Law school personal statements help show admissions committees why you’re an excellent candidate. Read on to learn how to write a personal statement for law school!
Writing a law school personal statement requires time, effort, and a lot of revision. Law school statement prompts and purposes can vary slightly depending on the school.
Their purpose could be to show your personality, describe your motivation for attending law school, explain why you want to go to a particular law school, or a mix of all three and more. This guide will help you perfect your writing with tips and law school personal statement examples.
Unfortunately, there’s no universal format for a law school personal statement. Every law school has a preference (or lack thereof) on how your personal statement should be structured. We recommend always checking for personal statement directions for every school you want to apply to.
However, many law schools ask for similar elements when it comes to personal statement formats. These are some standard formatting elements to keep in mind if your school doesn’t provide specific instructions:
How you format your header may be up to you; sometimes, law schools won't specify whether the header should be one line across the top or three lines.
This is how your header may look if you decide to keep it as one line. If you want a three-line header, it should look like this on the top-right of the page:
Remember, the best law school personal statement format is the one in application instructions. Ensure you follow all formatting requirements!
You may be tempted to give your law school statement a punchy title, just like you would for an academic essay. However, the general rule is that you shouldn’t give your law school personal statement a title.
The University of Washington states, “DON’T use quotes or give a title to your
statement.” Many other schools echo this advice. The bottom line is that although you're writing your story, your law school statement doesn't require a title. Don't add one unless the school requests it.
Acing the beginning of your law school personal statement is essential for your narrative’s success. The introduction is your chance to captivate the admissions committee and immerse them in your story. As such, you want your writing to be interesting enough to grab their attention without purposefully going for shock value.
So how do you write a law school personal statement introduction that will garner the attention it deserves? The simplest way to get the reader involved in your story is to start with a relevant anecdote that ties in with your narrative.
Consider the opening paragraph from Harvard Law graduate Cameron Clark’s law school personal statement:
“At the intersection of 21st and Speedway, I lay on the open road. My leg grazed the shoulder of a young woman lying on the ground next to me. Next to her, a man on his stomach slowed his breathing to appear as still as possible. A wide circle of onlookers formed around the dozens of us on the street. We were silent and motionless, but the black-and-white signs affirmed our existence through their decree: BLACK LIVES MATTER.”
The beginning lines of this personal statement immediately draw the reader in. Why was the writer lying on the road? Why were other people there with him, and why was a man trying to slow his breathing? We're automatically inspired to keep reading to find out more information.
That desire to keep reading is the hallmark of a masterful law school personal statement introduction. However, you don’t want to leave your reader hanging for too long. By the end of this introduction, we’re left with a partial understanding of what’s happening.
There are other ways to start a law school personal statement that doesn't drop the reader in the middle of the action. Some writers may begin their law personal statement in other ways:
“I fell in love for the first time when I was four. That was the year my mother signed me up for piano lessons. I can still remember touching those bright, ivory keys with reverence, feeling happy and excited that soon I would be playing those tinkling, familiar melodies (which my mother played every day on our boombox) myself.”
This opening blends referencing a distant memory and feeling mixed with vivid imagery that paints a picture in the reader's head. Keep in mind that different openers can work better than others, depending on the law school prompt.
To recap, consider these elements as you write your law school personal statement’s introduction:
Writing a law school personal statement introduction can be difficult, but these examples and tips can get your writing the attention it deserves.
Now that you’re equipped with great advice and tips to start your law school statement, it’s time to tackle the body of your essay. These tips will show you how to write a personal statement for law school to captivate the admissions committee.
While many law schools have similar personal statement prompts, you should carefully examine what's being asked of you before diving in. Consider these top law school personal statement prompts to see what we mean:
Like all law personal statements, these three prompts are pretty open-ended. However, your Yale personal statement should focus on how you’d contribute to a law school community through professional and academic experience and qualities.
For UChicago Law, you don’t even need to write about a law-related topic if you don’t want to. However, when it comes to a school like NYU Law, you probably want to mix your qualities, experiences, and what led you to apply.
Differing prompts are the reason you’ll need to create multiple copies of your personal statement!
Pay extra attention to each school's formatting directions. While we've discussed basic guidelines for law school personal statement formats, it's essential to check if there is anything different you need to do.
While working on your rough drafts, copy and paste the prompt and directions at the top of the page, so you don't forget.
You may have more wiggle room with some prompts than others regarding content. However, asking yourself these questions can generally help you direct your personal statement for any law school:
Keep in mind that this isn't an exhaustive list. Consider your personal and professional experiences that have brought you to this point, and determine which answers would make the most compelling story.
