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How to write a unique law school essay

The essay shouldn’t necessarily be a “Here is why I want to be a lawyer essay,” but there should be some indication as to why you are interested in a legal career. Tell the admissions committee something about yourself and your life. Use prose to draw readers in and keep them interested, says Derek Meeker, a senior law school consultant.
BY Uttara Choudhury |   21-09-2011

Don’t talk in circles. The admissions people read tons of really boring essays and are looking for interesting applicants who are persuasive and concise. Besides your grades and LSAT score, the essay is the clincher, says Derek Meeker, senior law school consultant, for Admissions Consultants, Inc.

Formerly the dean of admissions at the University of Pennsylvania Law School, Meeker and others on the admissions committee reviewed as many as 6,500 applications for barely 250 openings. He says all of the top schools have more than enough applicants who are qualified so if you can show you have good writing skills, you have a serious edge.

Meeker talked to Uttara Choudhury in New York. Here are excerpts from their discussion.

What should go into personal statements for law school?

Well, some schools require just one general personal statement, some require two essays from a number of different choices, and some will have “optional” essays from which to choose. Since most law schools do not provide interviews, the personal statement is the applicant’s opportunity to present herself to the admissions committee, to reveal “who she is.” But it is NOT a mini biography; the resume is the document that summarizes the applicant’s academic, work, and extracurricular experiences.

The personal statement, on the other hand, should be narrowly tailored, i.e. based on one specific experience for example, a particular project which the applicant initiated or managed at work or for a student organization.

“The essay must be truthful and about something that has influenced the applicant, that perhaps changed him, taught him, and motivated him to make new choices — there must be passion behind it.”

The essay can also be focused on a specific theme, for example, the “pioneer” as the theme with a few stories that illustrate the capacities in which the applicant has been a pioneer. The topic choices are endless they could be academic-related, or about a political issue that is of great importance to you, a personal experience or journey (being an immigrant, studying or working in a foreign culture, overcoming a specific hardship), a professional or internship experience.

The essay must be truthful and about something that has influenced the applicant, that perhaps changed him, taught him, and motivated him to make new choices there must be passion behind it. Law schools want students who are passionate and committed. One might think that researching tax code is boring and would make a boring personal statement topic but if that is something the applicant loves to do and informed her decision to go to law school, then it won’t come across as boring at all! 

It should be clear from the personal statement or through other components of the application, why the applicant is interested in a legal career. This myth has somehow been established out there that one should not write about why he or she wants to go to law school. I’ve even read that in law school admission guidebooks. Preposterous! While it is true that the essay shouldn’t necessarily be a “Here is why I want to be a lawyer essay,” there should be some indication as to what is motivating the applicant to undertake this costly endeavor that requires great commitment and stamina.

Again, while the topics are endless, the best essays tell the admissions committee something about the applicant they don’t already know from the other components of the application, and will be revealing, thoughtful, and deep, and will include very specific examples that “show” rather than “tell.” 

And what I mean by “show” rather than “tell” is if the applicant wants to convey that he works well under pressure and can make difficult decisions on the fly, then he should write about a specific experience that shows those skills, he should take the reader into the experience, into his “pressure” work world, the challenges he is facing, and the decision he has to make, and how he makes them.

What are the benefits of studying law in the US? Which are the areas popular with South Asian law school applicants? 

“…given the US’s presence and influence throughout the world in business and political affairs, I think it is advantageous for foreign students to study here.”

As the global economy has grown in recent years, firms in the in the U.S have significantly expanded their international presence. This has increased the number of opportunities to practice overseas in many fields; that increase in job opportunities is the greatest benefit to foreign students who attend law school in the US. Just given the US’s presence and influence throughout the world in business and political affairs, I think it is advantageous for foreign students to study here.

Aside from that, the experience itself enriches the lives and education of both the foreign students and the American students. It is important, particularly in law where one is working as an advocate and representing or defending the interests of an individual or organization, to be challenged and informed by a variety of perspectives. What better way to be challenged, and to be trained to become an effective advocate, than by being surrounded by classmates from different cultures.

Business related areas trade, banking, and tax tend to be the most prevalent and, therefore, the most popular. Human rights law is another field that is popular among foreign students, particularly those who come from countries with limited individual rights and freedoms. There are opportunities in other international practice areas as well intellectual property law, employment law (with the increased number of US firms and businesses abroad), property and real-estate law, environmental law it really just depends on where the student’s interest and passion lies. 

Can you elaborate on how your organization helps prospective undergrad and graduate law students? 

“It is important, particularly in law where one is working as an advocate and representing or defending the interests of an individual or organization, to be challenged and informed by a variety of perspectives.”

We provide counsel to applicants on any topics or issues of concern to them school selection, essay topic, addressing weak grades or low LSAT scores, explaining conduct issues, etc. We also work with the applicant on each component of the application: the application form, the resume, the personal statement, supplemental essays (such as school specific essays, diversity essays and other optional or required essays for specific schools), addenda (if applicable, to explain any issues or gaps, such as interruptions in education or work history, criminal charges or convictions, disciplinary actions, etc.). 

We critique each of these documents and provide feedback to the applicant.  Also, an important part of the process is tailoring the application to particular schools, which greatly enhances the application and improves the applicant’s chances for admission, particularly for “target” and “reach” schools. Our consultants advise applicants on how each application can best be tailored for specific schools.

Does your firm advise a large percentage of applicants to Ivy League schools?

Yes, a large percentage of our clients are applying to the Ivy League and other top schools. Many of our consultants have served on admissions committees at top schools, so they have inside experience at the schools in which many of our clients are interested.

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