Ann K. Levine is the founder and chief law school admission consultant at Law School Expert. Each year, pre-law students rely on Law School Expert’s blog for advice on personal statements, letters of recommendation, LSAT scores and more, to help them get into reach law schools. She has been a law school admission consultant since opening LawSchoolExpert.com in 2004, and this is her fourth book. The following is an excerpt from the Amazon bestselling law school guide, The Law School Admission Game.
What Is a Personal Statement?
This is the piece of your application over which you have—at present—the most control. And it’s not to be taken lightly. A good personal statement adds to the application by tipping the scales in your favor. If someone with your numbers has a chance of being admitted to a particular law school, but not everyone with your numbers is admitted, the major deciding factor is the personal statement. A good LOR helps, but if you can’t advocate for yourself, someone else advocating on your behalf isn’t going to make your case for you. And, if the personal statement is unimpressive, the person evaluating your application may not even go on to read the LORs.
So, the personal statement is your chance to become more than a list of your accomplishments and experiences, more than your transcripts, and more than your LSAT score. This is your chance to be personable, likable, and impressive. This is your one chance to tell a law school what it wouldn’t otherwise know about you. Don’t blow it!
With that kind of pressure, it’s understandable that this is the part of the application that makes applicants the most nervous. “I hate to write about myself!” you might be thinking to yourself. “I have no idea what to say!” you complain to your friends. “Nothing about me is unique!” you are screaming at your quasi-helpful parents or roommates. What do I say to those fears? Get over them. This is a great opportunity to consider what’s most important to you, what motivates you, and what makes you you.
What Are Law Schools Looking for in a Personal Statement?
There are certain things a law school wants to be assured of: maturity despite youth, a commitment to the study of law, the ability to succeed in a rigorous environment, independent thinking skills, an understanding of the world around you, and feeling a duty greater than simple self-interest. Schools leave the topic pretty open to your choice. A good personal statement is interesting to read without needing to rely on shock value. It has a conversational rather than formal tone; it’s not there to show how many big words you know, but rather to offer insight into your character. It lets a reader get to know you in a way they can’t from other pieces of your application. And, hopefully, it also shows why a law degree is the next logical step for you.
Will I Use the Same Essay for Every School?
Pretty much. Some schools vary the length requirement, make a point of asking you to include why you want to go to law school and/or to their law school in particular, or ask you to focus on specific questions (e.g., at CUNY Queens). On my blog, you will find a list of all two hundred law schools and links to their personal statement requirements.
For most schools, however, the same personal statement will work. You will only tailor your essay to specific schools if (1) they ask you to do so or (2) you have a very specific reason for wanting to attend, and they do not ask for a “Why X Law School” optional essay.
How Long Should My Essay Be?
“Brevity is the soul of wit.” So says Shakespeare, and so say deans of admission. Almost every time I help edit a client’s essay from three pages to two, the essay is improved by trimming the fat. I have yet to meet an essay that couldn’t be cut without sacrificing its power. Cutting the length requires you to really think about your message and decide what is essential to include. Some schools ask for only five hundred words, while others allow for up to four pages double-spaced. However, most schools ask for a two-to-three-page (double-spaced) essay. Schools have length requirements for two reasons: (1) to test your ability to follow directions (keeping to the length requirement) and (2) to evaluate how well you write. For example, on the Columbia Law website, it states, “While there is no official page limit, a good guideline is two double-spaced pages, using readable fonts and margins. Your personal statement/essay should be clear, concise, and an example of your best writing”. This is pretty much the direction I follow when working on every essay—it should use every word wisely and tell an insightful story that shows why an admissions dean should enjoy (not just “appreciate” but actually “enjoy”) having you at his or her law school.
Ann K. Levine is the founder and chief law school admission consultant at Law School Expert. Before founding Law School Expert, Ann was Director of Admissions for Loyola Law School in Los Angeles and served as Director of Admissions for California Western School of Law in San Diego. As the director of admissions for two ABA-approved law schools, Ann reviewed thousands of applications each year and was primarily responsible for making all admission decisions, including awarding scholarships.