Law School Personal Statement: The Ultimate Guide (Examples Included)

Learn how to write a law school personal statement that dazzles admissions committees

AN EXCELLENT LAW SCHOOL PERSONAL STATEMENT CAN HELP COMPENSATE FOR A less competitive UNDERGRADUATE GPA OR LSAT SCORE

AN EXCELLENT LAW SCHOOL PERSONAL STATEMENT CAN HELP COMPENSATE FOR A less competitive UNDERGRADUATE GPA OR LSAT SCORE

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Part 1: Introduction

The law school admissions process can feel confusing, scary, overwhelming, or, most often, all of the above. Questions like “What LSAT score do I need?” “How many law schools should I apply to?” and “Do law school rankings matter?” may weigh on your mind.

But amid all the uncertainty, there’s one thing we know for sure: the two most important components of your law school application are your undergraduate GPA and your LSAT score.

That means you should spend as much time as you’re able improving those two things. If you’ve already graduated from college or are about to graduate, you should focus on improving your LSAT score as much as you reasonably can.

But while those two statistics are invariably the most important ones to having a successful law school admissions cycle, they aren’t the only factors considered by admissions committees.

In this article, we’ll discuss the third most important part of your application: your law school personal statement. Because your LSAT and GPA carry so much weight, you shouldn’t begin thinking about your personal statement until you already have taken the LSAT. While you wait for your scores, you can turn your attention to the essay.

Before we get into the step-by-step guides, we’ll offer some general framing thoughts about the law school personal statement. While many people applying to law school are already strong writers with backgrounds in the humanities, social sciences, public policy, or journalism, they often forget the components of good storytelling as soon as they sit down to write their essays.

Remember that the tone of your law school essays isn’t the same tone you’ll use in a legal brief. Law schools are admitting the whole person. An artificial intelligence can handle legal research; only you can display the kind of narrative understanding of your own background and your own future that a good future attorney needs.

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Part 2: Why does the law school personal statement matter?

A quality personal statement—a short essay in which you articulate who you are and why you want to go to law school—allows an admissions officer to understand your motivation to attend law school, and the reasons why you want to attend their school, specifically.

As admissions committees decide between students who have similar stats (i.e., GPA and LSAT score), they might turn to a tiebreaker: the personal statement.  An effective law school personal statement can mean the difference between a letter that begins with "Congratulations!" and one that says "We regret to inform you..."

In 2018, law school enrollment soared for the first time in a decade. And students from top law schools have less collective debt than their peers at lower-tier schools. A strong personal statement is one major way to push you beyond your scores and into the top 5, 10, or 14 programs, giving you a shot not only at a top-notch education but also a flourishing career in the years after.

The personal statement also matters because lawyers have to write, and to come up with creative argumentation to support a variety of claims. If you can’t make a case for yourself, how can a law school trust that you’ll defend tenants’ rights or argue successfully on behalf of a major corporation?

Your personal statement can demonstrate that you’re not only a rigorous, clear thinker but also a pristine writer, so make sure you don’t leave any typos for an eagle-eyed admissions committee to nitpick over.

Lastly, a strong set of law school essays demonstrates that you aren’t just going to law school by default. Unlike, say, medical school, law school has no undergraduate prerequisites, making it a generic possibility for many students who don’t know what to do next but want a respected career. Offering specificity, passion, and context for your application assures programs that you can make the most of these three years, and that you’ll represent them well as an alumnus or alumna.

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Part 3: What should a law school personal statement do?

Your law school personal statement should tell the admissions committee something about you outside of your academic qualifications (i.e., GPA and LSAT score) or work experience (i.e., law school resume)

The personal statement is an opportunity to showcase your personality, reflect on the experiences that led you to apply to law school, and demonstrate how you will make a great addition to the school’s incoming class.

Meet our students

Throughout the course of this post, we’ll provide examples from students who have gone through this process to see the writing process in action. These examples are either real essays that have been slightly adjusted for anonymity or are composites based on real students who have had success applying to T14 (top-tier) schools.

Tucker: Tucker is from North Carolina and studied at UNC. He has bits and pieces of political experience, most notably working on a state representative’s successful campaign. He wants to return to North Carolina after law school to work as a public defender or return to politics.

Teresa: Teresa is a first-generation Nigerian immigrant who went to a large technically-focused state school, studied mechanical engineering, and ultimately decided a strictly technical career is not her forte.

Deepika: Deepika graduated with a 4.0 from a state school close to home. She studied pre-med, but toward the end of her undergraduate career she decided med school wasn’t for her. In the last year, she’s worked for a local law firm as a paralegal and wants to become an attorney, preferably ending up at a big firm in New York City.

Pavel: Pavel did well as an undergraduate at Michigan, winning the collegiate national debate title along the way. He doesn’t know what kind of law he wants to practice, but right now he’s most interested in the work of prestigious non-profits like the ACLU.

Eric: Eric attended Morehouse, a historically black college, and spent his undergraduate years studying American history while also getting involved in local Atlanta politics. He’s originally from rural Alabama, and after Morehouse moved to Baltimore to teach high schoolers for two years.

Victor: Victor, a Dallas native, took advantage of his liberal arts education at Harvard. He pursued an interdisciplinary major, Social Studies, and earned good but not fantastic grades in the competitive concentration. He did everything possible on campus: performed with an improv troupe, did work-study in the admissions office, attended weekly religious group meetings. When he graduated, it wasn’t obvious what he would do. He entertained offers from banks and consultancies alike, and he took his time before applying to law school, working in local government and attending a graduate program in France first.


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Part 4: Law school personal statement brainstorming

Before you begin writing, you should spend time brainstorming ideas. Because law school personal statement prompts are almost always broad—e.g. “why do you want to go to law school?”—applicants often feel uncertain about how to proceed. Either you have too many ideas, or no clue what to write. First let’s look at a strategy you can use if you don’t know where to start.

Grab a notepad, and answer the following questions:

  • What’s a time—a year, a summer, a month, even a day—that helped define who you are today?

  • What are your fondest memories from college?

  • When did you first think about becoming a lawyer?

  • What’s the hardest thing you’ve experienced?

  • What personal accomplishment are you most proud of?

  • What cause do you care about most? When did you first begin to care about it?

  • What qualities do you associate with the law? When did you first begin to think about the law in those terms?

