An Insider’s Take on Law School Personal Statements

personal statements

Why do you want to attend law school? What makes you special? Why are you applying to this particular school? Why should you be admitted? These are some of the basic questions on the mind of each admissions officer reading your law school application. Your LSAT score, UGPA, letters of recommendation, and physical application address these questions indirectly. However, it is your personal statement that must address such questions directly. When writing your personal statement:

1. Build your personal statement around one or two core ideas.

Your personal statement is your (often only) chance to communicate why you should be admitted to those who make the final decision. Take full advantage of this opportunity by presenting a clear, concise, and compelling narrative as to why you want to attend law school and why you should be admitted.  Specifically, you should discuss the qualities/traits you possess that make you likely to succeed in law school and beyond.  Examples of such qualities include tenacity, intelligence, curiosity, dedication, motivation, or congeniality, to name a few.  The ideas you select form the “statement” within your personal statement.

2. Choose a narrative to convey those ideas. 

Admissions professionals are tasked with reading hundreds or thousands of applications each cycle, and it gets tedious. However, a good opening and a steady pace do wonders to keep boredom at bay. Nobody is better prepared to sift through your life and come up with a compelling story than you. You must strive to engage the reader early on, and keep them engaged up to and through your conclusion.  You must also strike a balance between providing enough detail to get the reader invested, while remaining mindful of your audience. Embellishments are easy to spot and though their comedic effect might seem worth it, losing your credibility is not. In short, don’t fabricate drama. Instead, find something true and interesting to discuss.

3. Write, read, revise, and repeat.

The personal statement is one of the most important documents you will draft in your pre-law life. Building a good one requires a tremendous amount of work. Get an early start to ensure you have plenty of time for multiple rounds of revision and reflection. Any errors or omissions will reflect poorly on you and call into question your ability to muster the attention to detail necessary for the practice of law.

4. Get help.

It’s a good idea to identify people who can read your personal statement and give you honest feedback, including constructive criticism. Professors, teaching assistants, career service professionals, or guidance counselors are potential sources of feedback. Attorneys, if you have access to any, are also a good resource. Current law students may seem like ideal reviewers, but because law school is time consuming, they may not have the time to give your personal statement the attention it deserves. Be sure to ask your reviewers what message they come away with after reading your personal statement. What qualities would they attribute to you based on its reading? If the qualities they cite differ from those you set out to discuss, tweak your statement until the two align.

Common Personal Statement Pitfalls

If you follow the advice outlined above, you are well on your way to producing a quality personal statement and enhancing your overall application. That said, you want to avoid a few common pitfalls. Specifically you should:

Always follow instructions. Failure to follow simple instructions (e.g., going over the page limit, not addressing all of the prompts, improperly formatting the document, etc.) will swiftly draw the ire of law school admissions personnel and bring unnecessary negative attention to your entire application. 

Avoid lengthy discussion of your UGPA/LSAT numbers. The personal statement is your chance to put your best foot forward with the admissions committee. If your grades and LSAT score are particularly good, know that your transcripts and score report will convey that. To waste space rehashing them in your personnel statement may appear arrogant.  If your numbers are less than stellar, the law school admissions committee will see that too. However, your personal statement is not the place to dicuss these. Most law schools offer you an opportunity to address such issues in an addendum.

Beware of the extremely personal, traumatic, or otherwise sensitive topic. While these events may have had a profound impact on your decision to attend law school, you may not have the closure or distance to discuss them in a way that adds to your application. The tension/discomfort surrounding these topics is often evident from the word choices within the statement and may alienate your audience. It’s one thing to discuss a life-changing experience in a reflective and ultimately empowering manner. It’s quite another to discuss it in such a visceral way as to raise concerns about your ability to cope with the added stress of law school. 

Do you have personal statement questions? What approach did you use to write your personal statement? Let us know in the comments.

Sir M.V. Williams is a 2011 graduate of the University of Wisconsin Law School, where he currently serves as Director of Admissions. The above statements represent his personal thoughts and opinions, which do not necessarily reflect those of the University of Wisconsin Law School. You may contact him with questions at smwillliams5@wisc.edu.

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