Law School Admissions Essay

Tips to make the personal statement drafting process less painful
Tags: personal statement, law school admissions essay
Apr 2, 2023

Table of Contents

  1. Law School Admissions Essay Timing
  2. Step-by-Step Essay Strategy
  3. Related Articles

Law School Admissions Essay Timing

Many people underestimate the law school personal statement. Writing two pages about yourself, without any topic constraints, often sounds like a fairly easy task at first – especially in comparison to tackling the LSAT. Do not fall into the trap of leaving your personal statement as a task to handle after applications have opened in September of your application year. Try to start the essay (at the latest!) by July of the summer before you plan to apply. Don’t forget that along with the personal statement, you will likely need to write interest statements, supplemental essays (i.e., the Yale 250), and potentially a diversity statement and/or addenda (for C&F or GPA explanations). Ideally, I recommend giving yourself at least 2 months of time to plan out, write, and edit your law school admissions essay – meaning that an ideal timeline would include starting work on the personal statement sometime around May or June of your application year. 

Law School Admissions Essay Step-by-Step Strategy

  1. The first step in the personal statement process should be research. Before you apply, I recommend (at a minimum) googling successful personal statements, and reading through law school admissions essays that have done well in prior years. This can be helpful as a source of motivation, and may demonstrate some qualities that admissions committees have sought out previously. Aside from reading through essay examples, there are many other free resources online that you can take advantage of. For example, many law schools have free seminars / information on their admissions website specifically discussing what they look for – I would recommend looking through the admissions sections of at least a few of the schools you apply to, to search for their specific guidance regarding the personal statement. Additionally consider signing up for virtual information sessions or seminars regarding applications from schools that offer them. It may also be helpful to look at the HLS/YLS podcast (Navigating Law School Admissions podcast, available on Spotify) for admissions materials, or to attend one of their informational sessions to get an idea of what top law schools look for in application materials, even if you are not applying to T3 schools. While doing research, keep in mind that you shouldn’t be looking for a strict template to follow, but rather building out an understanding of how others have successfully structured a compelling narrative about themselves in the past, and what law schools tend to want to see–to thereby start to generate ideas for your own essay.
  2. After completing some research and starting to orient yourself with ideas about how to write a successful personal statement, step two should include a brainstorming session. List out multiple themes or ideas around which you might be able to center your personal statement. Keep in mind while doing this that personal statements often have a specific thematic focus that answers one or both of the following two questions: (1) Why do you want to become a lawyer/why do you want to go to law school, and/or (2) How have your experiences developed you into a person for whom law school/being a lawyer is the right path? I have listed out some additional questions/prompts below to help orient you in your brainstorming session: 
  3. Temporal Narrative: Some personal statements follow a past→ present→ future narrative. It can be helpful to utilize this type of structure to focus on (a) past: what have you done in your past that either motivated you to become a lawyer, or helped you to develop skills that will make you a good lawyer in future, (b) present: what are you currently doing with your life that makes law school the right next step for you, or how has your current employment (or academic experience) developed you into a person with the right skills to become a lawyer, and finally (c) future: why do you want to become a lawyer and how will law school help you achieve your goals in the future (what are your future goals?). 
  4. Persuasive Essay: It can be helpful to view the personal statement as a platform through which you are given the opportunity of 2 pages to write about the single most compelling reason for which you deserve to be admitted to a given law school. What is the most interesting accomplishment in your past? What makes you unique from everyone else, and uniquely qualified to become a lawyer? What is an event you have experienced from which your motivation to become a lawyer directly grew? What is the achievement for which you struggled or sacrificed the most to achieve? 
  5. Coherent Narrative: One other strategy in approaching the personal statement may be to look at the entirety of your application materials, and attempt to weave a common theme between all of them. What is one unique quality, desire, belief, experience, or set of experiences, that links all of your professional/academic experience (resume), your unique approach, background, adversity you have overcome, or perspective to life (diversity statement), the qualities that other people first think of when they describe you (recommendation letters), and how does that quality/experience/belief support your desire to become a lawyer, and create the person you are? How can you explain that quality or thought to an outside individual, and explain how it has motivated or created who you are?
  6. After listing out ideas, take a day and try to decide which idea will be the most compelling to an admissions committee, and that feels the most genuine, personally significant, or compelling to you– which essay truly represents the story that you want to tell about yourself? Consider asking some friends, peers, family, or a mentor to read through your list and provide some feedback about your options while narrowing down your choices. Finalize the two best options, and start outlining. Take a day or 2 to write a brief (No more than a half page) outline for each of the two ideas you have chosen. After this, decide on the strongest contender between the two. 
  7. The next step is to start a first draft based off of your winning outline. Set yourself a specific deadline by which to finish your first draft, and hold yourself accountable to that date. Move the environments in which you write – try writing in a local coffee shop, outdoors, anywhere that helps you to feel inspired and motivated. 
  8. After getting a solid first draft, the final step is to edit. Wait at least 24-48 hours between finishing your first draft and starting your second. This is also the time to determine with certainty that you want to continue with the topic that you chose. If you have now realized that the first draft you wrote doesn’t have the zing you expected, or doesn’t fully convey what you hoped it would, it may be time to switch to your second place contender, consider adding in additional material from your brainstorming list, or to start the process over entirely. Do not be afraid of starting over – the reason that we started the writing process back around June, was to ensure that you would have enough time to submit the best personal statement possible in your application packet. Once you have given this decision full consideration, begin a round of edits. After completing your second draft, try to find a mentor or another trusted individual to read through your statement and provide honest feedback/edits from which to generate a third draft. Finally, for a fourth round of editing, read your essay out loud to yourself, and look for any other areas that can be further improved. 

