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Some Help on Getting Started with the Law School Personal Statement


While oscillating between not caring about Tiger Woods and caring just a little too much about the current state of UCLA basketball this week, it occurred to me that there is little rhyme or reason to determining what subject matter a person will find interesting. Either you give a crap that Eldrick is making a run at Wilt Chamberlain’s illustrious record, or you don’t. Either you care that Ben Howland has quietly and swiftly caused the UCLA basketball program to implode, or you’re an ostrich (who actually don’t bury their heads in the sand, but we’ll stick with it for lack of a better allusion). In journalism in particular, subject matter is the number one limiting factor on how many people will read a story.

Personal statements are a slightly different beast. Of course, you still want to avoid writing about boring things like Kansas, but you have a foot in the door that journalists typically lack: unless the admissions officer is woefully negligent, he or she has to read your personal statement. That leaves you a bit more freedom in what you can choose for your subject matter. Instead of having to write about that time you were gored by a bull, you can instead pick something that is not only interesting about you, but also applies to why you want to go to law school.

Any significant experiences you’ve had which can be related to the law (community service work, parents’ immigration stories, waking up in a Tijuana prison) generally make for good subject matter, but the subject certainly doesn’t need to be directly associated with the law as long as you can show why it makes you a good candidate for or more interested in law school. A common mistake people make is thinking that their story has to be completely unique; while that helps sometimes, the main thing is that you present your essay well. If I open a personal statement about my experiences in the Spanish American War with “In 1898 there was a great deal of social injustice in Cuba” I’ve completely squandered my ability to write something awesome, even though the subject matter is potentially awesome. If I open a personal statement relating fly-fishing to the discipline of legal studies with something like, “Ankle deep in cold, gray Lake Minnetonka, I stared out across the expanse of motionless water, watching for a telltale ripple” I’ve at least written something interesting. If a little creepy.

When you’ve found your subject, take a second to figure out what the most interesting part of your story is, and present that first, in as compelling a manner as possible. You generally only have about two pages to tell the story and explain why it relates to law school. It’s a tall order. Don’t waste space.

You want to make sure that, even after you’ve found a good subject, that you make the essay as readable as possible. Write a draft and edit it. Do a second draft and have a friend edit it. Do a third draft and pick up an indigent English major off the street to edit it. The more educated eyes that look at it and the more effective input you receive, the better your essay will be.

It’s December now, so taking weeks to write and edit your personal statement at this point is probably more time than you should spend. In fact, since 60% of people apply to law school after January 4th, December and February test-takers want to make sure that the other parts of their application (essays, letters of rec., etc.) are finished as soon as possible so that the last things schools receive are your LSAT score. However, I cannot reiterate enough that this is the most important part of your application outside of your academic index (your LSAT score and GPA). Don’t just wait until the night before application deadlines to throw something together. I’ll stop short of calling this the most important essay of your life, mostly because it’s probably not. But it’s pretty darn important for getting into law school. So get on it.

In addition to giving away leopard print snuggies at office holiday parties, Dave provides application consulting for Blueprint LSAT Preparation.