DOs and DON’Ts of Your Personal Statement

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As the Immortal Bard once stated, “Now is the winter of our discontent.” For those of you working on your personal statements can probably relate to his sentiment all too well. For me, writing my personal statement was the worst part of the application process. From coming up with a topic to proofreading it a million times, it was truly a harrowing experience.

With that in mind, this post is going to cover the DOs and DON’Ts of personal statements. At the end of the day, your personal statement is one of the most important parts of your application (apart from your GPA/LSAT, which are probably already set at this stage in your law school journey). So, give it the attention it deserves.

DO come up with a topic that captures your individuality. In addition to providing tangible evidence of your writing strength, the personal statement is one of the only ways that the admission committee can evaluate you as a person. You want to give them insight into what makes you, well, you. To be clear, I’m not saying your topic has to be something entirely original. My personal statement ended up being about a relatively generic topic — why I chose to go to law school — but it gave me the opportunity to weave together my unique educational background, short-lived sports career, and extra-curricular activities. Basically, even if you don’t have some life changing moment to write about (like saving someone’s life during a trip to Africa, which is in fact the topic of my friend’s personal statement), you can still provide an effective window into the ways you would add to the incoming class. Until law schools get a Sorting Hat, you’re stuck with the personal statement as the only real way of conveying your pertinent thoughts, feelings, and attributes.

DON’T be Zoolander. Now, I know that could be taken myriad ways — don’t have gasoline fights, for example — but I’m thinking of one specific part of the classic comedy. Early on, Zoolander appears in a commercial, which includes the line “water is the essence of wet.” Your personal statement, as discussed above, should say something unique about you. If you find yourself writing, “I decided to go to law school after a year at Teach for America, where I was inspired to help people in underserved communities,” stop. Now, I have nothing but respect for TFA and I think it provides great experience. But, as far as an admission committee member is concerned, that is the equivalent of saying water is the essence of wet. You need to do more than that if you want to convey anything a meaningful portrait, and not just a stock image, to your evaluators.

DO focus on your writing technique. Your personal statement shouldn’t have a single error. Not one. It should be grammatically perfect without even the hint of a typo. You should give your personal statement to everyone you know to read over and make sure it is spotless. There is no time limit on this writing assignment, and you won’t be given any margin of error. It should be the best example of your writing you can provide. With that said, don’t try to make it fancy. Legal writing is direct, clear, and simple. Frills and fluff won’t get you very far in this context.

DON’T be Michael Cera. Except for his amazing turn in This is the End, Michael Cera almost always plays a self-deprecating, awkward character. He is never sure of himself and often focuses on his weaknesses. Your personal statement is not the time to be humble. Draw attention to your successes and your strengths. It is fine to talk about a transformative experience, but the key is to discuss the positive ways in which you were changed, not the limitations you had beforehand. Law school will make you keenly aware of your shortcomings all too soon. For now, put your best foot forward.

This is a tough process. From beginning to end, you need to be on your A-game. Don’t hesitate to get help along the way. Good luck!

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