Law school admissions certainly are intimidating, especially when it comes to the rather daunting task of writing a personal statement with no real prompt. Generally, law schools will ask for no more than two pages of basically whatever you would like to talk about.
However, there are a few well-established principles for writing a successful personal statement. Here are 4 principles, along with my own personal statement, to help you hit a home run:
The personal statement should only drive your application forward. If it is holding it back in any way, it is not ready.
Your personal statement should explain your interest or purpose for studying the law.
This does not have to be the backbone of the entire piece, but it should be at least mentioned somewhere. It should also avoid legal jargon and should not be some sort of showcase for legal knowledge. It also should not be a regurgitation of your resume. The committee will already have your resume, so the personal statement serves as a supplement to it.
Spend the time making your personal statement better.
To get a competitive offer from whichever law school you may be applying to, it all starts with a good application package. The admissions committee is going to want to see a good LSAT score, a strong GPA, some recommendations, and a well-written personal statement. That much is clear. Your personal statement may never feel like it is just right, but it can only become better with consistent time and effort spent drafting it again and again.
Research examples of well-written personal statements.
To get some ideas about what a good personal statement could look like, I did a preliminary search to read a few successful ones. The University of Chicago had a few essays posted on their site from admitted students that gave me a good point of reference. Although there is tremendous flexibility in writing the personal statement, it should not be so wacky as to discourage the admissions committee in your abilities as a writer or in your seriousness about attending law school.
Take advantage of the resources around you to make your statement the best.
For my statement, I went through a couple of potential concepts and decided to do one on my life’s motto. And, no, it was not some cliché that I pretended was my motto; I picked words that I truly lived by and continue to live by to this day. I spent many hours writing and rewriting my personal statement. Thankfully, I had the invaluable help of my roommate, who is a strong writer himself, and he gave me useful feedback on many of my drafts (I promised him a nice dinner if I ended up getting admitted with a full-ride to somewhere). When I got close to a final draft, I took it to my school’s writer’s workshop to have someone I had never met before read it aloud. It allowed me to hear where someone might misunderstand something so that I could make changes accordingly for the final product.
Beginning in the spring, picking up in September, accelerating further in October, and finishing in November when I sent my applications out, the whole process produced something that I thought gave me a very strong shot at success. So here it is. Enjoy:
“Ball: outside!” declared the umpire.
“Come on now! Get ahead, stay ahead, kid!” demanded my coach.
I checked the sign: fastball. That pitch was just not there; I shook my head no. My catcher gave me the next sign: curveball. Yes, the get-me-over-curve, my signature pitch. I stepped back to begin my windup.
“Steeeeeriiike! One and one,” the umpire grunted.
“That’s the way, Duff! Just like that!” my coach exclaimed.
My catcher fired that ball back to me. I toed the rubber and focused on his signs: he flashed two fingers and motioned to the right—curveball, outside. I nodded affirmatively. He and I were on the same page. I began my windup again, picked up the leg, and spun my big overhand curve to the plate.
“Two! One and two.” The batter stood motionless as he watched my back door hook clip the outer edge of the strike zone.
“One more now, Duff! Come on, kid!”
The pitch count, or the current amount of balls and strikes in a given at bat, is perhaps the most impactful construct of baseball. After every pitch, the umpire declares it to be a ball or strike, subsequently adding it to the count. If the batter reaches four balls, he earns a walk, or a free pass to first base; if he gets three strikes, the batter is out. The batter’s goal is to reach a base before three strikes. The pitcher does everything that he can to stop that.
As I got the ball back, I knew I was in the driver’s seat. The batter was at a tremendous disadvantage and would have to react to my pitches on two strikes rather than just being able to lock in on one. I leaned in for the sign: one finger, right, up—fastball, high and outside. I liked it. Even though it was not my best pitch that day, I understood that I could still use it effectively to keep batters off balance since I was ahead. I stepped back into the windup and let the pitch fly.
The batter flailed at the pitch. “Three!” shouted the umpire, raising his fist in the air to call him out. He was sitting on the big, slow curveball and not the fastball, but he could not be selective because he was down in the count. On to the next one.
