This post is the first of a series on navigating the personal statement.
It’s by the author of A Comprehensive Guide to the Law School Personal Statement, Margaret Klein, PhD, a personal statement editor.
It has to answer the question: “Why Law School?”
Remember writing your personal statement for undergraduate admissions? There was a huge amount of latitude about the topic. People wrote about their travels, about their moral dilemmas, about their love of opera— anything that demonstrates positive personal and intellectual qualities works.
High school seniors can write about (almost) anything because they are not expected to know where they are headed. Undergraduate education is all about exploration. So, for incoming students, there is no pressure to name their future major, and certainly not their future career.
Law school personal statements are different. Law school is not a time of educational and personal exploration– it is a professional training program. For this reason, every excellent law school personal statement tells the story of why the applicant wants a legal education.
This does not mean that the law school personal statements have to be dry or boring, and they should definitely not begin with “I want to go to law school because…” In fact, the best personal statements are both exciting and explain why the applicant wants to be a lawyer!
Take, for example, the personal statement of a former professional athlete I worked with, who wrote about how his league did not provide adequate care and compensation to injured and disabled athletes, and that he wanted to return to sports as a lawyer for injured players. Or the woman who wrote that having had family members die in Holocaust had made her preoccupied with issues of human rights– going to law school would allow her to put her knowledge into action. These topics are personal, gripping, and they explain to the admissions officer why you are applying.
Any major life decision, like the decision to become a lawyer, has a back story, and those stories are usually pretty interesting! Your job is to articulate your story. When I begin working with private clients, I direct them to be totally honest, and then I ask: “Why do you want to go to law school?” The conversation evolves from there, as I get a sense for the applicant, from the perspective of their law-school ambitions.
So, have a discussion with a friend or family member about your motivations. Be honest. Take notes. There are infinite possible motivations that can turn into essays. For example, having had mentors who were lawyers, wanting to pursue a certain area in law that appeals to you, or having a certain mental style or skills (such as an eye for detail, a love of logical argumentation, etc.) that will help you in the profession. Obviously, there is a reason that you are applying to law school, you just need to articulate what that is, and tell its story!