Pettit College of Law recommends you "go through your transcripts, application, and resume. Are there any gaps or missing details that your personal statement could cover?” If you've listed something on your resume that isn't further discussed, it could make a potential personal statement topic.
Recounting an event in a summarized way is only one piece of your law school personal statement. Even if you’re telling an outlandish or objectively interesting story, stopping there doesn’t show admissions committees what they need to know to judge your candidacy.
The University of Washington suggests that “describing the event should only be about 1/3 of your essay. The rest should be a reflection on how it changed you and how it shaped the person you are today.” Don’t get stuck in the tangible details of your anecdote; show what the experience meant to you.
Beth O'Neil, Director of Admissions and Financial Aid at UC Berkeley School of Law, said, "Applicants also tend to state and not evaluate. They give a recitation of their experience but no evaluation of what effect that particular experience had on them, no assessment of what certain experiences or honors meant."
No matter what direction you want to take your law school personal statement, you should consider which qualities your narrative puts on display. Weaving your good character into your essay can be difficult. Outwardly claiming, "I'm a great leader!" doesn't add much value.
However, telling a story about a time you rose to the occasion to lead a group successfully toward a common goal shows strong leadership. "Show, don't tell" may be an overused statement, but it's a popular sentiment for a reason.
Of course, leadership ability isn't the only quality admissions committees seek. Consider the qualities you possess and those you'd expect to find in a great lawyer, and check to see the overlap. Some qualities you could show include:
Evaluate the anecdotes you chose after your brainstorming session and see if any of these qualities or others align with your narrative.
Learning how to write a personal statement for law school means understanding how to write for concision. Most prompts won't have a word limit but ask you to cap your story at two pages, double-spaced. Unfortunately, that's not a lot of space to work with.
Although your writing should be compelling and vibrant, do your best to avoid flowery language and long, complicated sentences where they’re not needed. Writing for concision means eliminating unnecessary words, cutting down sentences, and getting the point quickly.
Georgetown University’s take on law school personal statements is to “Keep it simple and brief. Big words do not denote big minds, just big egos.” A straightforward narrative means your reader is much less likely to be confused or get lost in your story (in the wrong way).
Since you only have two (or even three) pages to get your point across, you must consider the depth and scope of your narrative. While you don’t want to provide too little information, remember that you don’t have the room to summarize your entire life story (and you don’t have to do that anyway).
UChicago Law’s advice is to “Use your discretion - we know you have to make a choice and have limited space. Attempting to cover too much material can result in an unfocused and scattered personal statement.” Keep the depth and scope of your narrative manageable.
UChicago Law states, "If someone else could write your personal statement, it probably is not personal enough." This doesn't mean that you must pick the most grandiose, shocking narrative to make an impact or that you can't write about something many others have probably experienced.
Getting personal means only you can write that statement; other people may be able to relate to an experience, but your reflection, thoughts, feelings, and reactions are your own. UChicago Law sees applicants fall into this pitfall by writing about a social issue or area of law, so tread these topics carefully.
Harvard Law School’s Associate Director Nefyn Meissner said your personal statement should “tell us something about who you are, where you’ve been, and where you want to go.”
Perdue said that truly stellar personal statements have a sense of “movement” and touch on all or two of these topics.
What does this mean for you? While writing your law school personal statement, don’t be afraid to touch on your past, present, and future. However, remember not to take on too much content!
This is a common pitfall that students fall into while writing a law school personal statement. UChicago Law cites that this is a common mistake applicants make when they write at length about:
Even if someone like your grandmother had a profound impact on your decision to pursue law, remember that you’re the star of the show. Meissner said, “Should you talk about your grandmother? Only if doing so helps make the case for us to admit you. Otherwise, we might end up wanting to admit your grandmother.”
Don’t let historical figures, your family, or anyone else steal your spotlight.
Writing about why you want to attend law school in general or a school in particular depends on the prompt. Some schools welcome the insight, while others (like Harvard Law) don't. Meissner said, “Should you mention you want to come to HLS? We already assume that if you’re applying.”
However, Perdue said your law school personal statement for Yale should answer three questions:
Some schools may invite you to discuss your motivation to apply to law school or what particular elements of the school inspired you to apply.
Your personal statement should flow like a story, with an identifiable beginning, middle, and end. Simply firing off your honors and awards, or summarizing the experiences on your resume, doesn’t tell the admissions committee anything new about you.