“Atta kid! That’s what happens when you get ahead!”
Get ahead, stay ahead.
While my organized baseball playing days may be over, that fundamental is still strong. A picture of all-star pitcher Max Scherzer hurling a baseball towards the plate sits above my desk with that same motto in bolded letters: Get Ahead, Stay Ahead.
What does getting ahead provide? For one, it gives the peace of mind that comes with flexibility; there’s room to react in case something goes off course. In baseball, it gives the pitcher more room to work within the count because he has more options when the batter must play defensively. In short, he can do what he wants. One of the key differences between baseball and life, however, is that baseball has a simple, predetermined goal: score more runs than the other team! Life, on the other hand, allows for enormous flexibility in choosing a goal. Rather than be content with the usual four-year bachelor’s track, I pushed forward as hard as I could to graduate in three years. Many people are surprised when I tell them about my efforts to graduate early; they often wonder why I chose to accelerate my education. I usually explain that it saved me a significant amount of money while expanding my room for error. Most importantly, I tell them, by efficiently reorganizing my schedule, getting ahead actually gave me time to think.
The most successful people throughout history have all had an overarching goal, no matter how grand; with the time from getting ahead, I chose mine. Andrew Carnegie sought to provide affordable steel, Henry Ford wanted to create a universal automobile, and Elon Musk aims to put a city on Mars. After seeing their success, I think about how I can do the same. Simply put, I want to be a leader in sustainable real estate. More specifically, I want to make green living universal. Whenever I get the same surprised looks from this claim as when I tell someone that I am graduating early, I clarify that there are already some pioneers designing revolutionary apartments with trees planted on all of their floors, working to clean the air in polluted cities. Stefano Boeri, for example, has designed a thirty-six-floor building covered with trees on terraces jutting out from its sides, dubbed the “Tower of Cedars.” I want to take this premise further: my mission is to expand clean living to all, not just the elite who can afford it. The law is one of the most important tools that I will need to achieve this. The complexities of environmental and real estate law will be major challenges. Regardless, to lead the industry, I must get ahead. When I start my business, I will reflect on my experience in running the Trial Team as its president, the perspective on efficient business systems that I gained with American Hotel Register, and the tips that the CEO of Regency Multifamily shared with me for optimally running a large real estate firm, among many other things. But I will always be looking forward. While history shows that there are answers in the past, only the future knows them. Thankfully, controlling the present by getting ahead can make the future that much more certain.
I stepped back into the windup, again. As I drove off the rubber towards the plate, I extended out as far as I could to get as much control and power as possible. The big hook landed firmly over the outer third of the plate, right into my catcher’s mitt with a solid phwump.
“Atta kid!” My coach was elated to see my pitch command this inning.
Get ahead, stay ahead.
Are you inspired to get ahead? Don’t you just feel a sudden urge to admit me into your program? Well thankfully, it made an impression on someone. I did my best to show my ambitions while showing a bit of my personality. The greatest risk that I took was that some of the baseball jargon may have been hard to understand for someone unfamiliar with the sport, but I made sure that it would not detract from the overall meaning of the piece. It served as a useful supplement to the rest of my application.
As of 2018, I am enrolled at Chicago-Kent College of Law with a full tuition scholarship. While it is no Ivy program, it is a respectable school with a strong regional reputation. The great thing about having the financial burden of law school off my shoulders is that I can now focus on getting the most out of my studies, rather than stress to figure out how I am going to pay off the debt that would have financed my education. And if it turns out that the program is not the best option for me, I can walk away with no financial strings attached.
The personal statement should only drive your application forward. If it is holding it back in any way, it is not ready. Keep it professional but do be creative and show the reader more of your personality than a resume alone would give. You are selling them your brand as a student, so do not let them gloss over your application without much of a thought.
Jack graduated from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign in May 2018 with a degree in Economics and History, and he currently works in property management while attending Chicago-Kent College of Law on a part-time basis. He hopes to use his law degree to enhance his career in commercial real estate and eventually lead sustainable large-scale real estate developments nationwide.