Of the approximately 100,000 law school hopefuls who apply each year, nearly half are turned away on the basis of low grades, unattractive résumés, and lackluster test scores. That leaves 50,000 people who do have the credentials to compete for a spot in today's competitive legal education sector—and only a select few of those will actually get accepted to the programs of their choice. So how can your personal statement set you apart from the crowd?
All about you
First, the personal statement should be about your life, both academically and beyond. Will you continue to be a devoted student? Have you seen enough of the “real world” to know for certain that law school is right for you? What patterns of behavior have you exhibited that show you to be dedicated, generous, intellectually mature, and autonomous enough to pursue a legal career? This is an opportunity to list—gracefully, of course—those accomplishments which best reflect the person that you are.
Since you will be essentially selling yourself to a panel of strangers who may not otherwise get the chance to meet you, your choice of words will be of extreme importance. You will need to strike a delicate balance between confidence and cockiness, between eloquence and wordiness.
It also can't hurt to add a small amount of well-placed humor and introspection; it will assure your reader that you are human and that this is a decision you've come to after much consideration.
You and the law
Above all, you will want to instill confidence in your audience—they hold the keys to your acceptance. The admissions panel will want to know how passionate you are about law and what you plan to do with your degree once you've earned it. Ask yourself what initially inspired you to follow this path, and which aspects could keep you endlessly intrigued.
Be careful not to pander to your readers: Whether they are attorneys themselves or simply experts in the application process, they will sense even the slightest trace of insincerity.
Earning a law degree involves a huge amount of reading and writing, so the personal statement serves also as a means of testing whether you possess the rhetoric and control of the English language that legal studies require.
Argumentation is another defining characteristic of law, so many applicants demonstrate their litigation skills by framing personal statements as argumentative essays. By making assertions about their legal potential and backing up those claims with personal accomplishment and moving philosophy, they are able to “prove” their worthiness to their audience.
Investing the time
Whatever approach to writing that you choose, remember that your personal statement is a far more important composition than any “night before” papers you might have handed in during your undergraduate studies.
As important as preparing for the LSAT, this essay will be your formal solicitation of an education from your prospective school. Schedule the proper amount of time for writing, and you can be sure that your personal statement will be as unique and noteworthy as you need your first impression to be.
By Hannah Roberts, staff writer