Published July 16, 2019
The stress of cramming for the LSAT (or GRE) is behind you, and you survived the intolerably long wait for your score. You‘ve researched schools, requested transcripts, secured recommendation letters, and updated your resume. Now only the dreadful personal statement is preventing you from hitting the submit button.
So you might ask: Does anyone even read the personal statement? Yes. Could it be a make or break deciding factor? Definitely.
While your standardized test score(s) and undergraduate GPA are good law school success predictors, non-numerical factors such as your resume, recommendation letters and the personal statement give the Admissions Committee an idea of your individuality and how you might uniquely contribute to the law school. Most importantly, your personal statement is a sample of your writing, and strong writing skills are as important to law students (and lawyers) as Mjolnir is to Thor.
If the thought of writing a personal statement stresses you out, adhere to these 5 tips to avoid disaster.
BONUS: Scroll down to review 5 law school personal statement samples.
The Admissions Committee will have access to your transcripts and recommendation letters, and your resume will provide insight into your outside-the-classroom experiences, past and current job responsibilities and other various accomplishments. So, the personal statement is your best opportunity to share something personal they don’t already know. Be sure to provide insight into who you are, your background and how it’s shaped the person you are today, and finally, who you hope to be in the future.
If you haven’t faced adversity or overcome major life obstacles, it’s okay. Write honestly about your experiences and interests. And, whatever you do, don’t fabricate or exaggerate—the reader can often see through this. Find your unique angle and remember that a truthful and authentic essay is always your best approach.
Tip: Don’t use big words you don’t understand. This will certainly do more harm than good.
Get creative, but remember to hone in on the why. Unless the application has specific requirements, it is recommended you include what influenced you to pursue a legal education. Consider including what impact you hope to make in the world post-graduation.
The last thing you want to do is bore the reader, so keep it interesting, personable and engaging. A touch of humor is okay, but keep in mind that wit and sarcasm can be easily misinterpreted. Demonstrate maturity, good judgment and tact and you won’t end up offending the reader.
The importance of enrolling and graduating strong writers cannot be stressed enough, so don’t forget the basics! Include an introduction, supporting paragraphs and a closing. Write clearly, concisely and persuasively. Take time to edit, proofread--walk away from it--then edit and proofread again before submitting.
Tip: Consulting a Pre-Law Advisor or a mentor to help you proofread and edit is an extra step you can take to make sure your personal statement is the best it can be!
Sound easy enough? It is, if you take it seriously. Don’t think you have to craft the “best” or most competitive personal statement, just the most “genuine” personal statement. Remember, there is nobody with your exact set of life experiences, background or point of view. Just do you.
1. How a suitemate's small gesture resulted in declaring a second major and, eventually, working as an interpreter at a law firm.
Near the end of the spring semester of my sophomore year, my bilingual suitemate slipped me a small chart of Spanish subject pronouns. Earlier that day, I had told him that I signed up for a study abroad program in Costa Rica, and he knew my Spanish vocabulary was limited to little more than “good morning,” “thank you,” and “goodbye.” Apart from English, languages had always seemed incredibly foreign to me, and not in terms of their origins or where they were predominantly spoken. I missed their logic. Grammatical rules seemed far removed from anything resembling expression or communication. Foreign words never added up to more than the sum of their letters. I had studied both German and French in high school with modest success. At twenty years old on that spring afternoon, I was just a motivated learner with a college language requirement to fulfill. I had the determination to soak up as much Spanish as I could, but I had what I felt at the time were realistic expectations. Spanish did not need to change my life.
From that scrap piece of paper and kind gesture of a friend, I ultimately declared a second major in Spanish. Notebooks full of vocabulary quickly replaced the list of pronouns. I poured over conjugation charts in Spanish’s fourteen verb tenses, three grammatical moods, and regional variations. Spanish was a joy. It presented both a personal challenge and an endless puzzle to be solved. While it was not my best subject, I took to the language’s study with patience, discipline, and a constant desire for measureable self-improvement.
This challenging and rewarding aspect of language acquisition never subsided. Even as it continues to become easier to read, write, speak, and listen in Spanish, I am increasingly aware of nuances I miss and vocabulary I lack. New words and phrases still give me a feeling of quiet exhilaration. Spanish presents me with a chance to relearn the world and reevaluate my understanding of it. Are the Americas one continent or two? Which form of “you” do you use? What strategies are developing in Spanish-speaking communities to promote inclusive and fair communication in a language that is so highly gender-inflected?
