How do you write your law school personal statement? Well first of all, let’s make sure that we’re on the same page about what your personal statement is. Your personal statement is the one part of your law school application package that you have complete control over, so you’ll want to put your best foot forward. A personal statement will often focus on why you want to go to law school, but it can also focus on a personal story or aspect of your life.
It shows what makes you unique and why a school should admit you. The personal statement should focus on you, your background, and your goals more broadly. Make sure that it adds something new to your application materials – the school already has your transcript, resume, etc. Think about what you really want the application committee to know about you.
Before anything else, a quick clarification: the law school personal statement is different from an optional essay, which can take on a variety of forms. This could include diversity statements, addendums, or other essays. Here are some examples of law school personal statements that may help you understand the task at hand better.
How do you format a law school personal statement?
In brief, here’s what your law school personal statement will need in terms of format:
- Overall: No title, 11- or 12-point Times New Roman font, one-inch margins.
- Header: Your name, your LSAC number, and “Personal Statement” with a page number, formatted as either one or three lines. Check with your school’s requirements.
- Body: Double-spaced, left-aligned (or justified), paragraphs indented 0.5 inches and not separated with an extra line, single space after periods.
- Ending: End as you would a normal essay. This isn’t a letter; no signature is needed.
Personal Statement Header
The header of the personal statement deserves a closer look. There are two ways of formatting this: either on one line, or on three. One line gives you more space on the page, but can look busy. Three lines have the opposite effect. Weigh the pros and cons based on the length of your statement, then format accordingly.
If you choose the one-line format, be sure to space your information out equally or separate it with punctuation (commas, dashes, and slashes work well) so that it reads clearly.
If you use a three-line format, separate information by line like this:
Name, Page Number
Law School Personal Statement Format: FAQs
What should be included in a law school personal statement?
- Who you are. Show readers that you’re an interesting person who brings experiences and skills that will benefit not only the campus community, but the larger legal community.You’re applying in a pool of thousands of candidates, so be sure to highlight what makes you stand out from your peers.
- Your true voice. There’s a reason why the personal statement isn’t just called a statement or an essay. Sometimes applicants feel that they should write pieces about public policy or social issues, but these too often fall short of showing an applicant’s true voice. Have someone you know well review your personal statement objectively. If they can’t tell you were the one who wrote it, it’s probably time for a rewrite.
- Specific information about that school. It’s not sufficient to say that you want to attend Santa Clara Law School for its good curriculum, strong faculty, and numerous clinic opportunities. Notice how you could replace “Santa Clara Law School” with any other law school’s name, and the sentence could still make sense? That tells Santa Clara admissions officers that you don’t know very much about their school. Which leads us to our next point…
- Research on the school itself. Figure out what makes the schools you’re applying to different from others. This is a great opportunity to reach out to alumni, and talk to the admissions staff! You can also use the Internet, visit your local bookstore and check out some guide books, or search around on online forums. Some schools are known for their strength in a certain area of law (think international law or intellectual property law). Some schools are known for their commitment to pro bono work. Some schools’ faculty are renowned for their research in a specific discipline. Others offer distinctive programs or fellowships to their students. Identify what really interests you about the school, and tie that back to the academic and career interests you discuss in your personal statement.
- Reflections on the school’s environment. Perhaps you’re looking for a collegial law school environment that mirrors your own undergraduate experience at a small liberal arts school. Or perhaps you’re looking for a large law school so you can take advantage of the network and breadth of resources and alumni that a law school of that size can offer. And don’t forget about the environment outside the school building! Is it important that you have access to hiking trials? Or a ski slope to enjoy over winter break? Environment is often a key factor students consider when deciding on a particular law school, so don’t forget to mention it as a way to express your interest!
- Concise writing. Check your school’s website to determine how long your personal statement can be, and take it seriously. Law schools are not only looking at whether you can write concisely and effectively, but also whether you can follow posted instructions. Most schools only allow 2-5 pages for personal statement submissions. As a lawyer, you’ll need to write briefs and be able to clearly present client cases. Now’s the time to show that you are capable of honing your communication skills.
