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Home Law School Admissions The Art of the Law School Personal Statement | Excerpt

The Art of the Law School Personal Statement | Excerpt

Below is an excerpt from a new Kindle book, The Art of the Law School Personal Statement.


The Art of the Law School Personal Statement will guide you through the entire essay process, including brainstorming (over 80 questions and writing prompts to get you moving); formulating, structuring, and revising your essay; conquering writer’s block; and much more. Here are some of the writing prompts included in the book to get your mind moving:

-Describe your life in three to five snapshots in time.

-Write about your most important, life-changing experiences.

-Write an introduction of yourself to a stranger.

-Write about a time when you succeeded at something others said you couldn’t do.

-Write about a time you felt discouraged and how you worked through it.

For a further taste of what you’ll find in The Art of the Law School Personal Statement, below are the first six of the Twelve Commandments of the Law School Personal Statement:

1. Say what you have to say, say it well, and get out.

Be concise. Make every word count and count every word, i.e., even if the school doesn’t give you a word limit, keep your personal statement to no more than two or three double-spaced pages, preferably two. Always heed the school’s specific recommendations, however.

Put yourself in the adcomm’s position, staring at a seemingly endless stack of personal statements. They want to know why they should accept you as soon as possible into your essay, not on page four, which they may never even get to.


Perhaps you’re thinking, “But aren’t lawyers famous for being wordy and going on and on and on and on?” Why yes, many are (and they aren’t necessarily the best lawyers, but that’s a whole other book).

Adcomms are not looking for dissertations; they simply want to know that you are an intelligent person who can make a thesis and support it in a persuasive, professional, and concise way.

Be kind and deliver that to them in two pages or less, and you will up your chances for admission.

2. It’s all about you.

Law schools generally don’t grant interviews, so the personal statement is your chance to leap off of the paper and show the adcomm you’re a three-dimensional, interesting, excellent law school candidate.

More tangibly, your personal statement should be two pages that could have only been written by you.

So you’ll need to ask yourself some questions:

What is unique about you? Your background? The way you grew up? Your educational and/or work history? Your life experiences? How have these things come together to make you the person you are today, the perfect law school candidate?

Building your essay around one quality or experience is highly suggested, so you’re going to want to put a lot of thought into the above questions. Don’t worry—we’ll talk a lot more about this in Part I: Choosing a Topic.

Because you want to appear as a unique, interesting individual, avoid saying things like you’re just an “average” fill-in-the-blank (Latino girl, recent college graduate, frustrated stay-at-home mom, etc.). You want to convey that you’re anything but average, so don’t lump yourself in with everyone else and then try to dig out of that self-imposed hole.

3. Accentuate the positive; eliminate the negative.

Your personal statement should be a happy place, especially at the end. Most people like happy endings, and adcomms, despite what some might claim, are made up of people.

They don’t want a sob story, and they don’t want to know why you got a D in organic chemistry your sophomore year. Note that if you want to explain that grade or a low LSAT score, you may consider writing an addendum (more fully discussed in Chapter Ten).

Just please don’t waste room in your personal statement talking about such things; every year I tell applicants this, and every year I have at least one person still tries to sneak negative talk into the personal

statement, thinking he or she is the exception to the rule. They never are.

When I say “negative,” I’m not talking about adversity, which can be a excellent personal statement topic. Sure, it starts out negative, but if you can manage to show how you’ve overcome any negative factors in your life, you’ll be ending on a positive note. And remember, adcomms love happy endings.

But overall, don’t waste your only opportunity to sell yourself by dwelling on negatives. Can you imagine an advertisement for soda telling you exactly how many calories and grams of sugar you’re ingesting each and every time you sip?

For easy reference, in Chapter Four, I’ve included some topics you should avoid or at least be careful when writing about.

4. Show. Don’t tell.

This is a common refrain of writing teachers everywhere because it’s so darn true.

Don’t tell the adcomm that you’re smart, determined, and industrious. Talk, or in this case, words are cheap. Besides coming across as arrogant and self-aggrandizing, you’re also not showing them who you are; you’re telling.

And you need to show them.

You need to paint the picture, give examples, and make them believe your words; as trustworthy as I’m sure you are, adcomms have no reason to just take your word for the fact that you’re the perfect law school candidate.

So show them.

5. No resume rundown.

One of the biggest mistakes you can make in a personal statement is to do what I call the “resume rundown,” through which you restate your resume chronologically or otherwise.

Aside from making for a snoozefest of an essay, the resume rundown wastes the only opportunity you have to present yourself on a personal level to the adcomm, particularly since your resume is most likely also already in your application file. Yes, you may choose to write about an experience from your resume, even two if they are closely related, but if you find yourself referring to your resume repeatedly for the next topic to include in your essay, you’re probably doing a resume rundown.

Stop right there, and proceed to brainstorming (Chapter Three), because you need to find yourself a stronger topic.

6. No funny business.

You think you’re funny. Your family and friends think you’re funny. The adcomm reviewing your personal statement? Eh. Don’t go there.

It’s fine to show personality throughout your statement, but no comedy routines and for goodness’ sake, no jokes. Not everyone shares your sense of humor, but beyond that, have you ever had an email or Facebook comment come across in a way you didn’t intend even with the little winkie smiley face added? You don’t want that to happen in your personal statement. So no sarcasm either.

Wait. I don’t have to tell you not to include winkie smiley faces in your essay, do I? OK, well for the

record, don’t.

In addition to keeping your funny bone to yourself, avoid poetry, creative writing, and any kind of gimmicks in your statement. So no this:

L is for my love of the law;

A is for all the people I will help someday;

W is for the hours and hours of work I will put in to make myself the best lawyer possible!

Save that kind of stuff for the blog you’ll keep during law school (or in the case of LAW above, for the handy trash folder on your computer).

Three words: Keep it professional.


Michelle Fabio, Esq. is the former About.com Guide to Law School, a licensed attorney, and full-time freelance writer and editor as well as official blogger for LegalZoom.com.

Through her time at About.com, Michelle consulted with admissions officers at top law schools around the country, so she knows what adcomms are looking for. She has helped hundreds of aspiring students prepare personal statements through both About.com and her own venture, PersonalStatementArtist.com.

Michelle is a graduate of Duke University with an A.B. in English and history, cum laude, and attended Temple University’s Beasley School of Law on a Law Faculty Merit Scholarship. While at Temple, she served as an editor on the Temple Law Review, published an award-winning comment on professional responsibility, and won several awards for academic performance, community service, and writing.

Upon graduation in 2001, she served for two years as an appellate law clerk to Justice Frank J. Montemuro, Jr. on the Pennsylvania Superior Court. After clerking, she decided on a nontraditional legal career route and pursue freelance writing and editing with a speciality in law, which she still does today from her home in her ancestors’ medieval hilltop village in southern Italy.

You can find Michelle at PersonalStatementArtist.com, through which she offers individual personal statement review and editing services; her hub site, MichelleFabio.com; and at her personal sites BleedingEspresso.com, where she writes about mindfulness and savoring simplicity in southern Italy, and GoatBerries.com, where she writes about her experiences raising goats.


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