Law School Personal Statement
Thinking of ideas:
The personal statement is your chance to present a clear and vibrant image of who you are. This is where you can distinguish yourself from other applicants who have the same GPA and LSAT score. Unless the application specifically asks you to write an essay on why you want to attend law school, it’s a good idea to write about something else that will give admissions officers insight to your personality and values.
You might begin brainstorming by thinking about any time in your life when you’ve had to make a major decision, when you heard a piece of advice that changed the way you think or your plans for the future, or when you’ve had to overcome an obstacle. You might also write about something you’re really passionate about like a hobby (avoid talking about your passion for something that might make admissions officers uncomfortable, like religion or extreme political causes). Good topics are ones that allow you to show how you have grown and changed as a person. Doing some free writing and letting all your ideas flow out on paper can be a good way to get started if you have writer’s block. If you’re still having trouble, go to the Piper Center’s graduate school personal statement information for more ideas.
A few words of caution when brainstorming:
- Don’t list your accomplishments in the essay-that’s what your resume is for.
- It's called a personal statement for a reason- keep the focus on yourself- avoid abstract, scholarly topics. How will you present a unique voice within their next cohort of law students?
- While as a St. Olaf graduate it’s likely that you have traveled and are inclined to oppose social injustice, be aware that many applicants will write about these topics. You want to use your statement to distinguish yourself from other applicants, so unless you’ve spent a significant amount of time abroad (think Peace Corps) or done significant, real work in the public interest, avoid these topics.
- Don't try to cover too much ground. Pick a single topic that you can concentrate on in depth, rather than several topics.
- Instead of spending time explaining poor grades or LSAT scores, or any other deficit in your personal statement, attach an addendum to your application with that information. (NOTE: this is only if you have a significant explanation.)
- Don’t write about the law or legal ideas-that’s what you’re going to law school to learn.
Writing the essay:
Once you think you’ve found a workable idea, create an outline so that you have a solid structure to build from: you’ll need to have an introduction, topic sentences, and a conclusion. This essay is your opportunity to show that you are a clear, effective communicator, so you must logically structure your essay. When you formulate your introduction, be sure to start with something that will encourage the admissions officer to read the rest of your essay. Don’t bore your reader in the beginning of your essay, or she may not read the rest of it! It can be intimidating to try and think of something interesting to say, so you can wait until after you’ve written more of the essay to make your introduction interesting. Avoid using a quote from a famous person to begin your essay. When you put together your conclusion, don’t slap on something about how much you want to go to the law school. It will likely seem unnatural and forced.
As you construct your essay:
- Overall, make sure your message is upbeat.
- Use sensory descriptions-help the admissions officer see/hear/taste/feel what you felt.
- Use active verbs and avoid passive statements.
- Make sure your essay is ultimately about you as you are today, not you as a high school student or college freshman.
- Avoid sounding naïve, overly idealistic, and pretentious. Admissions officers are more likely to be irritated than impressed by ostentatious word choice.
- Show how you learned a lesson and give specific examples; don’t just say that you learned a lesson.
What your essay should communicate about you:
- Personal growth
- Ability to communicate
- Thoughtfulness, insightfulness, sensitivity, and sincerity
- Commitment, initiative, and perseverance
Revising the Essay
Allow yourself enough time so that you can set aside the essay for a few days and then read it again out loud. If find yourself cringing at any part, know that admissions officers will probably also cringe, and revise/reword. As difficult as it may be, you should be open to changing to another idea if your topic is really not working or if you don’t enjoy reading your own essay. Seek advice from professors, friends, and the pre-law advisers throughout the writing process, but make sure your essay is truly your own. Ask yourself, does this essay communicate my maturity, how I’ve grown, and my strength of character? When others read it, ask them if you sound sincere and interesting.
Follow all guidelines strictly. Your final essay needs to be about two pages long, with standard font size and double spacing (unless otherwise requested). Proofread many times before sending the essay to law schools.
Statement of Purpose
The statement of purpose and the personal statement are two different essays. While the tips for the personal statement apply for the statement of purpose, there are some additional suggestions you should take into consideration when writing this type of essay.
The statement of purpose asks you to write about why you want to become a lawyer or study law. Use your background to demonstrate why you are interested in law in general or interested in a specific area of law. You do not have to know what type of law you would like to practice right now, but you need to show that you have some direction. In your statement you can discuss the skills you have that make you well suited to law school and law practice, like research and writing skills.
If you’re having difficulty writing about why you want to go to law school, you should take some time to think about whether this is really the right choice for you. Click here for a more general discussion about the field of law.
If you know law school’s the right choice but need more help writing the essay, consider meeting with or shadowing lawyers and law students. They can tell you about the skills they use in their jobs, what they like about practicing law, and give general advice. This will also help you build your network, which will be helpful in eventually landing jobs and internships. For more information on how to contact Ole alums for job shadowing and informational interviews, click here. In addition, working or interning in a law office even for a short amount of time will help you clarify why you want to be a lawyer and will show admissions officials that you know what you’re signing up for. For more information on internships, click here.
Bad approaches to your Statement of Purpose:
- You have always wanted to be a lawyer
- You want an all purpose degree
- Everyone in your family is a lawyer
- You hate your current job
- Others have said you would be a good lawyer
- You fear trying to get a job in this economy
- You want to be the type of lawyer that is portrayed on television
You can also talk about why you specifically want to attend Law School X. If you do this, you must really know the school and its programs, not just what the U.S. News and World Report rankings tell you. How do you get this information? Talk to current students and alumni, go to recruiting events and talk to admissions officers, and thoroughly read through the law school’s website. In order to find St. Olaf alums to speak with about their experience, you can search St. Olaf’s online alumni directory by degree earned (JD) and the institution.
Want more guidance or examples of great personal statements?
- Visit the Piper Center to review a file of sample personal statements written by Ole alumni
- Talk to the pre-law advisors, Kirsten Cahoon and Doug Casson
- Check out these books from the Piper Center’s library in order to see examples and learn what’s valued amongst admissions representatives:
Law School Essays that Made a Difference
The Ivey Guide to Law School Admissions
55 Successful Harvard Law School Application Essays
Perfect Personal Statements