These sample law school personal statement essays are here to stimulate your writing juices, not to shut them down or persuade you to think that these essays represent templates that you must follow. The writers of these essays, who were all once law school applicants just like you, sat down, thought about their stories, and crafted these essays. However, their first step, significant self-reflection and thought, you can’t see. They didn’t use a template or try to shoehorn their story into someone else’s story. You shouldn’t either. But you should take the same first step that they took: Think about your life, the influences upon it, and why you want to obtain a legal education.
Your story will be different from these author’s stories, but as you review all four of the sample essays you will see commonalities among them, which are highlighted below. You will also see that they are very different essays written by individuals reflecting their different life experiences and dreams. The authors of each of these essays were all accepted to law school, in some cases to elite U.S. law schools.
Now let’s explore what you can learn from each of these outstanding sample law school essays.
- Attention-grabbing opening -The author of the essay immediately grabs the readers’ attention by placing them in the midst of the scene and vividly conveying what the author felt and saw as well as the excitement she felt.
- Vivid, visual opening and consistent use of opening imagery - You can practically feel the dripping sweat and the heat at the opening of this essay because the applicant used vivid, sensory language that we can all relate to. She also quickly develops a metaphor comparing archaeological excavation with research in general and legal research specifically. She uses the imagery of archaeology (“finding the shard of glass,” “reconstructing the pot”) consistently throughout the personal statement to convey not only the unusual experiences she’s had in the past, but to show her love of research and analysis.
- A clear theme that ties the essay together Her essay has a clear theme, which she states at the end of the first paragraph and in her conclusion. (You may not need to state it twice; that depends on your essay.) The applicant also relates every experience in the essay to her theme of research, analysis, and discovery.
- Solid structure - Because her theme is so strong, the essay is easy to follow even though she has diverse experiences that aren’t obviously related to each other – archaeology in Spain, research on Colombian environmental policy, working for an online real estate company considering entry into the art market, and her travels.
- Good use of transitions - Transitions help your reader move from one topic to the next as you connect the topic in the preceding paragraph to the topic in the next. They can consist of a few words or a phrase or simply repetition of the topic by name as opposed to using a pronoun. The first paragraph in this sample essay ends with “research and analysis” and the next paragraph begins with “The challenge of researching and analyzing an unknown subject” as she turns from her introduction to her enjoyment of academic life and the research she had done in college.
While one could argue that perhaps she has too many subtopics in this essay, because of the strong theme and excellent use of transitions, the essay holds together and highlights her diversity of experience, curiosity, and sense of adventure.
Most importantly this law school personal statement earned its author a seat at an elite T10 law school.
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This sample law school personal statement is about half the length of Essay 1 and concentrates on the author’s post-college work experience. In its brevity and focus it’s the mirror image of Law School Essay 1. The contrast between the two highlights the diversity that can work in law school essays.
This applicant writes about the impact of his work experience on his law school goals – with no discussion of extracurricular activities, hobbies, or travels. He had a tight word limit on his personal statement and simply had to be concise. Regardless of the narrower focus and shorter length, this essay also shares certain elements with Essay 1 and in both cases it leads to an engaging personal statement and acceptance. Let’s review them:
- Engaging, vivid opening that grabs attention - The applicant plops the reader right into his story and challenge: how to persuade the tired, grouchy doctors that the product he’s selling is better than the one they have been prescribing.
- A detailed story of his developing interest in law and relevant experience - Using just enough details, he tells his story starting with research that led to evidence-based persuasion. He also highlights his success, which led him to be named Rookie of the Year. He then goes on to explain that he now seeks new, more-lasting intellectual challenge than he currently has as a pharmaceutical sales rep because the industry, or at least his segment of it, changes slowly.
- Direction within law - Based on his background in science and his work in Big Pharma, he has direction in law. He clearly states that he wants to go into medical law. Given his background and work experience, that goal builds logically on his past, and is distinctive.
- Ties the essay back to the opening - At the end of his essay, he references “his grumpy physicians” and “staring at his professor…” Sometimes applicants will start an essay with a catchy opening that grabs attention, but has little or nothing to do with the rest of the essay. When reading that kind of essay, the opening feels like a tease or a gimmick. In this essay, the applicant paints a picture of what he faces on a typical workday at the beginning, refers back to the opening scene in his conclusion, and contrasts that experience with what he hopes to face when in law school. It’s not a gimmick. It unifies the story.
