how to write a personal statement for law school

How do you write a compelling law school personal statement?

I often respond to questions from readers on the law school admissions process. Here is a question I recently responded to: 

 

Q: How do you write a compelling law school personal statement?

A: As a Harvard Law School graduate who also worked for 5 years as a law school admissions counselor for Kaplan and Harvard College before and during law school, I have a strong point of view on this.

Simply put, you should write about something you care about deeply. Something you’re passionate about. If there is a specific reason or event in your life that makes it appropriate for you to write about “why I want to go to law school” or even “why I want to go to XYZ Law School specifically,” then go ahead and do that. But explaining why you want to attend law school is not necessary, and certainly should not be a topic you default to if you don’t have a compelling reason to do so.

Use the personal statement as an opportunity to help the admissions committee learn more about yourself, your interests, aspirations, and perhaps your goals for the future. You don’t have to declare these things directly. You can tell a story. And you should use examples. Your reader should draw the right conclusions on his own. In fact, telling a good story and entertaining the reader (appropriately) are good ways to distinguish yourself from the masses of other applicants that simply write “why I want to go to law school” essays. By the time your reader reads the 357th essay about “why I want to go to law school,” they are ready to bang their head against a wall. So being able to tell a good story that shows things about you, that shows what kind of person you are and what kind of leader you may likely become, rather than simply declaring those things, can make your application memorable when the admissions officer must go back and separate admitted applications from rejected or waitlisted ones.

Finally, help your application reader get a glimpse of your personality and character through your essay. One successful applicant to Yale Law School I knew about spent his 250-word essay writing about pie crusts. Not one word about the law or being a lawyer. Pie crusts! But what it did show was his humor, character, and surprising insight about a topic that seems so tangential and fringe. I am sure the applicant got a good chuckle from the admissions committee–just before they accepted him.

My own essay to Harvard was about a volunteer experience I had with a non-profit organization that was important to me and had special sentimental value. I wrote about why I volunteered there, what I learned, and how that experience changed me and influenced my thinking. I mentioned nothing about why I wanted to attend law school, and I didn’t even say I had any aspirations of being a lawyer. I just wrote about a personal project I had been part of and why it was important to me. It was enough for my application reader to draw whatever inferences he wanted about my character, personality, and potential as a graduate of Harvard Law School. Two months after I applied, I got my acceptance letter in the mail.

Be sure to check out our law school admissions guide “How to get into Harvard Law School (whether you have the highest scores or not)” for in-depth tips and strategies on admission to elite law schools!

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Andrew C.

Andrew Chen is a graduate of Harvard Law School. He was admitted to Harvard on his first attempt at applying – in the very first round of applicants. He was also admitted to the law schools at Stanford, Columbia, NYU, and Chicago among others – also all in their first rounds. You can follow him on LinkedIn, Twitter, and Google+.