If you are applying to law school as an international candidate already working in your country as a lawyer, the best way to win over your reader in the opening of your essay is to be clear not just about your goals but also about your overseas academic background. This can often require a two-part introduction in your law school personal statement. Below are some personal statement tips to help get you started.
The first paragraph of your introduction can address your goals, ideally in three sentences. With your goal statement, three sentences is the best approach. Open with a statement of your long-term goal in the law, ideally referring to a specific organization, especially if you are being sponsored by that organization. The second sentence can flesh out the first with specifics of the targeted role(s) and responsibilities. Your third sentence could offer the qualities and characteristics that you bring to the program. This would be just one approach. But most candidates forget that your reader wants above all to know (1) where (in what country) you eventually intend to practice law and (2) what kind of academic program you are coming from as an international candidate.
This is why, if you are an international candidate, it can be worth your while to develop a separate three- or four-sentence paragraph describing your overseas academic credentials and current role as a legal professional. Remember that your reader in the United States may not know about the legal education system in your country or about what an undergraduate degree (or graduate degree, for that matter) qualifies a lawyer for in your country. It is important as a courtesy to provide this information to your reader, in clear and concise form. The absence of this information is the biggest problem that I encounter as an editor of international candidates’ law school personal statements.
The other thing to remember, if you are an international candidate and especially if you are being sponsored by the organization for which you work, is that playing to your role in an organization can be even better for you as an international candidate than offering your own personal achievements and goals in the law.
This is because of the tendency that candidates have in law school personal statements to talk about “changing the world” (or words to that effect). But this is a cliché, isn’t it? It becomes much less of a cliché if you can say something like this:
I want to change the world, especially in the area of [say what you want to change], and I can see this happening right now at [Company/Law Firm Name, as a result of their work in…]. I am pursuing the [JD, LLM] in the hope of contributing to [projects, etc.]. With the degree from [School Name], I’ll be able to achieve these goals of mine with [Company Name].
Suddenly, your hopes to “change the world” have become much less nebulous and generic and appear far more grounded in the actual work that you do for a firm and that you want to do. Now you actually have a plan to change the world. This focus on a firm’s work and mission – and how it has affected yours – can also telegraph the qualities of loyalty and humility. These are two of the most valued qualities in candidates.
Of course, it is fine if you do not want to identify a specific organization in terms of your short-term or long-term goals.
But coming back to what I said above: Don’t forget that if you are applying as an international candidate, the first question in the mind of your reader (even before reading your law school personal statement) is this: In what country are you eventually intending to practice law? The sooner you answer this question in your essay, the sooner the reader can get on with your content – because if your reader is not sure of the answer to this question, the reader will be distracted throughout the essay. So as a courtesy to your reader, be clear about this.