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Personal Statements: Focus on You or Them?

The most trying aspect of the law school application process—apart from actually studying for and taking the LSAT—is writing a (hopefully) well-crafted, original personal statement. Generally speaking, a strong personal statement will concern itself with answering two questions: Why do you want to be a lawyer? And why do you want to attend this law school? For many applicants, difficulties arise when attempting to determine how much space to dedicate to the former question and how much to the latter. 

Although it is important to address both issues, you should spend more time discussing your reasons for wanting to become a lawyer than your reasons for attending a particular school. Virtually every law school prescribes a maximum length of two pages for the personal statement. I would recommend allocating roughly a page and a half to discussing your reasons for wanting to become a lawyer. In the course of this discussion, you should attempt to tie together the various aspects of your application in a cohesive and succinct manner. The strongest applicants will address the ways in which their academic and extracurricular pursuits combine to make them unique and noteworthy candidates for admission. To do so effectively, they will have to address and analyze a variety of different activities and skills and, as a result, it will necessarily constitute the bulk of their application essays.

Once you’ve sufficiently addressed the first question, I would devote the remaining space to discussing your reasons for attending the particular institution to which you’re applying. I suggest looking through the school’s website and picking out a few programs or clinics that particularly interest you. After doing some further research on the school’s unique offerings, you can write one or two targeted paragraphs discussing your desire to attend the institution. Not only will this help set you apart from other applicants and personalize your statement further, but it will also demonstrate your commitment to attending the school in question. Fortunately, this process doesn’t require as much space and, as a result, it should only constitute about a quarter of your entire statement.

If you’ve already taken the LSAT, you should start thinking about your answers to both of the questions addressed here. If you’re in the process of studying for the September LSAT, feel free to hold off until after the test to start seriously pondering your personal statement. But whenever you get around to drafting your application essay, be sure to get the input and advice of others—a fresh pair of eyes is an invaluable asset in focusing your statement!