Law School Personal Statement: Do's and Don't's


hi my name is Joel butterly I'm a second

year student at Yale Law School and a

counselor at ingenious prep today I'm

going to walk you through a few of the

do's and don'ts of law-school personal

statements let's get started the

personal statement is probably the most

important part of your application by

the time you're applying you probably

can't significantly alter your GPA or

LSAT thus if your numbers make you a

borderline candidate someone who could

be admitted but could just as easily be

rejected your personal statement is your

greatest opportunity to swing the

decision in your favor

in short the personal statement is what

makes you a person rather than simply a

set of numbers and achievements it is

your chance to introduce yourself to the

admissions officers and one of the only

opportunities you will have to make an

admissions officer like you rather than

simply liking your achievements at most

schools applications are assigned to

particular admissions officers who then

present the best candidates from their

allotment to a committee or to the

director oftentimes whether a borderline

candidate is accepted or rejected will

depend on how passionately an admissions

officer advocates for that candidate the

more likeable you seem in your personal

statement the more likely an admissions

officer will want to go to bat for you

let's look at a couple of do's and

dont's the law school personal statement

first the personal statement is by

definition personal you want to write it

about yourself accordingly don't write

your personal statement about other

people even if they are extremely close

to you the personal statement is one of

the very few opportunities if not the

only opportunity that admissions

officers will have to get to know you if

you write about other people no matter

how compelling or well-written the essay

is you deprive yourself of the

opportunity to introduce yourself to the

admissions officers don't do that let's

take a look at what this would look like

here's an example from an applicant who

was applying to Harvard Law School this

is just a brief excerpt of his personal

statement first he talks about his

friend who's a trumpet player who got

suspended for drinking on campus

who smoked pot in college who was

arrested for robbery and thrown in

juvenile hall it ends up being a pretty

compelling story but again it's not

about the applicant then he tells us

about his friend who has no parents and

is being raised by a single grandmother

again a very compelling story but it has

nothing to do with the applicant him or

herself if you are an admissions officer

reading this you might think that the

applicant was a compassionate person

probably a pretty talented writer or a

good storyteller but you wouldn't

actually know anything about the

applicant this is a big problem

especially where an individual is a

borderline candidate next if you have a

bunch of experiences on your resume all

of which are totally different and or

have no relation to law school you

should use your personal statement to

unify your application what I mean by

this is that if your resume is just

totally scattered admissions officers

might think that you are a bit of a

dilettante and law school is just one

more thing that your light would like to

try out to avoid that perception you can

explain how several of your experiences

relate back to law school or how they

relate to the same personal

characteristic or characteristics that

have driven you to apply to law school

for people with resumes that scream I am

a pre-law this will probably not be

necessary however those people run a

different risk the risk of just

regurgitating their resume this is a

very bad idea both because it adds

nothing to your application and because

these sorts of personal statements are

often bereft of the personal touch that

gives admissions officers a window into

who you are for example this candidate

goes through four different lines of her

resume in five paragraphs those

different lines of the resume are bolded

here she talks about policy debate her

major in college interning at a judicial

center and her passion for exercise and

physical fitness overall the entire

personal statement reads like a

reiteration of

resume it doesn't add anything to the

application moreover the applicant in

this particular personal statement

doesn't go into great detail in any of

her descriptions and as a result this is

just a resume put to prose notice

however that this strategy may have made

more sense that the activities weren't

so obviously related to law school that

is if they were if they were all of the

physical fitness ilk and were all

related somehow somehow to a unifying

principle that motivated the applicant

to apply to law school it may have been

more successful or made more sense in

this case it was just a whole bunch of

articulations of why I'm good for law

school without particularly into any

particular depth in any of those

particular experiences finally in most

circumstances you should explain why you

are applying to this particular law

school many individuals and even some

admissions officers will tell you that

you should not do this for the most part

they're missing the point here's why

first it won't hurt you to explain why

you're applying to this particular law

school second explaining why this law

school lets admissions officers know

that you took the time to modify your

personal statement instead of just

uploading one generic personal statement

to else a org this demonstrates the

solid work ethic if nothing else third

many of the top law schools accept a

tremendous number of the same applicants

in part because people with high GPAs

and high LSAT scores are accepted to

most top schools thus if you're writing

your personal statement to the 10th

ranked school and you stand a good

chance of also being accepted to the

school's ranked one through nine

admissions officers may fear that you

are only applying to their school as a

backup by clearly expressing your

interest in their school you make it

clear that you've done your research and

have some genuine interest in attending

finally an effective way to demonstrate

both that you have researched a school

as well as your particular interest in

its offerings is to mention a few

specific courses professors

or groups that you'd be interested in

taking or getting involved with in

particular I've recommended that a

number of my students mentioned

particular clinics unique to that

particular law school that they would be

interested in participating in as long

as it makes sense within the context of

your application

you can throw it in your essay that is

don't say you're interested in doing the

community service clinic if you've never

done a day of community service in your

life however don't make the explanation

of why this particular law school the

focus of your essay you should also not

make it an obvious copy and paste job

what I mean by don't make it the focus

of your personal statement is that it

should take up no more than a few

sentences of your personal statement

this is for the same reasons that your

personal statement should be written

about you and not some third party

otherwise you'll waste your time talking

about that school and admissions

officers won't get to know you as a

person as an individual

moreover the why this school explanation

should not just be a copy-paste job a

lot of applicants write a very generic

paragraph usually at the end of their

personal statement into which the name

of any law school could be inserted this

doesn't accomplish anything make sure

that your explanation is unique to the

school you're applying to that is you

don't want to just have a paragraph that

says I am a good fit for X Law School

because of its world-class faculty and

classes any law school could be inserted

into that sentence and it tells them

nothing about the research you've done

or why this particular law school is a

good fit for you here's a good example

of what you should do this applicant was

applying to a number of top law schools

and was accepted to every top five law

school in his personal statement he

writes in a preparation for a career in

both academia and activism of pedagogy

in the classroom and peacemaking

peacemaking in the courtroom and Beyond

I'm pursuing a JD PhD my doctoral work

explores the intertwined historical

origins of a word I can't pronounce and

Sharia so as to appreciate their role in

today's Middle East and in the West

with a comparative focus I hope these

legal systems can inform one another and

build bridges were few currently stand

blank law schools unique opportunities

for interpreter interdisciplinary work

it's dynamic Middle East Legal Studies

seminar and it's vibrant blank Center

for International Human Rights make it

the ideal forum for my legal studies

passion for intellectual inquiry drives

me toward an academic career in law and

religion but as my path so adds with my

path so far

I want my studies to lead to positive

change in our world I hope that my JD

PhD will foster productive scholarship

activism and leadership notice that what

the applicant says about the school is

unique not just a paragraph or the name

of the law school could simply be

exchanged for another this is exactly

what you want to do in yours oftentimes

students will put these paragraphs at

the end of the personal statement but

that's not absolutely necessary put it

where it belongs

and make sure that it's specific to the

law school you're applying to okay

that's it for today thanks for watching

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