Law School Personal Statement Mistakes to Avoid

Padya Paramita

Law School Personal Statement Mistakes to Avoid

Law school admissions committees can see your numbers and extracurricular activities on paper but have absolutely no idea about who you are as a person and what makes you unique. This is where your personal statement comes in. Your law school personal statement is the place to reflect on your interests and background to help set you apart from the rest of the candidates in a tough law school application pool. As a result, you know you don’t want to mess this component up. Here is a list of law school personal statement mistakes that you should definitely avoid.

Rewriting your resumé

Your personal statement gives law school admissions committees an idea of your writing style and how you would fare in a writing-intensive curriculum. And when one is reading your writing, one of the things they don’t want to see is repetition. We cannot emphasize this enough: do not repeat the information on your transcript and resumé. They exist as separate components for a reason. If your resumé clearly outlines where you’ve worked and what you’ve done in the past years, your personal statement should stray away from those facts and stories. As you think about law school personal statement mistakes you should never make, this is definitely number one.

Writing about someone else

Next in our list of law school personal statement mistakes to avoid would be writing about other people. This is your personal statement. Never fall into the trap of writing about someone else. Sure, you could dedicate a sentence or two to someone who inspired you, but your own personal story should be at the core of the essay. Even if you consider mentioning a role model, their personality shouldn’t be the sole focus of the content—you should steer your writing in the direction of who you are because of traits that they might have passed on to you.

Straying away from the prompt

The schools have a set of questions for a reason. Law schools have school-specific prompts that you should definitely consider when writing your essay. Here are some examples:

University of Pennsylvania: You may wish to describe aspects of your background and interests--intellectual, personal or professional--and how you will uniquely contribute to the Penn Law community and/or the legal profession.

Stanford: Please attach a statement of about two pages describing important or unusual aspects of yourself not otherwise apparent in your application.

Duke: You must submit a personal statement with the application. The statement is your opportunity to introduce yourself to the admissions committee and should include (1) what you think have been your significant personal experiences beyond what may be reflected in your academic transcripts and on your résumé, and (2) your personal and career ambitions.

If Duke asks you to talk about your career ambitions, don’t go off on a tangent about what you’ve done in the past. Stanford has clearly said not to repeat anything you’ve already mentioned (hello, mistake #1!). You have limited space. Don’t waste it.

Using pretentious language

Another one among the law school personal statement mistakes that students make is thinking that they need to sound like they have a rich vocabulary and throw in as many big words as they can. Don’t sound like a robot! It’s your personal statement, and you undoubtedly want your personality to shine through in your writing. Don’t use too many long words that may not fit with the rest of your essay, or might not reflect your usual writing style. Taking a dictionary and throwing every other long word you find won’t help show who you are - you’re not a poet or an SAT tutor, you’re trying to get into law school! Flowery language can make you sound ingenuine. 

Trying to finish too fast

This one is obvious and should truly apply to any piece of writing. Don’t rush through and then skip the time to revise. The last thing you want is to turn in your first draft! There’s always room for editing. Errors can be easily avoided through some careful proofreading. Of course, make sure your spelling and grammar are all correct. 

Exaggerating adversity 

Up next on the list of law school personal statement mistakes: saying you’ve been through more than you actually have. The applicant pool contains people who have experienced abuse, homelessness, natural disasters, and serious losses. If your adversity is not as grave in comparison to these powerful stories, don’t write about adversity. If you suffered from chickenpox, there’s no need to write lines and lines about the pain you experienced. Or if your friend was bullied in high school and you were simply a witness, you should not be writing about all the torment you suffered and how you grew from the experience!

Discussing academic inconsistencies

Your personal statement is NOT the place where you talk about why your junior spring grades fell drastically due to an emergency. Law schools usually have an addendum section for cases such as this. Don’t waste your page limit focusing on bad grades when you can be writing a glowing, positive essay instead!

Living in the past 

You’re an adult now. There’s no way your biggest accomplishment to date is an award you won in high school. You’ve been through at least four years of college since, seen more places, met more people, and gained much greater knowledge and experiences. Your character has grown a lot, and law school admissions officers want to see that. Don’t write about your love for your high school debate club or how you led your high school Model UN team to multiple championships. 

Mixing up schools

Please do not make this one among the law school personal statement mistakes. It’s very easy to avoid, but at the same time students might very easily lean on copy/paste. Don’t send the wrong letter to the wrong school. Your Harvard Law essay cannot have the word “Yale” all over, or in fact anywhere. Make sure you’ve checked and double-checked that you’re sending the essays to the right school, and maintained each of their word or page limits. 

Your law school personal statement is your chance to showcase your individuality and provide more information on how your upbringing, activities, and interests can not only contribute to an esteemed law school but also make a difference in the world after you graduate. Don’t underestimate this component. Avoid the law school personal statement mistakes and make sure you put your best foot forward.

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