20 Personal Statement Tips that Law School Admissions Officers wish Every Student Used
You have decided that Law School is for you. Your dream is to get accepted to a good university and then onwards to be a lawyer. One of the key obstacles to getting to Law School is the law personal statement. With 85% of law applications being rejected you need to put your best foot forward when making your application. Here are 25 tips to help turbocharge your personal statement and boost your chances of securing a place at your #1 choice Law School.
- Try not to leave your personal statement to the last minute; a hurried piece of work always shows. If you are to become a diligent law student, you need to come across as being well informed and reasoned. If it is obvious that you drew up your ideas on the back of your receipt at the lunchtime before submission, you may as well send in the poem you wrote about your pet dog in year 8 English. You want to draft at least three or four versions. If your school helps with checking your UCAS statement, then make sure you take advantage of that opportunity. Once you complete your final draft, leave it a few days, and then return to it. You will come up with new ways of improving your statement with fresh eyes.
- On that note, avoid humour – your personal statement is an informative piece of writing, not an entertaining story. Try to stick to the task at hand and avoid going off on tangents just to impress the reader – let your skill, education and experience do the talking! The trouble with humour is that it is entirely subjective, you may think something is hilarious, but to the admissions officer it was a train wreck. So, our advice is to err on the side of caution and if in doubt, leave it out!
- Be honest! There is no point in lying on a personal statement, make sure it is your own work and do not rely too heavily on external help from teachers or parents. Overly sophisticated language or unrealistic experience will immediately ring alarm bells, especially for a subject whose practitioners are rooted in ethics. The university may carry out checks to ensure your experience is truthful and the consequences of being deceitful could be far worse than simply not being accepted to that institution. You can, however, present your experience and examples at their highest point if what you say is true. A major part of being a lawyer is advocacy – this involves powers of persuasion. Do not overstate your experience, but do not be afraid to put your best foot forward and present your case in a persuasive, convincing manner.
- Try to avoid jargon. Don’t forget, you are not at law school just yet… even so, a key legal skill is simplifying difficult concepts into manageable, easy to understand descriptions. If the reader is having to spend a long period of time trying to understand what you are saying, you have already lost them! Do not use any legal jargon or impressive Latin phraseology, remember that the person reading your application may not have even studied law.
Do not say:
“I am a bone fide lover of all things legal such as sitting in on cases, attending open days and being involved in mock court competitions inter alia.”
Whilst you may think that this all sounds very impressive, it will not overly impress an admissions officer at your chosen institution.
While we are talking about language, another recommendation is to avoid the use of the passive voice. What does this mean?
Well instead of:
“The best group award was given to our group.”
It is preferable to say:
“Our group received the best group award.”
The secret here is that you lead with the subject of the sentence followed by the action or the verb. This is a valuable lesson to learn for all legal writing and an important concept that will help you throughout your legal education.
- Make it memorable for the right reasons. Choose your opening sentence and closing remarks very wisely, you want to begin with something that draws the reader in and entices them to read more. Equally, you want to finish the statement with something that leaves a lasting impression on the reader. What that may consist of is entirely up to you (remember number one?!!).
So for the opening, try to avoid:
From a young age…’
‘For as long as I can remember…
‘I am applying for this course because…’
‘I have always been interested in…’
‘Throughout my life I have always enjoyed…’
See point 11 too – avoid opening with a quote from a famous lawyer or philosopher.
Sometimes the best approach is to start with the main content and work your way back. That way you can create a more meaningful introduction that will be tied together by your conclusion – the “necklace effect”. Also, it has been said by Oxbridge admissions staff that the best personal statements are those that get straight to the point, so try to avoid tiptoeing around at the start.
The best statements tend to be genuine and specific from the very start. So you’ll be on the right track if you explain your enthusiasm for the subject or course, your understanding of it and what you want to achieve from it.
- Display a conscientious work ethic. In an educational climate where many students are achieving exemplary grades, the separating factor has become how hard potential students are willing to work. Display this tastefully, however, try not to go over the top as that will undermine credibility. Just make sure it is apparent from your statement that you have given a lot of effort to extra-curricular activities – these do not necessarily have to be legal, as the skills are more often than not transferable.