This applicant was accepted at several T14 law schools.
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There is a story behind this law school personal statement. This applicant, a very early Accepted client, during her first meeting said that she wanted to write about a trip to Country X. When asked about the trip, she said, “Oh, I’ve never been to Country X, but I know many people who have visited, and I haven’t done anything interesting.”
Surprised at this unexpected approach, her consultant asked if she had any creative writing experience. The client said she didn’t. The consultant said that she too lacked creative writing experience and suggested they discuss what the client had done as opposed to what she hadn’t. This essay is the result of that (and other) conversations. It is an oldie but goodie.
Let’s take a look at the lessons in this sample law school essay:
- Don’t ever feel you don’t have a story to tell. Every single one of us has a story, and you don’t have to make one up or borrow someone else’s. Tell yours proudly and authentically.
- Launch with a vivid, engaging opening. While her opening is a more frightening than the other openings, it definitely grips the reader’s attention and starts her story.
- Always have a clear theme. Everything in this essay relates to the impact of the earthquake on her and specifically her decision to become a public interest lawyer.
- Tell a story. This personal statement tells the story of the earthquake’s impact on the applicant. In telling her story, she highlights her community service, her internship, and the evolution of her goals.
- Use effective transitions. As she moves from topic to topic, the author effectively carries the reader along. Look at the end of one paragraph and the beginning of the next one throughout the essay. You’ll see that in every case, there is either a word, phrase, or concept that ties one to the other.
- Write a conclusion that really brings the essay to a close and contributes to the sense of unity while still looking forward. The applicant repeats her thesis that her career direction was shaped by the earthquake and its aftermath. She touches on key experiences (and achievements) that she wants the reader to remember, looks briefly forward, and ties back to the Twilight Zone opening.
This client was accepted to her top choice law school.
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This essay takes a different approach than the other three essays. The theme opens the essay followed by images and sounds that make the change she is experienced something the reader can also experience or at least imagine because the applicant uses sensory language. The writer also takes a chronological approach to tell her story of change and how it shaped her.
The author in this essay chooses not to directly address her reasons for wanting to attend law school. However, the essay still works. The essay highlights her communications skills, research, international exposure, bilingual language skills, and initiative.
However here, too, there are lessons to be learned and some may sound familiar.
- Clear theme - Yes, this takeaway is in this essay as well as the preceding three. In fact, for any effective essay, you need a clear theme.
- Effective use of specifics and anecdote - Whether referencing the “bleak Wisconsin winter,” the fact her mother added “barbecued brisket” to her menu in Texas, or the cultural challenges she faced in Bolivia, she effectively illustrates her ability to deal with change and adapt throughout her life.
- A conclusion that shows her evolution and growth - She subtly, but clearly reveals an evolution in her adaptability from complete adoption of the mores of her surroundings in New Jersey to more nuanced adaptability where she chooses what she wants to adopt and reject as she deals with change as an adult. Finally, while change is something she has to deal with throughout most of the essay by the conclusion she views it as an opportunity for growth.
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Takeaways from These Law School Statement Samples
- There are an infinite number of ways to write a law school personal statement that will help you get accepted.
- Begin your essay with an opening that grabs your reader’s attention. In today’s age of short attention spans and very busy people, there should be no long, slow warm ups. Put your reader in the scene as soon as they start reading.
- Use sensory language to engage your reader and help them imagine experiencing what you were going through. Reference scenes, sounds, smells, textures, and tastes as appropriate.
- Have a clear theme. Unless you are James Joyce, a stream of consciousness will not work. Know the core idea you want your essay to convey and ruthlessly ensure that every subtopic supports that idea. If it doesn’t, either make the connection clear or delete.
- Use transitions to take your reader with you through your story.
- Use specifics and anecdotes to support your theme in a distinctive way while highlighting your achievements.
- Write a conclusion that contributes to the unity of your essay. Highlight key points in your conclusion. While you can take your theme into the future in your conclusion, it still must relate to your core idea and build on what preceded it. If you can tie your ending back to your opening, your essay will have a stronger sense of coherence.
How would I like to see these essays improved? I would like to see them, with the exception of Essay 2, address why they are applying to a given school. Essay 2 didn’t have room for that.
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