Demonstrate Effective Communication Skills
Details, Details, Details
Tell a Story
When an admissions committee looks at your file as a whole (transcripts, LSAT scores, application, recommendations, and personal statement) what they seek is essentially the same. Can this person succeed academically at this school? Are they truly committed to studying law? Will they make a good attorney upon graduating?
But when they hone in on your essay the focus shifts from the quantifiable and objective to the nebulous and subjective. The admissions officers we spoke with, for example, said that they looked to the essays to feel like they have gotten to know the personality and character of a real, live human being. As one officer put it: "Im going to spend the next three years with this person. Im going to choose someone I feel I know, and someone I feel I could like."
The admissions committee will expect your essay to have answered the obvious - but not so simple - question "why?". You must be able to explain your motivation for attending law school.
Every essay should focus on answering the question, why? In other words: Why law? Why now? Why here? Why us? And, of course, Why you?
You will be offered much advice in the upcoming pages, with plenty of "dos" and "donts". In the midst of all of this, whatever you do, do not lose sight of the ultimate goal of the essay: you must convince the admissions committee that you belong at their school. Everything we tell you should be used as a means to this end, so step back from the details of this process regularly and remind yourself of the big picture.
Demonstrate Effective Communication Skills
Another obvious function of the essay is to showcase your language abilities and writing skills.
Your essay doesnt need to peg you as a future author or scholar, but as a future lawyer, judge, or politician. That said, the ability to communicate ideas and to present them skillfully is essential to success in the legal profession, and good writing stems from these good communication skills.
At this level, good writing skills are not sought - they are expected. So while a beautifully written essay isnt going to get you into medical school, a poorly written one could keep you out.
"Does the candidate have a strong command of the English language? A solid writing style and an ability to organize his or her thoughts? These are factors that are important to you success as a student, so why wouldnt they be important in an essay?"
But beyond showcasing your writing abilities and demonstrating your motivation, what else can the essay do for you? Following is more of what the committee hopes to find when they read your essay.
As was mentioned earlier, what our admissions panel said they seek more than anything else in the personal statement is a real, live human being:
"Please, show us your face! Dont do it for us do it for yourselves. After all, a person is a lot easier to accept than a bunch of impersonal numbers and a list of accomplishments."
Admissions officers have to read tons of essays, and like anyone would, we get bored. The essays that interest us and that do the job right are the ones that show us who this person is.
In light of this, then, it might not surprise you that when we asked admissions officers and law students for their #1 piece of advice regarding the essay, we received the same response almost every time. Although it was expressed in many different ways (be honest, be sincere, be unique, be personal etc.) it always came down to the same point: "Be Yourself!"
Unfortunately, achieving this level of communication in writing does not come naturally to everyone. But that does not mean it cannot be learned. Four tips for achieving the kind of sincerity that the committees seek are listed below.
Remember, though, that even with the help of the tips and advice, the impression that your composition makes can be very hard to gauge in your own writing. It is a good idea to have someone objective preferably someone who does not already know you well read it over when you have finished. Ask them to describe the kind of person they pictured as they were reading. How accurate is their description relative to the one you were trying to present? If their description sounds ambiguous or if they are struggling for words, take it as a tip of that you may not be presenting a clear and focused portrait.
The best way to write yourself into your statement is to make it personal. When you do this your essay will automatically be more interesting and engaging, helping it stand out from the hundreds of others the committee will be reviewing that week.
Express thoughts and emotions, not just facts and ideas. Communicate real experiences. We want to know what has touched you.
Personalize your essay as much as possible generic essays are not only boring to read, theyre a waste of time because they dont tell you anything about the applicant that helps you get to know them better.
But what does it mean to make your essay personal? It means that you drop the formalities and write about something that is truly meaningful to you. It means that you include a story or anecdote taken from your life, using ample detail and colorful imagery to give it life. And it means, above all, being completely honest.