New words and concepts are only the beginning of the way Spanish opened up the world. I was introduced to the works of writers and artists from around the world. I watched movies that left me in stiches, moved me to tears, and gave me the chills. It opened my ears to a steady stream of protest music, singer songwriter confessionals, flamenco, tango, jotas, salsa, blues and indie rock. Over the course of my studies, Spanish led me to travel and took me to large cities, small towns, plains, mountains, jungles, waterfalls, deserts, and beaches. I have been extraordinarily privileged to have had these experiences. More importantly, however, is the way Spanish has enriched my life by connecting me with teachers, colleagues, students, artists, activists, welcoming families, and friends who I would never have met otherwise. My life is forever changed by these relationships.
After graduation, I moved to Spain to work as a language assistant and cultural ambassador for the Spanish Ministry of Education, at vocational, secondary, and primary schools in La Rioja and Madrid, where I helped students and colleagues in journeys mirroring my own, toward English proficiency and mastery. My life and work in Spain was fulfilling. However, I began to feel the distance from my family and friends in the United States. In 2014, I returned home with fresh eyes. The move was as impactful as any of my past travel. I saw a vibrant multilingual and multicultural community on the rise and was determined to put my hard-won Spanish skills to good use.
I started working at a law firm as a paralegal and interpreter. It is a small, high-volume practice limited to immigration law. There, I honed my organizational, scheduling, and managerial skills. A large part of my job is coordinating directly with clients, attorneys, and other support staff. I help to prepare motions, translations, court submissions, family-based petitions, asylum claims and many other applications. Over the course of any given day, I have the opportunity to help people from many different countries and walks of life. A significant proportion of our clientele speaks Spanish as their first language. I acknowledge that the circumstances in which many of our clients arrive in the United States are different than those that shaped my life as a traveler and an immigrant, but I am proud to be able to extend some of the much-needed help and hospitality that was always afforded to me.
Arguably, I know less about law than I knew about Spanish when my sophomore roommate gave me my first language lesson, but I feel ready for the new challenge, fascinated by its potential as a window to the world, and excited by its many applications in service of our local and global community. After my travels and time living abroad, I feel strongly connected to many distant places, but Buffalo remains my home. I would greatly appreciate the opportunity to study law at the University at Buffalo School of Law and thank you for your consideration of my application.
2. This applicant found a balance between doing what they love and earning a living.
As adolescents become young adults, they struggle with the transitional challenges that accompany their new responsibilities. As a child, I learned how to follow rules, play for participation trophies and not ask too many questions. I was told to stay in line, but I knew that as an adult, I should be a line-leader. The problem I faced, as I learned how to wield my own independence, was a common one. I desperately struggled to reconcile my strong compulsion towards self-indulgence with my ambitions for a successful life. I often asked myself whether it was possible to make a living off of playing with kittens all day. Parents love to tell adolescents that “if you love what you do, you’ll never work a day in your life,” but as a young adult, it never seemed that simple. There is a looming dichotomy between “doing what you love” and “earning a wage,” which seems to plague each generation that enters adulthood. I feel genuinely fortunate to be able to say that I found harmony between the two. By pursuing a career in law, I believe I will be able to apply my personal values to a career which will give me not only a sense of personal fulfillment and gratification, but also a “real job” that contributes to society.
I had always been an enthusiastic learner, and was always throwing myself into new hobbies and interests. On a whim, I took a creative writing class in my sophomore year to kindle an interest in poetry. The poems we read that year opened my eyes to the potential and inherent beauty in language. The manipulation and purposeful reconstruction of syntax and diction resembled art. Careful articulation had always been an interest of mine, but poetry really gave me an access to language which I had never had before. Poetry became an incredibly important part of my college career and of my personal life. I read poetry, I wrote poetry, I published original poems, and I was twice awarded by the university for my work. I became active in the poetry community, and my relationship with language and articulation deepened.
At the same time, I enrolled in an elementary chemistry course as a basic science requirement. I had always been interested in science courses, and I knew the subject would fascinate me, but I was not prepared for the emotional response I felt to the chemistry material. Chemistry explained things; it explained behavior, and it dealt with calculable predictions on a microscopic level. As I delved further into my chemistry coursework, I felt like I had found a subject that answered something inside myself. My natural draw to ask “why” and “how” was finally pacified. Higher-level chemistry courses gave me the tools to approach any of those questions with the logical, rational thought required of chemical calculation.
