Writing Your Personal Statement*
(*Adapted from the National Association of Pre-law Advisors and Yale Undergraduate Career Services)
Pre-writing (How to Prepare):
- Motivate yourself. This is a process, not a one-off assignment that you can write and send out.
- Do your research. Your essay should be tailored to the question. Generic essays are not persuasive to law school admission committees.
- Think about WHY and WHAT. Describe the life experiences or career goals that inspire your interest in law and the skills, talents, and passions you can contribute to the profession.
- Proofread! Find reliable, trustworthy people to review and critique your drafts. This is not the time to be sensitive.
Writing (Some Do’s):
- Outline what you want to say. Organization is critical; logical, concise writing is essential to law school success. This is your first (and only) opportunity to show the admissions committee you will succeed at their law school.
- Explain, in detail, why you want to be a lawyer. Connect your passion to life experiences. Give your readers a picture of why their law school will help you achieve your career goals, but don’t gush about the law or the law school experience.
- Make it flow. Don’t write about too many disconnected events or experiences. Choose the most persuasive event(s) or experience(s) that led you to choose law school.
- Mention sensitive subjects in an appropriate way, if you choose to disclose them.
- Be truthful. If you have been arrested, have a DUI, have been incarcerated, filed bankruptcy, or have other challenging life circumstances, the personal statement is the place to write about it and explain how the experience has changed you. Turn negatives into positives.
- The final draft should be no more than two typed, double-spaced pages with standard margins.
- Sell yourself. Be persuasive, but be authentic.
Editing (Some Don’ts):
- Avoid overusing a thesaurus or writing in clichés. Concise, clear writing is more impressive than overblown hyperbole.
- Don’t be “cutesy” and be very careful when using humor. Be sensitive to your audience; you are writing to lawyers and law professors, not your friends.
- Don’t be cynical or snarky. Be positive. You are convincing the admissions committee–usually consisting of law school staff, faculty, and law students–that they should want to work with you for the next three years. Coming across as a bitter, angry person can hurt your chances.
- Don’t be too specific about what you want to do with your law degree, unless your experience shows that it is a logical extension of what you’ve already done.
- Don’t just repeat the activities and experiences in your application. Your personal statement is not your resume.
- Don’t send multimedia presentations, photographs, or attachments.
Proofing (Finishing Your Personal Statement):
- It bears repeating: Find reliable, trustworthy people who are not afraid to tell you the truth when they proofread your personal statement. Don’t be sensitive; critical feedback will produce a better statement.
- At least three people should proof your personal statement. Choose people with different skill sets, such as a professor, a lawyer, and a friend/parent/spouse. Your readers should each provide a critique based on their individual knowledge and experience.
- Don’t make any spelling or grammar mistakes. Lawyers must be precise and accurate. Spelling and grammar mistakes make you appear sloppy and careless.
- Don’t rely on spell check to catch mistakes. Their and there, where and were, and to and too will not be caught by spell check!
Requirements for Review of Personal Statements
- Personal Statement workshops are offered by the pre-law office.
- Your statement MUST be double-spaced. We will not review a single-spaced document. There is not enough room to fit comments on a single-spaced paper. More importantly, law schools require the personal statement be double-spaced.
- Your statement MUST have your name in the header of each page. Attaching the file to an email without a name on the document means we will not know whose statement it is.
- After we comment on your personal statement, we will scan it and return it to you as an email attachment. If you have questions, please schedule an appointment AFTER receiving our feedback. There is not enough time to review and critique a personal statement during a one-on-one meeting.
- In the fall, the Pre-Law Center receives 10 to 20 personal statements each week. If you send it during the height of the application season, it will take longer to review your personal statement. Please do not ask for a rushed or expedited review because of a deadline. It is your responsibility to plan ahead.
Personal Statement Best Practices
A personal statement is exactly what it says it is: A “personal statement.” Many law school admission officers often refer to this as the applicant’s “interview” with the law school admissions committee. There are a number of publications that offer advice on crafting these essays. Applicants also often seek advice from their pre-law advisors. Pre-law advisors are, of course, free to establish their own policies in terms of working with applicants on personal statements (and other essays) and may choose not to offer assistance in essay writing. For those who do assist in writing essays, we would like to suggest the following proper, practical and best practice for pre-law advisors guidelines for assisting applicants in their essay writing. These guidelines printed below are consistent with the metaphor used elsewhere in this statement: Pre-law advisors can serve as coaches but they do not play the game for students
First, pre-law advisors should not write or edit extensively these essays. They must be the work of the applicant. Applicants should be encouraged to consult each prospective target school’s guidelines/requirements for the personal statement before soliciting guidelines from a pre-law advisor or others (writing tutors, editors, etc). If the applicant has a question about the law school’s guidelines/requirements, the applicant should consult the school directly.
Second, pre-law advisors, when asked by the applicants to assist in the writing of the essays, may begin by asking the applicants to verbalize their reasons for applying to law school and engaging the students in conversations that force them to clarify in their own minds their reasons. Pre-law advisors may, for example, request that students give them resumes, transcripts, and other information that will enable them to brainstorm with the students possible approaches and topics appropriate for the personal statement. Pre-law advisors may also alert applicants to variations in law school instructions and requirements for personal statements, word or page expectations and limitations, and to the possibility and purpose of additional optional statements.
Third, prelaw advisors may offer to read a draft of the personal statement or other essays and to comment and make suggestions. Pre-law advisors should not feel obliged to serve as proofreaders or final editors. Perhaps the best analogy at this point is for pre-law advisors to take the stance of a book reviewer who does not write or edit the material but offers a critique.
Fourth, applicants should be reminded when signing an application stating “this is my work” that this is considered by the Bar Examiners to be an integrity issue.
Please be advised that during the fall semester, it may take 2 to 3 weeks to review a personal statement and send it back to a student. Please do not expect faster turn-around time during the busy season. Please plan ahead.
Yale (the 203 blog)
Stanford (the “Fayemous” SLS admissions blog)