Law School Personal Statement Writing Blog

Law School Brainstorming Guide

Some applicants may want to use the following list as a springboard as they develop their own connections. You can browse the questions below without a specific structure in mind and see what results from that free-association process. On the other hand, some people prefer to have more guidance as they brainstorm, and for those people we have ordered and grouped the questions into a logical structure.

Each subtopic begins with a series of questions and then an explanation of their potential relevance to the big picture.

Accomplishments

  • What significant challenges have you overcome in your personal, professional, or academic life?
  • Have you been published? Describe your accomplishments in research.
  • Describe accomplishments for which you have been formally recognized. What qualities did you demonstrate in your path to success? What does each accomplishment mean to you personally?
  • Describe accomplishments for which you have not been formally recognized but that you are particularly proud of. Take even more time to reflect on why these have special meaning for you.
  • Discuss an accomplishment in which you exercised leadership. How effective were you in motivating or guiding others? How did people respond to your leadership? What did you learn that you can apply to future experiences?
  • What was an important risk that you took in your personal, professional, or academic life? Why did you take this risk? What was the outcome? Would you do it again?
  • Think of a time when you truly helped someone. What did you do? How did this impact the other person? How did your actions impact you?
  • Please give an example of when you exhibited creativity in a personal, professional, or academic setting. Describe your thoughts and actions.
  • Reflect on a time in which you failed to accomplish what you set out to do. How did you recover from that failure? How did you respond to your next challenge?

The important point here is that you develop insight into your accomplishments beyond their face value. Your essay should not merely list your most significant successes, nor is it enough to say that you’re proud of them. You need to dig deeper to discover what these accomplishments mean to you, what they say about you, and how you learned from them. Also, reflect closely on your path to achievement rather than on the result itself.

Significant Activities

  • To what non-work (or non-academic) activity did you give the most time over the past year? The past several years?
  • What has been your most significant service activity? Your most memorable one-time volunteer opportunity? Your longest regular volunteerism commitment?
  • What has been your most significant cross-cultural experience? Why? How did it change your perspective?
  • Can you identify trends in your commitments? What do they say about your values and abilities?
  • Have you worked in any legal setting? What have you enjoyed about the experience? What strengths were you able to draw upon?

Again, do not summarize your resume. Don’t feel obligated to bring up every activity you’ve ever done, especially if it has been sufficiently covered elsewhere in the application. Remember that depth is more important than breadth. Your readers want to gain insight into what you care most about and to see how you’ve devoted yourself.

Don’t feel discouraged if you have never worked in a legal capacity. Many people have never stepped inside a law firm before their first summer job interviews. Also, don’t feel that you need to exaggerate your commitment to community service. A lack of sincerity will be evident, and you’re better off focusing on activities for which you have a real passion.

Skills and Characteristics

  • What are your strengths and weaknesses?
  • How would your friends describe you?
  • What skills are you most proud of?
  • What values are most important to you?
  • Think of a team situation in which you’ve been involved. What kind of role did you take? What abilities did you contribute?
  • What skills do you possess that are most relevant to law? How have you applied them to specific situations? How have you continued to hone them?
  • What personal qualities would make you a good lawyer? How have you demonstrated these qualities in specific situations?
  • Try to come up with unique combinations of your skills and characteristics, and consider how these have applied in past experiences or will apply in your future career.
  • Apart from anything related to law, what makes you an interesting person?

In this section you should begin by thinking broadly. Don’t just name skills that you know the schools are looking for, because that will detract from the unique portrait you’re trying to paint. Also, you might be surprised about how you can tie a skill from one area of your life into your current goals in law. That’s why we also suggested that you come up with different combinations of your skills and characteristics. This exercise will help you to see yourself from different perspectives and recognize all that you have to offer.

Just as listing accomplishments and activities is unfruitful, you won’t accomplish anything by simply naming skills. That’s why this section has emphasized the question “How?” How have you demonstrated your skills and characteristics? Where is the evidence? Here again it’s important to remember the movement within this brainstorming section from broad to specific. Perhaps you showed a specific ability in activities unrelated to law. The evidence can come from this separate area and still be tied in ultimately to your current situation.

Turning Points

  • When and why did you first become interested in law?
  • What subsequent experiences tested and confirmed this interest?
  • Have you changed career paths? What was your motivation?
  • Describe a defining moment in your path toward law. What did you realize about your prospective career and about yourself?
  • Who were your early influences?
  • Did you have any strong role models?
  • Apart from law, describe a moment when you realized something new about yourself.

In your responses to these questions, you may want to draw upon answers from previous sections. The purpose of this section is for you to begin synthesizing your previous accomplishments and activities into a coherent argument for your candidacy. Because there won’t be room for you to describe every aspect of your involvement in an activity, you may choose to relate a particular episode that epitomizes the key points you want to convey.

One issue you must be cautious about is placing too much emphasis on one-time events. In most cases, you will be adding meaning to a scenario retrospectively. Few of us are ever in the situation to make important, life-altering decisions based upon epiphanies. You don’t want to attribute too much significance to any one event, but detailing the most meaningful, significant episodes from your background can help ensure that your essay stays concrete and personal.

Long- and Short-Term Goals

  • Why have you chosen a career in law?
  • What is your ultimate ambition?
  • What short-term goals will help you to fulfill your long-term vision?
  • How can this academic program help you to reach these goals?
  • What attracts you to this particular school?

Members of our law school admissions panel have cautioned against too much emphasis on the unknown future, because people’s goals change so drastically in the course of their studies. Be wary of describing goals that sound too naïve or idealistic: Your readers have seen phrases like “my desire to help others” and “changing society for the better” far too many times.

If, on the other hand, you have a specific cause in mind, and you have some kind of track record in that field, then you should emphasize your continuing commitment. For example, if you have experience in environmental or immigration law, you might describe specific objectives you hope to achieve in those fields. Relating such concrete goals is much more forceful than simply citing a vague commitment to serving your community.

Next: Law Statement Themes

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