Many prospective law school students are in the midst of perfecting their applications. One key component is the personal statement, and it’s critical that you submit a strong essay that captures who you are and your reasons for pursuing the law.
Begin with brainstorming and introspection before drafting. Once you start writing, structure your ideas into an inviting beginning, an introspective middle and a thoughtful ending.
[Learn how to craft a captivating law school personal statement.]
These preliminary steps are essential. But so is reviewing and revising your draft. Do not submit the first draft you write — the difference between mediocre and exceptional writing takes place in the revision phase.
Here are five tips to keep in mind as you review your personal statement.
1. Know your audience: Who are typical members of a law school admissions committee? Lawyers. It’s critical that you remember this.
Too often I see early essay drafts where applicants attempt to teach the admissions committee about the law. Some essays even discuss deficiencies in the law with the implicit — or explicit — argument that the applicant alone will fix the legal system.
A “know-it-all” tone when discussing legal issues is sure to irk admissions committee members, many of whom constitute the brightest legal scholars in the world. Remember, even if you have legal experience, you have not gone to law school — the committee doesn’t expect you to be an expert.
As you revise your personal statement, reframe any language that suggests you know more about the law or a legal issue than your readers. Instead, present legal discourse through a personal lens that will help an admissions committee member get to know you — not the law — better.
[Read about two law school personal statements that succeeded.]
2. Be personal but not too personal: In an era where social media gives us platforms to present our immediate, unfiltered opinions, revision is your opportunity to pause and reflect.
Candor is appreciated, but maintain a professional tone. Law school is both an academic and professional undertaking. Reconsider mentioning how Harry Potter, Disney, “Glee, ” etc., changed your life, if these references risk making you seem immature.
Be cautious with criticism. One client sent me an early draft that went overboard with the reasons he was unfulfilled in his current career. Hating your job does not make you a strong contender for law school.
Further, your personal statement is not a diary. Be strategic in what and how you present yourself. A good litmus test is whether you would feel comfortable saying these statements in person to the dean of admissions. If a statement makes you cringe, change it. That’s the beauty of revision.
3. Avoid absolutes: I am continuously surprised by how frequently applicants rely on absolute statements to convey gravity, such as how they have “always” wanted to be lawyers. I then ask if this were the case when they were a baby and didn’t know the law existed.
Since so many applicants use some version of this phrase, they must believe the word “always” shows just how serious they are about wanting to go to law school. Ironically, words like “always,” “never” and “only” make your personal statement vulnerable to counterarguments.
Writing like a lawyer means using words precisely. Say what you mean without hyperbolic claims. This tip will serve you well not only in your law school applications but throughout your legal career.
4. Pay attention to formatting: Lawyers tend to be rule sticklers. Take note of formatting guidelines and adjust your personal statement, as needed.
You can, and probably should, create different versions of your statement for each school. Some programs have strict page limitations, while others may specify font and margin size.
When you disregard formatting requirements, admissions committees are likely to think one of two things: You don’t pay attention to or care enough to follow the rules. Neither is an impression you want to make as an aspiring lawyer.
5. Catch errors: Finally, don’t forget to review your piece for typos and grammatical mistakes. These matter, particularly in the practice of law where the placement of a comma can affect the terms of a contract.
To be confident you are submitting an error-free draft, ask a trusted adviser with strong writing skills to read your statement. Typos can become invisible to you the more you reread and revise.
Want advice revising your personal statement? You can reach me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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