  • Who’s had a significant impact on you? What’s an important experience you had with that person?

  • What’s a Big Idea that changed the way you think? How did you encounter it (i.e. in school, with a friend, through religion, etc)?

  • What is definitely not on your resumé but is still an important part of who you are?

Feel free to ask yourself additional questions. The more ideas, the better.

Another way into your PS is to ask what qualities make a good lawyer, and how you embody those qualities. Here are a few to get you started, though this is by no means a comprehensive list.

  • A commitment to justice or the rule of law

  • A passion for a particular policy matter or issue (e.g. climate change, religious freedom)

  • A strong ability to communicate, verbally or in writing

  • Critical thinking skills and a facility for argumentation

  • A creative approach to problem-solving

Before moving from the idea-generation phase to the writing phase, take some time, whether it’s a few hours or a day or a week to step away from the process. This next step is best done when removed from the context of your brainstorming.

Focusing your ideas

Here are some of the topics that our students came up with:

Tucker

  • Working on a local election campaign

  • Losing faith and deciding to leave the church he grew up in

  • Making environmental documentaries during his film coursework

Teresa

  • Her senior product design engineering lab

  • Grandmother teaching her how to cook as a child

  • Interning for a civil/environmental engineering firm focused on renewables

Pavel

  • Interning for a human rights non-profit

  • Growing up in Slovakia

  • The route to becoming the collegiate national debate champion

Deepika

  • Being on the swim team in college

  • Her favorite painting, which is by a Sudanese refugee who immigrated to the United States

  • Working at a local law firm

Eric

  • Moving from a rural environment to a major city

  • Studying abroad in Oxford

  • Personally facing police injustice

Victor

  • Living and studying in France

  • Working underneath the mayor of a major city

  • Turning around his college improv troupe

Once you’ve generated a list of ideas, choose the one that most compellingly answers ALL of the following questions:

Why go to law school?

Before applying, let alone writing your personal statement, you should be crystal clear on why applying to law school is the logical next step for your ambitions and career.

This matters because admissions committees see too many law school applications from people who just need another step—a credential, a degree to top off their B.A. in English and render them more employable, or a place to hide out for three years. Explaining how a law degree will help you achieve your professional goals is crucial.

What personal strengths do I have that are not apparent in the rest of my application?

The admissions committees get two windows into your personality and life beyond the numbers: your personal statement and your letters of recommendation. Since at the very least you know what context your professors and/or other recommenders have on your professional and academic life, you can also deduce which aspects of yourself they might miss out on that an admissions officer would find compelling. The personal statement is a great place to highlight those.

Why do I want to attend this school specifically?

You should be able to articulate the reasons why a particular school appeals to you. Does the school have a strong reputation for your intended specialty (e.g., public interest law, constitutional law)? Is there a specific faculty member with whom you want to conduct research? Is there a student organization on campus that can benefit from your expertise and leadership?

The more you’re able to tailor your personal statement to each school, the greater your chances of admission. This requires thorough research: look at the school’s website, reach out to current students and faculty members, and go on a campus tour if possible.

How do I embody the qualities of a good lawyer?

Your personal statement shouldn’t just tell a story of your own past, present, and future. In an ideal world, it’ll also speak to one or more of those intangible qualities that we listed above, or that you came up with in conversation with attorneys or professors. An admissions committee should be able to read your essays and think, ‘yes, I see how this person will fit right into our larger legal world, because they’ll have to call on these qualities every day.’

Let’s look at how our students applied these principles.

Teresa’s desire to be a lawyer is tied to her background in engineering. She wants her future career to be technical, but she sees real appeal in the skills that practicing law would employ, which has her thinking that a career in IP law could be a good fit. When she writes her essay, she wants to make sure she refers to her engineering expertise. Her idea to write about her experience on a product design engineering team survives this scrutiny.

It also demonstrates a fascination for creative problem-solving, and one can easily see how an engineer could turn her analytical mind toward the law.

Tucker, as we mentioned, was politically active throughout college, but much of that activity was informal, so he found it hard to capture in his resume or elsewhere. He wants to use his personal statement to highlight some of that passion, so he’s chosen to write about his Appalachian roots through the lens of the local candidate he worked with and how they relate to his advocacy. This topic also shows off Tucker’s passionate commitment to a whole constellation of causes and paints a clear picture of how he might use his law degree—to return home to North Carolina to address major systemic issues like poverty, racism, and the opioid crisis.

If you feel like you still have a few winners after narrowing on those criteria, you still have to pick just one. The final selection should be a combination of all the above lessons, while also asking yourself “Which of these can tell the best story?” At the end of the day, great personal statements tell a story, and some of your ideas probably map more easily to that reality than others. If the idea doesn’t yield a story, it may not be your best. Kill it.

These questions may serve as a litmus test for whether an idea can turn into a good tale:

  • Do you have a story and not just a topic? In other words, can you reference a specific anecdote (a day, a summer)? Could you, if pressed, write a scene, with characters and images to illustrate your larger narrative?

  • Is yours a story no one else could tell? If there were other people who did your exact same jobs, or attended your exact same university, could they come up with the same essay?

  • Is there a natural tension or conflict present?

  • Did you change at all from the beginning to the end of the relevant time period? How? Was it a surprise?

  • In telling this story, will you sound like yourself, or is there a risk that you’ll have to write robotically or flatly?

Whichever idea you choose, you should be able to answer yes to at least one of these questions.

To that end, while Deepika felt at first that her time at a local law firm melded naturally with her desire to go to law school, the emotional arc she identified in how moved she was by the painting and the emigré narrative of the artist felt an easier story to tell, not to mention a more unique one (law schools read a lot of essays about being a paralegal).

Similarly, Pavel was torn between writing about his debate experiences or interning with an NGO, but his version of the former gives more insight into who he is and how he’s changed and grown, which means he’ll be able to tell a better story.

Eric, for his part, opted to tell a story that was personally gut-wrenching but which drew a very clear connection between him and the law: the moment a police officer wrongfully arrested him for “loitering.”

And Victor made a bold choice: he didn’t really choose. Instead, he decided to use several of his experiences as canvas in a larger, quilted story about his passions and sense of self.

