As a law school applicant, your odds of success are based on several factors.
Most salient are your grades and standardized test scores, which are statistically correlated with strong performance in law school. Life experience, along with professional and extracurricular achievements and recommendation letters, can show how you’d contribute a valuable perspective to the law school community.
Beyond those basic factors, it’s crucial to convey to admissions officers that you know what you’re getting into, and you are up for the challenge. Whether or not you want to be a conventional lawyer, it’s important to show your commitment to law school.
Nowadays, law schools welcome a broad range of applicants from all walks of life, and there are countless ways to show the difference you would make as a law student and in your legal career.
However, too many applicants get stuck in well-worn ruts, writing law school application essays that hit the same notes. Here are some examples of cliches that get on admissions officers’ nerves:
- Saying you are “not a typical applicant.”
- Lecturing admissions officers about the law.
- Boasting about your love of arguing.
- Writing about lawyers in your family.
- Lionizing legal characters from popular culture.
Saying You Are ‘Not a Typical Applicant’
Law school application essays need to be concise. Personal statements are typically limited to two or three double-spaced pages, and other essays like diversity statements may be just one page. The more you write about who you are not, the less room you have to talk about who you are.
If you have an unconventional background, focus on what you bring to the table. Don’t let your insecurities drive you to paint yourself as an unlikely lawyer.
Lecturing Admissions Officers About the Law
Too many applicants think it sounds intelligent to write about what the law is, what it means or how the legal system really works.
It’s fine to write about what law means to you or about your own experience of the legal system. It’s fine to critique the legal system or write about your interest in exposing and challenging its shortfalls. But making lofty or categorical pronouncements about the law can sound pompous or high-minded. Admissions officers seek eager learners, not know-it-alls.
Boasting About Your Love of Arguing
Law school classes often involve contentious debates, and many legal jobs are adversarial in nature. But law schools don’t just want a class of budding trial lawyers. Legal work involves other skills like active listening, mediation, collaboration and conciliation.
In argumentation, winning isn’t everything. If you choose to write about your debate prowess, highlight skills like research, analytical thinking and perspective-taking.
Writing About Lawyers in Your Family
Coming from a family of lawyers can be a great asset for an aspiring lawyer, from career connections to advice on identifying a legal specialization.
It’s perfectly fine to mention taking inspiration or advice from relatives who are lawyers, but don’t let them overshadow your own story. Keep your application essays centered on you.
Lionizing Legal Characters From Popular Culture
Many works of film, theater, fiction and popular media glamorize legal practice. If you expect your career as a lawyer to resemble that of Atticus Finch in “To Kill a Mockingbird” or Elle Woods in “Legally Blonde,” you may end up disappointed when a law partner asks you to sort through boxes of discovery for a commercial contract dispute.
Law schools don’t want discontented students who burn out or drop out. Show you are clear-eyed and open-minded about law school by focusing on your skills, interests and relevant experiences.
If your first draft of an application essay sounds banal at points, don’t panic. Take a step back, think deeper about your background and goals, and experiment with a fresh approach. Writing in your authentic voice doesn’t have to be earth-shattering, just down-to-earth.