A law degree relies heavily on the student working independently (around 20 – 30 hours per week). The best activities to write about are those that show that you are capable of putting in such a work ethic; part-time jobs that show independence, any extracurricular activity such as sport or music that displays independent practice is fantastic or even high achieving grades are good indicators that you can put in the graft that is required for a law degree.
- Avoid clichés – it may be the elephant in the room, but hopefully, we have caught this one in the nick of time! Joking aside, as a general rule, clichés are not acceptable in any legal writing, so try to avoid their use in your personal statement. More than anything, they are open to being misconstrued and they take away from the formality of your writing. You are trying to impress the reader with your good command of the English language, clichés are not indicative of that.
- Know your audience – it is very important to research the institutions to which you are applying. Different universities pride themselves on different areas. Your personal statement may be generic to them all, but it’s good to have specifics in mind when drafting your statement. For example, the particular university that you are really set on going to may be highly research-focused – so you could display an interest in legal writing and research, other institutions may be more minded towards the extracurricular activities such as mooting or mock court, this can be found simply by browsing their websites and social media, what do they broadcast as their ‘unique selling point’? Are the universities that you are applying to Russell Group? Do they have law clinics? What are their rankings in the league tables? It is really important to do your research to make sure that you are displaying this knowledge in your application.
- Try to display your achievements, do not shy away from the fact that you are a high achiever. Law students are renowned for being intelligent and hard working. If you can evidence this, then put your best foot forward; however do not be boastful or self-indulgent, keep your language as tasteful as possible. Things such as achieving top grades in your year or in a particular subject that are objectively measured are best for this purpose. Avoid self-praise however such as: “I am the best attacker on the rugby team” firstly it is not convincing or persuasive and secondly it actually has the opposite effect of discrediting your application.
- Do not plagiarise – the reader will be reading thousands of applications and they will know the generic applications when they see them. Do not take that risk! Ultimately it is perfectly acceptable to paraphrase other people’s work and use short phrases that you think help your application. If you think something is really useful and the only way to include it is to quote it directly, then put it in speech marks. On both occasions however it would show initiative if you were to use in-text citation to credit the ideas of others. This is a key skill for a law student (e.g. “I was described at a recent local council awards evening as an “all-round top achiever who will certainly create a lucrative career in the legal world in years to come” (Joe Bloggs ‘Local Girl Set for Top Achievements’ (Council Gazette, 1 May 2018) councilgazette.com/achieve accessed 13 September 2019”).
- Avoid formulaic personal statements. Starting off with a quote from Rumpole of the Bailey or a philosophical legal thought does not make you sound more informed. Everyone has contemplated putting in a quote in their statement and the reader does not care about what others say, they want to hear from you!
e.g. “As Edmund Burke once said, It is not what a lawyer tells me I may do; but what humanity reason and justice tell me I ought to do”
Instead, feel free to use a stimulus statement as a foundation to critique it to show your analytical thinking or give your insight as to whether you agree with whether a statement is relevant today.
- Do not worry if you do not have extensive experience. As long as you can demonstrate that your experience is either relevant to your applied course, or it has given you skills that would be useful for the route that you have applied for. If you have shadowed a barrister or solicitor or sat in on cases in the gallery, then fantastic, but if you have experience in working with others that can demonstrate advocacy or persuasion skills, if your work includes anything written including sending emails, this shows good drafting skills and a keen eye for detail and if your work involves evaluation of your work or others’ then that demonstrates critical thinking and analysis, you are never lost for displaying such skills on an application!
- Avoid wasting word count, why use a paragraph when you could say the point in one sentence? Always make sure you are being concise, it is a vital legal skill.