As I maneuvered through my undergraduate coursework, and committed myself to both my English and Chemistry majors, I also tried to find a way to manifest my concern for community investment. I volunteered for an organization called Break! The Influence, which performed for schoolchildren to warn them of the dangers of substance abuse through dance and entertainment. Even after the program ended, I felt an instinctive gravitation towards community volunteer work and local investment, which led me to Literacy NY Buffalo Niagara. LNYBN is an organization which provides free English tutoring to functionally illiterate adults in the local area. This organization’s mission is very dear to me for several reasons: not only am I interested in bettering the community, but I also have immense respect for the adults who seek out this tutoring assistance. They are often learning English despite working full-time jobs and satisfying family responsibilities. These students have committed themselves in a way that inspires me and which I hope to emulate with a law degree. They are improving themselves in order to reach their potentials, and are able to reinvest those skills back into the community they learned from. I have been given the opportunity, through my work with LNYBN, to help these people equip themselves for even fuller contributions to society. I am excited to share with them my passion for language, and I am awed by the non-native speakers who are learning English as a second or third language. In the same vein, I hope to use my law degree to better prepare me to contribute to the community. I know that my language and articulation skills have made me a more effective communicator, and calculated rationality has made me a more measured and logical thinker. These are skills which I think will be enhanced by the study of law, and which can be used to improve society, as well as my local community, as my career develops.
3. How one applicant's experience teaching English in Thailand prepared them for the challenges of law school.
As I handed my passport to the customs officer upon entry into Bangkok, Thailand, I anxiously glanced at my surroundings. What had I gotten myself into? My mind raced as I worried about whether I would be able to adapt to a foreign culture or whether I could handle teaching English in a foreign country for a year. Despite several months of analysis and reflection, I could not help but wonder if I had made the right decision. However, as the customs officer handed my passport back to me, I reminded myself why I decided to pursue this opportunity in the first place: personal and professional growth, intellectual stimulation, and the opportunity to experience a new culture. With that in mind, I confronted my fears, took a deep breath, and embarked on the journey of a lifetime.
The first few months teaching English to primary level Thai students were challenging, to say the least. Not only was I adapting to a new way of life in a bustling Asian city, but I also confronted the reality that the majority of the students in my classroom had limited exposure to the English language. Although the task seemed overwhelming, I was determined to help my students improve their English communication skills. I worked diligently to create lesson plans centered on classroom participation. I also fostered relationships with my students, which allowed them to become more comfortable practicing their English. As a result, my students made significant improvements throughout the course of the academic year and were excited to practice their communication skills. The most rewarding moment came towards the end of the year when some of my students asked for my home address. They wanted to send me letters and continue practicing their English. Teaching in such a unique environment enabled me to enhance my organization, leadership, and adaptability skills, all while providing me with the opportunity to fully engage in a different culture.
In addition to developing strong relationships with my students, I developed relationships with people from an array of cultural backgrounds. I nurtured friendships with fellow teachers and other travelers, each with unique national, cultural, and linguistic backgrounds. These relationships opened my mind to alternate ways of thinking, gave me the ability to hone my interpersonal skills, and broadened my ability to think critically about the similarities and differences in our world.
As I look back at my year of teaching in Thailand, I am proud of my accomplishments and am confident that I, in fact, did make the right decision. Although challenging at times, teaching English abroad was a defining learning experience. The lessons I learned throughout my experience in Thailand remain relevant in all aspects of my life. As a result of my intellectual curiosity and willingness to step outside of my comfort zone, I have the ability to succeed in any situation. My time in Thailand proves that I can readily face the responsibilities of law school and confidently confront the challenges of adapting to the legal environment. I believe these skills and my past experiences will make me successful at the University at Buffalo School of Law. Combining an education from the University at Buffalo with my unique international experience and strong work ethic will allow me to harness my full potential within the legal field.
4. How a grandmother's hard work and dedication influenced this applicant to pursue a law degree.
As I stood up to speak, my mind flooded with memories. My family had traveled from New York to the island of Kauai to see my grandmother get married to a wonderful woman. Each of her grandchildren had been assigned to some part of the ceremony, and I was chosen to give a speech at the reception. I am not much of a public speaker, it is something I am always working on, but finding the right words to talk about my grandmother was easy.
After the death of her second husband, my grandmother had to support her family on her own. It would not be easy, but she knew she needed to start a career if she was going to support her four daughters. Her dream was to become an attorney. She worked as a waitress during the day and took classes at night. After excelling in law school, she began the career that she had worked so hard to get. Raising four daughters and maintaining a career is no easy task, but she flourished. Despite her obligations at home, my grandmother constantly excelled. She has received many awards and honors for her hard work throughout her career. More important to me than the awards and honors, however, is the pro bono work that she has done for women and children trapped in abusive relationships. She has always stressed the importance of giving back to the community in any way that one can. My grandmother is a kind and caring woman who puts forth an amazing amount of effort into everything she does.
