Dos and Don’ts of Law School Personal Statements

One of InGenius Prep’s law school admissions experts explains three “do’s” and “don’t’s” of writing law school personal statements.

In this installment, Joel – a student at Yale Law School and counselor at InGenius Prep – explains three key tips for the law school personal statement: what to write about, how the personal statement should relate to the rest of your application, and how to let law schools know you mean business in your personal statement.

 

Abbreviated Transcript: 

Hi, my name is Joel Butterly, I’m a second-year student at Yale Law school, and a counselor at InGenius Prep. Today, I’m going to walk you through a few of the Do’s and Don’t’s of law school personal statements.

Let’s get started!

The personal statement is the most important part of your application. By the time you are applying, you probably cannot significantly alter your GPA or LSAT score. Thus, if your numbers make you a “borderline candidate” – someone who could be admitted but could just as easily be rejected – your personal statement is your greatest opportunity to swing the decision in your favor. As one Director of Admissions put it: “If someone with your numbers has a possibility of being admitted to a particular school, but not everyone with your numbers is admitted to that school, the major deciding factor is the personal statement.”

On the other hand, even if you seem like a shoo-in – you have, for example, a perfect GPA and a 180 on the LSAT – a weak personal statement is damning. Indeed, nothing looks worse than a candidate with perfect numbers and no personality – or, worse, who exhibits a lack of effort on their application. As an admissions officer from Yale Law School lamented: “When a candidate with perfect numbers writes a less than impressive personal statement, we either throw their application out entirely or send it to the borderline pile.”

In short, the personal statement is what makes you a person, rather than simply a set of numbers and achievements. It is your chance to introduce yourself to the admissions officers, and one of the only opportunities you will have to make an admissions officer like you, rather than simply liking your achievements. At most schools, applications are assigned to particular admissions officers who then present the best candidates from their allotment to a committee. Often times, whether a borderline candidate is accepted or rejected will depend on how passionately an admissions officer advocates for that candidate. The more likeable you seem in your personal statement, the more likely an admissions officer will want to “go to bat” for you.

First, the personal statement is, by definition, PERSONAL. You want to write about yourself.

Accordingly, don’t write your personal statement about other people – even if they are extremely close to you.

The personal statement is one of the very few opportunities (if not the only opportunity) that admissions officers will have to get to know you. If you write about other people – no matter how compelling or well written – you deprive yourself of the opportunity to introduce yourself to the admissions officers.

Let’s see what this looks like:

Second, if you have a bunch of experiences on your resume – all of which are totally different, and/or have no relation to law school, you should use your personal statement to unify your application.

What I mean by this is that, if your resume is totally scattered, admissions officers might think you are a dilettante, and law school is just another thing you’d like to try out.

To avoid that perception, you can explain how several of your experiences relate back to law school, or the same personal characteristics that have driven you to apply to law school.

For people with resume’s that scream “I’m pre-law,” this is not necessary.

However, those people run a different risk – the risk of just regurgitating their resume.

This is a very bad idea, both because it adds nothing to your application, and because these sorts of personal statements are often bereft of the personal touch that gives admissions officers a window into who you are. 

For example, this candidate goes through four different lines of her resume in five paragraphs.

The applicant doesn’t go into great detail in any of her descriptions, and as a result, this is basically a resume put to prose.

Notice, however, that this strategy may have made more sense if the activities weren’t so obviously related to law school. That is, if they were all of the “physical fitness” ilk, and were all related somehow to a unifying principle that motivated the applicant to apply to law school, it may have been more successful.

Finally, in most circumstances, you SHOULD explain why you are applying to THIS law school.

Many individuals (and even some admissions officers) will tell you that you should not do this. For the most part, they are missing the point.  Here’s why:

1. It won’t hurt you.

2.  Explaining “why this school” let’s admissions officers know that you took the time to modify your personal statement. This demonstrates a solid work ethic, if nothing else.

3. Many of the top law school accept a tremendous number of the same applicants, in part because people with high GPAs and LSAT scores are accepted to most top schools. Thus, if you are writing your personal statement to the 10th ranked school, and you stand a good chance of being accepted to the schools ranked 1-9, admissions officers may fear that you are only applying to their school as a back-up. By clearly expressing your interest in their school, you make it clear that you’ve done your research, and have some genuine interest in attending.

4. An effective way to demonstrate both that you have researched a school, as well as your particular interest in its offerings, is to mention a few specific courses, professors or groups that you would be interested in taking or getting involved with.

However, your “why this school” statement should not be the focus of your personal statement. It should also not be an obvious copy/paste job.

What I mean by “don’t make it the focus of your personal statement” is that it should take up no more than a few sentences of your personal statement, for the same reasons that your personal statement should be written about YOU, and not some third party.

Moreover, the “why this school” explanation should not be a copy/paste job. Some applicants write a very generic paragraph (usually at the end of their personal statement) into which the name of any law school could be inserted. This doesn’t accomplish anything. Make sure that your explanation is unique to the school you’re applying to.

 Here is a good example of what you SHOULD do.

Notice that what the applicant says about this school is unique – not a paragraph where the name of the law school could simply be exchanged for another.

Ok, that’s it for today. Thanks for watching! Be sure to visit our blog: blog.ingeniusprep.com; or like us on facebook to get the most recent updates from our admissions experts.

About the Author


Joel Butterly, Co-founder and CEO of InGenius Prep, is an experienced admissions counselor and entrepreneur. Joel comes from a rich educational background—his immediate family alone has 14 Ivy League Degrees—from Harvard, Yale, Cornell, and Dartmouth.

Joel attended Dartmouth College, where he studied Government, Geography, and the Philosophy of Ethics. He was inducted early into Phi Beta Kappa, and graduated Summa Cum Laude. He graduated with a double major in Government and International Studies, and a minor in Ethical Philosophy.

After Dartmouth, Joel attended Yale Law School, where he served on the executive board of the Journal on Regulation, as well as the Law School’s entrepreneurship society.

Joel currently resides at Yale in New Haven, Connecticut. He lives with his fiance – Emily – who teaches and is receiving her PhD in Medieval History from Yale.