- Authenticity. Law schools aren’t asking you to establish your own NGO or be an Olympic athlete. Rather, they’re looking for candidates who help round out a class and contribute positively to their school. Plenty of people get admitted to law school each year who aren’t superhuman, so don’t feel a need to pretend you’re more accomplished than you are (or stretch the truth). Be yourself – and view this as part of helping the reader understand who you are.
- Correct writing. Maybe for class assignments, you’ve been able to submit the first draft you write as final. Or maybe one edit is typically sufficient for you to call an essay complete. For the law school personal statement, you want to commit at least two rounds of edits to perfecting your writing. Not only should you review your work, you should also ask both a friend and a fully objective reviewer (like a career center counselor or a campus writing tutor) to give feedback. Once you have at least two rounds of edits, read it out loud to yourself. This will help you identify any awkward phrases and typos. The more time you spend editing your writing, the more confident you’ll be in the strength of your personal statement.
What should you not write in a personal statement for law school?
- Repetition. If your resume shows that you were vice president of your college’s botany club, general secretary of Basket-Weavers Anonymous, and founder of a campus-wide Pizza Appreciation Day, your personal statement need not repeat these things. Now, if founding Pizza Appreciation Day was such a transformative experience for you that you need to highlight it in your personal statement, be sure you’re telling admissions officers something new that your resume doesn’t already tell.
- Your autobiography. Admissions officers don’t need a play-by-play of your entire life’s events from day one. Autobiographies become long and rambling – two things your personal statement shouldn’t be. Focus on aspects of your life that truly differentiate you from others in a meaningful way.
- Academic issues. Law schools offer you space in a separate essay to explain academic discrepancies. Your personal statement is your chance to focus on the positive and show admissions officers you’d be an asset to their school. Don’t use your personal statement to go into detail about how your dog’s unexpected chronic migraines prevented you from getting a good GPA during your first year of college.
- Legal jargon. No, you’re not a lawyer yet – and law school admissions officers are not going to be impressed by legal jargon that’s used incorrectly or used as a way to show off. Keep your tone and language simple. Remember that your personal statement is meant to show your own voice.
- Cliches. Don’t be the student who bores admissions officers with another essay about how you want to be a lawyer because you like to argue. Avoid clichés – by definition, they’re overused and don’t add value. They make your personal statement generic, and you’ll fall flat when compared with other candidates.
- Other people. Your personal statement should keep the focus on you. It’s great if you want to write about how your famous lawyer uncle inspired you to join the legal profession, but make sure the essay remains true to your story – not your uncle’s.
- Slang. Admissions officers view the personal statement as a showcase of your best writing – so slang and casual English are best left behind. While you want your tone to be friendly, you don’t want to sound like you’re chatting with a best friend on a Friday night. Keep things professional.
How do I write a statement for law school?
There are three main steps to the writing process, and they’re no different here! Namely: brainstorm, write, and edit. In this case, though, we’ll add a fourth step: format and proofread.
- Brainstorming is one of the most crucial things you can do for your personal statement. You want to make sure your ideas are strong, following the guidelines above. It can be helpful to spend a little quiet time alone or in a cozy coffee shop to start brainstorming. Check out some of our law school personal statement examples to spark ideas!
- Once you’ve brainstormed and organized your ideas, the writing itself will go pretty quickly. After you’ve written the first draft, leave the personal statement aside for a day or two (a week or more is better!). Then, come back. What parts don’t flow well? What ideas need more (or less) elaboration? Cut—and add—brutally! Editing is not the same as proofreading; this is the point at which you ensure the ideas themselves are sound.
- Now, it’s time for the final line edit-format-proofread. In a line edit, you’ll work to make sure you’re using the best possible words correctly, rephrasing and rewriting as needed. Then, use the law school personal statement format discussed above to organize the writing. Finally, read through for errors in spelling, grammar, and formatting.
Voila! Your law school personal statement is now ready. If you’re planning to send it off to a T14 law school, check out our post on the top law schools for more tips and information.