want to do the day after you graduate, and five years after that. As an older applicant, you should be more focused on the specific reason why you need a legal degree in order to pursue the career you have chosen.

Guidelines That Apply To All Law School Applicants

No matter where you are in your career or your life, there are a few points that every law school applicant should cover in their admission essay:

  • Clearly defined and articulated reasons for seeking a law degree. The days of attending law school as a stopgap while deciding what you really want to do are over. Law schools want to be sure that you know what you want to do after you graduate, and that you have a plan for getting there. No one will hold you to this on the day you earn your degree, but you want to have a working plan in place when you submit your application.
  • What you will bring to the law school community. What are you planning to bring to the party? Your work experience? Your extracurricular interests? Your desire to write for the law review, or sit on a student committee? What will you do for the school that will make it a better and more interesting place for the other students and faculty?
  • Why a particular law school appeals to you. Why have you chosen the University of Greatness as your first choice law school? Concrete, specific reasons are the details that laws schools are looking for. Is there a professor whom you want to serve as your mentor? A particular course of study or class that you can't wait to take? Avoid reasons like proximity to family, but emphasize the school's ties to the community, the alumni affiliation, and the reputation for a certain program. Show that you have done your homework.
  • Why you and the law school are a good fit for each other. Finally, why are you and the school a good match? Is the program tailor made for your career goals? Did you attend as an undergraduate and want to continue at the same school? Is the diverse student body the right match for your unique background? Follow the above guidelines and let the admissions committee know why you should be admitted, and they will have every good reason to send you a letter of acceptance!

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