The personal statement can be a daunting task, but if you ensure that you have ample time to write, approach it in a methodical, structured, step-by-step way, and reach out to others for help and feedback, hopefully the process will become more approachable, and maybe even enjoyable by the end of the drafting process.

Related Articles

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  2. When Should I Apply to Law School?
  3. How Do I Apply to Law School?
Pilea HLS '24

I graduated from college in 2020, and took one gap year of work as a paralegal before starting at Harvard Law. I never expected to be admitted to Harvard when I started my law school application process, and I’m incredibly grateful to be here now. I spent a LOT of time researching law school admissions during my application year, and took on the role of a part time admissions/LSAT tutor last year with the goal of spreading the knowledge that I gained through my app process to hopefully help others with similar aspirations!


General chat about the legal profession.
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@TruthTheX: praying for your gulc uprising
Ty me too 🙏
@Silver: if you want to practice in IL then there’s likely no better school than the in state schools
@SpectacularDefiantMouse: yeah, like condemnedpuffygnome, I'm not really preparing for law school by taking some courses or anything like that. The only way I'm going to be preparing is by getting myself into a rhythm schedule-wise, well enough in advance of the first day of classes, that I think will be necessary for me to do well 1L.
I'm very much not in rhythm now. lol. But I've 3-ish months.
@Silver: Cost of attendance is what matters. $37K in-state tuition = $47K sticker price with a $10K scholarship elsewhere, $70K sticker with a $40K scholarship is better than either, $40K sticker with a $0 scholarship worse than both.
(Assuming placement etc. is comparable)
Congrats on Harvard, jb2028. Any reason you applied to A&M but not Texas at Austin? Seems odd.
@BankruptcyAndRestructuringLawIsCool: Family connection, they gave me a CAS waiver so it was free
Question for the chat about judicial internships (not externships). My understanding is that judicial internships (as opposed to externships) during the summer are unpaid. How, then, do people who get them pay living expenses during the summer? Do they just make loans stretch for 12 months when they're only meant for 9? I heard that some people supplement the internship with, e.g., a research assistant position with a law professor. But would such a person both do the internship and the RA position at the same time? And if so, is that too much work or feasible?
I don't know what the workload is really like for judicial internships and RA positions.
Also curious what other things people might do to supplement an unpaid judicial internship over the summer with something paid.
@BankruptcyAndRestructuringLawIsCool: Many schools will provide some type of stipend for unpaid summer roles with a public interest employer (defined broadly, often includes any gov or judicial job)
Right, I thought so. At BU, though, it appears that what's called BU's public interest project grant is not available to supplement judicial internships. And I think its public service summer funding is also limited. Oh well.
@BankruptcyAndRestructuringLawIsCool: FWIW they allude to some type of funding ("BU Law has implemented separate funding sources for judicial interns") in this packet https://www.bu.edu/law/files/2023/11/Public-Service-Summer-Funding-Applicant-Packet-2024.pdf
Although they don't give details, and as you note they don't guarantee funding to everyone (which is in line with other $ they offer, e.g. the LRAP)
Anyone know how hard it is to do pro bono work as a 1L for judges or fed gov in general in the D.C. market
Idk much about pro bono opportunities period but thinking I wanna try to get some work experience as soon as humanly possible
When I begin law school I mean
Lines up with BU's limited endowment: $81K per student a few years ago, i.e., enough to support a payout of about $3,250 per student per year at a 4% payout rate https://leiterlawschool.typepad.com/leiter/2022/05/per-student-value-of-law-school-endowments-2021.html
Seems like they're trying to compete with other schools on program headlines (we fund X, Y, and Z and we have an LRAP) but the endowment can't really support that, so they have all these programs but don't guarantee funding. Would not rely on that if you have alternatives.
Thanks for those links. I'll give the public service summer funding information packet, in particular, a careful read. But yeah, your takeaway seems right.
i could really use some fried chicken right now
kfc or popeyes
or korean with gochujang
i might order some gochujang sauce on amazon and cook some air fried chicken breast filets, they’re really good
just letting you guys know :)
Where I can find the definition of the false-endowment?
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