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Part 5: How to write your law school personal statement

Start with an outline

Before you dive into writing the best personal statement the admissions committee has ever seen, it’s often useful to create an outline. An outline will keep your ideas organized and help you write more efficiently.

Here’s one path you could follow as you outline:

First paragraph: Lead with the anecdote or story

It may be tempting to write straight away about the importance of the legal system or why you’re excited about a particular school, but beginning with your narrative draws readers in more effectively. In addition to hooking readers, an essay that tells a story will be more memorable than one that feels focused entirely on listing your readiness for or interest in studying the law. To drive this home further, every applicant has an interest in studying the law. Pinning that interest to a story only you can tell will make your application all the more memorable.

How do you know what the right anecdote is? Remember how our litmus tests above asked about scenes? A story is a story—rather than an idea or a topic—if it can be populated with vivid descriptions of the characters and setting. Can you recall the smell of the damp room where you sat when it was announced that your boss has won the state senate seat? How did you feel on the first day of your new teaching job in the Texas border town? What was the weather like? How big was the space? Who else was there? Did someone say something particularly memorable?

Another way to check for your anecdote is to think about what growth or change you’re trying to demonstrate through the essay. What was the beginning of that growth or change? What, in other words, was the inciting incident that kicked off your epiphany or transformation?

This opening anecdote or personal hook is the place our only you litmus test matters most. No one else should be able to tell this story the way you can tell this story. Your personal views, history, and perspective will color what details pop out.

Tucker chose to open with a beautiful, personal reflection on the place that shaped him. It both sets the stage with narrative finesse, literally demonstrating place and space, but also gives us an inciting incident that spurred Tucker’s new relationship to his hometown.

Note also that Tucker’s opening is not explicitly or even obviously related to the law. Take a look:

I did not know that my home town was a small one until I was 15 years old. Growing up, I thought I lived in the big city, because Greensboro has skyscrapers—isn’t that the dividing line between the big city and not? It’s also the first town that appears on interstate signs in North Carolina once you get on I-40, headed west from Durham. I figured if the interstate thought we were important, why shouldn’t I? So when I went to Rochester, New York in tenth grade for a student conference with my friends at school, I proudly announced that I was from Greensboro to the first person who asked, only to have her, a Bronx resident, respond, “Uh, where?” It was then that I learned one thing it could not claim to be was “the big city.”

Eric also set a scene in vivid, visceral, painful detail. Because his story was so intense, he didn’t limit himself to just one paragraph at the start. He took his time, the way a lawyer would, laying out every component of what happened to him when he was wrongfully arrested, and demonstrating everything he witnessed as part of the process. This sets him up to level a layered and specific critique of the system that was responsible for his arrest.

After less than four minutes of waiting on the front lawn of my private property for my uncle to arrive, I was arrested and forced into a squad car without a reason for my arrest. As he tightened the cold handcuffs on my wrists, the arresting officer asked my age. Perplexed, I informed him I was eighteen-years-old. “Great,” he exclaimed, as he slammed the door in my face while he exchanged smiles with his partner. Oblivious, I waited in the back seat, as he drove down the block, anxiously awaiting an explanation for my arrest. Less than thirty seconds after forcing me in the car, the police officer jumped out of the car, pursued an unsuspecting boy riding his bike in the neighborhood, aggressively pulled him from his moving bike, and placed him in handcuffs. After throwing the boy in the back seat with me, the cop sped off—leaving the boy’s bike behind on the sidewalk to be stolen. The caravan of police proceeded to rampage the area arresting more young men walking through the neighborhood.

On the ride to the police station, I repeatedly asked the officer the reason for my arrest. After a few minutes of ignoring my questions, he said he arrested us for loitering. After arriving at the police station, the cops expressed their disapproval of my choice of clothing. At that moment it was clear that I was profiled based on my appearance alone.

A couple of hours later, my mother arrived and demanded my release. When releasing me, the cops repeatedly apologized to my mother insisting that they did not know they had a “good kid.” The whole experience left me wondering how many people, besides the ones I witnessed, are wrongfully arrested or wrongfully convicted, due to their appearance, ignorance, and lack of access to quality legal advice and representation.

Lastly, let’s look at Victor’s essay, which took an unconventional approach. He didn’t begin with a specific anecdote, but he did take on the voice of a storyteller.

The house is quiet—its residents have been asleep for some time now. In a modest room on the second floor, only faint specks of moonlight peek through the window blinds. A few of these beams land on a small, round face, his eyes glittering in the darkness. Although he retreated to his bedroom hours ago, sweet slumber eluded him. This was not the first time: for as long as he could remember, he would lie awake when he should have been in repose, his mind excitedly flitting from one thought to the next. He pictured distant lands, from Spain with its beautiful language and world-renowned cuisine, to his parents’ mother country of Ghana, where farmers journeyed for miles to sell their wares in vibrant cities teeming with life. He also loved superheroes, and he sometimes imagined himself launching into the sky like Superman, sailing through the air as quickly as possible to help a family in need. At this late hour, when the sun had not yet nudged above the horizon and his loved ones were just beginning to dream, he was obsessed with the world not as it was, but as it could be.

Victor knows that someone might read his application and wonder about his seeming lack of focus. By opening here, he demonstrates that his diversity of interests is a core part of who he is, and that he wasn’t a waffler or a flip-flopper but, rather, a curious person by nature.

Body paragraphs:

You should try to accomplish the following in your body paragraphs. They don’t—and probably shouldn’t—happen in this order, with each of the below points being assigned to a paragraph. But as you write, you ought to be able to pull off each of the following.

Connect the narrative to a thesis.
Only after you’ve told the story should you articulate your thesis, your “here’s why I am applying to law school/want to be a lawyer/care about the law.”
Teresa accomplished this beautifully. She opened with a personal anecdote about her father’s annual ‘Design Days,’ days in which the family would make physical things, and which spurred in her a love of creating with her hands. It’s not obvious what that has to do with the law at first, which is part of what makes it a great opening. By the third paragraph, she links it brilliantly to her legal preoccupations, and, in doing so, explains why a former engineer is applying to law school.

But the reality for many creators in America is that their work is under threat. The chief protection for many fledgling creators, whether they’re scientists or engineers or musicians or writers, is the legal system. Patent trolls aim to trounce startups; large institutions create environments unfriendly to more nascent artists. In between them stand good lawyers ready to defend the individual artist, scientist, inventor. While the American intellectual property system is not void of imperfections, it remains true that copyright and patents can and should protect the creations of every person who experiences the same precious sense of creativity my father introduced me to every November 1.

