How to Write a Personal Statement for Law School
Personal statements for law school are one of the most important parts of making your application stand out because they tell a story about a person’s character that can’t otherwise be known from a resume. Applicants seeking a law degree, such as a Juris Doctor (J.D.) or an online J.D. program, would do best to lean on communication and research skills from their undergraduate studies in order to write a good personal statement for law school. Use the guide below to explore resources for law school personal statement tips for formatting, dos and don’ts, and some topics for inspiration.
What is a Personal Statement for Law School?
A personal statement is a brief essay written by the law school applicant detailing their personal background and how it makes them a unique fit for the law degree program. The personal statement may also cover the applicant’s intentions for studies while enrolled in the program—such as a passion for litigation, immigration or environmental law—and what they hope to gain from being a student at that particular law school. While a personal statement won’t compensate for low LSAT scores, it can include nuanced life experiences that cannot be gleaned from other aspects of the application, such as your transcripts, resume or letters of recommendation.
What is the Admissions Committee Looking for in the Personal Statement?
Admissions committees typically look for some of the following topics:
- Who is the applicant? What stands out about a student’s academic and personal background, work experience and extracurricular activities (such as volunteer work or community service)? Do you have unique traits or qualities? Beyond that, admissions committees want to know how a student can add value to the school and student body, and if you can build trust with peers and professors.
- Does the applicant have strong communication and writing abilities? Does the applicant’s personal statement for law school demonstrate clear written communication skills and excellent attention to detail? A well-written and coherent law school personal statement can signal to the admissions committee that you are a strong communicator, capable of articulating complex thoughts and experiences, much like lawyers do in their day-to-day work. If you want to become a lawyer or practice law after earning a law degree and passing the bar, these are important skills to cultivate over time.
Law School Personal Statement Format
Each university will have different requirements, but typically, a law school personal statement format may include:
- Length: Two pages, though some universities will specify if they only want one
- Word Count: 250-500 words at minimum
- Spacing: Double or single spaced
- Font: Times New Roman in 11-or 12-point font
- Margins: No less than 1 inch
Students should always carefully read the requirements for each law school they apply to before writing their personal statement. Be sure to check the requirements a second time after the personal statement is complete, especially when submitting personal statements to multiple universities.
10 Law School Personal Statement Tips
Writing a personal statement can be a daunting task for some, but most law schools have guidelines or advice that can help reduce the pressure of what to write about. You may use the advice below to begin writing your personal statement, but be sure to check with your adviser or another academic professional who can help guide you through the process.
- Read all the instructions. Carefully read and follow the guidelines provided by law schools before you begin writing to avoid wasting time or energy on formatting that could disqualify your application. Many schools offer thorough and specific instructions, including factors the admissions committee uses to evaluate candidacy.
- Brainstorm and make a framework. Work with your adviser to brainstorm possible personal statement topics and discuss how to make each of those topics unique and complete. Creating an outline can be done together or on your own, but it can be helpful to have a framework once you begin writing.
- Research the school values and understand your audience. Find out what values are important to the university and identify where those values intersect with your own. Read up on specific professors and their current research topics to understand what opportunities you might have to learn from them and consider mentioning those areas in your essay.
- Choose one or two small topics. Small, specific topics can ensure the applicant sufficiently covers the topic as opposed to starting a lengthy narrative they don’t have room to finish. Additionally, smaller topics will also help the writer stick to the page limit.
- Identify what sets you apart. Focus on the activities or experiences that make you unique, especially if they are not already on your resume. Focus on these attributes to make your statement feel more personal, authentic and meaningful as you craft your story.
- Give yourself plenty of time to write. Writing under pressure can lead to critical mistakes such as unfinished thoughts and grammatical errors. Spending multiple sessions on your personal statement ensures that you have clarity, a chance to refine your writing and time to proofread.
- Hook the reader. Pay special attention to your first paragraph so that your voice and ideas stand out. Many admissions officers are reviewing hundreds of essays, so gripping their attention from the beginning may increase the likelihood of them engaging more positively with your entire application. A vivid story or good narrative may help your application be more memorable.
- Stay on topic and be concise. If possible, stick to the plan you made instead of going off script. Reference your outline repeatedly as you write, especially if you feel yourself running out of room on the page.
