In this series, a jdMission Senior Consultant reviews real law school personal statements. What’s working well? What’s not? If it were his/her essay, what would be changed? Find out!
Note: Although there are subtle differences in what each school asks for in a personal statement, in general the personal statement is a straightforward essay question that asks you to explain to the admissions committee why you are applying to law school. To maintain the integrity and authenticity of this project, we have not edited the personal statements. Any grammatical errors that appear in the essays belong to the candidates and illustrate the importance of having someone (or multiple someones) proofread your work. The names of identifying individuals and organizations have been changed for privacy reasons. Sign up for your own Free Personal Statement Review!
In the aftermath of the Parker City tornado in the spring of 2008, an urgent call went out at 3PM from a first aid station in that beleaguered town to Grandview Hospital in Des Moines, where I was working as an EMT. A physician’s presence was desperately needed that very afternoon. I was not a physician, but I had been extensively trained in emergency medical care. If no one else could heed the call, I knew I would take it.
My shift was ending. So I radioed that I was heading down. After threading my way through several roadblocks, I finally arrived at what I now saw was a standing elementary school converted into a “first aid station” in the middle of a jumble of fallen buildings. Children’s gym mats were doubling as beds, with upwards of thirty people with minor but painful injuries seeking help.
By this time, the more gravely injured patients had been transported to larger nearby hospitals. Seventy people were being reported missing or dead, which in a population of 1,500 is enough to leave a mark.
I did what I could to help the patients, cleaning and taping wounds, splinting sprains, and diagnosing more serious breaks in order to send those individuals along to the hospital. Around 3AM a young woman came in. Her water had broken, and she was clearly in labor. She told me she was three weeks early. Her contractions were close enough together that it was clear to me she probably wouldn’t make it the fifty minutes to the hospital. We called for an OB and were told one would make it in an hour. In the meantime, I prepared to deliver the baby.
It would be my second emergency delivery and fourth assist. I felt confident in my abilities and understood exactly what was expected of me. I was certain to explain this to the young lady to help lessen her panic. She called me “doctor.” I opted not to correct her.
During an emergency, it is important as an aide worker to help legitimate emergency stations. The minute the population in need begins to doubt our efficacy, our purpose becomes immediately obsolete. Upon my arrival to the station, although the environment was visibly subdued, a palpable sense of relief spread from makeshift-bed to makeshift-bed, almost immediately. My arrival legitimated this first aide station. As a medical aide worker, although I am not an M.D. or D.O., I chose to act as one.
Of course, I never called myself doctor, and more than once made the correction. “I am an EMT,” telling patients and co-workers alike. But as the only medic on hand, I lent an air of authority that the outlet desperately required to complete the mission at hand.
I delivered a baby girl that morning. She was healthy despite her early arrival. When the OB arrived ten minutes after her birth, he was able to confirm the bright health of the mother and baby. We shook hands. He stayed for another hour and then left them in my care.
Two days later, my “first aid station” was an elementary school again. I expected to hear from the young mother regarding the birth of her child down the road. I thought perhaps I would be lucky enough to get a picture and a thank you. Instead I received a summons. I was being sued. I was accused of misrepresenting myself. She was stating that she would have made the fifty-minute drive to the hospital had she known I was not a “real” doctor. The truth was, she would have made it to deliver her girl, although just barely.
I had the support of the staff of the “first aid station,” which she was also attempting to sue, that I had made clear my position as medic. I had told her about my service in Afghanistan. I had told her about my work as an EMT in Des Moines. The baby girl was healthy, but the young mother felt that the normal developmental delays for a baby born three weeks early could have been avoided if she’d driven to the hospital.
My lawyer told me not to testify. Co-workers spoke on my behalf of my loyalty, honesty and sense of duty. The whole experience was a humbling one to say the least. And in the end, we won. But I had become gun shy, and it made me wonder if perhaps I had reached the end of that road. That feeling grew with time until finally, like my military career before it, I felt that I was ready for something new.
Simultaneously completing my undergrad degree, I decided that law school was the next logical place for me. I actually feel like my military background and experience as an EMT compliment a career in law in a way few other skill-sets ever could. My experience is in bringing a sense of security to emergency situations. Imagine what I could do in an environment that is deliberate and thoughtful, like the law.
Overall Lesson: Do not write a killer essay with a “meh” ending.
First Impression: The first paragraph is great. I am drawn into the scene, and the stakes are high. I understand the applicant’s predicament. In just a few words, he conveys his willingness to go beyond the call of duty: “If no one else could heed the call, I knew I would take it.”
Strengths: Although being sued is awful, this significant event is ideal to use in a personal statement. In this case, what is typically viewed as a negative situation has a silver lining.
Weaknesses: The candidate has me right up until the end, when his energy fizzles. Contrast the powerful beginning with the essay’s last two sentences: “My experience is in bringing a sense of security to emergency situations. Imagine what I could do in an environment that is deliberate and thoughtful, like the law.”
Why is the applicant asking readers to imagine his potential? He should be explicit here. What does he believe he could accomplish or contribute in a legal environment? What does he want to do within the legal realm? He should explain why being sued did more than humble him, how it also made him want to pursue law. This essay’s ending needs to be significantly more robust to make the piece stronger.
Allow me to make another important point:
Compliment = to make a formal expression of esteem, respect, affection, or admiration
Complement = to fill in or make up what is lacking, to supplement
Do not confuse the two in your essay, because I guarantee the admissions committee will notice your mistake.
Final Assessment: This essay needs substantial work in the final two paragraphs; they do not convey the same sense of confidence, urgency, or level of detail as the others. I would advise this applicant to revise them until they do.
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