Articulate what kind of lawyer you hope to be.
You might have a sense of what sort of law you want to practice, whether it’s being a defense attorney or general counsel for a big corporation. But that’s not what we’re talking about. Go back to the qualities you came up with in the brainstorming phase. What values and ideals does your life so far reflect, and what do those have to do with the kind of legal career you hope to have? This doesn’t have to take up too much space. Deepika neatly and simply explains:

I want to apply my desire for more legal experience specifically to the problem of migration.

Connect the personal to the professional.
Don’t leave your opening personal anecdote out to dry. Even something that has ostensibly nothing to do with the law, like, say, Deepika’s choice to write about the artist, will need to say something about your own commitment to pursuing the law. Remember, though, that by this point, you’ve defined what exactly the law means to you, which should help you connect your personal story to the legal profession. You don’t need to draw a throughline from your grandmother’s illness to late nights as an associate lawyer working off your school debt. But you can connect your presence throughout your grandmother’s illness to the continuity of care that you’ll give your clients when they sue nursing homes for negligence. Take a look at how Tucker does that at the end of his personal statement, which has spent most of its time in the terrain of the personal, but turns toward the professional as it closes.

The Appalachian conversation is necessarily a legal one. As some Carolinians line up along racial boundaries, many good lawyers are working to combat the mass incarceration of minority populations, while other good lawyers champion free speech for even the most maligned activists. When free speech intertwines with debates about white nationalism and the South's history, impact litigators argue multiple sides to arrive at good legal judgments that do not stop at popular opinion. As my own mayor was maligning the presence of refugees, Virginia immigration lawyers were ensuring that local migrants were educated about their rights and responsibilities. The rigor in pursuit of justice that legal conversation applies has an immense role to play in these heated debates.

In particular, the conversation about race can go deeper here at home than most are willing to take it. One issue that has faced recent attention in the highest courts is equal representation in the electorate. Studying at Harvard will train me to ensure that existing civil rights are protected. It will teach me about the viewpoints informing present discussions of how civil rights are defined and advocated for. While race, gerrymandering, and voter ID laws are contentious issues on a national scale, both recent attention and my deep roots in the region have made it clear to me that North Carolina is a place where the legal conversation needs to be carried further. I want to attend Harvard to acquire the skills, legal context and history, and education to do this work in my home.

Don’t lose your sense of story.
Often, when we reach the middle of the essay, we’ve grown tired and are eager to start summarizing our resumé.

Remember that you still need to maintain the narrative propulsion that you introduced by kicking off with an anecdote or personal hook. Another way of saying this is that you need to remain present throughout the body paragraphs. As with the whole essay, ask, with every paragraph: am I the only person who could have written this? Or could one of my fellow interns at the Goldman Sachs legal program have come up with the same take?

Victor does a great job of maintaining his commitment to the storyteller’s voice, even in the middle of his essay, as he’s showing off his professional accomplishments. Witness his use of character and dialogue here:

“I hope you have had no issues settling into life here…now, on to business. What’s wrong with this city?” the Mayor asked softly, rapidly twirling his pen in the process. Needless to say, I was floored; it was my third day in public service, and I could not think of a weightier question, one with tremendous implications for the large city where I’d taken a job. Although I felt underqualified for such a task, he was confident in my ability to review the city’s finances from a completely blank slate. A week later, we ruminated over innovative approaches to topics ranging from how to name our city a ‘sanctuary city’ to solving the region’s major infrastructure issues. While there were clear legal frameworks for operating within each of these spaces, we also had substantial freedom to propose what we wished. As we refined our proposals, I realized that laws gave us the framework necessary to think critically about what was possible, but they rarely led to a clear conclusion about how to proceed. Final decisions would come as a result of deliberations with relevant internal and external parties, discussions with our counterparts in nearby cities and regions, vetting particular approaches with members of our staff and even state Senators, and checking our conclusions against the advice offered by legal counsel. No one group could act unilaterally, and our contributions were but a small piece of a larger policymaking apparatus.

Demonstrate change and growth overtime, and remember that it’s not the same thing as flip-flopping.
Two key components of a compelling story are conflict and resolution. Something, in other words, has to change between the beginning and the end. The middle is a great place for that to happen. You can think of it the way fiction writers think about plot: a set of events alongside a set of emotional shifts. The events incite the emotional shifts.

Deepika does this by addressing her former interest in medicine, and explaining how it gradually shifted to an interest in the law. She doesn’t pretend that she’s always wanted to be a lawyer. It’ll be obvious from her transcripts and extracurriculars that her interests lay elsewhere . Making this change part of her narrative is a good choice:

I was spending the summer working for a public health nonprofit based in Kenya, exploring a future career in medicine, and I’d used my weekend to visit a gallery with some local friends. Despite growing up in a family that appreciated art deeply, no one had equipped me for a moment where a painting could bring me so immediately to tears. Agnostic to the artist’s story, which I got only after he saw my reaction to his work, the painting itself was just such a guttural and emotional work. Something about how directly he’d translated his own trials into the medium flew straight through me. The name of the piece was Resurrection, and it was scratched from a discarded advertisement board that he had repurposed. The faceless figure told a story of a life plagued by violence, that violence rendered on the work itself with haphazard scratching and peeling of the paint. I was breathless seeing what he had gone through, and thinking of how that had made its way onto the “canvas.” We talked for a while, swapping our very different stories of moving countries. After, I said a sincere thank you, and I left.

By the end of that summer semester, I was sure that medicine was not the career for me. But I didn’t immediately know where to put all my passion. In a moment of serendipity, I was able to experience firsthand the value of the legal world and see attorneys in action by working as a paralegal. The hands-on legal experience I received there was ultimately vital to my decision to practice law, but I return to that summer in Nairobi as a real clarion call to do something different.

Conclusion: Tie it all together

After telling a story and spending time articulating your goals more clearly, a concluding paragraph can leave the reader with an understanding of who you are and why you’re applying—the best result you can hope for from a good personal statement.

There are a number of ways to think about an ending, which can be the toughest, and most easily clichéd part, of any essay.