Your personal statement is your opportunity to show how your unique experiences shaped you, your qualities, and the person you are behind your LSAT scores and GPA. Think about how you can show who you are at your core.
The best law school personal statements are written in straightforward English and don't use overly academic, technical, or literary words. UChicago Law recommends avoiding legalese or Latin terms since the "risk you are incorrectly using them is just too high."
Weaving together intricate sentence structures with words you pulled out of a thesaurus won’t make your personal statement a one-way ticket to acceptance. Be clear, straightforward, and to the point.
Beginning your law school personal statement with a quote is not only cliche but takes the focus off of you. It also eats up precious space you could fill with your voice.
Even the most talented writers never submit a perfect first draft. You'll need to do a lot of revisions before your personal statement is ready for submission. This is especially true because you'll write different versions for different law schools; these iterations must be edited to perfection.
Ensure you have enough time to make all the edits and improvements you need before you plan to submit your application. Although most law schools have rolling admissions, submitting a perfected application as soon as possible is always in your best interest.
Reviewing so many personal statements by yourself is a lot of work, and most writing can always benefit from a fresh perspective. Consider seeking a law school admissions consultant’s help to edit your personal statements to perfection and maximize your chances of acceptance at your dream school!
Law school personal statement conclusions are just as open-ended as your introductions. There are a few options for ending a personal statement depending on the prompt you’re writing for:
Some of these methods can overlap with each other. However, there are two more things you should always consider when you're ready to wrap up your story: the tone you're leaving on and how you can make your writing fit with your narrative's common thread.
You should never want to leave your reader on a low note, even if you wrote about something that isn’t necessarily happy. You should strive to end your personal statement with a tone that’s hopeful, happy, confident, or some other positive feeling.
Your last sentences should also give the impression of finality; your reader should understand that you’re wrapping up and not be left wondering where the rest of your statement is.
So, what's the common thread? This just means that your narrative sticks to the overarching theme or event you portrayed at the beginning of your writing. Bringing your writing full circle makes a more satisfying conclusion.
Evaluating law school personal statement conclusions can help you see what direction authors decided to take with their writing. Let’s circle back to the sample personal statement openings for law school and examine their respective conclusions. The first example explains the applicant’s motivation to attend Harvard Law.
“…Attorneys and legal scholars have paved the way for some of the greatest civil rights victories for women, people of color, LGBTQ individuals, and (people living with disabilities). At Harvard Law School, I will prepare to join their ranks by studying with the nation's leading legal scholars. For the past months, I have followed Harvard Law School student responses to the events in Ferguson and New York City. I am eager to join a law school community that shares my passion for using the law to achieve real progress for victims of discrimination. With an extensive history of advocacy for society's most marginalized groups, I believe Harvard Law School will thoroughly train me to support and empower communities in need.
Our act of civil disobedience that December day ended when the Tower’s bells rang out in two bars, hearkening half-past noon. As we stood up and gathered our belongings, we broke our silence to remind everyone of a most basic truth: Black lives matter.”
Although Harvard Law School states there's no need to explain why you want to apply, this law school statement is from an HLS graduate, and we can assume this was written before the advice changed.
In his conclusion, he relates and aligns his values with Harvard Law School and how joining the community will help him fulfill his mission to empower communities in need. The last paragraph circles back to the anecdote described in his introduction, neatly wrapping up the event and signaling a natural end to his story.
This author used these strategies: the motivation to attend a specific law school, stating his mission, and subtly reiterating what his acceptance would bring to the school. The next example conclusion worked at UChicago Law:
“Songs can be rewritten and reinterpreted as situation permits, but missteps are obvious because the fundamental laws of music and harmony do not change.
Although my formal music education ended when I entered college, the lessons I have learned over the years have remained close and relevant to my life. I have acquired a lifestyle of discipline and internalized the drive for self-improvement. I have gained an appreciation for the complexities and the subtleties of interpretation. I understand the importance of having both a sound foundation and a dedication to constant study. I understand that to possess a passion and personal interest in something, to think for myself is just as important.”
This law school personal statement was successful at UChicago Law. Although the writing has seemingly nothing to do with law or the author's capability to become a great lawyer, the author has effectively used the "show, don't tell" advice.
The last paragraph implements the focus on qualities or skills strategy. Although related to music, the qualities they describe that a formal music education taught her mesh with the qualities of a successful lawyer:
Overall, this essay does an excellent job of uncovering her personality and relating to the opening paragraph, where she describes how she fell in love with music.
