I. Developing a Theme for Your Personal Statement
The Credential Assembly Service (CAS) instructions for the Personal Statement say the following:
Law schools want to recruit people who are qualified for reasons beyond grades and scores. The essay or personal statement is your opportunity to tell the committee what sets you apart from others.
An essay on actual experiences and past accomplishments has more value to the committee than speculation about future accomplishments. Any noteworthy personal experience or accomplishment may be an appropriate subject, but be sure to do more than just state it. Describe your experience briefly but concretely, and explain why it had value to you.
This gives you a lot of latitude in drafting your own essay. Your statement will likely be more interesting if you weave it around a relevant central idea. To help you to identify experiences that have shaped you and have informed your motivation to pursue the field of law, start by reflecting about yourself and your growth in college. This time of reflection will also help to ensure that you are the subject of your musings rather than someone else whom you admire or want to emulate. Keep your reflections recent; avoid chronological tracings of your background since childhood.
The topics below are meant to give you a range of possible entry points and a sense of the questions you should ask yourself no matter what approach you choose to take. Does one work well for your background and the traits you want to emphasize? As you narrow your options down, do some research into the schools that interest you so that you can see they are seeking in qualified applicants; that information may help you to settle on your theme.
Chief Character Traits
What are your defining qualities and strengths (especially as they relate to being a lawyer)? How would others describe you? What activities have you engaged in that illustrate or demonstrate these qualities? How do these traits inform your motivation to enter the law profession, the type of lawyer you would be, and the type of law you would like to practice? What specific experience could provide a story to illustrate these qualities?
Related Professional Experience
Have you worked in a legal setting or shadowed a judge in a way that gave you significant insight into the legal profession? How has that impacted the way that you would like to contribute to the field? Is there a specific anecdote that you could use to convey the importance of this experience?
Discuss a leadership role you have played. What did you learn about yourself and about serving as a leader through this? How did it test you and how did you grow through it? What specific leadership experience have you had that could lead to a story to introduce your statement? What does this self-understanding show you about your motivation to enter the law profession, the type of lawyer you would be, and the type of law you would like to practice?
Have you overcome a personal challenge or hardship? What did you learn about yourself through this? What does this self-understanding show you about your motivation to enter the law profession, the type of lawyer you would be, and the type of law you would like to practice? What specific experience have you had that could lead to a story to introduce your statement?
Pivotal Moments of Personal Growth
Have you been shaped by volunteering? Do you love traveling? Are you an athlete who has fought to achieve goals or overcome personal barriers? Have you lived overseas? Have you had some other moment or experience that was game-changing for you that you could share to introduce this style of essay? How has this experience led to a change in your personal values or self-understanding? How has it shaped your interest in law and the type of law you wish to practice?
II. A Possible Shape for Your Personal Statement
- Start with a short introductory paragraph that relays an anecdote prompted by your reflections above (for example, if your theme is your leadership skills, describe a specific instance when you saw yourself grow as a leader).
- In a longer paragraph, analyze the point of your introductory story: What does this self-understanding show you about your motivation to enter the law profession, the type of lawyer you would be, and the type of law you might like to practice? (E.g., how does your sense of your self as a leader motivate you to be a lawyer? What quality of lawyer would you be with this skill? What type of law practice attracts you and how would your leadership skills continue to be expressed in it?)
- Moving away from your theme, in 1-2 paragraphs provide additional information if not covered above, as it applies to you:
- Your possession of academic skills that are key to law school (writing, public speaking, research, and analysis),
- Diversity information, if not submitted in a separate diversity statement, and
- Other important experiences that are distinctive about you that a law school might like to know when considering your application.
- Reasons for your interest in this specific school:
- Do you want to live and law practice in this location following law school?
- Have you worked with or built a relationship with an alum of the law school?
- Does the school have a program, specialty, mission, or other opportunities that are attractive to you?
- Are there specific professors whom you would like to study under?
- Is there another reason that this school would be ideal for you?
- Conclude by restating your theme and your belief that you would be a good candidate for law school and the legal profession.
III. Style Tips
- This is formal writing; use standard written English
- Avoid cliches, colloquialisms and contractions.
- Don't just describe experiences, analyze why they matter to your motivation to pursue law and help you to feel that you are well-suited to enter the field).
- Follow each school's instructions and use their prompts if they specify a personal statement topic,
- Proofread carefully. Read your statement aloud to spot typos and grammatical errors,
- Get feedback about your content and request additional proofreading from a pre-law advisor, the Learning Center, your academic advisor, a faculty member, and/or the Levett Career Center.
Where to Find out More (the tips above are drawn heavily from the following resources):
- UPenn Law: https://careerservices.upenn.edu/law-school-personal-statement/
- Georgetown Law: https://careercenter.georgetown.edu/major-career-guides/graduate-school-guide/graduate-school-law-school/graduate-law-school-law-school-application-law-school-personal-statement-tips-html/#
- New England Law: https://www.nesl.edu/blog/detail/9-important-personal-statement-tips-all-law-school-applicants-should-know