First, let it happen naturally, rather than forcing it. We recommend not stressing about the ending until you’ve written your way to it. An essay that ends in exactly the spot you thought it would when you began it risks sounding cliché.

Second, declarative statements often make for clichéd endings. Things like “and that’s why I want to become a lawyer” or “and I’ll use these skills every day in my life as an attorney” can sometimes work, but often read as default options. If everyone can come up with that ending, it might not be a good one.

For Tucker, it works. He writes:

I want to attend Harvard to acquire the skills, legal context and history, and education to do this work in my home.

This simple sentence works because so much of Tucker’s essay has involved literary writing and reflection on place. A declarative statement won’t hurt him here. It’s also a gentle, nice touch to end on the words ‘my home,’ since his essay has been about what it means to belong to a particular stretch of land.

Third, consider ending on an image or with a call-back to where you began the essay. This is one of the most organic and satisfying ways to conclude any piece of writing.

Deepika’s essay, for instance, opens on a painting done by a refugee artist, and then zooms out to discuss her own life story. But she brings the personal statement full circle by returning to the inciting image:

Recalling that artist’s story both in his own words and by seeing Resurrection, I understood what a privilege it is to have a legal system that can uphold freedom of expression, and one that also makes way for new futures for immigrants like my parents year after year.

To that end, I want to apply my desire for more legal experience specifically to the problem of migration. In addition to the real personal transition that this artist’s work opened for me, this decision feels an important one now more than ever as the current administration angles toward, I believe, increasingly harmful and inconsistent implementations of immigration policy to the detriment of young children who could one day paint a Resurrection II.

Victor’s essay pulls off a similar circular structure. He began with a third-person portrait of himself as a young boy, dreaming voraciously of all that he wants to discover in the world. He closes with a portrait of who he is now, a polymath of sorts who has begun to make some of those discoveries but who needs the law to help him go further:

Two decades later, that little boy staring up into the darkness has become an adult, but his penchant for moonlit dreaming has never waned. In fact, those dreams are now accompanied by a set of experiences with the potential to carry such visions forward into a life of impact and service to others. After having the opportunity to explore a variety of roles, I cannot think of a better long-term career with which to realize my unique ambitions at the intersection of business, public policy and community activism than legal practice. Whether I provide pro bono advice to city government, serve as counsel to an international company, or represent my community as a public servant, a career in the law is my chance to fly into the fray and create something once thought unthinkable for collective benefit. My thoughts may never rest long enough to ensure an immediate night’s sleep, but I might finally obtain a deeper peace through advocacy and service.  

After you’ve finished the first draft of your law school personal statement

First, congratulations! Writing the first draft of your personal statement is no small feat. But the work has just begun! Your personal statement should undergo several revisions before submitting. Some tips for revising:

Read your essay aloud

By doing so, you will notice small typos and wording issues, as well as larger issues with form, that you wouldn’t otherwise. Reading aloud shifts the way your brain consumes the work, sometimes to great effect. It also helps you get a sense for how much an essay has your voice. You should sound like yourself when you read your essay aloud.

Ask for feedback

You should have a peer, professor, or admissions advisor read your essay. The core question to ask them to evaluate is, “Do you have a good sense of who I am and why I want to attend law school after reading this?” If the answer is no, revisions are necessary.

For big changes, rewrite instead of editing

This one can be a bit of a pain after investing all the time you have, but if you decide to make a large change in form or content, start again with a blank page. It can be tempting to preserve your existing structure and just slot in the changes where they fit, but you’ll end up with a more cohesive and coherent final product if you start anew. You needn’t trash everything you wrote, of course. Print out a hard copy of your original, keep it on the table beside you, and open a clean doc. Rewriting from scratch whatever you do keep rather than performing a simple copy-paste will ensure you end up with one essay at the end, rather than two spliced together.

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Part 6: Law school personal statement examples

Let’s take a look at the Harvard law school personal statement Tucker was able to produce based on the process we’ve walked through.

I did not know that my home town was a small one until I was 15 years old. Growing up, I thought I lived in the big city, because Greensboro has skyscrapers—isn’t that the dividing line between the big city and not? It’s also the first town that appears on interstate signs in North Carolina once you get on I-40, headed west from Durham. I figured if the interstate thought we were important, why shouldn’t I? So when I went to Rochester, New York in tenth grade for a student conference with my friends at school, I proudly announced that I was from Greensboro to the first person who asked, only to have her, a Bronx resident, respond, “Uh, where?” It was then that I learned one thing it could not claim to be was “the big city.”

That student conference, as well as the handful of other opportunities I had to travel in high school, was my first inkling that for many people the Blue Ridge Mountains were not a known part of the very big world I grew up aching to see more of. Because even before I realized that Greensboro was no major landmark, I still wanted to explore beyond it. My mother taught French and Spanish and was always eager to ensure I realized there were places beyond my backyard. I was also exhausted by the idea of graduating college and returning home to work in Greensboro, where, at the time, jobs were not always plentiful and hobbies were few. But, for financial reasons, college was not my long-dreamt-of exodus. I went to the University of North Carolina, which, while an hour away, certainly belongs to the same chunk of Carolina as Greensboro.

In Chapel Hill, I loved long drives. My road of choice was Mount Sinai Road. It winds down the banks of Old Field Creek, bridging the gap between Durham and I-40. It's the start of the route I took back to High Point to visit my family, and it's where I rode my bike during Chapel Hill summers. It was on Mount Sinai that I first realized how attached to this region I am.

Along Mount Sinai’s twists and turns, you can get a real sense of what North Carolina is and can be. There’s a deep agrarian heritage and rolling hills that hide the sun from their most intimate holler. Along these roads live a people who do not mind being heard, as their “These are God’s roads, so don’t drive like hell,” sign would have you know. Most of all, though, Mount Sinai was one of many places over the last 25 years in Appalachia that taught me how much this land means to me. I recognize the grasses and the trees and the architecture and the people in a way that I could not possibly know another place, and that knowledge has rooted me in a way that I did not expect as a child at a student conference in Rochester, New York.