These are two law school personal statement examples that worked. We'll review the excerpts below and describe what made them effective and if there's room for improvement.
This is an excerpt of a law personal statement that worked at UChicago Law:
“The turning point of my college football career came early in my third year. At the end of the second practice of the season, in ninety-five-degree heat, our head coach decided to condition the entire team. Sharp, excruciating pain shot down my legs as he summoned us repeatedly to the line to run wind sprints. I collapsed as I turned the corner on the final sprint. Muscle spasms spread throughout my body, and I briefly passed out. Severely dehydrated, I was rushed to the hospital and quickly given more than three liters of fluids intravenously. As I rested in a hospital recovery room, I realized my collapse on the field symbolized broader frustrations I felt playing college football.
I was mentally and physically defeated. In South Dakota, I was a dominant football player in high school, but at the Division I level, my talent was less conspicuous. In my first three years, I was convinced that obsessively training my body to run faster and be stronger would earn me a starting position. The conditioning drill that afternoon revealed the futility of my approach. I had thrust my energies into becoming a player I could never be. As a result, I lost confidence in my identity.
I considered other aspects of my life where my intellect, work ethic, and determination had produced positive results. I chose to study economics and English because processing abstract concepts and ideas in diverse disciplines were intuitively rewarding…Gathering data, reviewing previous literature, and ultimately offering my own contribution to economic knowledge was exhilarating. Indeed, undergraduate research affirmed my desire to attend law school, where I could more thoroughly satisfy my intellectual curiosity…My efforts generated high marks and praise from professors, but this success made my disappointment with football more pronounced.
The challenge of collegiate athletics felt insurmountable. However, I reminded myself that at the Division I level, I was able to compete with and against some of the best players in the country…After the hospital visit, my football position coach—sensing my mounting frustrations—offered some advice. Instead of devoting my energies almost exclusively to physical preparation, he said, I should approach college football with the same mental focus I brought to my academic studies. I began to devour scouting reports and to analyze the complex reasoning behind defensive philosophies and schemes. I studied film and discovered ways to anticipate plays from the offense and become a more effective player. Armed with renewed confidence, I finally earned a starting position in the beginning of my fourth year…
I had received the highest grade on the team. After three years of A’s in the classroom, I finally earned my first ‘A’ in football. I used mental preparation to maintain my competitive edge for the rest of the season. Through a combination of film study and will power, I led my team and conference in tackles…The most rewarding part of the season, though, was what I learned about myself in the process. When I finally stopped struggling to become the player I thought I needed to be, I developed self-awareness and confidence in the person I was.
The image of me writhing in pain on the practice field sometimes slips back into my thoughts as I decide where to apply to law school. College football taught me to recognize my weaknesses and look for ways to overcome them. I will enter law school a much stronger person and student because of my experiences on the football field and in the classroom. My decision where to attend law school mirrors my decision where to play college football. I want to study law at the University of Chicago Law School because it provides the best combination of professors, students, and resources in the country. In Division I college football, I succeeded when I took advantage of my opportunities. I hope the University of Chicago will give me an opportunity to succeed again.”
The beginning of this personal statement includes vivid imagery and sets up a relevant anecdote for the reader; the writer’s injury while playing football. At the end of the introduction, he sets up a fantastic transition about his broader frustrations, compelling us to keep reading.
The essay's body shows the writer's vulnerability, making it even more personal; it can be challenging to talk about feelings, like losing your confidence, but it can help us relate to him.
The author sets up a transition to writing more about his academic ability, his eventual leadership role on the team, and developing the necessary qualities of a well-rounded lawyer: self-awareness and confidence.
Finally, the author rounds out his statement by circling back to his opening anecdote and showing the progress he’s made from there. He also describes why UChicago Law is the right school for him. To summarize, the author expertly handled:
This law school personal statement excerpt led to acceptance at Boston University Law.
“She sat opposite me at my desk to fill out a few forms. Fumbling her hands and laughing uncomfortably, it was obvious that she was nervous. Sandra was eighteen, and her knowledge of English was limited to “yes” and “hello.” While translating the initial meeting between Sandra and her attorney, I learned of her reasons for leaving El Salvador. She had been in an abusive relationship, and though she wasn’t ready to go into detail just yet, it was clear from the conversation that her boyfriend had terrorized her and that the El Salvadoran police were of no help…Eventually, Sandra was given a credible fear interview. The interviewer believed that she had a real fear of returning to El Salvador, and Sandra was released from detention with an Immigration Court hearing notice in her hand. She had just retained our office to present her asylum case to the Immigration Judge.
