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Résumé and Personal Statement

Supreme Court columns

Law school applications typically require a résumé and a personal statement.

The résumé should list all your work experience, but you should remember that you are not applying for a job. The purpose of the résumé is to account for your time outside the classroom, to show the things that you have been doing that are not listed on your transcript. Volunteer work, extracurricular activities, study-abroad experiences and even significant hobbies can all be appropriate on your résumé. At the same time, keep your résumé brief. If you go over a page, admissions officers will suspect that you are exaggerating what you could have accomplished at this early stage of your adult life. 

The personal statement is meant to reveal something about you are an individual. It is a kind of substitute for a direct interview; it should allow admissions officers to put a kind of face on the information included in your application. Though the personal statement should suggest why you want to go to law school, it is not a statement of purpose of the sort required by Ph.D. programs. The directors of such programs want to know what you want to study, to see if your work will be coherent with theirs. Law school administrators already know what you want to study, and what they want to teach you. What they want to know is why you are the kind of person they would like to have there.

Most personal statements tell a story: they describe an experience you have had and explain how it has shaped you into the sort of person you are today, the person who now wants to go to law school. The experience does not have to be exotic or even especially interesting, if the way you talk about your experience and the lesson you draw from it are compelling.

While you want to appear interesting as a person, you should also remember that you are applying to be a law student, not a dinner guest. What matters most of all is that your statement is well-written, and that you make a coherent connection between your experience and the lesson you draw from it. The personal statement is, in some sense, the first brief you will be submitting in your legal career. Legal briefs have to be well-written and well-reasoned. Sloppiness is not tolerated. The case is what matters, not the lawyer. Though nearly all applicants worry about sounding boring in their personal statements, the real dangers are ungrammatical or garbled prose, poor organization or reasoning and boastfulness. As is the case in a job interview, a great performance in a personal statement is seldom enough to get you in, but a poor performance is often enough to keep you out. The personal statement needs to be about you, but what really matters is that you write it well.