Due to the absence of my father, my grandmother essentially became my second parent. I did not know the extent of her challenges and achievements while I was growing up. Much of what I learned from my grandmother I learned through her actions. My mother worked nights, so it was usually my grandmother's responsibility to pick me up from any sports practices or after school events. She was late every time, without failure. She was always putting in long hours at the office, and time would escape her. I was always silent on the ride home, not because I was upset, but because she would always be on the phone with a client or a coworker. It was as if she never stopped working. Whenever she would discuss past cases at the dinner table I would lean in close and try to understand as much as I could. Listening to my grandmother during these car rides and dinner conversations is what initially sparked my interest in the law. I always found it fascinating how eloquently she was able to articulate herself when speaking about her cases. Her work always sounded interesting, and it always felt important. I could tell she loved what she did, even if it was difficult and tiring.
I am not sure how many grandsons are lucky enough to see the smile on their grandmother’s face as she walks down the aisle toward the person she loves, but it was an experience that I would not trade for anything. As I finished my speech and sat back down, I reflected on what I have learned from my grandmother. She has always been a major role model in my life. I have seen the type of time commitment required in her field. I know that the work is both mentally and emotionally taxing. I also know that if she did not absolutely love her work, then she would not still be doing it today. From my grandmother I have learned that hard work and dedication are necessary for success, especially in the field of law. She has taught me to be caring and to give back to my community when I can. I have followed her example as best I could up to this point. I am confident that if I continue to persevere and find joy in what I do, then I will find success and happiness as my grandmother has.
5. This applicant writes about their experience interning with a small town law firm tackling a big case.
I have lived in a small town for seventeen years. I knew advancing my education was the key to getting out of my hometown and into a more exciting environment that I yearned for. College brought me just over two hours away from home at a small liberal arts school with less than one-thousand enrolled students. Now in my senior year, a walk across campus means you know everyone who passes by; this is very similar to what happens when out and about at home. Frustrated with myself for not escaping from what I was used to, I decided to try for a summer internship at a corporate law firm in the city. My frustrations mounted after learning that one firm’s budget had been cut and I no longer had a summer position. Reluctantly, I sent cover letters and résumés to the handful of small law firms in my hometown. I received a response within two days, interviewed, and landed a summer internship at a law firm comprised of one lawyer who practiced all areas of law.
I quickly realized that being a small town lawyer did not mean small cases. The first chance I had to watch lawyers in action was during mediation for a federal lawsuit. I hesitantly stepped into the room. Across the table were five attorneys on behalf of New York State and the federal government. Only a few days earlier I had been sitting in class finishing my freshman year of college. Now, I was in a room full of attorneys negotiating their positions in a lawsuit brought on by the federal government. This is certainly not what I expected to experience as an intern at a solo practice law firm. I was catapulted into the unfamiliar environment that I had been searching for.
Feeling out of place was something I was not used to. Still timid and unsure, “You need to have faith, kid” was a phrase my boss told me, and I would hear it hundreds of times as I adjusted to the unfamiliar. My internship led me to shadow an attorney in a multitude of settings unfamiliar to me, and opened my eyes to the world of being a lawyer. Despite the small size of the law office, a wide range of cases came in. No matter how different one is from another, there was a common theme to them all: clients come to lawyers when they need help.
I was allowed to take a very hands on approach in the office, and see the demands of simultaneously being an effective lawyer and business owner. Before my internship, I did not know what a lawyer actually did aside from what I had seen as a glamorized television portrayal from various shows. I was oblivious to all the scenarios of life in which a lawyer is needed, as well as the human services side of the profession. As an attorney, you advocate the best you can for someone who cannot do that for themselves. Clients put an incredible amount of trust into their lawyers, and a client’s life can be impacted immensely as a result of the proceedings. Clients have faith that you will secure the best possible outcome for them.
As summer progressed, I was given more and more responsibilities. What began as an internship turned into a full-time job that I still return to during breaks from school. Throughout my time with the firm, I have learned more than just lawyering. I have learned the ins and outs of the legal profession, but I have also learned about myself. When I was put in the unfamiliar environment that I had yearned for, I did not know what to do. Fortunately, my boss has become a great mentor and has given me the opportunities to grow professionally, and personally. Every new experience is a chance to learn.
Capitalizing on the unfamiliarity that I so desired has led me to want more opportunities to advance into unfamiliar territories. I believe attending law school at the University at Buffalo will challenge me, and further my growth professionally and personally. The University’s unique trial advocacy program and clinics will allow me the hands-on experiences to apply what is learned in the classroom to real situations. I want to continue my ascent into the legal profession, and the University at Buffalo will provide me with the necessary tools.