Keys to Success
While the best personal statements for law school are as unique as the candidates writing them, they also have certain elements in common. Ensuring you use them is the first step toward achieving an outstanding personal statement for your law school application.
The advice I share in this article comes from admission committee members I’ve interviewed regarding what they want to see in an applicant and my 15+ years’ experience leading the DLA Editors & Proofers’ team of expert editors in consulting on, editing and proofreading personal statements for law school.
In that time, we have identified the mistakes commonly made by law school applicants and the steps they can take to establish a strong foundation for their personal statements.
Getting to the Point
How well you can get to the point and deliver it in your personal statement will indicate to admissions committees how sharp and passionate you are as a candidate—and how likely you are to succeed in their law schools.
While some candidates believe in the myth that a personal statement should not exceed one page, many others fall into the trap of going on for too long.
Their personal statements—850, 900 or even 950 words in length—are simply too long to possess any chance of engaging the attention of admission committee members, let alone being successful.
If yours is that long, it is too wordy, or you have extraneous content that needs to come out.
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How Long Should a Law School Personal Statement Be?
For most applicants, 715 to 725 words. If you have an extensive relevant background you need to cover, for example, if you are coming to law as a second career, then your word count can edge higher, up to 850 words. If you lack relevant experience, your word count can edge lower, down to 650 words.
Know Your Path
One key to a fully engaging law school personal statement is knowing precisely what your story is.
This means a clear, concise understanding of your key personal and professional attributes, how specifically they have developed to bring you to apply for law school, and where you see this next step taking you in developing your career.
Focus on One, at Most Two, Areas of the Law
While you may not be certain of the area of the law you want to pursue, you should at least choose one, or maybe two, to focus on. (Don’t worry, if you end up changing your mind once in law school, that’s okay.)
If you choose two areas to focus on in your personal statement, make sure to find the common thread that links both areas to the experiences you have had so far. And make sure that common thread is a legitimate one.
For example, let’s say you want to focus on pursuing both criminal law and family law, and the reason you give is a love to litigate, which you experienced when clerking for a judge.
While that may work for criminal law, it may be a stretch for family law, as not all family law attorneys have the opportunity to litigate, or to litigate to a significant degree, depending on the types of cases that come their way.
So, think carefully about the area(s) of law you choose to focus on and why.
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Know Your Law Schools
Establish, also, a clear understanding of why you have selected the law schools you are applying to. This understanding should be about both what aspects of the school you find attractive and what makes you a great fit for the school.
Are you passionate about trial advocacy and therefore applying to law schools with a strong mock trial program?
Do you have certain geographic preferences? For example, are you married with kids and own a house in Chicago or are you working full-time so you can pay for your classes at night?
Do you champion minority rights and find the school seeks applicants who share this vision?
Whatever are the key factors distinguishing the law schools you are applying to, communicate them clearly in your personal statement.
If there are different reasons for different schools, then group together the schools by the reasons and tailor a different personal statement to each group, according to the specific characteristics that align with those schools.
For your top two or three choices for law school, consider tailoring a unique personal statement to each to home in on what specifically attracts you to them and makes them a perfect fit for you.
Know Your Career Vision
This is the aspect of your personal statement that ties together the area or areas of law you want to focus on and why you have chosen the specific schools you are applying to.
The key here is to demonstrate a focus and direction. Where do you see yourself 10 years from now? Are you a partner in a boutique firm offering specialized services to clients? Are you in-house counsel for an international corporation? Are you a lobbyist drafting proposed legislation in Washington?
The more focused your vision is, the better it will serve your application for law school.
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Editor’s Note: This article was originally published February 4, 2018, and last updated for accuracy and completeness May 19, 2022.