Choosing a Law School Personal Statement Topic

LSAT Blog Choosing Law School Personal Statement Topic
This post is the first of a series on navigating the personal statement.

It's by the author of A Comprehensive Guide to the Law School Personal StatementMargaret Klein, PhD, a personal statement editor.

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It has to answer the question: “Why Law School?”

Remember writing your personal statement for undergraduate admissions? There was a huge amount of latitude about the topic. People wrote about their travels, about their moral dilemmas, about their love of opera--- anything that demonstrates positive personal and intellectual qualities works.

High school seniors can write about (almost) anything because they are not expected to know where they are headed. Undergraduate education is all about exploration. So, for incoming students, there is no pressure to name their future major, and certainly not their future career.

Law school personal statements are different. Law school is not a time of educational and personal exploration-- it is a professional training program. For this reason, every excellent law school personal statement tells the story of why the applicant wants a legal education.

This does not mean that the law school personal statements have to be dry or boring, and they should definitely not begin with “I want to go to law school because…” In fact, the best personal statements are both exciting and explain why the applicant wants to be a lawyer!

Take, for example, the personal statement of a former professional athlete I worked with, who wrote about how his league did not provide adequate care and compensation to injured and disabled athletes, and that he wanted to return to sports as a lawyer for injured players. Or the woman who wrote that having had family members die in Holocaust had made her preoccupied with issues of human rights-- going to law school would allow her to put her knowledge into action. These topics are personal, gripping, and they explain to the admissions officer why you are applying.

Any major life decision, like the decision to become a lawyer, has a back story, and those stories are usually pretty interesting! Your job is to articulate your story. When I begin working with private clients, I direct them to be totally honest, and then I ask:  “Why do you want to go to law school?”  The conversation evolves from there, as I get a sense for the applicant, from the perspective of their law-school ambitions.

So, have a discussion with a friend or family member about your motivations. Be honest. Take notes. There are infinite possible motivations that can turn into essays. For example, having had mentors who were lawyers, wanting to pursue a certain area in law that appeals to you, or having a certain mental style or skills (such as an eye for detail, a love of logical argumentation, etc.) that will help you in the profession. Obviously, there is a reason that you are applying to law school, you just need to articulate what that is, and tell its story!

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7 comments:

  1. Thank you for this. I'm soon starting on law school apps (as I study for the October LSAT) and this gives me some things to start thinking about- and direction.

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  2. Thank you for the advice. Law school applications are a priority for me this summer, in addition to studying for the Oct LSAT. Somehow I will fit it all in while working full time.

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  3. I'm studying for October too! good luck to everyone :) thanks for the article

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  4. Me too! Best of luck to you all.

    I have been thinking about a personal statement topic for over a year now. I don't think "I want to go to law school because I score better on the LSAT than the (old) GRE" is going to work for me. Best I have come up with is diversity of ideas since I am studied multiple fields(Poli Sci, Sociology, and Africana Studies) in undergrad, completed a thesis and have extensive research experience, worked on a political campaign, and worked minumum wage and menial jobs for seven years. However, diversity may be a tough selling point for an upper middle class white male. Kind of stumped here.

    - Tyler

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    1. Best of luck but man...it must have been a tough upbringing.
      Oh...you think you're being discriminated against because you're white and privileged? Do you really wish that you'd had the experience of being a person of color or, even worse, a black or gay one?

      Man...they had it so nice in life. Why couldn't you have just been them and it'd be so easy to get into law school. I mean it's so unfair that you had so much access to jobs and career resources and love golf and sports and fraternities and everything that you liked and met so many like-minded people while forgetting that your entire social existence depended upon the exclusion of that what you defined yourself against.
      I mean cool...you studied "Africana"..what is Africana? I mean you want a colonialist pass because you thought about the plights of others for a bit? Cool bro. Cool. Do you even know how to define "Africa" of "African"? I have a better thought. Just talk about how your failure to make your ODP U-16 soccer or lacrosse team made you a stronger person. Don't talk or act like you wish that you had the "equal" experience of a minority.
      I'm motherfucking white by the way. I'm just sick and tired of hearing libs and conservatives whine about "OMG! the diversity card is really unfair...20 years ago all I had to do was send my letter in with my university recs that said that my parents donated a bunch to this university and all my professors loved me because they and I were white and had a bunch in common like a problematic access to a literary and social canon.

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    2. Dear Anonymous,

      Some would call you a hater but I think you bring up some good points. Have you considered writing about your understanding of white privilege somewhere in your personal statement?

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  5. I'm sorry but I respectfully disagree with Ms. Klein on her advice that the personal statement must address the question, "Why law school?"

    I tell all my clients this: unless the law school specifically asks for them to address "Why Law?" in the personal statement prompt, and the applicant has a compelling reason for why law school is right for him or her, and this reason goes with the story he or she is trying to tell, I DO NOT recommend that they address why they want to enter the legal profession in their personal statement.

    The reason is because often the personal story that the applicant conveys in his or her personal statement does not lead naturally to why they want to study law. It would be jarring to add a paragraph in that talks about "Why law?" when it has nothing to do with the applicant's personal story.

    Luckily, there are many law schools that want to read a GOOD STORY, something that gives them a view into your inner life, into your inner world and your values, interests, personality and point-of-view. They don't need or want to know "Why law?"

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