- Be yourself. Personal statements stand out when the writer’s voice is able to shine through. Avoid spending too much time reviewing other people’s work as examples and be confident in your own experience. Focus on your vision, personality, motivation and other relevant aspects specific to you. Otherwise, the essay may end up sounding generic.
- Proofread and polish it up. In addition to manually proofreading your draft, use spell-checking software to check for grammatical errors. Also, look for any legal terms that may be misused. It may help to have your adviser or a trusted peer review for grammatical errors and overall flow before submitting your personal statement.
5 Common Mistakes to Avoid in a Law School Personal Statement
The individual requirements for a personal statement may vary depending on the university, but these general tips and advice for mistakes to avoid can be applied to writing your personal statement.
- Restate your resume. Focus on crafting a story that wouldn’t otherwise be obvious from your resume. Listing your qualifications can be repetitive, and you’ll miss an opportunity to make yourself stand out.
- Discuss legal issues at length. Avoid extensively discussing the law or a controversial issue. You’ll have plenty of opportunities to debate once you begin law school courses. Make your passions clear without turning your essay into a personal political agenda. Remember a personal statement should focus on you.
- Dramatize or exaggerate stories. Fabricating life experiences or plagiarizing others’ work can lead to disqualification of your application or even legal action. Your personal statement should be authentic and establish credibility. Stay true to yourself, your experiences and your writing abilities.
- Submit without proofreading. Make sure you spend time on your personal statement and thoroughly check for grammatical and spelling errors, including the name of your desired school. You’ll also want to pay attention to specific formatting requirements and word count. You may have a trusted adviser review your work to ensure all the university requirements have been met.
- Cover too much ground. Staying focused on your specific topics will help with clarity, consistency and concision. Covering too many topics, or even too large of a topic, can make your statement seem unwieldy, rambling or unfocused.
Law School Personal Statement Topics for Brainstorming
Take a look at your resume and identify a few points about your life experience that aren’t already mentioned in your application. What makes you stand out as a law school applicant? If you’re feeling stuck, you may use the prompts below to brainstorm a topic to craft a unique law school personal statement:
- Personal challenges or hardships you’ve overcome
- A meaningful turning point in your life and how it affected you
- Unique hobbies or personal interests that demonstrate character
- Special achievements or awards not already mentioned in your resume
- A life event or situation that shaped your values or worldview
- An innovative project or research topic you’re passionate about
- Your upbringing or cultural background that shaped your identity
- Opportunities you’ve used to make a difference in your community
If you’re still at a loss for where to begin, ask a friend or family member who knows you well to help identify a few personal attributes.
FAQs About Personal Statements for Law School
Law school applicants may have questions about specific details for their personal statements, which they should explore before beginning the writing process. Use the information below to navigate common questions, and be sure to go over each question with an admissions counselor at your desired law school.
Each law school may have its own requirements, but generally, personal statements are one to two pages in length. If no word count or page length is provided, make sure the essay is long enough to cover your main thoughts but short enough to keep the reader engaged. Have an adviser or editor read over your personal statement before submitting.
A personal statement is different from a statement of interest, so it’s not always necessary to explain your interest in practicing law, which is assumed by the fact that you’re applying to law school in the first place. Applicants may mention a life event or passion that shaped their desire to make a difference by pursuing a law degree. Be sure to check the instructions given by the university before deciding what to include.
Personal statements are a crucial part of expressing what makes you a good fit for a particular law school program. Applicants should treat the personal statement very seriously, especially given that other students are likely to appear equally qualified on their applications. A great personal statement may be the deciding factor in your acceptance into law school.
Yes, writing style matters in your personal statement—and throughout the entire application—because writing is a fundamental skill that lawyers use on a daily basis. Admissions committees are often made up of attorneys and graduates of the law school, so demonstrating excellent writing skills works to the advantage of applicants.
Law school applications require significant effort, attention to detail and demonstration of critical thinking skills. They provide just a taste of the demand for writing that students will encounter during law school. If you want to learn more about the requirements of law school and the benefits provided by a law degree, read our guide, “Is Law School Worth It?”
Last updated September 2021.