As I realized how distinctly Appalachian my own personal history is, I started to see similar connections in my family. I learned of our family struggles with substance use and of my mother's father’s affinity for our Confederate heritage. I learned I'm only a few generations removed from the McCoys of Hatfield-McCoy fame. I learned that the not-so-rosy Appalachian existence was not a storybook reality but a familial one. However, I also learned of my grandfather's sense of adventure and of the unique sense of play my father was gifted with as a child by being able to spend so much time outside in the crick. I learned that my grandmother once modeled for the rail photographer O. Winston Link and that my great uncle once threw a snowball at Elvis.

In the last year, I also saw Appalachia couched in a larger national context, especially as I tried to reckon with my homeplace from afar while living and working abroad last summer. I intimately knew the people, “the poor, white, rural voters,” being bandied about as political caricatures on television. As the opiate crisis worsens, a national spotlight is being thrust on my neighbors in West Virginia. As commentators wonder how much historical context justifies the presence of Confederate monuments, attention turns to Charlottesville. My homeplace, my Appalachia, is becoming a topic of a much larger conversation about how to support the plight of the rural American while not also succumbing to the part of that population that longs for an unequal, racist past. I believe my voice adds to that conversation. So, I took to door-knocking for Representative Edward Mitchell, knowing that the first impact I might have could be a political one. I don’t want to stop there. The law can open even more doors.

The Appalachian conversation is necessarily a legal one. As some Carolinians line up along racial boundaries, many good lawyers are working to combat the mass incarceration of minority populations, while other good lawyers champion free speech for even the most maligned activists. When free speech intertwines with debates about white nationalism and the South's history, impact litigators argue multiple sides to arrive at good legal judgments that do not stop at popular opinion. As my own mayor was maligning the presence of refugees, Virginia immigration lawyers were ensuring that local migrants were educated about their rights and responsibilities. The rigor in pursuit of justice that legal conversation applies has an immense role to play in these heated debates.

In particular, the conversation about race can go deeper here at home than most are willing to take it. One issue that has faced recent attention in the highest courts is equal representation in the electorate. Studying at Harvard will train me to ensure that existing civil rights are protected. It will teach me about the viewpoints informing present discussions of how civil rights are defined and advocated for. While race, gerrymandering, and voter ID laws are contentious issues on a national scale, both recent attention and my deep roots in the region have made it clear to me that North Carolina is a place where the legal conversation needs to be carried further. I want to attend Harvard to acquire the skills, legal context and history, and education to do this work in my home.

What works about Tucker’s essay, among many things:

  • Writing. Tucker writes fluently and smoothly, especially when he’s thinking about place and the world that shaped him. The images, the roads, and local vocabulary like “the local holler,” all contribute to the strength of his writing. Even if sentences don’t come to you naturally, you can shortcut your way to a great personal statement by including vivid descriptions of your surroundings.

  • An authentic connection to the law. Tucker lingers in the personal for quite a long time in this essay, and he does so because he knows he can make that confident transition: “The Appalachian conversation is a necessarily legal one.” It’s so deftly argued that we don’t even realize he’s been sculpting an argument all along, using his personal experience as a case study.

Another example, a Yale law school personal statement, this time from Teresa:

November 1 is my favorite day of the year. When I was growing up, my father would call it “Design Day.” I think he liked the alliteration. He loves woodworking, and he would spend the early fall amassing natural treefall from the woods behind our house in anticipation of November 1. Every year, he’d spend the day making things, small and large, whether a bird with a bandsaw or a new coffee table. He first invited me out into the garage when I was seven. I still wonder why he felt the imperative to concentrate so much of his hobby time into that one day, but I think he understood pinning it to a date would make it somehow more special, even if it was an arbitrary one.

Over the years, in that garage, and especially as an early teen, I learned how valuable it was to create something, to make a thing you call your own. That same feeling was reborn as a senior at Purdue University. As part of my studies in mechanical engineering, my classmates and I were required to join one of myriad senior design teams. The topics ranged from designing our own delivery drones to creating various nanotechnology applications. I eventually decided to work on a project designing new flatpack shelters that could be deployed in disaster areas with improved durability and sustainability, because I was excited by the real-world applications of my studies helping others. I saw not only my own progress first-hand, but also the development of others’, and, yet again, again the intrinsic value of a made thing.

But the reality for many creators in America is that their work is under threat. The chief protection for many fledgling creators, whether they’re scientists or engineers or musicians or writers, is the legal system. Patent trolls aim to trounce startups; large institutions create environments unfriendly to more nascent artists. In between them stand good lawyers ready to defend the individual artist, scientist, inventor. While the American intellectual property system is not void of imperfections, it remains true that copyright and patents can and should protect the creations of every person who experiences the same precious sense of creativity my father introduced me to every November 1.

The crux of my shift from wanting to be a maker myself to instead wanting to lend my voice to their defense was seeing Dr. Everett Simpson in action. Dr. Simpson, himself a lawyer, now teaches engineering ethics but spent the spring semester consulting all of the projects with patentable work on their IP obligations and rights. The care with which he approached the issues, but especially our interactions, opened my eyes to a world in which I might leverage my technical expertise as an advocate rather than an engineer, a combination I find so appealing.

It’s thanks to those interactions with Dr. Simpson, backed by my father’s own creativity from day one, that has led me to apply to Yale Law School. Knowing that your program in IP law is a strong one and being especially excited by the research that Professor Yochai Benkler is doing on the intellectual commons, I am confident that after three years at Yale, I will be positioned well to train as an advocate for those creators near and far.

What’s great about Teresa’s essay:

  • Multiple life stages. Teresa, like Deepika, has been fully committed to another discipline at one point in her life. Instead of defensively explaining why she’s moving into law now, she uses her past experience as a ‘maker’ to explain that her previous engineering life naturally and inevitably brought her to the law. She tackles this intersection from both a personal and a professional standpoint, moving from her father to Dr. Simpson with ease.

  • ‘Why us.’ Teresa’s ‘why us’ addendum at the end of the essay is neat but strong. She clearly knows more about the school than what a simple Google search could yield. Referencing Dr. Benkler, whose appointment is in economics, isn’t an obvious choice for a law school candidate, but indicates that she’s grasped her field from multiple disciplinary perspectives.

And a final full-length law school personal statement example, from Deepika:

He lives in Nairobi now. He was not born there: He grew up in Sudan, along the Nile. On a few separate occasions, he was dismissed from his studies for his political involvement, a reality I can know about but find hard to internalize. After a few efforts to pursue his practice in Sudan he left Khartoum for Benghazi. I don’t know his name. What I do remember is how it felt to see his paintings for the first time.