My successful displays on the hockey pitch are numerous. I was given the great privilege of being awarded the captaincy of the 1st XI hockey squad in year 13 by my fellow players and coaches. We partook in the schools’ cup competition in 2018 and through the hard work, dedication and good work ethic of the girls, we managed to win the competition. I really enjoyed this year that I spent as a captain, it was so much fun and I made a lot of friends from the teams that we played against. I suppose the best thing to come from the year though was the fact that I was able to work on my leadership skills as well as my teamwork.
You can say:
I have captained the 1st XI hockey team to win the 2018 Schools Cup competition which demonstrates my successful leadership capabilities as well as my ability to manage others to achieve a common goal.
- Display commercial awareness. I do not mean that you should regurgitate the Financial Times, but make sure that you show that you are minded to the legal profession and ensure the reader gains an understanding of your passion for law. As a lawyer, you might work for the government. You might work for a high street firm. Or you might work for an international commercial law firm. You need to demonstrate commercial awareness from different perspectives. At the micro-level, you need to show you have some understanding of the legal system. Perhaps you have attended court or a tribunal? Perhaps you have completed some work experience in a law firm? You also need to be aware of the legal environment at a macro level. This involves looking at the political, social and economic issues that impact law. Of course, there are obvious things like Brexit that you can include. However, your research might also reveal issues like the damaging impact of legal aid cuts on accessing justice or changes in legal education e.g. the introduction of the new Solicitors Qualifying Exam (SQE) in 2001. It is absolutely fine if you do not have this knowledge at present. You can gain some insights very quickly by looking at some of the resources below:
Guardian Legal News
- Structure – try to follow a good structure. There is no general rule for this, as it is entirely dependent on your own style. However, try to put your best foot forward and lead in with your strongest elements of your statement to engage the reader early on. The basic rule is to avoid underdeveloped points in your application, keep to one theme per paragraph (e.g. my experience, my motivation, why your institution).
- Be precise. Ask yourself for each individual sentence: what am I trying to say through this sentence? If it is unclear, then redraft until you reach the stage whereby anybody can read your work and immediately understand it. Make your answer come alive by using precise facts and descriptions when giving examples.
I worked in a law firm for 2 weeks this summer and enjoyed it a lot.
I assisted a Senior Associate at Binkley Blurb LLP with filing witness statements for a case involving medical negligence for two weeks this summer. I enjoyed the experience and was told that my contribution was ‘excellent’.
The second example brings your experience to life instead of you blending into the background with many other applications.
This applies to all of your experiences. Not just the legal ones.
I work as a Cashier at Tesco and this helps develop my organisational skills.
I have worked as a Cashier at Tesco since January 2016. I have developed my organisational skills by using to-do lists before each shift, adding important dates to my iPhone calendar and ensuring I follow the procedure for clocking in and clocking out as per the Company Procedure Manual.
- Grammar, grammar, grammar. Leave no stone unturned here. If there are any spelling, punctuation or grammar errors in your personal statement this can be fatal. Ask others to proofread. Use ‘Grammarly’. Do what you must. But make sure your command of the English language is airtight.
- Read it aloud. This is a good test to determine the ‘readability’ of your work. If it is easy to read the sentences without stumbling over them or taking time to get your intonation and syntax correct, then you are good to go. If not, redraft.
- Avoid talking about fictional television series or movies. From my experience, law personal statements continue to contain references to shows like Suits or How to Get Away With Murder. This is a red flag. Do not include these points. These fictional shows have absolutely no resemblance to what practice as a lawyer is actually like. Law can be, especially at the beginning of your career, incredibly process-driven. You might be responsible for reviewing documents or contracts. You might have a repetitive task or a hugely time-consuming research task. An Admissions Officer will be impressed that you understand that a legal career is driven by rules, procedures and attention to detail.
- Don’t be afraid to include any personal motivations for studying law. Your appetite for studying law might be fuelled by something that has happened to you personally or something that has happened to a friend or your family. A parent being made redundant. A divorce. You may have been the victim of a crime or know someone that has. At a broader level, you might be a natural leader and have been the ‘voice’ for people e.g. as a prefect or campaigner for a charity or local cause. Describe what your personal experience was and most importantly explain exactly how that has increased your desire to become a lawyer.