Drafting your personal statement

General thoughts

In drafting your personal statement, you should keep in mind that law schools are primarily interested in who you are, why you want to go to law school, and why you want to go now. Above all else, law schools are looking for students who will do well in law school and in life.

Personal statements usually go in one of three directions: how I overcame adversity, how my past experience motivated me to attend law school, or how I will use my law degree in the future. I think the best statements come from those applicants who can combine two or three of those.

Your essay should begin with a strong image. This statement will become the theme of the statement. As you write, remember to keep that theme prominent. Yes, you can divert away to illustrate another aspect of your life, but remember to come back to the theme.

Don’t recycle an essay that you used to apply for undergraduate admission.

Make your voice authentic. Don’t make up a story or even embellish one. Everyone will have moments in their life that resonate. Law schools will see (and reject) a thousand “why I want to help the downtrodden” essays. Make your statement unique by making it about you and your life.

Writing tips

Work on your writing. Write multiple drafts. I believe the key to writing well lies in three concepts: structure, strength, and excitement. As you write a paper (and especially when you revise it), you should keep these ideas in mind.

First, structure. I like to outline a paper first, creating headings and subheadings and then filling in the details as I delve further into the paper. Investigate the outline view in Word -- it will help you build a structure and maintain it throughout the paper.

Second, strength. To make writing strong, avoid adverbs. I see the overuse of adverbs everywhere, especially in legal writing. I understand where it comes from. We use adverbs in our conversation and it seems natural to use them in our writing as well. Moreover, we believe that adding an '-ly'word will strengthen our point, but it does not. Often, the adverb weakens the phrase. I had a boss once who hated the world ‘clearly’ (which you see in legal documents all the time). I understood his frustration -- clarity does not require a word indicating its clarity. Try it yourself: “The plaintiff is clearly mistaken” versus “The plaintiff erred.” Which is the stronger statement?

You can also make your writing stronger by reducing compound sentences. Law schools do not provide bonus points for lengthy sentences. Two short sentences with appropriate transitional phrases will prove stronger than a lengthy compound sentence held up with ands and buts.

Finally, excitement. Writing requires excitement to entice the reader into reading the entire paper. You should think excitement as you right. Avoid the passive voice. But beyond that, remember that we can make writing exciting by reducing (or eliminating!) forms of the verb ‘to be.’ I know that sometimes we must use the word (“I was born” is better than “my mother bore me”) but still, keep it to a minimum. Too hard, you say? Review everything I wrote in this paragraph – how many forms of the verb 'to be' do you see?

The same holds true for the past perfect tense (have as a helper word). Use the past perfect only if it is necessary to clarify when something took place. Otherwise, prefer the past tense. Compare “I have slept ten hours” to “I slept ten hours.” You should find that the latter makes for a stronger phrase, which makes for a more exciting read.

I hope that helps. Please let me know if you have any questions.