I was spending the summer working for a public health nonprofit based in Kenya, exploring a future career in medicine, and I’d used my weekend to visit a gallery with some local friends. Despite growing up in a family that appreciated art deeply, no one had equipped me for a moment where a painting could bring me so immediately to tears. Agnostic to the artist’s story, which I got only after he saw my reaction to his work, the painting itself was just such a guttural and emotional work. Something about how directly he’d translated his own trials into the medium flew straight through me. The name of the piece was Resurrection, and it was scratched from a discarded advertisement board that he had repurposed. The faceless figure told a story of a life plagued by violence, that violence rendered on the work itself with haphazard scratching and peeling of the paint. I was breathless seeing what he had gone through, and thinking of how that had made its way onto the “canvas.” We talked for a while, swapping our very different stories of moving countries. After, I said a sincere thank you, and I left.

By the end of that summer semester, I was sure that medicine was not the career for me. But I didn’t immediately know where to put all my passion. In a moment of serendipity, I was able to experience firsthand the value of the legal world and see attorneys in action by working as a paralegal. The hands-on legal experience I received there was ultimately vital to my decision to practice law, but I return to that summer in Nairobi as a real clarion call to do something different.

Recalling that artist’s story both in his own words and by seeing Resurrection, I understood what a privilege it is to have a legal system that can uphold freedom of expression, and one that also makes way for new futures for immigrants like my parents year after year.

To that end, I want to apply my desire for more legal experience specifically to the problem of migration. In addition to the real personal transition that this artist’s work opened for me, this decision feels an important one now more than ever as the current administration angles toward, I believe, increasingly harmful and inconsistent implementations of immigration policy to the detriment of young children who could one day paint a Resurrection II.

What we can admire from Deepika’s essay:

  • An unlikely take on the personal. Many applicants feel that a personal story must involve them shedding blood on the page. Deepika doesn’t get enormously vulnerable here. She doesn’t talk about Big Traumas that happened to her; in fact, she feels like she’s been pretty lucky, all told. But she does talk about a personal connection to art, and that is quite a strong window into who she is.

  • Ending. Deepika’s return to the painting at the end of her essay makes the whole essay feel natural, and indicates an authentic relationship to questions of immigration. It also tells us that she’s thought about what her commitment to immigration policy could change in the world, that she’s got a fully formed view of society.

Here’s Eric’s Columbia Law personal statement:

After less than four minutes of waiting on the front lawn of my private property for my uncle to arrive, I was arrested and forced into a squad car without a reason for my arrest. As he tightened the cold handcuffs on my wrists, the arresting officer asked my age. Perplexed, I informed him I was eighteen-years-old. “Great,” he exclaimed, as he slammed the door in my face while he exchanged smiles with his partner. Oblivious, I waited in the back seat, as he drove down the block, anxiously awaiting an explanation for my arrest. Less than thirty seconds after forcing me in the car, the police officer jumped out of the car, pursued an unsuspecting boy riding his bike in the neighborhood, aggressively pulled him from his moving bike, and placed him in handcuffs. After throwing the boy in the back seat with me, the cop sped off—leaving the boy’s bike behind on the sidewalk to be stolen. The caravan of police proceeded to rampage the area arresting more young men walking through the neighborhood.

On the ride to the police station, I repeatedly asked the officer the reason for my arrest. After a few minutes of ignoring my questions, he said he arrested us for loitering. After arriving at the police station, the cops expressed their disapproval of my choice of clothing. At that moment it was clear that I was profiled based on my appearance alone.

A couple of hours later, my mother arrived and demanded my release. When releasing me, the cops repeatedly apologized to my mother insisting that they did not know they had a “good kid.” The whole experience left me wondering how many people, besides the ones I witnessed, are wrongfully arrested or wrongfully convicted, due to their appearance, ignorance, and lack of access to quality legal advice and representation.

During this experience and others similar to it, I was most uncomfortable with the feeling of being helpless and not well-informed about my rights. I did not like that my lack of knowledge prevented me from defending my rights and the rights of others. This experience was just one of the many instances where I witnessed a person in power abuse their authority to trample the rights of people who were not knowledgeable of their rights and did not have the resources necessary to access legal advice. My ignorance of my rights during these types of experiences was frustrating and also frightening. Being at the mercy of an apparently ethically unsound figure of authority who seemed to make arbitrary and capricious decisions, that could greatly impact my life, was very unsettling.

Witnessing grave miscarriages of justice has inspired me to equip myself with the tools necessary to fight unjust situations. These experiences have definitely fostered my desire to educate and advocate for those disadvantaged individuals and communities.

My experiences in the Columbia Law School Law Clinic reaffirmed my interest in advocating for socioeconomically challenged individuals and communities. During my time in the law clinic, I have been exposed to a plethora of pro bono opportunities and organizations. Some of the causes I’ve been able to dedicate my time to include: assisting an innocent man, who was wrongfully convicted and imprisoned for eighteen years, with his exoneration; helping asylum seekers, who face the threat of being killed in their home country because of their sexuality or regional violence, through the asylum application process; assisting disabled and elderly Hurricane Sandy victims gain access to much needed food benefits; and assisting small business owners with filing their organizational documents with the state. Coming from a socioeconomically challenged background myself and being able to assist with matters that I can empathize and sympathize with has made me yearn for more knowledge that would better equip me to help indigent people in need of legal assistance.

After deeply scrutinizing legal field, working towards great causes in Columbia’s Law Clinic, and actively seeking various opinions about law school and the legal field, I believe law school is the next logical step for me to fulfill my aspirations to advocate for socioeconomically disadvantaged people on a more substantive level. I know I will be a great lawyer and be a positive agent of change. I fight tirelessly towards causes that I strongly believe in; and as a result I put forth great work that reflects the amount of effort expended.

I am sure that at the Columbia University School of Law I will be able to access a quality legal education that will challenge and prepare me for my future as an advocate for the more vulnerable members of society. I know that Columbia Law School will provide an intellectually nurturing environment that offers a bounty of experiential learning opportunities that are beneficial to my preferred learning style, and continue to surround me with individuals that will contribute to my growth and push me to strive for more. Columbia Law will also allow me to utilize my unique perspective, experiences, and skills to continue to make valuable contributions to the Columbia University community in and outside of the classroom.

