Develop A Winning Law School Personal Statement

If you want to​ develop a​ winning law school personal statement,​ you'll need to​ approach it​ from the​ perspective of​ organization,​ hierarchy of​ evidence,​ showing progress,​ and themes. Here's how:


The purpose of​ this section is​ not to​ delineate one structural approach that will work for everyone's individual essays,​ but rather to​ discuss principles of​ organization that should guide you in​ constructing your argument. in​ previous sections,​ we​ have cautioned that the​ criteria we​ set forth could not be used as​ steps to​ be followed,​ because there was so much overlap and interdependence. Here your task grows even more challenging,​ because some of​ the​ principles can be mutually exclusive,​ and you may have to​ decide between them to​ determine which approach best suits your material.

Hierarchy of​ Evidence

Because your reader will be reading quickly and looking for the​ main points,​ it's often a​ good idea to​ start with your strongest evidence. You may even highlight your most interesting experience in​ the​ introduction.

This applicant recognized that his most compelling,​ in-depth experience was his tenure as​ a​ deputy clerk in​ the​ local Superior Court. He jumps right into his discussion without unnecessary prefacing. He demonstrates his "hands-on knowledge of​ the​ inner workings of​ the​ legal system" first,​ because he hopes this firsthand exposure will help him to​ stand out.

By the​ third paragraph,​ he moves backward chronologically to​ explore the​ origins of​ his interest in​ law. This is​ an​ important discussion,​ and in​ real life,​ his initial exposure to​ the​ law through his father's work formed the​ foundation for his recent work in​ the​ Superior Court. the​ applicant is​ correct to​ start with the​ present; it​ is​ more engaging because it​ shows the​ applicant in​ action and exercising his understanding of​ the​ law.

Showing Progress

This approach might invite a​ chronological order,​ but we​ maintain that chronology should not be reason in​ itself (as explained in​ the​ sidebar of​ the​ Essay Structures introduction) to​ organize material in​ a​ particular manner. the​ guiding principle here is​ to​ structure your evidence in​ a​ way that demonstrates your growth,​ from a​ general initial curiosity to​ a​ current definite passion,​ or​ from an​ early aptitude to​ a​ refined set of​ skills. it​ differs from the​ Hierarchy of​ Evidence approach because your strongest point might come at​ the​ end,​ but its strength lies precisely in​ the​ sense of​ culmination that it​ creates. Chronology might not apply if​ you choose to​ show progress within a​ number of​ self-contained areas,​ thereby combining this approach with the​ Juxtaposing Themes approach described later.

This applicant chronicles the​ growth of​ her interest in​ international development. the​ growth she describes is​ not merely a​ matter of​ accumulating one experience after another,​ but rather a​ process of​ enrichment in​ which she learns from new angles and adds layers each time. Her interest begins through her work with underrepresented citizens,​ which encourages her to​ undertake international ventures. These experiences in​ turn inform her academic pursuits and further global exploration. the​ writer shows progress by using effective transitions such as​ the​ following:

"When I returned to​ college in​ the​ United States,​ I decided to​ combine my newly-piqued interest in​ underdeveloped economies with my intensified interest in​ the​ Spanish language."

The writer moves effectively from experience to​ experience; the​ result does not feel like a​ list or​ a​ haphazard construction,​ but rather a​ logically flowing piece. Moreover,​ the​ applicant's final points have more force because we​ have witnessed a​ process of​ growth,​ and her individual ideas combine to​ have a​ synergistic effect.

Juxtaposing Themes

The strongest argument against a​ straight chronological order is​ the​ value of​ juxtaposing related themes and ideas. if​ two experiences are closely related but occurred years apart,​ it​ makes more sense to​ develop them as​ one set of​ ideas than to​ interrupt them with unrelated points.

This applicant devotes his first three paragraphs to​ his disadvantaged background and the​ obstacles he overcame. He explores his growth from a​ child who had to​ work at​ the​ age of​ twelve and help raise his sisters to​ an​ overwhelmed college student who struggles to​ survive financially. After discussing this self-contained unit of​ progression,​ he shifts gears in​ the​ fourth paragraph to​ describe his work in​ a​ nonprofit organization over the​ past three years. Although he likely began this experience during the​ period described in​ the​ first three paragraphs,​ the​ non-chronological placement makes sense. Interrupting the​ flow of​ the​ first point not only would be confusing,​ but also would take away from the​ impact of​ each point being fully developed on​ its own terms.

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