Section four of this book contains many examples of essays that get personal. Look at Essay 35, for example. He begins by pointing out what an impersonal account of his life might look like, with his Deans list placement and near perfect GPA. But the first line of his second paragraph carries through on his promise of "the whole story" with: "I was a short, thin fifth grader with a humiliating bionator jutting from my mouth." By giving us "the whole story" and discussing the deeply personal subject of his childhood insecurities he makes his accomplishments far more meaningful, poignant, and memorable, and sets himself apart from all the other applicants with similarly stellar academic records. This is a perfect example of putting a face on an application. His first paragraph gives us the statistics, the awards, the accomplishments. The rest does exactly what an essay should do it gives us a real human being.
Do keep in mind, though, that a story does not need to be poignant or emotional to be personal.
A personal epiphany, tragedy, life change, or earth shattering event is not essential to a strong essay.
This point cannot be stressed enough. It is a small minority of students who will truly have had a life-changing event to write about. In fact, students who rely too heavily on these weighty experiences often do themselves an injustice. They often dont think about what has really touched them or interests them because they are preoccupied with the topic that they think will impress the committee. They write overemotionally about death or another life-drama because they think that this is all that is significant enough to make them seem introspective and mature. But what often happens is that they rely on the experience itself to speak for them and never specifically explain how it changed them or give a solid example of how the emotional response makes meaningful their desire to attend law school. In other words, they dont make it personal.
Details, Details, Details
To make your essay personal, use details. Generality is the death of good writing. Focus on the little things, the details that make your story special and unique.
Using detail means getting specific. Show, dont tell, who you are by backing up each and every claim you make with real experiences. It is these details that make your story unique and interesting.
Look at the detail used by the writer of Essay 20, for example. He opens his essay with:
"One evening, during Christmas vacation of my freshman year in college, when a formidable storm outside called for an evening of hot tea and heavy reading, I picked up a book that had been sitting on my desk for several weeks."
Notice that he didnt just sit down and pick up a book. He sat down during Christmas vacation, and not just any year, but his freshman year in college, and it wasnt just any night, it was a stormy night that called for an evening of hot tea and heavy reading and the book wasnt just anywhere, it was on his desk and it had been there for several weeks. Notice also how he backs up each point he makes with specific examples. For example, he learned to value work and education from his father a common claim but he goes on to tell us exactly how his father taught him this by naming specific jobs and promotions he had. Details bring the experience to life.
Tell a Story
Incorporating a story into your essay can be a great way to make it interesting and enjoyable. The safest and most common method of integrating a story into an essay is to tell the story first, then step back into the role of narrator and explain why it was presented and what lessons were learned. The reason this method works is that it forces you to begin with the action, which is a sure way to get the readers attention and keep them reading.
Give your essay momentum make sure the parts work together and move to a point, carrying the reader along.
Many of the essay examples in this book make effective use of storytelling. They integrate the story into the essay to varying degrees. Essay 28 takes one extreme by actually separating the narrative out from the rest of her essay. She begins with two different stories told one after the other in one paragraph each, then skips a few lines on the paper and begins the "real" essay. Essayist 19 integrates his story of his efforts to ban the confederate flag from the Boy Scouts throughout his essay, but steps out of the narrative at various points to discuss his more recent activities and his motivation to attend law school. The writer of Essay 35 takes the riskiest approach by doing nothing but tell her story of being cured of an illness in Kenya. She does not step out into the role of narrator even once, but leaves the reader to draw conclusions instead.
This last point comes with no caveats, and should be upheld without exception. Nothing could be more simple, more straightforward, or more crucial than this: be honest, forthright, and sincere.
If you say that one of your favorite hobbies is playing chess, then you better have a favorite opening move your interviewer might be an expert player and want to swap techniques!
Admissions officers have zero tolerance for hype. If you try to be something that youre not, it will be transparent to the committee. You will give the impression of being immature at best and as unethical at worst.
If you think you know what we want and you are trying to write to that, forget about it. There is nothing more obvious, and more humiliating, than doing a bad job of being someone else. Just be yourself and let us do the deciding.
When you are honest about your motivations and goals, you will come across as more personable and real. The writer of Essay 1, for example, strikes the reader as being completely straightforward and honest about everything he writes, from the effect that his childhood tics had on him to his initial distaste for Capitol Hill and law jargon. Because he was so honest in his assessments, his motivation for attending law school is never questioned and the impression of a sincere and upright individual is sealed.
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