What we can learn from Eric’s essay:

  • A clear tie between the personal and the professional. Eric chose to write about an extremely vulnerable moment in his history, one that might be an intuitive choice these days as we become more used to public conversations about the “grave miscarriages of justice” Eric writes about but which, a few years ago, might have seemed like a risky choice. By going there, and by linking it to his professional career so clearly, he gives us a memorable essay and tells us that he will be working to correct that injustice for many years to come.

  • Descriptions of prior professional work. Eric clearly articulates what he got out of his work at the Law Clinic, enumerating his involvements without making them seem too flat. He then draws a neat line between those experiences and what he wants out of law school at the same institution.

And, finally, Victor’s University of Chicago law school personal statement:

The house is quiet – its residents have been asleep for some time now. In a modest room on the second floor, only faint specks of moonlight peek through the window blinds. A few of these beams land on a small, round face, his eyes glittering in the darkness. Although he retreated to his bedroom hours ago, sweet slumber eluded him. This was not the first time: for as long as he could remember, he would lie awake when he should have been in repose, his mind excitedly flitting from one thought to the next. He pictured distant lands, from Spain with its beautiful language and world-renowned cuisine, to his parents’ mother country of Ghana, where farmers journeyed for miles to sell their wares in vibrant cities teeming with life. He also loved superheroes, and he sometimes imagined himself launching into the sky like Superman, sailing through the air as quickly as possible to help a family in need. At this late hour, when the sun had not yet nudged above the horizon and his loved ones were just beginning to dream, he was obsessed with the world not as it was, but as it could be.

The summer before my freshman year of college, I worked for a law firm in my hometown as an assistant case manager. It was my first real job, and we were tasked with following up on the results of a settlement which promised compensation to individuals injured by cigarette use. Many of the claimants in the suit were not involved with the original case, but a wrinkle in the law meant that those who had not initially issued a claim could still stand to receive reparations. During that time, I witnessed the devastating impact of tobacco use on countless lives, and I was given an opportunity to think creatively about how to defend their claims. Whether it was by recovering medical records that could credibly tie cigarette use to the onset of disease, or looking back decades to find proof of a claim under the original settlement, we worked tirelessly to help grant our clients restitution. It was seldom a straightforward process, yet we did our best even when key details were sparse.  

Four years later, I joined a major corporation as a full-time legal analyst working directly for the management team of one of its nascent commercial arms. At first, I expected to focus on regular meetings of the Board of Directors and related tasks, such as scheduling in accordance with regulatory requirements, setting the annual agenda, and performing discrete analyses consistent with the Company’s ongoing legal needs. However, I was quickly assigned more abstract projects, rooted in questions such as “where could the Company open a foreign branch,” and “how would proposed changes in regulation adversely impact the Company’s overall business”? When I joined the Company, I viewed the laws set by regulatory agencies as fixed mandates, but I soon learned that these laws were subject to considerable negotiation and amendment. The Company’s business model and its evolution raised legitimate questions about which functions the private sector should be allowed to perform, and my time there opened my eyes to the myriad potential organizations have to directly or indirectly shape the laws that govern their work.

“I hope you have had no issues settling into life here…now, on to business. What’s wrong with this city?” the Mayor asked softly, rapidly twirling his pen in the process. Needless to say, I was floored; it was my third day in public service, and I could not think of a weightier question, one with tremendous implications for the large city where I’d taken a job. Although I felt underqualified for such a task, he was confident in my ability to review the city’s finances from a completely blank slate. A week later, we ruminated over innovative approaches to topics ranging from how to name our city a ‘sanctuary city’ to solving the region’s major infrastructure issues. While there were clear legal frameworks for operating within each of these spaces, we also had substantial freedom to propose what we wished. As we refined our proposals, I realized that laws gave us the framework necessary to think critically about what was possible, but they rarely led to a clear conclusion about how to proceed. Final decisions would come as a result of deliberations with relevant internal and external parties, discussions with our counterparts in nearby cities and regions, vetting particular approaches with members of our staff and even state Senators, and checking our conclusions against the advice offered by legal counsel. No one group could act unilaterally, and our contributions were but a small piece of a larger policymaking apparatus.

Two decades later, that little boy staring up into the darkness has become an adult, but his penchant for moonlit dreaming has never waned. In fact, those dreams are now accompanied by a set of experiences with the potential to carry such visions forward into a life of impact and service to others. After having the opportunity to explore a variety of roles, I cannot think of a better long-term career with which to realize my unique ambitions at the intersection of business, public policy and community activism than legal practice. Whether I provide pro bono advice to city government, serve as counsel to an international company, or represent my community as a public servant, a career in the law is my chance to fly into the fray and create something once thought unthinkable for collective benefit. My thoughts may never rest long enough to ensure an immediate night’s sleep, but I might finally obtain a deeper peace through advocacy and service.  

What Victor does well:

  • Chronology. It’s not always the right call, but sometimes the best way to tell the story of yourself is to begin at the beginning, during your dreamy childhood days, and trace it up till now. This works in part because Victor is such a passionate writer, and in part because he remains in that storytelling mode throughout. This essay would fail if it were a series of monotonous descriptions of each stage of Victor’s life. But we feel like we are sitting across from him at a coffee shop and listening in on his professional reflections.

  • Tackling a diverse career path. Victor makes use of the plurality of work experiences he’s had, knowing that his resumé is fuller and he is older than many of his peers. He turns that into an advantage, in the way Teresa leverages her engineering background and Deepika addresses her roots in medicine head-on.

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Part 7: Frequently asked questions

How long should a personal statement be for law school?

Many universities won’t specify, but most others say between a page and half and two pages double-spaced, which comes out to around 500 words.

What law school personal statement topics are off limits?

Just about anything can make a good personal statement, as long as you adhere to the advice above. One exception worth noting: you shouldn’t use your personal statement to talk about a low GPA or LSAT score. If you do feel you have a compelling context for one or both of those, you should submit a separate addendum focused on that, rather than wasting valuable space in your personal statement.

Should I write a separate personal statement for each school?

While it’s okay to use the same narrative across applications, each essay should be tailored specifically to the school to which you’re applying. Make sure to triple check that you didn’t refer to the wrong school at any point in your application.

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