Your grades and LSAT score are the most important part of your application to law school. But you shouldn't neglect the personal statement. Your essay is a valuable opportunity to distinguish yourself from other applicants, especially those with similar scores.
You want to present yourself as intelligent, professional, mature and persuasive. These are the qualities that make a good lawyer, so they're the qualities that law schools seek in applicants. Talking about your unique background and experiences will help you stand out from the crowd. But don't get too creative. The personal statement is not the time to discuss what your trip to Europe meant to you, describe your affinity for anime, or try your hand at verse.
Best practices for your personal statement
1. Be specific to each school
You'll probably need to write only one basic personal statement, but you should tweak it for each law school to which you apply. There are usually some subtle differences in what each school asks for in a personal statement.
2. Good writing is writing that is easily understood
Good law students—and good lawyers—use clear, direct prose. Remove extraneous words and make sure that your points are clear. Don't make admissions officers struggle to figure out what you are trying to say.
3. Get plenty of feedback
The more time you've spent writing your statement, the less likely you are to spot any errors. You should ask for feedback from professors, friends, parents and anyone else whose judgment and writing skills you trust. This will help ensure that your statement is clear, concise, candid, structurally sound and grammatically accurate.
4. Find your unique angle
Who are you? What makes you unique? Sometimes, applicants answer this question in a superficial way. It's not enough to tell the admissions committee that you're an Asian–American from Missouri. You need to give them a deeper sense of yourself. And there's usually no need to mention awards or honors you've won. That's what the law school application or your resume is for.
Use your essay to explain how your upbringing, your education, and your personal and professional experiences have influenced you and led you to apply to law school. Give the admissions officers genuine insight into who you are. Don't use cliches or platitudes. The more personal and specific your personal statement is, the better received it will be.
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Sample Personal Statement Questions
Below are the personal statement writing instructions for seven top law schools. They should give you a good sense of the kinds of questions most law schools ask of applicants, as well as the instructions on the form for completing your personal statement.
Columbia Law School
“Candidates to Columbia Law School are required to submit a personal essay or statement supplementing required application materials. Such a statement may provide the Admissions Committee with information regarding such matters as: personal, family, or educational background; experiences and talents of special interest; reasons for applying to law school as they may relate to personal goals and professional expectations; or any other factors that you think should inform the Committee’s evaluation of your candidacy for admission. This statement should be printed on a supplementary sheet or two and should be returned to the Law School with other application materials.”
Georgetown University Law Center
“An applicant may write a double-spaced personal statement on any subject of importance that he or she feels will assist the Admissions Committee in its decision. There is no minimum/maximum length.”
Harvard Law School
“The Personal Statement provides an opportunity for you to present yourself, your background, your ideas, and your qualifications to the Admissions Committee. Please limit your statement to two pages using a minimum of 11-point font, 1-inch margins, and double spacing. Please refer to the Statement Form for more information. Attach your statement to the Statement Form when submitting on paper.”
University of Michigan Law School
“There is no formula for a successful personal statement, and different individuals will find different topics to be well-suited to them. Applicants have, for example, elaborated on their significant life experiences; meaningful intellectual interests and extracurricular activities; factors inspiring them to obtain a legal education or to pursue particular career goals; significant obstacles met and overcome; special talents or skills; issues of sexual or gender identity; particular political, philosophical, or religious beliefs; socioeconomic challenges; atypical backgrounds, educational paths, employment histories, or prior careers; or experiences and perspectives relating to disadvantage, disability, or discrimination. Any of these subjects, and many more, could be an appropriate basis for communicating important information about yourself that will aid us in reaching a thoughtful decision. The length of your personal statement is up to you.”
Northwestern University School of Law
“Include a typed, signed personal statement (recommended length: one to three pages, doublespaced). Please look upon this essay as an opportunity to introduce yourself to members of the Admissions Committee. In doing so, keep in mind that the committee evaluates applicants in many areas beyond test scores. We encourage you to discuss personal and professional goals that are important to you and to include information about your achievements. Feel free to comment further about your education, background, community involvement, and strengths and weaknesses in certain courses or activities. Please type your name and Social Security number on the top of each page.”
Stanford Law School
“Enclose a statement of about two pages describing important or unusual aspects of yourself not otherwise apparent in your application. The statement must be submitted electronically with your electronic application. While admission to Stanford Law School is based primarily upon superior academic achievement and potential to contribute to the legal profession, the Admissions Committee also regards the diversity of an entering class as important to the school’s educational mission. If you would like the committee to consider how factors such as your background, life and work experiences, advanced studies, extracurricular or community activities, culture, socioeconomic status, sex, race, ethnicity, religion, or sexual orientation would contribute to the diversity of the entering class and hence to your classmates’ law school experience, please describe these factors and their relevance.”
University of Texas School of Law
“Your personal statement should give the Admissions Committee insight into your character and experiences. Please review the Admissions Bulletin for a list of factors that the Admissions Committee considers in the admissions process. Your personal statement may not exceed two (2) typewritten, double-spaced pages with a font size no smaller than 11 points.”