I tried to imagine myself in Sandra’s shoes. She hadn’t finished high school, was in a completely new environment, and had almost no understanding of how things worked in the US. Even the harsh New England winter must have seemed unnatural to her. Having lived abroad for a couple of years, I could relate on some level; however, the circumstances of my stay overseas were completely different. I went to Spain after graduating from college to work in an elementary school, improve my Spanish skills, and see a bit of the world…I had to ask hundreds of questions and usually make a few attempts before actually accomplishing my goal. Frustrating though it was, I didn’t have so much riding on each of these endeavors. If I didn’t have all the necessary paperwork to open a bank account one day, I could just try again the next day. Sandra won’t be afforded the same flexibility in her immigration process, where so much depends on the ability to abide by inflexible deadlines and procedures. Without someone to guide her through the process, ensuring that all requirements are met, and presenting her case as persuasively as possible, Sandra will have little chance of achieving legal status in the United States…
Before starting at my current position at Joyce & Associates, an immigration law firm in Boston, I had long considered a career in law. Growing up, I was engaged by family and school debates about public policy and government. In college, I found my constitutional law courses challenging and exciting. Nonetheless, it wasn’t until I began working with clients like Sandra that I became convinced that a career in law is the right choice for me. Playing my part as a legal assistant in various immigration cases, I have been able to witness how a career in immigration advocacy is both intellectually stimulating and personally fulfilling. I have seen the importance of well-articulated arguments and even creativity in arguing a client’s eligibility for an immigration benefit. I have learned that I excel in critical thinking and in examining detail, as I continually consider the consistency and possible implications of any documents that clients provide in support of their application. But most importantly, I have realized how deserving many of these immigrants are. Many of the clients I work with are among the most hardworking and patriotic people I have encountered…
I am equally confident that I would thrive as a student at Boston University, where I would be sure to take full advantage of the many opportunities available. The school’s Asylum and Human Rights Clinic and Immigration Detention Clinic would offer me invaluable experiences in various immigration settings…Given my experiences in an immigration firm, I know that I would have much to offer while participating in these programs, but even more to learn. And while I find BU’s immigration programs to be especially appealing, I am equally drawn to the Boston University experience as a whole…I hope to have the opportunity to face those challenges and to contribute my own experiences and drive to the Boston University community.”
This statement makes excellent use of opening with an experience that sets the writer's motivation to attend law school in motion. We're introduced to another person in the story in the introduction, before the author swivels and transitions to how she'd imagine herself in Sandra's shoes.
This transition shows empathy, and although the author could relate to her client's struggles on a more superficial level, she understood the gravity of her situation and the hardships that awaited her.
The author backpedals to show how she's cultivated an interest in law in college and explored this interest to know it's the right choice for her. The conclusion does an excellent job of referencing exactly how BU Law will help her achieve her mission. To recap, this personal statement was effective because:
Although this personal statement worked, circling back to the opening anecdote in the conclusion, even with a brief sentence, would have made the conclusion more impactful and fortified the common thread of her narrative.
Do you still have questions about how to write a personal statement for law school? Read on to learn more.
Generally, an excellent personal statement tells a relevant story, showcases your best qualities, is personal, and creatively answers the prompt. Depending on the prompt, a good personal statement may describe your motivation to attend law school or why a school, in particular, is perfect for you.
Depending on the prompts, you may be able to submit the same or similar law school personal statements to different schools. However, you’ll likely need more than one version of your statement to apply to different schools. Generally, students will write a few versions of their statements to meet personal statement instructions.
Law school personal statement length requirements vary by school, but you can generally expect to write approximately two pages, double-spaced.
Your law school personal statement shouldn’t include famous quotes, overly sophisticated language, statements that may offend others, and unhelpful or inappropriate information about yourself.
The answer depends on the prompt you need to answer. Consider your experiences and decide which are impactful, uncover your personality, show your motivation to attend law school, or show your impressive character traits.
Top LSAT scores and high GPAs may not be enough, especially at the T-14 law schools. Due to the high level of competition, you should take advantage of your personal statement to show why you’re an excellent candidate. So yes, they do matter.
Writing a personal statement can be tricky, but it doesn’t have to be. Juris Education is committed to helping you learn how to write a law school personal statement with ease. We help future law school students develop their narratives, evaluate writing to ensure it’s in line with what law schools expect, and edit statements to perfection.
A stellar law school personal statement helps you stand out and can help you take that last step to attending the law school of your dreams.