The possible topics upon which a statement could be based are
diverse. You could think about travel experiences, life changing
events such as the death of someone close to you, significant
people in your life and how they affected you, significant books
you have read, sports, employment, internships, etc. Think about
events that have been formative and encouraged you to grow
emotionally or intellectually. They need not be dramatic and
entail you triumphing over huge adversity. They need to be
true events that have shaped you in a relevant way.
Bear in mind that writing on something you are passionate about
will make your essay more engaging and effective. Above all,
remember that you are selling yourself and choose content that is
positive, interesting, and about you.
Law Schools do not simply want to read a statement that is
interesting. They want a statement that is interesting and
about you. The content you choose must therefore reveal something
about your background, qualities or ideas. It might show that you
are driven, demonstrate personal growth or reveal a quality that
the law school would like to have in its class. You should then
elaborate on the quality you have chosen.
Tell a story
Telling the school that you are driven and intelligent may be a
fair description, but describing attributes in such abstract terms
is not persuasive. A more effective means is to demonstrate your
qualities with an anecdotal story and make the reader draw his own
conclusion that you have a certain quality. Stories are a great way
of conveying meaning because they can be interesting and they
remain in the reader's memory. They can also provide the writer
with a useful 'way in' to the essay.
The story that you choose does not necessarily have to
have you at its center. It simply needs to be an interesting
anecdote that can be used to tell the reader something about you
and your character. It is by no means the only way of writing a
personal statement but it is frequently used because it is
You are probably aware of the need to present yourself
as unique, but this must not be misunderstood. It does not mean
that you have to distinguish yourself as exceptional compared to
the other thousands of applicants; an attempt to do so can make
writing the personal statement an impossible task. What law schools
look for as 'unique' in a student are personal and individual
qualities that can have a positive impact in their classrooms.
How creative should you be?
This is a question on which it is difficult to give firm advice.
Obviously, you cannot be too bland. However, neither should you be
overly daring and creative and end up with an essay which is
gimmicky. Joyce Curll, the Assistant Dean for Admission at Harvard
Law School gives the following advice:
"To avoid mistakes you must walk the narrow line between being
too cautious or too "creative" in the personal statement. If you
are too cautious and only provide us a shopping list of such
standard things as what you've done, where you've been, and why you
want to go to law school, you may come across as bland and
uninteresting, or fail to convey what kind of mind you have. A
shopping list is frequently just a recapitulation of materials
found elsewhere in the application and adds nothing of what the
person would contribute to the class. If you are too creative, the
statement can be too cute-attention-getting but not impressing."
From How to Write a Winning Personal Statement for Graduate and
Professional School . Richard Stelzer. Thomson Petersons,
Third Edition, 2002.
Ultimately, finding the balance between being too dull and too
creative is one of personal judgment.
Topics to avoid
Why I want to go to law school
If you write entirely about why you want to go to law school, it
will be very difficult to be original and interesting. Admissions
staff will have heard it all several times before. The very fact
that you have applied to law school and endured the rigor of the
admissions process demonstrates that you want to go there. Law
schools are more interested in your academic potential and why you
will be a good law student. Of course, there are exceptions. If you
have experienced a significant event that has made you want to go
to law school for a specific reason or you have volunteered or
worked in an area that is of great interest to you, then there is
no reason why you should not talk about it.
On a similar note, avoid writing too much about your desired
career. It is very difficult as a pre-law student to have a good
understanding of the various areas of law and your ambitions will
probably change as you go through law school. Your current
ambitions are not therefore interesting to a law school
Bringing freedom and justice to the world
This is also an overused topic but it has other problems as
well. Very few lawyers actually work for protecting civil liberties
and so writing about your desire to do so may display an ignorance
about the work of a lawyer. Neither is it wise to write on the law
or law's role in society. Your ideas may be excellent for a pre-law
student but to a law school professor they will probably seem
Explaining a low GPA or LSAT score
Using the personal statement to explain away a poor semester or
a low LSAT score is a waste of an opportunity to sell yourself and
tell the law school something positive. It is not what the personal
statement is for. If you feel that it is necessary then do so in
the form of an addendum to your application.
Be careful with political views
Some advice on personal statements steers students away from
stating political views. If a view is stated strongly then the
writer can appear belligerent and intolerant of opposing views.
These are not lawyerly attributes. However, this advice may not be
sound. Law schools look for people with different ideas and
strongly formed opinions in order to create an intellectually
stimulating atmosphere. The best advice is probably to include
political views if you wish but just be careful how it is worded.
You should present your opinion with an air of humility rather than
A note on quotes
Statements based on quotes now tend to be very unpopular. A
quote suggests that the writer is relying on someone else's ideas
and is unable to present the theme of the statement effectively in
their own words. Several admissions deans have actually expressed
their dislike of the use of quotes. It is an overused and