As part of the application, prospective law students will often be asked to submit an application letter and/or personal essay. These statements serve multiple purposes: they introduce the student to the admission committee, present the student’s individual strengths, demonstrate the student’s writing ability and convey a sense of uniqueness and individuality. These statements are a direct reflection on the student’s abilities and qualifications for attending law school and should be carefully prepared and presented.
Every person’s letter or essay will be unique, but there are some general guidelines in preparing a personal essay or admission letter:
This statement is the primary contact between you as the applicant and the admission committee. You should use high quality materials and the final product should be of professional quality. Do not use bold or brightly colored paper or ink, the presentation should be of professional quality. Mistakes are unforgivable, so proofread carefully. If possible, present the letter to a friend, family member or advisor to critique and review. Unless the letter and/or essay is a general one which is presented to the LSDAS, tailor it to the individual school, including specifically addressing it to the committee/persons indicated on the application.
Consult the schools’ application materials for specifications on the proper length and format of these statements. Where no criteria are specified, the rule of thumb is that the letter or personal essay should not exceed two pages (single spaced) in length. Statements beyond a certain length will not be carefully or fully read. Use also a reasonable font size, type set (avoid hard to read fonts which have the appearance of script).
Your letter/essay should be a direct, clearly written and cogent explanation of your qualifications and suitability for a legal career. The essay is an opportunity to emphasize your individual strengths and to offer some insight to you as a person. Some individuals will include a brief biography, or convey a story which illustrates their reasons for pursuing a legal career, including examples of adversities overcome or past success in meeting life’s challenges. Many effective essays are provocative, even bold efforts designed to capture the attention of the committee. The style you choose and the information you relate should reflect your personality and ambitions. You should also attempt to tailor the admission letter and/or essay to emphasize information relevant to each school. While it is acceptable to be unique or to share personal information, avoid being “gimmicky,”or including overly personal or sensitive information that might be considered inappropriate. Remember there is a fine line between provocative and outlandish – avoid going for “shock value.”
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You may also want to use the essay as a means of mitigating some weakness in the application. While it is not wise to draw attention to one’s deficiencies, you may take the opportunity to buttress the application by emphasizing improvement in your record or explaining any weakness of performance that may have resulted from a crisis or a troubled period. In general, the statement should be confident and direct without falsely embellishing or misrepresenting your record.
The LSAC’s “Official Guide to U.S. Law Schools, (2001 Edition)” says the following about personal essays:
Each candidate to law school has something of interest to present. Maybe you’ve had some experience, some training, some dream that sets you apart from the others. Law schools want to recruit men and women who are qualified for reasons beyond grades and scores. The essay or personal statement in your application is the place to tell the committee about yourself.
In general your evaluation of actual experiences and past accomplishments has more value to the committee than speculation about future accomplishments. Also, if you have overcome a serious obstacle in your life to get where you are today, by all means let the admission committee know about it. Any noteworthy personal experience or accomplishment may be an appropriate subject for your essay; however be sure to do more than just state it. Describe your experience briefly but concretely, and why it had value to you, whether it is a job, your family, a significant accomplishment, or your upbringing. You are simultaneously trying to add information and create structure. Be brief, be factual, be comprehensive, and be organized.
You are a story teller here. You want a living person – you – to emerge. The statement is your opportunity to be vivid and alive to the reader, and it is an opportunity to demonstrate your ability to write and present a prose sample in a professional manner).