Pre-Law Advising

Personal Statement

Law schools require you to submit a personal statement as part of your application. An effective personal statement offers a clear and memorable portrait of you - your interests, experiences, personality, skills, and motivations to pursue education and a career in law. Because personal statements are personal, there is no one format or approach that will work well for everyone.

Navigating Prompts

It is typically best to develop one comprehensive version of your personal statement and to modify it if necessary to meet specific prompts. It’s impractical for most students, applying to ten or more schools, to write different versions of the personal statement for each school, and for most prompts it’s simply not necessary.

Personal statement prompts are generally quite broad: for example, “Write a statement about yourself,” or “Tell us something about yourself and your interest in law.” Though the vagueness of the prompt can be daunting, the personal statement offers an opportunity for you to introduce yourself to admission committees on a more personal level, allowing them to learn about you beyond the information presented in other parts of your application.

A number of law school admissions deans have blogs and podcasts, and they have all covered the subject of admissions essays. Some of them are found on the law schools’ websites.

The Harvard Law School Exception

Following Students for Fair Admissions Harvard Law School modified its essay prompts. HLS now requires a “statement of purpose” and a “statement of perspective.” According to the Dean of Admissions, the Statement of Purpose is expected to be a very straightforward essay “cut and dried” were words used to describe it – about your connection to and ambition in law. The Statement of Perspective prompt looks something like a combined personal statement and diversity statement prompt; it asks you to discuss how your background, experiences and interests have shaped you and may affect your interest in law. 

Brainstorming Your Personal Statement

Unless you already have a very clear idea of what you want to write about, start by NOT writing a draft personal statement. Instead, work just on generating ideas and getting used to writing about yourself. Set aside time to do unedited reflective writing, identifying things about yourself that are important, formative, or particularly characteristic, and experiences that reflect those things. Spend 20 - 30 minutes at a time, and write 500-1000 words. Some potential things to explore in writing:

  • Who are my role models and what do I admire about them
  • What would my friends/parents/teachers say are my key characteristics
  • What do I think my key characteristics are, where do they come from and how do I embody them in my activities
  • What do I like/admire/value in my friends
  • What experience have stayed with me and why
  • What did I learn from my (first/last/favorite) (job/class/trip)

Do a bit of this and narrow the themes down to one or two. Then start drafting.

Tips for Writing the Personal Statement

This is a professional school application essay. Be personal, but be professional. Stay away from “attention-getting” writing gimmicks (especially the notorious “cold open” that begins in the middle of some scene or action; this is a trite technique that screams “undergraduate admissions advisor”). Be personal. The essay is your introduction as a person to the admissions team. Ask yourself “what do I want them to know about me as a person when they are done with this essay.” Reconcile these first two points. Don’t use gimmicks, but don’t be afraid to be yourself in your essay.  

The essay does not have to be, but may be, a “why law” essay. If you decide to write about “why law” or “why law school” don't simply tack it on at the end in a final paragraph. Instead, make it integral to the essay.

Many applications, independently of the essays, convey a logical connection between the applicant and a desire to study law. If you feel that your background doesn’t convey a logical connection to law, through classes, concentration, research, internships or jobs, consider making that clearer with your essays.

Make the essay idea-based not chronological. Even a good theme can be spoiled by an essay that is, essentially, “first I did this.  Then I took this class. Then I did this volunteer project. Then I wrote this paper, then I had this job.” They have your resume and your transcript; don’t make your essay a rehash.

Make your theme clear at the beginning. Journalists are taught “don’t bury the lead.”  Lawyers are taught to preview the main point and use clear topic sentences. The theme should be clear from the first paragraph. Anecdotes should be used to demonstrate the theme but more than three anecdotes is too much for this length of essay. As you consider the theme, give the essay an arc; try to connect the beginning and the end in some way.

Most admissions officers have told us that they don’t want you to write about their school in your essay; they know their own school, they don’t know you. Some schools have a specific essay or prompt that asks you to write about your interest in or connection to that school. However, a few include this in the general personal statement prompt, so be sure to read it carefully.

  • Don’t name drop in your essay except for really good reasons (such as working with a Nobel prizewinner who wrote your recommendation).  
  • They know you went to Brown. You don’t have to use the name of the school.
  • Be sure to proofread very carefully as small errors can seem glaring to the school.
  • Keep your own voice. While it is important to get feedback and suggestions on your essay, ensure that in the end it is your voice and your ideas and not those of any editors.